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Big 4 women's basketball preview: Transition game

Buffalo Bulls

Arena: Alumni Arena, 175 Webster Road, Amherst (6,783 capacity).

Tickets: www.ubbulls.com/tickets

Coach: Felisha Legette-Jack (143-86, eighth season; 284-249, 18th season overall).

Last season’s record: 24-10, 12-6 MAC.

Key returnees (last season’s stats): 6-1 Sr. F Summer Hemphill 14.5 ppg., 10.3 rpg., 2.5 apg.; 5-3 Jr. G Hanna Hall 6.4 ppg., 2.2 rpg., 3 apg.; 5-10 Sr. G Theresa Onwuka 9.4 ppg., 5.3 rpg.; 6-2 So. F Adebola Adeyeye 2 ppg., 3 rpg.; 6-0 Jr. F Marissa Hamilton 2.9 ppg., 1.3 rpg.

Key losses: G Cierra Dillard 25.2 ppg., 4.9 rpg., 5.7 apg.; F Courtney Wilkins 6.3 ppg., 2.7 rpg.; F Brittany Morrison 6.3 ppg., 5.7 rpg.

Key newcomers: 6-3 Fr. F Loren Christie; 5-5 Fr. G Dyaisha Fair; 6-3 Fr. C Elea Gaba; 5-9 Fr. G Jessika Schiffer.

Outlook: Cierra Dillard, the Bulls’ unquestioned leader the last couple of years, now is a professional. Summer Hemphill became an inside force last season and averaged a double-double to be named second-team All-MAC. She also earned All-MAC Tournament honors and was a preseason All-MAC East Division first-team choice this season. Point guard Hanna Hall earned 27 starts during her sophomore season, and was named to the All-MAC Tournament team. Hall has been instrumental in guiding the Bulls’ freshmen to this point. UB has one of the youngest teams in the country with just two seniors on the squad, and are the younger than any team they will play this season. How quickly the young Bulls adjust will be key.

Season-defining stretch: UB’s toughest stretch of the season is expected to come Jan. 26 through Feb. 8, when it plays four games against teams expected to challenge for division titles. The Bulls play at Kent State on Jan. 26 before hosting West Division favorite Central Michigan on Jan. 29. A road game at Northern Illinois follows on Feb. 1 and a home game against Toledo closes the stretch. NIU and Toledo were picked to finish second and third, respectively, in the West.

What the coach said: “I think that we’re going to throw the dice out there and let basketball do what basketball does. It allows people to be free to become. We could arguably start two freshmen in the first few games. Elea Gaba, who is our [6-3] post player out of Germany. She is doing a tremendous job and has really set herself apart from everybody else in that position. Can’t say enough about Dyaisha Fair, a young lady out of Rochester. She is doing a tremendous job of just enjoying the game. I told them, when you’re freshmen, you have the right to make mistakes, and go out there and be goofy and run around on the floor and just let it do what it do. Those two are taking us up on that.”

Prediction: 25-7, 13-5 MAC.

Canisius Golden Griffins

Arena: Koessler Athletic Center, 1829 Main St., Buffalo (2,196 capacity).

Tickets: www.gogriffs.com

Coach: Scott Hemer (11-19, second season; 229-108, 13th season overall).

Last season’s record: 11-19, 9-9 MAAC.

Key returnees (last season’s stats): 5-5 Sr. G D’Jhai Patterson-Ricks 11.8 ppg., 3.6 rpg., 1.9 apg.; 6-0 Jr. F Danielle Sanderlin 7.8 ppg., 8.0 rpg.; 5-8 Jr. G Anndea Zeigler 6.9 ppg., 2.9 rpg.

Key losses: F Sara Hinriksdottir 12.9 ppg., 8.1 rpg.; G Maria Welch 5.3 ppg., 3.7 rpg.

Key newcomers: 5-5 Fr. G Shaunae Brown; 5-11 So. G Shayla Sweeney; 6-0 Fr. F Tiffany McGhie.

Outlook: Patterson-Ricks returns to lead an experienced Griffins team. She started 28 of 30 games last season and was named third-team All-MAAC. She will be joined by five other players who started games for Canisius last season, including Sanderlin, Zeigler and Pugh. The Griffs were picked to place eighth in the preseason poll. It will be interesting to see how the team performs in Hemer’s second season. Canisius has seven new players, including sophomore guard Shayla Sweeney, a transfer who averaged 5.4 points per game as a freshman last season at La Salle.

Season-defining stretch: The Griffs play at Quinnipiac on Jan. 18 and at home against Rider on Jan. 23. Those are two teams expected to finish 2-3, respectively, in the conference. After getting a break to play Saint Peter’s at home, Canisius goes back on the road for games at Niagara and Siena. The Griffs can win three in a row as long as they don’t feel the after effects of their games against Quinnipiac and Rider.

