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Big 4 Basketball Update: UB primed for huge week, Schmidt eyes Bona win record

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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.

TNT likes to advertise, “We know drama.”

It’s a nice slogan that rolls off the tongue and perfectly describes the past week of Big 4 play.

  • Buffalo trailed Central Michigan by 18 before coming back to defeat the Chippewas on Saturday afternoon.
  • St. Bonaventure picked up a 51-49 victory over Duquesne in one of the ugliest offensive performances you’ll ever see this past Wednesday.
  • Jonathan Sanks hit a banker 3 with 7.9 seconds remaining to give Canisius an 81-80 comeback win over Rider on Friday. The Griffs erased a nine-point deficit with 8:21 remaining.
  • After getting handled by Marist, Niagara was looking for the season sweep against Iona. The Purple Eagles had a one-point lead with under 20 seconds remaining but couldn’t hold on, losing a heartbreaker against the Gaels.

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

Teams: Buffalo, St. Bonaventure, Niagara, Canisius

Week: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 

Stock Neutral!

#23 Buffalo: 20-3 (8-2), Last Week: Win vs. Central Michigan

I think it’s safe to say Bulls fans were sitting on the edge of their seats on Saturday afternoon.

Trailing by 18 points midway through the first half against Central Michigan, many in attendance at Alumni Arena had to of been wondering if UB’s hot start to their season was a flash in the pan.

BOWLING GREEN, OH – FEBRUARY 01: Bowling Green Falcons guard Justin Turner (10) shoots an off-balance shot against Buffalo Bulls guard Dontay Caruthers (22) during a regular season Mid-American Conference game between the Buffalo Bulls (18) and the Bowling Green Falcons on February 1, 2019, at the Stroh Center in Bowling Green, Ohio. (Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Buffalo entered their game against the Chippewas, dropping two of their past four against Northern Illinois and Bowling Green. Another loss and their margin for error moving forward would’ve been erased.

The Bulls likely would’ve seen their ranking and spot in the national spotlight kissed away.

However, none of that matters now!

That’s because, as we’ve seen plenty of times this season, when UB is clicking, they’re nearly impossible to stop.

Buffalo responded to their 18-point deficit with a 24-6 run, tying the game up at 38. The Chippewas retook a five-point lead entering the half but it was clear that the momentum had turned.

This is probably a good time to mention that Nick Perkins didn’t play during the first half.

Rumors floated around pregame that Perkins was suspended after appearing with the UB scout team during the Bulls shootaround but that wasn’t the case.

Instead, he had his minutes reduced due to a violation of team rules, sitting until the start of the second half.

Perkins made an impact in his limited action, finishing with 10 points and six rebounds in 19 minutes.

UB took off with him back in the game, charging out to a 16-0 run, taking a 58-49 lead to the delight of the standing-room only crowd of 6,437 at Alumni Arena.

Buffalo finished the game off from there, outscoring the Chippewas 52-33 in the second half, earning their 20th victory of the season in a 90-76 win.

The usual suspects stepped up once again for the Bulls. 

BOWLING GREEN, OH – FEBRUARY 01: Buffalo Bulls guard CJ Massinburg (5) brings the ball up the court during a regular season Mid-American Conference game between the Buffalo Bulls (18) and the Bowling Green Falcons on February 1, 2019, at the Stroh Center in Bowling Green, Ohio. (Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

CJ Massinburg led Buffalo with 18 points but the news wasn’t all good for UB’s leading scorer. Nate Oats informed the media following the game that Massinburg is dealing with a similar shoulder injury to what Wes Clark battled last season although it’s not as severe.

That will be something to monitor moving forward.

Jeremy Harris returned to form, putting together a well-rounded effort with 19 points, eight rebounds and six assists while Dontay Caruthers continued to showoff his recent scoring touch, posting 16 points.

Davonta Jordan also had a strong game, finishing with eight assists and three steals.

Stretch run of MAC play:

It was absolutely vital for Buffalo to come back and defeat Central Michigan on Saturday afternoon.

Every season has its ups and downs but it’s how you respond to adversity that defines your team. Another loss would’ve put the Bulls in a difficult position.

They would’ve dropped one game behind Bowling Green in the MAC East standings with tough road games awaiting them next week against Akron and Toledo.

I can assure you that UB would’ve dropped out of the rankings and kissed away any wiggle room that they had previously built up.

Thankfully, that’s not the case. The Bulls ‘should’ remain ranked moving forward and will most likely continue to be projected as a top-eight seed.

