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UB BASKETBALL 2022-23 PREVIEW: A TRANSFER TALE FOR TWO TEAMS
Change hit both of the Bulls' hoops programs hard, but you may be surprised by how much new talent's walking through Alumni Arena's windswept doors.
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College basketball is a transition game in 2022. That’s not a comment on defensive stops and pace—it’s an acknowledgement that roster churn is the new reality.
“The transfer portal has completely exploded in the sport of NCAA (men’s) basketball,” writes Tristan Freeman of Bustin’ Brackets, “with over 1,500 D-I players opting to leave their respective teams to go somewhere else.”
We’re living it at the University at Buffalo. Five members of the current men’s roster are Division 1 transfers; four more transferred in from the Division II or junior college levels. Five players from the 2021-22 team, in turn, transferred out—most notably big men Josh Mballa and David Skogman, who left for Ole Miss and Davidson, respectively.
The NBA came calling, too: All-MAC forward Jeenathan Williams landed a deal with the Utah Jazz, and is currently rostered with the G League’s Salt Lake City Stars. Four-year Bulls point guard Ronaldo Segu is off to a nice start for Psychikou in the second division of the Greece Basketball League after his own solid NBA Summer League run did not lead to a roster spot.
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It’s the same in the women’s game, where roughly 1,200 players were in the portal this summer.
In Buffalo, the siren song came from Syracuse, San Francisco, the SEC, and points beyond. Former coach Felisha Legette-Jack (pictured above, left)—the most successful coach is UB women’s basketball history—made a triumphant offseason return to Syracuse, her alma mater, where her retired number from her days as an Orange star hangs in the rafters.
Legette-Jack brought along five of Buffalo’s most important players, including all-timer Dyaisha Fair (pictured top right), 2021-22 MAC Freshman of the Year Georgia Woolley (pictured bottom right), and highly-anticipated UB recruit Lexie McNabb. The coach’s move to Central New York precipitated a Buffalo diaspora, with nine more players from last season’s Mid-American Conference champs exiting the roster.
Eleven new players from all corners of the country joined new head coach Becky Burke and Jazmine Young, the sole remaining member of last year’s squad.
Let’s take a look at what our teams are working with this season.
Where We Are Now, Part I: Buffalo Men’s Basketball
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2021-22 UB Men’s Basketball In Review
There’s no way around it—UB men’s basketball disappointed last season.
Expected to challenge for the MAC crown thanks to a senior-laden roster featuring one of the league’s top scorers (Jeenathan Williams), facilitators (Ronaldo Segu), and all-around big men (Josh Mballa), the Bulls never really got out of the chute.
Yes, they won 19 games—but two wins came against sub-Division 1 opponents, and the losses included meltdowns against undermanned rivals like St. Bonaventure (playing without star guard Kyle Lofton, who’s now with Florida) and Canisius (lacking team-leading scorer and rebounder Malik Green, now with Youngstown State).
Nice victories over non-conference North Texas and ferocious MAC foe Kent State were diminished by Buffalo’s combined 1-6 record against the Golden Flashes, Toledo, Ohio, and Akron—the top teams in the MAC.
UB failed to make the postseason for just the second time in the last seven seasons.
To make matters worse, much of that talent rolled out the door following a 70-68 opening-round loss to Akron in the MAC tournament.
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Thus begins a defining season in the career of Buffalo head coach Jim Whitesell (pictured above).
Whitesell was 20 games under .500 in Horizon League play over seven seasons as head coach at Loyola-Chicago from 2004 to 2011. When Nate Oats left the Bulls to take the head coaching job at Alabama in 2019, Whitesell was given a chance to continue the growth of a program on the precipice of mid-major dominance.
Since that time, he’s won 55 of 87 games, including two out of every three in the MAC—but honestly, that’s not good enough.
The standard set by Oats, and Bobby Hurley before him, was MAC titles and NCAA appearances.
An NIT appearance in 2021, then losing (almost) every tough conference game on last year’s schedule while getting embarrassed by your local Big 4 rivals—is this the new normal for UB hoops? Let’s hope not.
State of Men’s Basketball in the Mid-American Conference
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After finishing fifth in the conference in 2021-22—due to back-to-back regular season-ending losses to Toledo and Kent State—the Bulls are slated to finish sixth in the MAC Preseason Coaches Poll. All things considered, that’s not too bad, and speaks to the quality of players Whitesell brought in on the fly. The six teams below UB have major question marks, are in the midst of long-term rebuilds, are introducing new coaches, or all of the above; the five teams above Buffalo, despite experiencing some of the same churn the rest of the league, are relatively stable.
Congratulations, by the way, to Ryan Rollins—the former MAC Freshman of the Year and an All-MAC 1st-teamer with Toledo last season is now a member of the Golden State Warriors, complete with a three-year contract.
Tracking the 2022-23 UB Men’s Basketball Team
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Kidtrell Blocker (6’5, Soph.) - Kidtrell’s sticking around. In limited playing time (he appeared in 12 games), the Rochester, N.Y. native averaged 2.3 points per game. Kidtrell played 21 minutes off the bench and was four-for-five from the floor for nine points in the season-opening exhibition against Daemen on Oct. 30.
LaQuill Hardnett (6’8, Sr.) - Also coming back. A key reserve and former three-star Cincinnati recruit, LaQuill appeared in 24 games and averaged 2.7 points and 3.3 rebounds in 2021-22. Hardnett sat out the Daemen exhibition.
Curtis Jones (6’5, Soph.) - Another veteran returning to North Campus, Jones (pictured above)—a second-team Iowa Community College Athletic Association All-Region selection in 2021 for Indian Hills (Ottumwa, Iowa) Community College—averaged 2.5 points per game as a UB freshman in 28 games while showing promise as a facilitator and defender. Jones logged 28 minutes and scored a team-high 16 points in the exhibition win over Daemen—and, rumor has it, he’s been working hard on his three.
Kuluel Mading (6’9, Soph.) - He’s coming back. The big man from High Point, N.C. averaged 0.7 points, a block, and 1.3 boards in eight games last season. Mading had four points, a block, and a steal—and a three-point attempt?—in the Daemen exhibition.