What the coach said: “We have to work on everything. We have seven new players, so there is a lot that we have to continue to work on. We’ve spent a lot of time so far working on the defensive end of the floor, focusing on things that we can control, and we’ve made progress with that, but we certainly still have a long way to go.”

Prediction: 11-18, 7-13 MAAC.

Niagara Purple Eagles

Arena: The Gallagher Center, 2009 Niagara University, Lewiston (2,400 capacity).

Tickets: www.purpleeagles.com

Coach: Jada Pierce (41-82, fifth season, 49-128, seventh season overall).

Last season’s record: 12-19, 8-10 MAAC.

Key returnees (last season’s stats): 5-9 Sr. G Jai Moore 17.5 ppg., 3.6 rpg.; 5-0 Sr. G Maggie McIntyre 10.4 ppg., 3.1 asg.; 5-11 Jr. F Emerald Ekpiteta 7.1 ppg., 7.1 rpg.

Key losses: F Adila Gathers 7 ppg., 5.8 rpg.; G Kharysma Bryant 5.8 ppg., 3.7 rpg.

Key newcomers: 6-0 So. F Olivia Mason; 5-8 Fr. G Adia Brisker

Outlook: Niagara returns its top three scorers and its leading rebounder from last season. Pierce’s Purple Eagles have improved over the last two seasons and put in a new, uptempo offense last year. This is the first season Pierce will have a team consisting solely of her recruits. Could this be the season NU makes a splash? Guards Jai Moore and Maggie McIntyre lead the way with forward Emerald Ekpiteta working inside. Moore, who scored in double figures 26 times last season, was named to the All-MAAC first team in 2018-19 and was tabbed All-MAAC preseason first team this season.

Season-defining stretch: Niagara plays Marist, one of the league favorites, on Feb. 1. After that, the Purple Eagles can make a realistic push for postseason positioning and possibly draw a bye. Games against Fairfield (twice), Iona, St. Peter’s, Canisius and Monmouth, plus a home game against Manhattan, bode well for NU. Two contests against Quinnipiac could be stumbling blocks.

What the coach said: “Now we’re in a different spot. Last year we changed our offense, we became more uptempo. This year you’re going see the fruits of us putting in a new system last year. We’ve come leaps and bounds. I think our players that are seniors now have learned a lot.”

Prediction: 16-13, 10-10 MAAC.

St. Bonaventure Bonnies

Arena: Reilly Center, 3261 West State Road, St. Bonaventure (5,840 capacity).

Tickets: gobonnies.sbu.com/tickets

Coach: Jesse Fleming (25-64, fourth season).

Last season’s record: 8-22, 5-11 A10.

Key returnees (last season’s stats): 5-7 So. G Deja Francis 9.4 ppg., 3.5 apg.; 5-8 So. G Asianae Johnson 9.7 ppg., 3.9 rpg., 1.2 spg.; 5-11 Sr. G Dajah Logan 7 ppg., 2.8 rpg.

Key losses: G Mckenna Maycock 12.3 ppg., 5.7 rpg., 2 apg., 1.2 spg.; G Danielle Migliore 5.6 ppg., 3 rpg.; Bree Paulson 3.7 ppg., 2 rpg.

Key newcomers: 5-10 Jr. G Jurnee President; 5-11 Jr. F Kayla Wilson.

Outlook: Sophomore guard Deja Francis earned a spot on the Atlantic 10 All-Rookie Team last season and was named to the A-10 preseason third team for this season. She ranked fourth among all Atlantic 10 freshmen in scoring and was second in assists. Mckenna Maycock graduated, and Danielle Migliore went to Rutgers and Bree Paulson to Miami (Ohio) as graduate transfers. Sophomore guard Asianae Johnson is the Bonnies’ top leading returning scorer. She started all 30 games last season. Bona was picked to finish 13th in the 14-team Atlantic 10 by conference coaches.

Season-defining stretch: Pick a spot on the schedule and it all will be challenging for the Bonnies. However, there is somewhat of a soft spot from Jan. 19 when they visit La Salle until a Feb. 2 game at Richmond. In between, Bona faces Saint Joseph’s and Rhode Island at home and Duquesne on the road.

What the coach said: “It doesn’t matter who you play, if you’re not locked in mentally to do things right, any team can make you pay. I’m glad we got to learn the lesson with a win tonight, but there are going to be a lot of tough lessons down the road if we don’t learn some lessons right now.” — Jesse Fleming after an exhibition win over Cortland

Prediction: 11-19, 5-11 A-10.

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