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Big 4 Basketball Update: UB handles Bona in “rivalry” matchup, Niagara upsets Pitt

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This will be a weekly feature published every Sunday on From the 300 Level and will include recaps, podcasts and any other additional Big 4 Basketball content we can think of. You can follow Mike Bundt on Twitter @Mike_Bundt.

Last week might’ve been the best seven days of Big 4 Basketball that we’ve seen all season. Niagara started it off with a shocking win over Pittsburgh and No. 17 Buffalo finished it off with an impressive road performance against St. Bonaventure.

Big 4 programs went 6-1 during the week with the Bonnies suffering the only loss.

It’ll be a while before we have another similar week. We’re approaching one of the quietist periods of the season with the fall semester winding down and most schools heading into exam week.

With that said, here’s another edition of Stock Up, Stock Down! 

Week: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

BOISE, ID – MARCH 15: Head coach Nate Oats of the Buffalo Bulls reacts against the Arizona Wildcats during the first round of the 2018 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at Taco Bell Arena on March 15, 2018 in Boise, Idaho. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Stock Up!

#17/18 Buffalo:(9-0), Last Week: Wins over Le Moyne and St. Bonaventure

We’re getting awfully close to Buffalo’s toughest stretch of the season (at Syracuse 12/18, at Marquette 12/21) and the Bulls are sitting pretty with a perfect 9-0 record.

There was some doubt heading into the weekend whether or not they’d remain undefeated, mostly by Bona fans who were hoping to upset Buffalo heading into Saturday’s “rivalry” matchup.

I put “rivalry” in quotes intentionally but I’ll get into that later in this article and my podcast.

The fact is, there was no doubt following the first half of Saturday’s game that the Bulls would remain undefeated. UB used a 26-4 run midway through the first half to take a 37-14 lead and never looked back.

The Reilly Center is a DIFFICULT place to play but it didn’t phase Buffalo one bit. You could tell the Bulls players were pumped to take the court in a hostile atmosphere where the Bonnies student section had chanted “We want UB” just days before.

Nate Oats didn’t hold back, taking a shot at Bonnies fans following No. 17 Buffalo’s 80-62 win over St. Bonaventure.

The Bona student section got their wish and then some. Buffalo head coach Nate Oats added fuel to the fire after the game on Twitter, tweeting “Be careful what you wish for,” a direct shot at Bonnies fans, some who’ve been questioning the notoriety UB has been receiving.

Was that needed? Probably not but Oats is a straight shooter. He always has been and that’s a major reason why UB fans love him.

As far as Wednesday’s contest against Le Moyne is concerned, not much needs to be said. Buffalo played a terrible first half in their first game back from Northern Ireland, heading into halftime tied at 37.

They were a completely different team in the second half, outscoring the Dolphins 52-18 on their way to a 89-55 win.

CJ Massinburg posted the 2nd triple-double in UB history, recording 13 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists while Dontay Caruthers added 20 points off the bench.

It was Jayvon Graves stepping up against St. Bonaventure, scoring a career-high 19 points with Jeremy Harris right behind him with 18.

BOISE, ID – MARCH 15: Jeremy Harris #2 celebrates with Wes Clark #10 of the Buffalo Bulls in the second half against the Arizona Wildcats during the first round of the 2018 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at Taco Bell Arena on March 15, 2018 in Boise, Idaho. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

The Bulls have one more game prior to their huge two-game stretch against Syracuse and Marquette but they can’t afford to overlook their next opponent, Southern Illinois.

In a rare non-conference home-and-home series, Buffalo took down the Salukis 62-53 in their first game as a ranked program back on November 12th. Now, SIU travels to Alumni Arena with a 7-3 record, having won five straight heading into their matchup Wednesday evening against Murray State.

Southern Illinois is a very talented Missouri Valley Conference opponent. Believe me when I say this, a win next Saturday will help the Bulls resume come March!

Poll Watch:

There were only a few significant losses by teams ranked ahead of Buffalo this week. 16th ranked Kansas State fell to Tulsa and Marquette dropped 12th ranked Wisconsin. With those results, I’d expect Buffalo to possibly rise a spot of two to 16th in the AP Poll.

Quick Facts: 

  • Buffalo becomes the first Big 4 program to start a season 9-0 since St. Bonaventure and Niagara did so during the 1969-70 season.
  • CJ Massinburg recorded just the second triple-double in school history on Wednesday night as the #17 Buffalo Bulls defeated Le Moyne, 89-55.
  • Their win over the Bonnies on Saturday was their first road victory at St. Bonaventure since the 1915-16 season, before SBU fielded a full intercollegiate team.
  • The Bulls improved to 3-10 all-time against St. Bonaventure, picking up their first win at the Reilly Center.