Zaakir Williamson (6’7, R-Fr.) - Zaakir missed the 2021-22 season with an injury, but the former 40th-ranked high school center in the country is seen by Whitesell as a shooting star. “"Zaakir is a skilled big man who has tremendous upside to his game," said Whitesell. "He does a really nice job finishing around the rim, and he can also play as a stretch 4, while shooting the three. We are very excited for the potential we see in this young man.” Zaakir played six minutes against Daemen in his first action in over a year, logging a single personal foul to avoid membership in Club Trillion.
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Isaiah Adams (6’6, Jr.) - Folks, we have the 2020 Florida Dairy Farmers Mr. Basketball on our team. That’s the award given to the top ballplayer in the Sunshine State, and Adams—a transfer from the University of Central Florida—snagged that award when he averaged 23.7 points and 11.1 rebounds per game as a senior at the Paxon School for Advanced Studies in Jacksonville. Adams averaged just over four points and two boards per game last season, but also put up 26 on Tulane and grabbed 11 rebounds against then-#11 Houston. He’s got game—Isaiah was one of the top reserves for the 18-12 Knights, who finished sixth in the American Athletic Conference. He shot 39 percent from the floor, but averaged 2.5 steals per game and was one of the better defensive rebounders on the team. Adams did struggle, at times, with turnovers. He scored four points and grabbed six rebounds in 24 minutes against Daemen.
Devin Ceaser (6’1, Fr.) - A three-star point guard out of St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes in Alexandria, Virginia (alma mater of Bulls defensive back Blake Hiligh), Ceaser proved his bona fides as an AAU phenom when he led the DMV Live summer league in scoring with 23 points per game in 2021. According to his scouting report, he’s “a score-first combo guard who is undersized, but equipped with top-tier athleticism. A three-level scorer with blow-by acceleration off the bounce…Dynamic in the open court; sprinter speed with ball…A consistent 3-point shooter…Skilled ball handler and shot creator who also knows how to maximize his effectiveness off the ball…Wreaks havoc on defense when active and plays with excellent anticipation, but can be undisciplined as a defender. Solid motor. Plays with a ton of confidence. Cuts with purpose without the ball.” We’ll take it. Ceasar lived up to billing in his first official action in Blue and White, pouring in 13 points in 12 minutes against Daemen.
Armoni Foster (6’4, Fifth Year) - Armoni was a Division 2 All-American at Indiana University of Pennsylvania in 2021-22, capping his five-year career for the Crimson Hawks. Foster hails from Meadville, Pa., just a two-hour shot down the 90 from Buffalo. Armoni, according to UBBulls.com, was “a finalist for national player of the year (and) played and started in all 36 games last year, averaging 17.8 points per game and 6.5 assists per contest. Foster…averaged 15.2 points per game in his career at IUP, including 19.8 points per game during the 2019-20 season.” He was recruited by Xavier, Towson, Ohio, Morehead State, and Duquesne, reports Rachel Lenzi of The Buffalo News, and chose the Bulls because “the vibes felt good.” The vibes felt alright against Daemen, too, as Foster collected seven points, six assists, four rebounds, and four steals as a backcourt starter.
Kanye Jones (6’4, Soph.) - A prospect out of Orlando, Florida, where he was a 2020-21 FHSAA Class 7A All-State selection for Windemere High School, Jones (pictured above) transfers from Boston College, where he played one season and appeared in 30 games. Kanye scored 12 points in his Eagles’ debut against Dartmouth, and dropped eight points in 22 minutes against Florida State on Feb. 21. His offensive numbers weren’t great last season—a 24 percent three-point shooter, and a 29 percent shooter from the floor—but he averaged under eight minutes a game once ACC play began, so the potential is still untapped. Kanye’s previous suitors included Drake, Louisiana Tech, South Florida, Charleston Southern, Cleveland State, Drexel, East Tennessee State, Elon, Florida International, Florida A&M, James Madison, Stetson, and Towson, according to Tyler Calvaruso of 247 Sports. Kanye scored eight points on two-of-three shooting from three and snagged a pair of steals versus Daemen.
Zid Powell (6’4, Jr.) - UBBulls.com sums up Zid well: “Powell is a 6-4 guard out of Philadelphia, Pa. who is amongst Harcum (Junior College)'s all-time leaders in scoring, assists and steals. He helped lead the team to a 32-3 record on the season and an appearance in the NJCAA Basketball Championship Quarterfinals. Powell averaged 13.5 points and 5.4 assists per game. He scored over 20 points seven times during the year, including a 30-point game against ASA New York.” There’s always room on a roster for a guy who can get buckets. Powell also gained a glimmer of fame in 2020—from SI.com: “Community College of Beaver County freshman guard Yazid Powell scored 81 points in his school's 147–61 victory over Butler County Community College as a tribute to Kobe Bryant. The Lakers legend and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, were among nine passengers killed in a helicopter crash in California on Sunday morning. Powell, who switched his jersey number from No. 1 to No. 24, shared news about the performance on Twitter after the game. ‘Tonight I scored 81 points in the honor of my idol, favorite player, and someone who is the reason I start playing basketball this mean so much to me I want to thank my teammates and coaches for allowing me to accomplish this,’ he wrote. ESPN added that he missed his final free throw to remain at 81 points.” Zid may have been the player of the game against Daemen, scoring 14 points, dishing out eight dimes, and snaring six boards in 22 minutes of work.
Sy Chatman (6’8, Sr.) - When Sy scored 21 points on nine-of-14 shooting in 28 minutes against UB on Nov. 24 during Illinois State’s 106-90 loss, he probably didn’t realize it was a job interview. The transfer student is Buffalo’s big man now, a former MVC Player of the Week whose was averaging 13.5 points and a team-high 6.1 boards per game last season before suffering a season-ending knee injury. Chatman was a state champion at Cretin-Durham Hall during his high school days in Minnesota, and played two seasons at UMass before making the leap to Illinois State. A high-usage player before his injury cut his season with the Redbirds short after 18 games, Chatman shot over 50% from the field and had one of the team’s lowest turnover rates. A more traditional big man, Sy’s not going to stray far from the basket (he was one of 16 from three last season) but should have fresh legs—Chatman opted out of the 2020-21 season after five games, meaning he’s only played in 23 games since the infamous 2019-20 COVID-impacted season was put on ice. Chatman sat out the Daemen exhibition.