I’ll be very interested to see where bracketologists have them next week.

TOLEDO, OH – DECEMBER 19: Toledo Rockets head coach Tod Kowalczyk watches the action on the court during a regular season non-conference game between the Cornell Big Red and the Toledo Rockets on December 19, 2018 at Savage Arena in Toledo, Ohio. (Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

That’s because they have two quality opponents awaiting them. Akron is a tough team to play against at the JAR while Toledo has been on fire, winning eight of their last nine following their 30-point loss versus the Bulls in January.

With a pair of wins, UB’s resume will be looking very sharp heading into the stretch run of their season. 

That’ll be easier said than done. On paper, Akron and Toledo are Buffalo’s most difficult games remaining on their schedule outside of their season finale versus Bowling Green.

Poll Watch:

There shouldn’t be too much movement at the bottom of the polls this week. The only team that might’ve played their way into the rankings is Kansas State following their victory over Kansas.

Outside of the Wildcats potentially entering the rankings, things should look pretty similar surrounding for the Bulls.

I’m projecting them to be ranked 23rd in the AP Poll once again next week.

Quick Facts: 

  • With their win over Central Michigan, Buffalo has now won 20-games eight times in school history, including four times during the past five years.
  • The 6,437 fans in attendance on Saturday was the fourth largest crowd in Alumni Arena history.
  • Their victory over CMU was the Bulls 22nd consecutive home win which ranks 2nd in the nation behind Houston.

Next Week: at Akron, at Toledo

Stock Neutral!

St. Bonaventure: 9-14 (5-5), Last Week: Win at Duquesne, Loss vs. VCU

I think I’m being kind by keeping the Bonnies in “Stock Neutral.”

Yes, they split a pair of games, which is why I’m listing them here but they were so ugly in doing so.

Their defense carried them to a 51-49 victory over the Dukes on Wednesday evening. It was one of the worst offensive performances I’ve ever watched.

The two teams combined to shoot 39-125 from the field (31.2%) including 7-39 from deep (17.9%).

The one redeeming factor was that the Bonnies freshmen carried the team to a crucial A10 road victory.

SYRACUSE, NY – DECEMBER 29: Syracuse Orange Forward Oshae Brissett (11) shoots the ball against St. Bonaventure Bonnies Forward / Center Osun Osunniyi (21) defending during the second half of the St. Bonaventure Bonnies versus the Syracuse Orange game on December 29, 2018, at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, NY.(Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Osun Osunniyi had a game that Bona fans will be talking about for a long time. The freshman center had 22 rebounds and six blocks! 11 of those boards were on the offensive glass with the big man adding nine points as well.

Freshmen guards Kyle Lofton and Dominick Welch also stepped up, combining for 26 of the Bonnies 51 points.

While ugly, it was an impressive win for St. Bonaventure, taking down a Duquesne squad battling for positioning near the top of the Atlantic 10 standings.

If Wednesday’s performance was a sore sight for the eyes, I’m not sure how to describe the Bonnies effort later in the week against VCU.

A Bona victory over the Rams would’ve lifted head coach Mark Schmidt into a tie atop the St. Bonaventure all-time wins list with the great Larry Weise.

A packed house of 5,382 filled up the Reilly Center to see some history. Instead, all they saw was one of the worst butt whooping’s of the season.

VCU opened the game on a 20-4 run and never looked back, rolling to an 85-55 victory.

The Bonnies offense struggled once again. I can say without any hesitation that St. Bonaventure has one of the worst offenses in the country.

They have plenty of solid young talent but like the majority of freshmen across the country, they don’t consistently produce at a high level.

St. Bonaventure needs Courtney Stockard and Kyle Lofton to play hero ball on a nightly basis. That’s not a recipe for success. In recent weeks, I’ve called on the Bonnies to find a consistent third option.

That role should belong to Jalen Poyser or LaDarien Griffin. The issue is that neither has taken a firm grasp of that title when given the opportunity.

DALLAS, TX – MARCH 15: Head coach Mark Schmidt of the St. Bonaventure Bonnies looks over his notes during the first round of the 2018 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament held at the American Airlines Center on March 15, 2018 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Andy Hancock/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

It’s time to face the facts. At best, St. Bonaventure is a middle of the pack team in the Atlantic 10. They’re talented enough to compete with the majority of teams throughout the conference but they’re going to struggle agains the top teams such as VCU.

For the Bonnies to win, they need their defense to shutdown their opponents, holding teams to 65 points or less which is tough to do in modern day college basketball. 