Next Week: vs. Southern Illinois

There’s reason for optimism at Niagara this year following their win over Pitt.

Stock Up!

Niagara: (4-4), Last Week: Wins vs. Pittsburgh and New Hampshire

I love being proven wrong when it comes to Niagara!

It seems like whenever I start doubting them, they respond by picking up an impressive win! Unfortunately, the exact opposite is also usually true when I begin heaping praise upon them.

Luckily for Niagara, they were able to hold off America East bottom feeder, New Hampshire on Sunday afternoon, improving to 4-4 on the season.

The Purple Eagles received some great news prior to their game against the Wildcats with Marvin Prochet returning to their lineup. He was his normal self, scoring 15 points but was upstaged by James Towns who had a huge week.

Towns had 12 points, a career-high nine assists and six rebounds against Pittsburgh on Monday, then followed up with 23 points and six assists against New Hampshire on Sunday.

His recent success has been critical in the Purple Eagles last two wins. Towns was expected to be one of NU’s go-to players heading into the season but had gotten off to a slow start.

That has changed during the last three games with Towns averaging 17 points and six assists since November 30th. Look for him to continue stacking the box score as the season continues.

NEW YORK, NY – JANUARY 25: Head coach Chris Casey of the Niagara Purple Eagles cheers his players during a college basketball game against Iona Gaels at Madison Square Garden on January 25, 2015 in New York City. The Gaels won 87-64. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

In addition to Towns turning it around, Niagara has started spreading the wealth with six players scoring in double-digits during their last two games. 

Among those scorers are a pair of talented underclassmen.

Sophomore guard Keleaf Tate had 17 points against Pittsburgh with freshman guard Raheem Solomon adding 14 against New Hampshire. 

And how can we forget about Dominic Robb! He didn’t have his best statistical week but the guy is a difference maker.

It’s still way too early in the season to make any prophetic predictions but this Purple Eagles team has some talent. Time will tell if they eventually stabilize and find some consistency but I’ll tell you this, I expect Niagara to be competitive in the MAAC this year. 

Quick Facts:

  • Their win over Pittsburgh was their first victory over a major conference team since the Purple Eagles defeated St. John’s on December 15, 2007.
  • Niagara is the first MAAC team to defeat an ACC opponent since Fairfield took down Boston College in December 2016.
  • Pittsburgh’s loss was only their eighth defeat in 155 non-conference games at the Petersen Events Center.
  • The Purple Eagles are 2-0 in the month of December for the first time in nine years.
  • Niagara is 9-1 in games decided by less than four points since the 2017-18 season.
DAYTON, OH – MARCH 13: Head coach Mark Schmidt of the St. Bonaventure Bonnies reacts late in the game against the UCLA Bruins during the second half of the First Four game in the 2018 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at UD Arena on March 13, 2018 in Dayton, Ohio. The St. Bonaventure Bonnies defeated the UCLA Bruins 65-58. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Next Week: vs. Cornell

Stock Neutral

St. Bonaventure: (4-6), Last Week: Win over Siena, Loss to #17 Buffalo

After a poor start to their season, it appears the Bonnies are back on track with Courtney Stockard back in their lineup.

They’ve won three of their last four, killing Siena by 42 on Wednesday evening to retain the Franciscan Cup but that’s not the game I’m planning on discussing.

By now, you should know that I’m going to focus on Saturday’s Big 4 “rivalry” matchup.

Regardless of whether you consider Buffalo and St. Bonaventure rivals or not, one thing is clear, their matchup Saturday was much more intense than the Bonnies actual rivalry with the Saints.

A sold-out Reilly Center filled up hoping to see Bona upset the 17th ranked Bulls. Instead, what they saw was a dominating Buffalo performance. It was virtually over by the half with the Bonnies trailing by 22.

St. Bonaventure clawed back in the second half but never saw their deficit drop beneath double-digits.

Courtney Stockard was his usual self, posting 18 points and six rebounds. Freshman guard Kyle Lofton added 15 points but the Bonnies didn’t get much help from anyone else offensively as they shot 37.5% from the field.

DAYTON, OH – MARCH 13: Courtney Stockard #11 of the St. Bonaventure Bonnies celebrates the basket against the UCLA Bruins during the second half of the First Four game in the 2018 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at UD Arena on March 13, 2018 in Dayton, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Long-term, I’m not too worried about the loss. If we’re being realistic, Buffalo is a much better team at the moment. Outside of Stockard, they’re much more talented, deeper and have more continuity.

Of course, the Bonnies are also shorthanded playing without LaDarien Griffin and Dominick Welch who is expected to be out for an extended period of time.