Jonnivius Smith (6’9, Jr.) - Jo played for Seton Hall in 2021-22, making appearances in 11 games. The forward from Selma, Alabama is a project—in his lone juco season, he helped Chipola (Fla.) to the NJCAA Final Four. When he signed with Seton Hall, then-coach Kevin Willard (now the head man at Maryland) said, “Jo is a player who we’ve known for years and watched his progression. He has a lot of untapped potential; he’s athletic and skilled and, coupled with his size and long wingspan, we believe he can be an integral player in our program. We’re looking forward to getting him into our skill development and training regimen and begin unlocking that potential.” Whitesell concurs: “Jo is a player that comes here with a ton of potential, and we are excited to see him in action. He is an excellent scorer around the basket, and he is someone who has won at every level he has played at. He will fit very well into our style of play and compliment the pieces we have brought in very well." Smith had eight points, five rebounds, and two steals while making his presence known in the paint against Daemen—and showed the soft hands needed to take snap passes from his skilled backcourt mates.
Isaac Jack (6’11, Fr.) - The big frosh from British Columbia should have an easier transition than most to UB—he played for Fort Erie International Academy in 2021-22, a quick jaunt across the Peace Bridge from the Queen City. Isaac averaged 15.4 points and 7.9 rebounds for the Falcons last season. He comes by his talent honestly, telling ProspectiveInsight.com that “I got (into basketball) because my mom played at BYU. She did I think maybe a year of basketball there before she switched to track, but she always thought that I should play basketball. Go, go, go. She introduced basketball to me and just kind of helped me get through the early stages and even now it's still when I'm back in BC, driving me to practices and whatnot, so she's definitely the reason.” Whitesell must have done a number on Jack in the recruiting process, because he also expressed a preference for playing on the West Coast. While he appeared tentative at times in his first-ever college action, Jack did score 10 points on four-of-four shooting from the floor against Daemen.
Jaden Slaughter (6’5, Fr.) - Slaughter is one of the better prospects to come out of Buffalo is a while. According to The Buffalo News, Slaughter was “named to the All-Catholic first team for Division A and to the All-Western New York third team after averaging 18.1 points per game and 5.3 rebounds while shooting 58% from the field” in 2020-21, wrapping up a stellar career at St. Joe’s Prep. He spent a year at season at Cheshire Academy (Conn.) in the New England Preparatory School Athletic Council’s Class AA conference, where he led the Cats in scoring, rebounding, and assists. Jaden was also an All-NEPSAC Class AA guard. Watch Jaden’s highlight video; he was a man among boys. Looking forward to seeing him in Blue and White. Slaughter played three minutes and had a bucket versus Daemen.
THOSE WE’VE LOST
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Ronaldo Segu - Ronaldo was a UB fixture at point guard from 2018 to 2022. In his senior year, he scored in double figures in 26 of 30 games, averaging over 15 per game. Segu led the conference in assists and was named second-team All-MAC. He played for the Memphis Grizzlies’ summer league team this year, and almost earned himself a camp invite. Instead, he’s making an impact in the Greece Basketball League.
Jeenathan Williams - Like Segu, another Buffalo all-timer exited the stage this offseason. Williams (pictured above) averaged 19.1 points per game as a senior—the highest total for a Bulls leader in over 20 years, according to UBBulls.com—and was a first-team All-MAC forward. Williams is also trying his hand at the pro game, trading his final year of eligibility for a spot on the Salt Lake City Stars, the Utah Jazz G League squad.
Brock Bertram - A six-year Bull, Brock appeared in 89 games and can tell his grandkids he saw game time against Arizona and Kentucky in the 2017-18 NCAA Tournament and against Arizona State and Texas Tech in 2018-19. He averaged 3.1 points and 4.6 rebounds in 2020-21, both career highs. Bertram’s currently an assistant hoops coach at the Breck School in Golden Valley, Minnesota.
Jamon Bivens - A redshirt senior in 2021-22 who appeared in nine games, Jamon’s career with UB came to an end this spring. Fun facts: his mom is LaTocha Scott of the popular 1990s R&B group Xscape, former NBA MVP Derrick Rose is his cousin, and he’s the nephew of Michigan head coach Juwan Howard!
Keishawn Brewton - Keishawn’s ride through college hoops started at Chipola (Fla.) Junior College, carried him home to the Palmetto State for a stretch at Coastal Carolina, and ended his run in March after two seasons with Buffalo. While he didn’t match his performance for the Chanticleers, where he was a high-usage guard who shot 38 percent from three, he did score over five points per game for the Bulls in 2021-22 as a redshirt senior.
Tra’von Fagan - Tra’von’s enjoying his extra year of eligibility as a member of UMBC Retrievers. A key reserve—usually the first or second man off the bench in 2021-22—Fagan averaged 4.4 points and 4.4 rebounds per game last season.
Maceo Jack - A grad transfer from George Washington University and son of Felisha Legette-Jack, Maceo’s lone year in Buffalo was marked by ups and downs. He averaged 9.5 points per game, earned MAC Player of the Week honors, and started all 30 games last season; he also struggled to find a consistent rhythm and role in the Bulls’ offense. He was 268th in the country in offensive rating (115.0). Maceo was spotted working out in Syracuse this summer, and recently signed with the Chelsea Phoenix (located just outside Liverpool) of the British Basketball League.
Josh Mballa - One of the more devastating transfers for UB this offseason, Mballa—a member of the Texas Tech team that reached the 2019 NCAA championship game—left Buffalo for Ole Miss. Despite winning the 2020-21 MAC Defensive Player of the Year award and notching clockwork double-doubles over the past three seasons, it feels like Mballa never quite peaked in the Blue and White. Last season was supposed to be a breakout for the ripped, 6’7 big man from France, but he struggled with COVID around the turn of the new year and never seemed 100 percent after the illness. We’ll be rooting for Josh in 2022-23.
Ty Perry - A Boston product, Ty is heading back to New England for his fifth season. He’s transferring to Division 2 New Haven after spending one year with UB following three with Fordham. Perry appeared in 12 games and averaged 2.2 points per game for Buffalo. Along with Blocker and Brock Bertram, he averaged the fewest minutes on the team.
Lucas Saleh - “6’7 shooter G/F University of Buffalo transfer with 2 years of eligibility left. Career 59% FG 41% 3pt. I’m a worker, team first guy, and hungry for an opportunity.” That’s right, Lucas entered the transfer portal after last season. He doesn’t appear to have landed a spot, although he was working out with Jeenathan Williams earlier this summer. He played in 10 games and took 13 shots for the Bulls as a junior in 2021-22.