St. Bonaventure shot 26.6% from the field against the Rams, seeing their scoring average drop to 66.3 points per game, good for 320th in the nation out of 353 teams.

It doesn’t matter how talented Stockard, Lofton or Griffin are, this team doesn’t have the playmakers to consistently win at a high level.

I’m confident the Bonnies freshmen class will quickly turn things around moving forward but it’s tough to envision that turnaround taking place before the end of this season.

There is one thing in St. Bonaventure’s favor though. Their schedule eases up dramatically during their next six games with matchups against St. Joseph’s, La Salle, Fordham and George Washington.

Bona will need to win those if they want to have any chance of making a run in the Atlantic 10 Tournament in March.

SYRACUSE, NY – DECEMBER 29: St. Bonaventure Bonnies Head Coach Mark Schmidt claps and encourages his players during the first half of the St. Bonaventure Bonnies versus the Syracuse Orange game on December 29, 2018, at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, NY.(Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Record Watch:

As I mentioned earlier, St. Bonaventure head coach Mark Schmidt is one victory away from tying the school’s all-time wins mark of 202 set by Larry Weise.

The Bonnies have a winnable game Tuesday evening at St. Joe’s. If they can come out victorious, Schmidt will have two opportunities to set the record in front the hometown fans at the Reilly Center against either George Mason on February 17th or La Salle on February 20th.

Quick Facts:

  • The Bonnies win over Duquesne was the 201st of Schmidt’s tenure at St. Bonaventure. He needs one win to tie Larry Weise for the all-time coaching wins record. It also was Schmidt’s 100th conference win.
  • Osunniyi’s 22 boards mark only the 19th time in the program’s 99-year history that a St. Bonaventure player reached the 20-rebound mark (or more).
  • Osunniyi’s 22 boards against Duquesne were only five short of Bob Lanier’s school record and the most by a St. Bonaventure player since Andrew Nicholson grabbed 23 against Duquesne in 2012.
  • The Bonnies have now beaten Duquesne six straight times and 12 out of the last 14. They lead the series 62-59.

Next Week: at Saint Joseph’s, vs. George Mason

Stock “Teamwork makes the dream work”

Canisius: 11-13 (8-4), Last Week: Loss vs. Marist, Win at Rider, Win at St. Peter’s

It’s been a wild ride for the Golden Griffins during the past few weeks.

First, the Isaiah Reese drama led the program to indefinitely suspend the preseason MAAC player of the year.

Canisius followed that up, splitting a pair of games against Quinnipiac and Marist with their regular season outlook taking a turn for the worst.

But then something strange happened on Friday.

Down nine with 8:21 remaining against MAAC favorite Rider, the Griffs got their act together, playing their way back into the game.

They narrowed their deficit down to two with one minute remaining. That’s when Jonathan Sanks stepped up with the largest shot of the Golden Griffins season.

The senior guard banked in a three with 7.9 seconds remaining, giving Canisius a MASSIVE 81-80 victory over the Broncs.

Courtesy: @GoGriffs

It’s been impressive watching all of the Griffs stepping up in Reese’s absence. Takal Molson had 17 points against Rider and followed that performance up with 21 against St. Peter’s.

Sanks also had 17 points against the Broncs with Hitchon adding 15. Malik Johnson has been fantastic the past few weeks, posting 13 points, eight assists and three steals on Friday evening.

He followed that effort up with an 11 points, eight assists and four steals against the Peacocks. That was the fifth consecutive game that Johnson posted double-figure points and at least seven assists.

ORLANDO, FL – NOVEMBER 22: Canisius Golden Griffins guard Malik Johnson (1) 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)

Johnson is quickly becoming a star in the Griffs backcourt. He still has room for improvement but it’s hard to find a player that has stepped up more in the MAAC recently than Malik Johnson.

Scott Hitchon is another player to look out for. The sophomore forward has been one of the most improved players on Canisius this season, averaging eight points per game. The Griffs need to continue utilizing him in the paint with them desperately needing more production down low.

And while we’re giving praise to all of their players stepping up recently, we can’t forget about Takal Molson.

The sophomore guard has led the Griffs in scoring throughout the season, averaging 16.7 points, five rebounds and two assists.

He’s been even more crucial during Canisius’ past three games, averaging 19 points and six rebounds, guiding them back into the MAAC race.

Conference Race

About that MAAC race…

Last week, I boldly said Canisius didn’t have a chance without Isaiah Reese. This week, I stand corrected.

