When coaches talk about games that will make them better, this is one of the matchups they have in mind.
Medaille and Buffalo State will meet in men’s basketball at 7 tonight at the Buffalo State Sports Arena. Both have built success over the last few years, and both are looking for a good early-season test.
The Mavericks (3-0) are coming off an NCAA Tournament year. Last season they went 25-3 and captured the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference title and ensuing automatic bid into the Division III NCAA field.
But this year the Mavs are young. Very young. Their roster includes seven freshman and just three seniors. Two of the team’s starters, Alex Baron and Jammal Coleman, are sophomores who need to produce and help the three seniors — Tyler Stevens (Depew), Anthony Battaglia (Depew) and Josh Laureano — assimilate the freshmen to the culture of Medaille basketball.
That’s not an easy task considering Laureano and Battaglia have taken on new roles. Laureano was a valuable utility player before settling in at back-up point guard but he’s now the starter.
Battaglia was thrust in the starting lineup after a back injury to sophomore Sean Bellomo (Lake Shore) put last year’s AMCC Rookie of the Year on the sidelines. Medaille coach Mike MacDonald said they are waiting to hear the final word from doctors over the next two weeks to see if Bellomo will be able to return this year or miss the rest of the season.
While the Mavs have wins over SUNY-ESF (College of Environmental Science and Forestry), Cobleskill and Cazenovia, McDonald sees his team very much as a work in progress.
“It’s going to take some time, We’re off to a good start but we’re about to find out where we’re really at when we play at Buff State,” MacDonald said. “It’s good that we schedule these types of games. I think it will make us better going forward. That’s the hope. With this group, I keep talking to them and telling them we better not be the same team we are in February that we are in November. But I’m confident that by February we will have learned some things.”
Buffalo State (1-1) is feeling around for its groove and identity in these early games. The Bengals have nine freshmen and sophomores and only one returning starter — senior Jake Simmons. And Simmons’ status was uncertain until he was granted a hardship waiver and a fourth year of eligibility.
“I think we really have a long way to go,” Buffalo State coach Fajri Ansari said. “We have a lot of new players in new roles. So we have a little bit of a growing process and we’re still feeling each other out.”
Last year, the Bengals went 18-9. Two years ago they made a run in the NCAA tournament losing in the regional semifinal. But building on success means learning to find balance on both ends of the floor.
“As a team, we rely on the perimeter shot too much,” Ansari said. “We’ve got a bit of size and we have to have more balanced scoring if we’re going to be successful. And then you have to be aggressive on both ends of the court. We can score, but we have to do a better job defending.”
Sophomore Roderick Epps, who was named the SUNYAC Player of the Week, averaged 25.5 points in the Bengals’ first two games while Simmons is averaging 19.
The Bengals are 5-0 against Medaille, but the two teams have not met since a 78-44 victory by Buffalo State on Dec. 15, 2006.
Among the other local schools, Hilbert was off to a 3-1 start entering Monday’s game at Keuka. Dan McFarland (St. Marys/Lancaster) leads the Hawks with a 17.0 scoring average.
Hilbert hosts D’Youville on Wednesday. The Spartans (0-4) are led by freshman Marcus Clarke (Archbishop Walsh) who is averaging 13 points a game.
Meanwhile Daemen makes the transition from NAIA to NCAA Division II this year, playing without a conference in the United States Collegiate Athletic Association (USCAA). The Wildcats return eight players from last year’s team that went to the NAIA national tournament. Five players are averaging double figures for Daemen, led by Gerald Beverly (16.6 ppg, 9.1 rpg). The Wildcats host Maine-Fort Kent on Saturday.
Erie Community College is coming off back-to-back NJCAA tournament appearances and began the year ranked No. 8 in the preseason national polls. The Kats are off to 5-2 start and play Saturday at Cuyahoga (Ohio) Community College.
Three local teams are looking to continue momentum from success last season — Medaille, Buffalo State and Daemen.
Medaille went 24-5 last season, missing an NCAA tournament bid with a loss to LaRoche in the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference finals. They did, however, play in the postseason ECAC tournament winning the title for the first time.
The Mavericks are currently 2-2. Joelle Pollak (Kenmore East) leads the team in scoring (14.5 ppg) while Brittany Rowland, the team’s lone senior, is averaging 12.5 points.
Buffalo State had a record-breaking year last season. going 25-3 and capturing the regular season title in the State University at New York Athletic Conference before falling to Oneonta in the championship game of the conference tournament. The Bengals earned No. 23 in the DIII News Preseason National Poll.
The Bengals were 2-1 after a 69-56 win over D’Youville Monday. , Bianca Smiley (Sweet Home) was an honorable mention WBCA All-American selection last year and leads a group of six returning players.
Daemen finished 23-8 last season and its ninth NAIA national tournament appearance. This season as part of the transition to NCAA Division II, they are playing in the USCAA.
The Wildcats are off to a 10-2 start with four returning starters. They are outscoring their opponents by an average of 80-56. Chelsea Andorkea (16.0 ppg, 7.1 rpg) leads a trio of players who average double figures. Daemen hosts Maine-Fort Kent on Sunday.
D’Youville is 1-2 under first-year head coach Dan Glover. Glover, a Lake Shore alumnus, is a graduate of D’Youville and played for the men’s basketball team. Freshman Alexis Smith (13.5 ppg, 8.0 rpg) has paced the Spartans in the early season games.
Hilbert is 3-2 after a 73-66 win Monday at Keuka. The Hawks are led by Natalie Whitman (Starpoint), who was averaging 15.5 points per game.
Meanwhile, ECC is coming off a year when it won its first Region III title and earned its first berth into the NJCAA national tournament.
Ranked No. 20 in the preseason polls, the Kats have started the season 4-0. They play at Cuyahoga (Ohio) CC Saturday.