David Skogman - This one is the absolute killer, and if it seems we at UB In 5 hold a bit of a chip on our shoulder for Coach Whitesell it’s in large part because a.) he couldn’t find a way to fully utilize David in 2021-22 and b.) he let him get away after the season. Skogman—the leader in Division 1 basketball in true shooting percentage (71.7%) and two-point field goal percentage (.744), and 106th in the country in three-point field goal percentage (41%)—and did I mention he’s a 6’10 junior this season?—bounced for new Davidson head coach Matt McKillop and the 2021-22 A-10 runner-up Wildcats. Skogman only played 19 minutes in an absolutely critical game against Toledo on March 1 (a Buffalo loss); took just five shots in another important game against Kent State on March 4 (a Buffalo loss); and played just 23 minutes and took only six shots in the opening round of the MAC tournament against Akron (a Buffalo loss). I’d have transferred, too! Excuse me, I need to go calm down.
Previewing the 2022-23 UB Men’s Season Schedule
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DAEMEN (Oct. 30; Exhibition). The annual kickoff to the season is already here and gone! The Wildcats were selected as the top squad in the ECC Preseason Coaches’ Poll and are coached by former Canisius head man Mike MacDonald. Loaded with local talent like guards Nick MacDonald of Amherst and Andrew Mason of Webster, this is always a fun one to watch—and the 2022 version was no different as UB delivered an entertaining 95-66 win at Alumni Arena.
COLGATE (Nov. 7). The Red Raiders, prohibitive favorites to win the Patriot League, are led by fifth-year senior guard Tucker Richardson. Richardson was voted preseason player of the year and defensive player of the year, and is the only player to collect 1,000 points, 500 rebounds, and 400 assists in Colgate history.
JAMES MADISON (Nov. 12). The Dukes were picked fourth in their first preseason poll as a member of the Sun Belt Conference. Keep an eye on redshirt senior guard Vado Morse, who averaged nearly 19 points per game in Colonial League play last season.
AT UCONN (Nov. 15). The Huskies are fourth in the Big East preseason coaches poll, but they have a monster on their side: Big East preseason player of the year Adama Sanogo. A native of Mali, Sanogo was an All-Big East 1st Team selection last season, averaging 14.8 points and 8.8 rebounds per game while shooting .504 overall and blocking 55 shots. Connecticut just missed the cut for the preseason AP Top 25, finishing 27th in the initial voting.
DRAKE (Nov. 18). In Game 1 of the Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Bulls catch Drake—the preseason pick to win the Missouri Valley Conference. Swingman Tucker DeVries and guard Roman Penn are both preseason MVC 1st-Team selections.
HOWARD/WYOMING (Nov. 19/20). Depending on the way the Paradise Jam scheduling breaks, UB will face either the Bison, led by 2021-22 MEAC Freshman of the Year and 1st-Team All-MEAC selection Elijah Hawkins, or the Cowboys, who were tabbed to finish second in the preseason Mountain West poll behind the strength of preseason conference player of the year Graham Ike.
TBA (Nov. 21). Buffalo will be playing someone! We’ll see how things go in the Paradise Jam.
CANISIUS (Nov. 27). The Bulls will seek revenge for last season’s traumatic loss to their crosstown rivals. The Golden Griffins are expected to finish near the bottom of the MAAC this season, but preseason 2nd-team All-MAAC guard Jordan Henderson will be a handful.
ST. BONAVENTURE (Dec. 3). The cupboard is bare for the Bonnies, who lost a shocking 99.5% of their scoring from last season due to transfers and pro hoop dreams. March Schmidt’s crew is penciled in at 10th in Atlantic 10 preseason poll.
ST. JOHN FISHER (Dec. 6). A glorified scrimmage against the Division 3 Cardinals, a perennial force in the Empire 8 conference.
TULANE (Dec. 10). UB will face the Green Wave in Atlanta as part of Holiday Hoopsgiving. Tulane was picked fourth in the American Athletic Conference in the preseason poll, and sophomore guard Jalen Cook—who averaged 18 points per game last season—was a unanimous selection to the AAC preseason 1st Team.
AT WEST VIRGINIA (Dec. 18). The Mountaineers are looking at a rare second consecutive down season, predicted to finish ninth in the Big 12 preseason poll. Coach Bob Huggins, however, has raked in talent from the transfer portal, so we’ll withhold judgement until we see Huggy Bear’s team in action.
SUNY CANTON (Dec. 21). Meet the Division III Kangaroos, coached by former St. John Fisher assistant Dylan Seikel. Seven-foot-one Australian Andrew Fitch led D3 hoops in blocks last season, averaging 4.4 per game.
AT MICHIGAN STATE (Dec. 30). The Spartans enter the season unranked, but, along with UConn, are certainly the most dangerous foe on Buffalo’s schedule this season. Tom Izzo’s crew is 31st in the country and led by preseason All-Big Ten selection Malik Hall.
OHIO (Jan. 3). MAC play may seem like sweet relief after a fairly rough non-conference schedule for a team that’s going to take some time to gel. The Bobcats lost star forward Ben Vander Plas to Virginia, guard Mark Sears to Alabama, and forward Jeff Carter to graduation. The ‘Cats are still picked to finish fifth in the MAC behind Dwight Wilson III, who averaged 14.5 points per game and 7.5 rebounds per game in 2020-21 before missing last season with injury, and 6’11 Louisville transfer Gabe Wiznitzer.
NORTHERN ILLINOIS (Jan. 7). The Huskies posted nine wins last season and are expected to be back in the MAC basement this season. The backcourt of Chicago native Keshawn Williams (16.3 points per game) and Kaleb Thornton (8.1 points per game, four assists per game) are asked to pace NIU back towards respectability.
AT MIAMI (OHIO) (Jan. 10). Another anticipated bottom-dweller, the RedHawks gave the Bulls a hard time last season—upsetting UB once, and taking them to the wire in the rematch. Diminutive guard Mekhi Lairy, who averaged 13.6 points and 3.4 assists per game, is back, and holdover Kamari Williams and William & Mary transfer Julian Lewis should help make up for the loss of scorers like Dae Dae Grant and Dalonte Brown.