With their pair of wins over Rider and St. Peter’s, the Griffs sit only a half game back of Monmouth. Canisius currently owns the tiebreaker with the Hawks.

That said, there will be no easy games down the stretch. Losing Reese definitely hurts Canisius moving forward.

He’s the most rounded player on their team. Without him, the Griffs need contributions from everyone in order to consistently win.

They battle two of the bottom teams in the MAAC (Fairfield, Manhattan) next week at the Koessler Center before taking on Monmouth in potentially their biggest game of the season.

Here’s a look at the conference race with six games to go. You decide, who will win the regular season title and grab the automatic NIT berth?

MAAC Standings Courtesy: ESPN

Quick Facts:

  • Friday marks just the fifth Canisius win in 23 tries in Rider’s Alumni Gymnasium.
  • Canisius’ win in Rider’s Alumni Gymnasium snapped the Broncs’ 17-game home win streak. The last MAAC team to defeat Rider in its home building – Canisius in 2016-17.
  • Johnson has now recorded seven or more assists in five-straight games, and he’s scored in double-figures in five-straight contests as well.
  • With his eight assists on Sunday, Johnson moves into a tie for fifth-place on the school’s career assists list with former Griffs guard Kevin Downey. Both players have 404 career assists.

Next Week: vs. Fairfield, vs. Manhattan

Stock Down!

Niagara: 11-14 (4-8), Last Week: Losses at Marist and Iona

Yikes…

I was very hopeful for Niagara fans following the Purple Eagles victory over Canisius two weeks ago on January 30th. Chris Casey was pumping up the NU student section, breathing life into a program that’s gone through its share of struggles in recent years.

That scene feels like forever ago.

Since then, Niagara has lost all of that momentum, solidifying themselves as one of the bottom teams in a very weak MAAC.

It’s not even that the Purple Eagles are bad. I’m actually a believer in a lot of their guys, especially some of their youngsters but they can’t find a way to consistently perform on the court.

Their loss against Marist was awful. Niagara let the Red Foxes shoot 57.4% from the field. That’s horrendous defense and it’s been a theme for the Purple Eagles throughout the season.

CLEVELAND, OH – DECEMBER 19: Niagara Purple Eagles forward Marvin Prochet (11) puts up a shot during the first half of the the college basketball game between the Niagara Purple Eagles and Cleveland State Vikings on December 19, 2018, at the Wolstein Center in Cleveland, OH. (Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

KenPom ranks NU 335th in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency. That’s out of 353 teams! That means there’s only 18 teams in the entire country worse off defensively than the Purple Eagles!

Obviously, that’s not a good number to have represent your program. It’s also something you can’t fix overnight.

Niagara has had plenty of opportunities to make their mark in conference play but will ultimately fall short because of their defensive liabilities.

If we’re being completely honest, it’s amazing they even have 11 victories with some of the issues they’ve been dealing with.

On Sunday, they let another winnable game go by the wayside. Niagara blew a 10-point second half lead, losing another heartbreaker in a 79-76 loss at Iona.

Marvin Prochet posted 17 points and eight rebounds but didn’t receive much help from the rest of the Purple Eagles upperclassmen.

Instead, it was their youngsters keeping them in the game. Freshman Marcus Hammond went 7-9 from the field, finishing with a team-high 18 points and six rebounds.

Raheem Solomon and Dominik Fragala also had solid performances, posting 10 points each.

At this point of the season, Chris Casey should be focused on giving his young players as many minutes as they can handle.

It’s been a disappointing stretch for Niagara. They have a team that should finish no worse than the middle of the MAAC.

Instead, they’re going to finish near the bottom. They need to win five of their last six just to finish with a .500 record in one of the weakest leagues across the country.

It feels like a wasted opportunity, because in all truth, it has been. That said, Niagara should continue battling as they finish up the regular season.

Who knows, maybe something crazy will happen during the MAAC Tournament. I wouldn’t bet on it but you never know!

Quick Facts:

  • Raheem Solomon led NU in scoring for the first time in his career against Marist, finishing with 16 points, including going 4-for-8 from the 3-point line.
  • Niagara’s season-high 15 3-pointers at Iona are tied for third most in program history. The Purple Eagles made a season-high nine 3-pointers in the first half.
  • The Purple Eagles blanked the Gaels in bench points, 42-0, to outscore Iona by a combined 89-6 in bench points in the two meetings.

Next Week: vs. Manhattan, vs. Fairfield

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

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