Here's a look at "issues" surrounding women's programs as the start of college basketball season approaches ...
CANISIUS: Time to show that two seasons of growth will finally pay dividends. The current junior class includes three players taller than 6-1 and a standout guard. Last year's recruiting class brought Kayla Hoohuli, who was one of the league's top freshmen. Still, last season's results didn't quite live up to expectations. If the experience gained by a talented group begins paying dividends, this could be a very good season for the Golden Griffins. But ... at least one more "youngster' might have to grow up fast. Freshman Tiahana Mills is listed as the starter at that position right now.
OPENING GAME: Canisius at the University of Buffalo, tonight.
NON-LEAGUE GAME OF NOTE: Canisius at St. Bonaventure, Dec. 16.
FAIRFIELD: Replacing key losses. The Stags graduated players from, arguably, the two most-important positions ... point guard (Desiree Pina) and high-scoring forward (Taryn Johnson). Replacements are Felicia DaCruz, who didn't play a lot last season as Pina's back-up, and senior forward Brittany MacFarlane who was the conference's Sixth Player of the Year award winner last year. MacFarlane, though, won't need to duplicate Johnson's scoring ... there are plenty of other offensive weapons on the team. And, freshman Lizzie Ball might get significant minutes at the point.
OPENING GAME: Fairfield at Florida, tonight.
NON-LEAGUE GAME OF NOTE: Fairfield at Iowa State, Dec. 9.
IONA: Find some youngsters as good as the ones who came in last year. Guard Damika Martinez became the first freshman to lead the conference in scoring last season, and Aleesha Powell had a strong first season, too. Can the Gaels find that kind of talent in first-year players once again? They might need to as three of last year's top five scorers are gone and the current roster includes seven freshmen, several of which will almost assuredly be asked to play big minutes right away. But, if an exhibition game is any indication, Joy Adams, a 5-11 freshman forward, and Aaliyah Robinson, a 5-9 freshman guard, aren't far from being ready. Adams had 17 points and 10 rebounds in the exhibition contest, and had a stellar high school career at Evans H.S. in Orlando, Fla., where she finished with 1,541 career points and 1,081 rebounds. Robinson had 13 points in the exhibition contest, and she averaged 17 points and 11 rebounds per game last year at Wilbur Cross H.S. in Connecticut.
SEASON OPENER: Navy at Iona, tonight.
NON-LEAGUE GAME OF NOTE: Iona at Duke, Nov. 18.
LOYOLA: Ensure that do-everything guard Katie Sheahin doesn't need to be the proverbial one-person band. Sheahin is either the best, or second-best player in the league, but she led the team in almost every category a year ago, and that was when she had a strong "second fiddle" in forward Miriam McKenzie. With McKenzie gone, someone has to step up and help out. Sophomore Kara Marshall, who had a solid freshman year, is a likely candidate, as is forward Alyssa Sutherland, who played hurt for a good portion of last season.
SEASON OPENER: Loyola at Hartford, tonight.
NON-LEAGUE GAME OF NOTE: Maryland at Loyola, Nov. 11.
MANHATTAN: Two issues here, both of which head coach John Olenowski has capably handled in past seasons: Find a point guard, handle the boards without much height. The Jaspers, whether through trial and error or injuries, used five different players at the point last year and several of them are gone. Returnees are Allison Skrec, who started five games last season before an injury derailed her season, and Maggie Blair, who didn't contribute much else (1.7 points per game) on the offensive end. Both, though, recorded more assists than turnovers last season. Inside? There's only one 6-footer with considerable experience, Monica Roeder. And, she's basically a long-range shooter.
SEASON OPENER: Towson at Manhattan, Saturday.
NON-LEAGUE GAME OF NOTE: Oakland at Manhattan, Dec. 8.
MARIST: Issue? What issue? Maybe finding room in the McCann Arena facility to hang another MAAC championship banner. OK, the Red Foxes lost MAAC Player of the Year Corielle Yarde, but there are three strong starters returning, a point guard (Kristine Best) coming back after being lost early last season through injury, an impact 6-foot-3 transfer (Tori Jarosz from Vanderbilt) and as strong a freshman class of any in the league. Issue? Maybe finding enough playing time for a roster that legitimately goes at least 10 deep.
SEASON OPENER: Vermont at Marist, tonight.
NON-LEAGUE GAME OF NOTE: UConn, Nov. 23, in the Paradise Jam Tournament in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
NIAGARA: Take the next step. The Purple Eagles did take a major step forward a year ago, turning around a slow start (5-13 in their first 18 games) into a fast finish (8-6 down the stretch). Included in the lat-season run was two losses to Marist, both in overtime. The second of those came in the MAAC tournament's semifinal round. Eight of the team's top nine players return, including the four leading scorers. Still, Niagara was only 9-9 in league play a year ago. It's poised for much better this season.
SEASON OPENER: Niagara at Robert Morris, tonight.
NON-LEAGUE GAME OF NOTE: Niagara at Michigan, Dec. 29.
RIDER: Like Niagara, Rider is also poised to take the next step. But, a key in doing so will be to keep its players on the court. It lost standout forward Shereen Lightbourne in the preseason a year ago with a knee injury, then lost guards Ali Heller (knee) and Sironda Chambers (academics) in midseason. This year, Lightbourne is already out again for the season with more knee woes. And, another issue ... develop a point guard. The candidates are a redshirt freshman and an inexperienced sophomore.
SEASON OPENER: Rider at Stony Brook, tonight.
KEY GAME OF NOTE: Rider at Pittsburgh, Dec. 16.
SAINT PETER'S: Find some offense. The Peahens averaged 53.6 points per game last season, the lowest total of the 10 MAAC teams. And, the top two scorers from a year ago are gone. Returning swingplayer Kristal Edwards and point guard Aziza May, who had a strong freshman season but didn't show much improvement off that as a sophomore, are both capable of taking on bigger scoring roles.
SEASON OPENER: Saint Peter's at Brown, Saturday.
NON-LEAGUE GAME OF NOTE: Saint Peter's at Sacred Heart, Nov. 20.
SIENA: Find a point guard. It's an issue that has bothered the Saints for the past several years. First-year head coach Ali Jaques seems to have settled on Ciera Stewart, a junior who only averaged 0.5 points per game last season. The other candidate is Ida Krogh, a redshirt freshman who is already in the starting lineup and is probably the team's best passer. The Saints have everyone back up front, but will need its inexperienced guards to step up to have a successful season.
SEASON OPENER: Fairleigh Dickinson at Siena, tonight.
KEY NON-LEAGUE GAME OF NOTE: Siena at Pittsburgh, Nov. 13.