AT CENTRAL MICHIGAN (Jan. 14). Yet another competitor for the bottom of the conference standings, the Chippewas expect former Chicago schoolboy star guard Boopie Miller to continue his development in his second season (13.1 points per game, 4.6 assists as a freshman). Transfer guard Jesse Zarzuela led Coppin State in scoring (14.7 points per game) and assists (3.3) in 2021-22.
BOWLING GREEN (Jan. 17). Buffalo needs to make hay over these four games—BGSU is picked to finish ninth in the conference after losing double-digit scorers Daeqwon Plowden, Myron Gordon, and Joseph Reese. Duquesne transfer Leon Ayers III averaged 10 points per game last season, and junior college transfer Madani Diarra brings a 6’11 frame into a conference where such height puts him in rare air.
TOLEDO (Jan. 20). The patsies stop here. The Rockets are expected to challenge Kent State for the regular season title with preseason All-MAC selection forward J.T. Shumate, a 48 percent three-point shooter who knocked down 15 points and grabbed six rebounds per game in 2021-22.
AT BALL STATE (Jan. 24). The Cardinals are picked to finish fourth in the MAC, and boast All-MAC center Payton Sparks, last year’s MAC Freshman of the Year and one of the top young big men in the country. Sparks averaged 13.5 points and 8.5 boards per contest as a first-year player out of Winchester, Indiana.
AT KENT STATE (Jan. 27). The Golden Flashes are the preseason top dogs in the MAC. Former Duquesne transfer Sincere Carry was MAC Player of the Year in 2021-22, declared for the NBA Draft, then decided to return to campus, bringing back his 17.9 points per game, 4.8 assists per game, and 4.5 rebounds per game. He’s joined in the backcourt by tough guard Malique Jacobs, who scores over 12 points and grabs over seven boards per contest.
AKRON (Jan. 31). The Zips ruined Buffalo’s season last year, knocking the Bulls off three times—including in the first round of the MAC tournament. While dangerous big man Ali Ali and guard Bryan Trimble are gone—transferred to Butler and Missouri State, respectively—Akron returns senior guard Xavier Castaneda (13.6 points per game), preseason All-MAC center Enrique Freeman (13.2 points, 10.8 boards), and guard Trendon Hankerson, an NIU transfer who averaged over 11 points per game.
AT WESTERN MICHIGAN (Feb. 4). The Broncos have a new coach, longtime Michigan State assistant Dwight Stephens, and a preseason 1st-Team All-MAC guard in Lamar Norman, Jr. Norman’s high school teammate, Markeese Hastings, averaged nine points and nine rebounds a game last season, and junior guard B. Artis White (7.7 points, two assists per game) may be on the verge of a breakout. Are things turning around in Kalamazoo? Maybe.
EASTERN MICHIGAN (Feb. 7). The Eagles’ hopes will rise and fall with former five-star recruit Emoni Bates, the young man once hailed as the next Kevin Durant whose career stalled at Memphis and then came dangerously close to ending up in prison on weapons charges this offseason. Bates, a Ypsilanti native, scored 27 points in an exhibition against Grand Valley State this past Thursday. Will this story have a happy ending after all?
KENT STATE (Feb. 11); AT OHIO (Feb. 14); AT AKRON (Feb. 18); CENTRAL MICHIGAN (Feb. 21); AT TOLEDO (Feb. 25); AT NORTHERN ILLINOIS (Feb. 28); MIAMI (March 3).
Where We Are Now, Part II: Buffalo Women’s Basketball
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What a journey! The 2021-22 season was a Russian novel for the UB women’s basketball team. Head coach Felisha Legette-Jack led a team devastated by injuries, hampered by a nonexistent bench, and clouded by the constant threat of COVID to a 25-9 record, including a 16-4 mark in MAC play. The final chapters included a victorious conference tournament run culminating in a MAC title and an NCAA tournament appearance against #18 Tennessee in which Buffalo trailed by just four with 21 seconds remaining in the third quarter before ultimately falling, 80-67.
Guard Dyaisha Fair established herself as one of the top scorers in the country. Australian import Georgia Woolley became a legend in her freshman season, winning the conference’s award as the top newcomer. Summer Hemphill capped a majestic career with a string of double-doubles.
Then—like any good Russian novel—a series of calamities.
Good-Bye, Orange Brick Road
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On March 26, Legette-Jack accepted the head coaching job at Syracuse, the school where she was perhaps the most impactful women’s basketball player in program history.
Four Bulls followed their coach: Fair, Woolley, impact forward Saniaa Wilson, and junior guard Cheyenne McEvans.
Unsurprisingly, Lexi McNabb— a UB commit, two-time Arizona state hoops champ, and daughter of 'Cuse notables Donavan McNabb and Rachel (Nurse) McNabb—also opted for the Orange.
Assistant coaches Kristen Sharkey, Khyreed Carter, and Blair Estarfaa and Director of Basketball Operations, Amber Moore, also trekked to Syracuse.
When all was said and done, only one player—and none of the core coaching staff—remained from the 2021-22 team.
So where do we go from here?
Transfers: That’s Life (and Lifeblood) When Coaches Change
There’s no use getting upset about the transfer situation. Consider what Rachel Lenzi of The Buffalo News wrote earlier this year:
Roster turnover after a coaching change in a women's basketball program isn't isolated to UB. According to ESPN, 37 programs have had coaching changes either during or following the 2021-22 season. Of those programs, 12 have had at least seven players enter the transfer portal, and 20 have had at least five enter the transfer portal.
You can yell at the waves, or you can start swimming. New women’s head basketball coach Becky Burke is a swimmer.
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Burke comes to Buffalo from USC Upstate where she was named the 2022 Big South Coach of the Year. She took over the program in 2020 and (in) just her second year, Burke engineered one of the best turnarounds in the country, leading an Upstate team picked 10th in the preseason to the No. 3 overall seed and a first-round bye in the 2022 Big South Championship. Her club…finished the season ranked sixth in the nation in field goal percentage.
Prior to taking the reins at Upstate, Burke had an impressive two-year stint at the NCAA DII level as the head coach at the University of Charleston in West Virginia. She brought the Golden Eagles back to national prominence in just her first season at the helm of the program in 2018-19, leading the team to a 25-7 record which was a 12-win improvement from the previous year. The Golden Eagles cracked the national top-25 that season and made their first NCAA Tournament since 2014 while leading the country in field goal percentage and the Mountain East Conference in defensive scoring.