What impressed me the most was St. Bonaventure’s fight in the second half. They kept competing, cutting a 27-point deficit down to 12.

That battling mentality will help them heading into Atlantic 10 play where they hope to leave their mark.

Now, I have a few things I want to bring up about the Buffalo/St. Bonaventure rivalry or lack thereof.

Is it a rivalry? In my opinion, yes but not in the traditional sense.

It’s a matchup that has some potential moving forward.

  • Two schools with geographic proximity
  • Big public school vs. small private Catholic school
  • MAC inferiority complex vs. A10, we’re better than you mentality
  • Both schools have been highly successful the past half-decade
  • St. Bonaventure has history, UB is building theirs now
  • Plenty of people attending UB/Bona know someone attending each school

Those are plenty of reasons to get heated up about and we saw some of that boil over into Saturday night.

Nate Oats directed a tweet at the Bona student section, taking a shot at them for chanting “We want UB.” That’s some fuel right there.

I started threads on both the Bona Bandwagon and UB Fan asking fans if this was a true rivalry or a figment of my imagination.

In addition to my threads, the Bona Blog twitter account asked the same question.

Here are the results as of Sunday morning:

  • 57% of people on the Bona Bandwagon said it is (20 votes out of 35)
  • 71% of people on UB fan said it is (15 votes out of 21)
  • 56% of respondents to the Bona Blog said it is a rivalry (365 votes, heavy leaning SBU fans)

That tells me the majority of local hoops fans WANT this to be a rivalry! 

I’m with them. Many traditionalists disagree, pointing to the Bonnies historical rivalries with their “Little Three” companions, Canisius and Niagara as well as their Catholic ties with Siena.

Those are nice but the Bonnies are typically vastly superior to each of those programs.

However, this could be the start of something special. Maybe not today but instead, one day down the road.

Quick Facts:

  • Nelson Kaputo’s string of four straight games in double figures ended, although his hot three-point shooting continued, as he is now 16-23 from deep over his last five games.
  • Prior to Saturday, the Bonnies had been a perfect 6-0 at the Reilly Center against UB.
  • The Bonnies have now won six of the nine Franciscan Cup games with Siena.
  • The final margin of 42 was the largest win margin for the Bonnies since a 48-point win over Maryland-Eastern Shore last November and tied for the largest margin of victory ever in Bona’s 41 meetings with Siena.
  • Coach Mark Schmidt got the 196th win of his tenure at St. Bonaventure against Siena, moving him to within six of Larry Weise for the top spot all-time. 

Next Week: Off until December 18th at Vermont

ORLANDO, FL – NOVEMBER 22: Canisius Golden Griffins guard Isaiah Reese (13) during the 2018 AdvoCare Invitational mens college basketball game between the Canisius Golden Griffins and Villanova Wildcats on November 22, 2018 at the HP Field House in Orlando, FL. (Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Stock Neutral: 

Canisius: (2-6), Last Week: Loss vs. St. Bonaventure

It’s been a difficult start to the Golden Griffins season. 

Most of that is due to their brutal non-conference schedule that has featured Villanova, Florida State and Memphis.

Sitting at 1-6, things didn’t look good but those close to the program have been confident things would eventually turnaround. 

Wednesday night was a good first step. Canisius took down Robert Morris 68-62 to secure their second win of the season.

Isaiah Reese had his most efficient game of the season, nearly finishing with a triple-double. The Preseason MAAC Player of the Year scored 10 points on 5-8 shooting, brought down 12 boards and recorded seven assists.

Takal Molson had a typical Takal Molson type performance, scoring 14 points while Scott Hitchon had 13.

But it wasn’t the Griffs scoring that has me optimistic moving forward. Instead, it’s Canisius hitting the boards that has me excited. They out rebounded Robert Morris 37-31, holding the Colonials to 33.3% shooting.

It’s unrealistic to expect the Griffs to do well on the glass against top tier competition but it’s a completely different story for Canisius against smaller schools, like Robert Morris and the rest of the teams in the MAAC.

They’ll need to continue having an inside presence if they hope to be successful this season.

Now, it was only one game against Robert Morris but it’s an encouraging result moving forward.

Canisius now has off until December 16th when they hit the road to battle Elon.

Quick Facts:

  • Molson extended his streak of scoring 10-or more points in a game to 11 straight, dating back to last year.
  • Reese’s 12 boards matched his career-high, set previously at Rider Feb. 18, 2018.
  • Under Witherspoon, Canisius is 12-4 in the final month of the calendar year, with 10 of those wins coming in non-league play.

Next Week: Off until December 16th at Elon

Notes courtesy of the St. Bonaventure, Buffalo, Niagara and Canisius athletic departments.

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