Burke earned a spot on the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association 30-Under-30 list in 2019. She was the only head coach to appear on the exclusive list.
Burke had a standout playing career at the University of Louisville…In four years as a Cardinal, she helped lead her team to three NCAA Tournament appearances, including the championship game in 2009 and the Sweet Sixteen in 2011. She led the Cards in scoring her sophomore year and in 3-point field goal percentage her junior year. She tied a then school record for 3-pointers in a game (8) her senior year and ranks fifth all-time in 3-pointers made (249). Burke is a member of the 1,000-point club.
Burke’s an absolute ball of energy.
“We have days where we start at 6 a.m. at practice, and then I drive six hours to a high school gym to recruit,” Burke told The Buffalo News. “And you’re talking 14-15 hour days, but I’m just so thankful for it. It’s not work. I don’t work! I get to go watch basketball for a living, I get to coach, I get to bounce a basketball around. This is not work. We’re so fortunate and blessed to do it.”
OK, we’re in. Let’s see who Burke brought in to lead UB’s title defense.
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State of Women’s Basketball in the Mid-American Conference
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Not much of a surprise here—when your team loses 92 percent of its roster, it’s reasonable to expect a decline. Buffalo enters this season as an unknown quantity to essentially everyone not named Becky Burke. And while Burke recently got a commitment from Western New York star Brianna Barr-Buday for the 2024 season, things will be touch and go for a while in Amherst.
Toledo was 19-1 last season in the MAC; sophomore Ally Becki, perhaps the best freshman in the conference last season behind Woolley, returns for Ball State; Bowling Green, a .500 squad in 2021-22, brings back preseason All-MAC nominees Lexi Fleming (herself a former MAC Freshman of the Year) and Kadie Hempfling, who’s essentially the Falcons’ version of former UB great Summer Hemphill. Hemphill, by the way, is now an assistant coach for the Daemen women’s basketball team.
Tracking Down the 2022-23 Team
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Jazmine Young (5’8, Fifth Year) - Yes, she’s the only Bull left standing from the 2021-22 campaign. Jazmine (pictured above) missed 12 games last season, losing her starting job and accelerating the ascension of Georgia Woolley. In total, Young averaged 20 minutes and 6.1 points, 2.1 rebounds, and 1.4 assists per game for the conference champs—her second with Buffalo after transferring from Tennessee State. She stayed with the Bulls because she liked what Becky Burke had to say in their first conversation. “When I first met Coach Burke, that was the first thing that came out of her mouth. ‘I want to win,’” Jazmine told The Buffalo News. “The fact we have that in common, it’s let’s get this thing going. I want to win. You want to win. Let’s figure this out.” Young started, scored 15 points, and collected five steals in the season-opening exhibition against Daemen on Oct. 30.
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Briyanna Baron (5’5, Sr.) - A bit of a mystery: there’s not a lot of info about what Briyanna’s been up to for the past few years. She was, however, considered one of the top point guard prospects in New York State coming out of Nazareth High School in Brooklyn back in 2019. Read her writeup on scoutsfocus.com; it’ll be interesting to learn more about her hiatus from the game.
Caelan Ellis (5’7, Fr.) - Caelan was one of the top players in Georgia’s GHSA 7A Conference and committed to USC Upstate before following Coach Burke to Buffalo. “Caelan is a very special talent, specifically in terms of her ability to shoot the basketball,” Burke said when she signed Ellis to the Spartans. “She has a tremendous feel for the game and a winning mentality. Caelan is a fierce competitor that plays with a chip on her shoulder and shows signs of being a great leader on the floor.” Ellis logged 13 minutes and was two-of-three for three-point range in the Daemen exhibition.
Kiara Johnson (6’2, Fifth Year) - Another Buffalo native and an alum of Summer Hemphill’s alma mater, Cardinal O’Hara (Kiara’s teams won four straight Monsignor Martin titles). Johnson, like Ronni Nwara, has taken a long road back home. Kiara spent two seasons in Ypsilanti with Eastern Michigan and a year at Towson, just north of Baltimore, before returning to the 716. Johnson started at forward, played 27 minutes, and scored five points with eight rebounds against Daemen. She’s also a helluva mom.
Emerita Mashaire (6’0, Soph.) - Emerita is a transfer from Cincinnati, where she started three games as a freshman in 2021-22. Mashaire has excellent credentials—the guard/forward put together a distinguished prep career in her native Finland, where “she won the World School Championship gold medal with HBA Marsky and a European Championship Division B gold medal and a Finnish Championship bronze medal with the Finland U20 and U18 national teams.” Mashaire scored 10 points in 38 minutes as a starting forward versus Daemen.
Ronni Nwora (6’2, R-Soph.) - Ronnie (pictured above) comes from one of Buffalo’s top basketball families—her dad, Alex, coaches Erie Community College’s men’s team and her brother, Jordan, spent the past two seasons with the Milwaukee Bucks. She’s been a basketball seeker after her distinguished high school career with The Park School—redshirting for Georgia Tech, transferring (and sitting) at Saint Louis, and is now back home with the Bulls to compete for a starting spot at forward. She did not play against Daemen.
Hattie Ogden (6’2, Fr.) - Let’s just give it to you straight from UBBulls.com, because this is good stuff: “Ogden, a rising star in Canada, comes to Buffalo from Magrath, Alberta, Canada where she starred at Magrath High School, averaging 24 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and six steals per game, while shooting 42.8% from three-point range as a senior. She recorded 14 double-doubles, seven triple doubles and a quadruple double on the year while leading the Pandas to the 4A Provincial final for the first time in school history. She also received First Team All-Star honors for the second time in her high school career. Over the summer, she played AAU ball for the Kia Nurse Elite EYBL team, which is widely regarded as the top AAU program in Canada.” Hello, future of the program! Ogden scored two points in 12 minutes off the bench against Daemen.
Latrice Perkins (5’11, Fifth Year) - Latrice averaged 11.9 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game for the University of Charleston (West Virginia), where she spent the first four years of her college career. She was third-team All-Colonial Athletic Conference guard as a sophomore. Perkins was held scoreless in seven minutes off the bench against Daemen.
Kayla Salmons (6’3, Soph.) - Fulfilling the Bulls’ mandatory Australian quota this season is Kayla, a forward from Melbourne via Idaho State. A solid prospect during her years in Oz, she played 19 games last season for the Bengals. Salmons had a rebound and two fouls in two minutes against Daemen.
Re’Shawna Stone (5’6, Grad Student) - Another big pull from the D2 champion Glenville State squad. Re’Shawna was the Division 2 National Player of the Year, a guard who scored nearly 17 points a game while leading the Pioneers in assists, steals, and threes. Stone and her once-and-future teammate Zakiyah Winfield also bring a critical element—familiarity—to their new environment, which should be crucial in what is heating up to be an intriguing battle for backcourt minutes. Re’Shawna scored three points on one-for-seven shooting from the field in 28 minutes as a starting guard against Daemen.
Chellia Watson (5’8, R-Jr.) - A guard who gets buckets. Chellia is a veteran of Coach Burke’s system, transferring into UB after a first-team All-Big South performance for USC Upstate last year. She also spent a season at Cincinnati, where she appeared in 30 games and broke double figures four times. Watson did not play against Daemen.
Zakiyah Winfield (5’7, Fifth Year) - Zakiyah comes to Buffalo after a distinguished career with Division 2 Glenville (West Virginia) State. From UBBulls.com: “(In 2020-21, Winfield earned) WBCA First Team All-American and earned First Team All-Mountain East Conference and MEC All-Tournament honors after leading the team in scoring, averaging 20.6 points to go with 7.8 rebounds, 4.9 assists and 2.0 steals per game.” She followed up by leading the Pioneers in scoring en route to a D2 national title in 2021-22. Zakiyah led the Bulls in usage rate (31%), scored a team-high 19 points, and played 37 minutes in the Daemen win.
THOSE WE’VE LOST
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Adebola Adeyeye - Adebola played in 116 games over her Buffalo career and averaged six points and six rebounds a game. She was, however, more than her stats: Ade gave the Bulls toughness and swagger. “She is a high-motor player with a great basketball IQ,” says Kyra Elzy, head coach at Kentucky—Adeyeye’s new home. “Ade is fun to watch play because she brings elite energy to the floor at all times. She is an exceptional rebounder and really brings a tenacity to the glass.” All true.
Laney Bone - A 5’10 freshman forward from Chattanooga, Tennessee, Laney entered the transfer portal in late April and does not appear to have selected a school at this time. Injured for the her senior year of high school after earning District DII-A Player of the Year and All-State honors as a junior, she did not log any stats as a UB freshman.
Dominique Camp - The savvy point guard who transferred to UB from Troy was on the move again after last season, transferring to MAC rival Akron. Dominique had the tough job of feeding Fair, Hemphill, and Woolley—initiating the offense, and then playing off-ball as Fair, in particular, cooked. She started 24 games and averaged 4.6 points and four assists per contest.
Loren Christie - As a junior, Loren went hard in the paint for a team with almost no bench. She averaged over five points and four rebounds per game, played tough defense, and was an emotional leader for a team riddled with injuries. She transferred to San Francisco.
Dyaisha Fair - Dyaisha still has a reasonable claim as the greatest women’s player in UB history, but leaving for Syracuse puts a bittersweet end on a magnificent two-year run. As a rookie, she won the MAC Freshman of the Year award and was the conference player of the week four times while leading Buffalo in points, assists, and steals. Last season, she was one of the top scorers in America, earned first-team All-MAC and All-MAC Defensive recognition, and landed on the late-season watch lists for the Nancy Lieberman (top point guard), Becky Hammon (best mid-major player), and Dawn Staley awards. She carried the Bulls on her back to a MAC title, averaging roughly a third of Buffalo’s points while logging over 37 minutes per game. To say she will be missed in a dramatic—dramatic—understatement.
Elea Gaba - A 6’3 center whose impact on 2021-22 was blunted by injury, Gaba had started 28 of 49 games over her first two seasons in the Blue and White. She is currently playing professionally in Germany as a member of Gisa Lions MBC, a club located in the city of Halle.
Summer Hemphill - What can you say about Summer Hemphill? She appeared in 134 games during her UB career, scored over 1,000 points and grabbed over 1,000 rebounds. In her final season—her sixth—she averaged a double-double, led the team in rebounds and blocks, and earned All-MAC Second Team, All-MAC Defensive Team, and Academic All-MAC honors. We’ve advocated for a statue for football star James Patterson outside UB Stadium; Summer Hemphill should have her own permanent monument at Alumni Arena.
Nia Jordan - Since 2019, Nia has logged time for three schools—Labette (Parsons, Kansas) Community College, New Orleans, and Buffalo. After averaging 5.4 minutes per game in 20 contests this past season, the 6’1 guard from Philadelphia is moving on once again—she signed on with head coach Janell Crayton at Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach.
Ramatoulaye Keita (5’11, R-Jr.) - While Ramatoulaye only appeared in 14 games last season, averaging just over five minutes and a rebound, she exhibited two traits you want to see in a deep reserve—athleticism and no fear. While listed as a member of the team as recently as a month ago, she is no longer on the roster.
Cheyenne McEvans - In 2020-21, Cheyenne, a 5’9 guard from Southfield, Michigan, averaged 11.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 2.1 assists per game. She was injured 12 games into the 2021-22 season after starting in 30 of the 34 games she played for the Bulls. She’ll join Coach Legette-Jack in Syracuse.
Casey Valenti-Paea - A two-year stalwart on the UB bench, Casey arrived in Buffalo as a sharpshooter from Melbourne, Australia and never quite found a place in the rotation. She missed serious time in 2021-22 with injury. Valenti-Paea has found a new basketball home in Southern California as a reserve guard for Long Beach State.
Kaelonn Wilson - A 5’11 forward who spent her freshman season at UB as a redshirt, Kaelonn transferred a bit closer to her Piscataway, New Jersey home by joining SUNY Binghamton.
Saniaa Wilson - A 6’0 high school star out of Rochester, Saniaa missed the first three months of her freshman campaign with injury but had an immediate impact off the bench when she was finally activated. She’s joining Coach Legette-Jack in Syracuse.
Georgia Woolley - Another of the Syracuse emigres, Woolley averaged 14.6 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 1.9 assists in 34 games. Her numbers would be higher except she took about a month to acclimate to the Division 1 game. It’ll be interesting to see how Woolley levels up to the ACC competition.
Previewing the 2022-23 UB Women’s Season Schedule
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DAEMEN (Exhibition, Oct. 30). Off on the right foot with a 61-51 victory at Alumni Arena.
AT CANISIUS (Nov. 7). The neighboring Griffs are picked to finish tied for ninth in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference this season, and are led by preseason All-MAAC junior guard Dani Haskell—a local product out of Franklinville, New York.
AT STONEHILL (Nov. 14). The Skyhawks are a new addition to Division 1 women’s hoops, having joined the Northeast Conference this past summer. Stonehill—located in Easton, Massachusetts—went 16-7 with a 12-7 record in the Division 2 NE10 last season.
PRINCETON (Nov. 19). The Bulls played an instant classic against the Tigers in New Jersey last season, falling 79-77 in overtime at Jadwin Gymnasium. Princeton is ranked #25 in the WCBA Preseason Poll and return a trio of stars in Julia Cunningham, Ellie Mitchell, and Grace Stone. The Tigers are ranked #24 in the preseason AP Top 25.
MERCYHURST (Nov. 22). The Division II Lakers bring back 12 players, six seniors, and are picked fourth in the PSAC West conference. A nice test for a UB team that needs to build cohesion in the non-conference slate.
DREXEL (Nov. 27). Keishana Washington is the preseason CAA player of the year and the Dragons are the favorite to win the conference for the second consecutive season. An intriguing mid-major matchup.
AT RHODE ISLAND (Dec. 1). UB dropped the Rams by 14 points last season in Buffalo. Rhody, however, is rarely an easy win, and the squad’s picked to finish third in the Atlantic 10 after a second-place regular season performance in 2021-22 earned Tammy Reiss’ bunch a WNIT berth.
AT NIAGARA (Dec. 7). The indomitable Parker sisters, Buffalo natives Angel and Aaliyah, continue to lead the Purple Eagles. Both are preseason All-MAAC picks, and their NU team is predicted to finish third in the conference.
LIU (Dec. 10). NEC Rookie of the Year and preseason all-conference selection Emaia O’Brien is back for the Sharks, who finished 9-18 in 2021-22. The guard averages 10 points, two boards, and 1.3 assists per game.
BUCKNELL (Dec. 20). The Bulls fell behind the Bison by 23 points last season before storming back, eventually losing by 11 in a closer-than-it-looked 80-69 loss. Sophomore guard Cecelia Collins is a preseason All-Patriot League pick, and Bucknell is slotted into fourth place in the coaches’ poll.
AT ST. BONAVENTURE (Dec. 28). The final non-conference game on UB’s slate are the struggling Bonnies, tabbed for 15th in the A-10 this season. Shot-blocker extraordinaire I’yanna Lops remains in the fold for Jesse Fleming’s bunch.
AT KENT STATE (Jan. 4). While the Golden Flashes are fourth in the preseason MAC poll, they’re part of the tight-knit foursome at the top that will likely be fighting for control of the conference all season. Six of KSU’s top scorers are back, including hard-nosed guard Katie Shumate and tough inside presence Lindsey Thall.
CENTRAL MICHIGAN (Jan. 7). The Chippewas only managed four wins in 2021-22 and their best player, Molly Davis, transferred to Iowa this past spring. Probably not going to be a year to remember in Mount Pleasant.
AT OHIO (Jan. 11). A .500 team in 2021-22, the Bobcats are expected to finish in the middle of the MAC pack again this season. The new campaign marks the first time since 2017 OU will be without point guard Cece Hooks, one of the most decorated players in the history of the program and the conference. After a brief stint with the Minnesota Lynx of the WNBA, Hooks has played professionally for Nyon in the Swiss Basketball League.
BALL STATE (Jan. 18). Buffalo has a bone to pick with preseason All-MAC 1st-teamer Allie Becki. “Becki made the ESPN top 10 plays after nailing a half-court shot at the buzzer to enter intermission against Buffalo on Jan. 26,” notes BallStateSports.com, “helping Ball State take the lead over the Bulls at the break and later earn the victory.” It won’t be easy. The Cardinals, picked to finish second in the conference, have their own beef with the Bulls—UB beat BSU in the conference title game to take the MAC crown and advance to the NCAA tournament.
AT WESTERN MICHIGAN (Jan. 21). Sophomore sharpshooting guard Lauren Ross, who averaged 17.3 points per game and knocked down 56 threes, is back to lead the Broncos. WMU, winners of 10 conference games in 2021-22, are predicted to land at sixth in the MAC.
BOWLING GREEN (Jan. 25). BGSU is likely going to be one of the four or five teams elbowing for position atop the conference, and Lexi Fleming and Kadie Hempfling will be throwing those ‘bows. Fleming is on the Becky Hammon Mid-Major Player of the Year Preseason Watch List, and Hempfling is the only player in BGSU women's basketball history with at least 1,000 points, 700 rebounds and 400 assists.
AT AKRON (Jan. 28). Look out for sophomore forward Reagan Bass, an All-Freshman team honoree after making 25 starts in 2021-22 while averaging 12 points and 1.19 blocks per game (good for third in the conference).
AT MIAMI (Feb. 1). While the season outlook isn’t great for the RedHawks—they’re pegged at 11th in the MAC—keep an eye on guard Peyton Scott. She’s ninth all-time in scoring at Miami with 1,441 career points and averaged 19.2 points, 6.1 rebounds and 3.7 assists per contest in 2021-22—all of which led the squad.
NORTHERN ILLINOIS (Feb. 4). Perhaps a MAC spoiler? The Huskies are tabbed at fifth in the preseason poll, and return star senior forward A’Jah Davis (16 points, 12 boards per game in 2021-22) and guard Chelby Koker (17.8 points per game).
AT TOLEDO (Feb. 8). The Rockets are the class of the conference, at least in the eyes of MAC coaches. And why not? With a pair of preseason 1st-Team All-MAC selections—seniors Quinesha Lockett, an 18-points per game swing player, and point guard Sophia Wiard, who scores nearly 13 per game while handing out five dimes per contest—coming back from a 29-win team (19-1 in MAC play), it’s tough to choose a more dominant group. But that’s why they play the games!
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