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Big 4 Basketball Update: Conference tournaments in full swing

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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.

Are we having fun yet?!

Conference tournaments have kicked off with the best of March right around the corner.

Unfortunately for Canisius and Niagara, they only booked a limited stay in Albany, both bowing out ahead of Monday evening’s MAAC Championship.

Buffalo is preparing to take the court in Cleveland as the heavy MAC favorites while St. Bonaventure heads to Brooklyn as the late season darlings in the Atlantic 10.

Anything is possible this time of the year which makes it the best part of college basketball season.

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, 15, 16, 17

Stock Up!

#19 Buffalo: 28-3 (16-2), Last Week: Wins over Ohio and Bowling Green

I’m going to keep my Bulls update pretty short this week.

I already detailed their senior day ceremonies in a special edition of the Big 4 Update on Saturday.

For more on that and their win over Bowling Green, please click on the link above.

OXFORD, OHIO – MARCH 01: Head coach Nate Oats of the Buffalo Bulls watches his team in the game against the Miami (Oh) Redhawks during the second half at Millett Hall on March 01, 2019 in Oxford, Ohio. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)

This week, I want to focus almost exclusively on their path moving forward.

Buffalo heads into the MAC Tournament in some unfamiliar territory, sitting as a lock for an at-large bid for the first time in program history.

That said, they still have a ton to play for.

The Bulls are aiming for their fourth MAC Championship in the past five years, a feat that’s never been accomplished in the history of the Mid-American Conference.

A perfect week in Cleveland would solidify their seeding in the NCAA Tournament while securing their first 30-win season in school history.

So how far can they rise in the polls and what type of seed are they looking at?

Let’s take a look!

OXFORD, OHIO – MARCH 01: CJ Massinburg #5 of the Buffalo Bulls celebrates after a victory over the Maimi (Oh) Redhawks at Millett Hall on March 01, 2019 in Oxford, Ohio. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)

NCAA Seed/Poll Watch:

I believe a five-seed is still in play for Buffalo if they win out in Cleveland.

The Bulls have an impressive NET ranking (#16), have a winning record vs. Top 75 NET opponents (4-1) and have been on fire heading into tournament play.

Most bracketologists currently have them listed as a six-seed. That makes sense for now but you have to figure there’s room to play with depending on what happens next week.

That said, it’s certainly possible UB could drop to a seven-seed with a loss in the MAC Tournament.

I don’t see that taking place but crazier things have happened.

The best case scenario would be a 5/6 seed. A seven-seed would require the Bulls to play a 2-seed in the second round should Buffalo advance past the first round.

UB is hoping to avoid being a 7-seed at all costs.

As far as the polls are concerned, I’m not expecting much movement by Buffalo this week.

The only team that’s guaranteed to drop beneath them is Marquette after losing a pair of games this past week.

The Bulls will leapfrog the Golden Eagles but it’ll be interesting to see if anyone behind UB jumps past them in the rankings.

At this moment, I’m predicting Buffalo to be ranked 18th in the AP Poll on Monday.

Quick Facts: 

  • The 6,709 in attendance on Senior Night was a new record for Alumni Arena under its current seating configuration.
  • The 28 wins tie the 2007-08 Kent State team for the third most in MAC history, while Buffalo becomes only the fifth team in MAC history with 16 or more conference wins.
  • CJ Massinburg passed Rasaun Young for second on the Bulls all-time scoring list (1,910 points).
  • Buffalo tied Tennessee for the nations longest home winning-streak (26 games).

Next Week: MAC Tournament

Stock Up!

St. Bonaventure: 16-15 (12-6), Last Week: Loss at Davidson, Win vs. St. Louis

This will go down as one of Mark Schmidt’s best coaching performances of his St. Bonaventure tenure.

To guide a Bonnies team led by Courtney Stockard, LaDarien Griffin and a trio of freshmen in their starting lineup to a double-bye in the Atlantic 10 Tournament is nothing short of remarkable.

A plague of injuries of injuries hurt St. Bonaventure earlier in the season as they limped out to a 4-10 start.

The one positive about that stretch is that it forced freshmen Kyle Lofton and Osun Osunniyi to learn on the fly, gaining valuable experience heading into A10 play.

That experience has been massive for the Bonnies during conference play with both looking well beyond their years out on the court.

St. Bonaventure has been a completely different team since late January, going 10-3 in their last 13 games.

I’ve often remarked in my blog about how crucial the Bona youngsters have been during that stretch but it’s time to give a round of applause to Courtney Stockard and LaDarien Griffin.

Both have played critical roles down the stretch.

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

Stockard had a great senior day, posting 20 points, five rebounds and seven assists. He played all 40 minutes, helping St. Bonaventure take down St. Louis in a must-win game for the Bonnies.

LaDarien Griffin had a big afternoon as well, finishing with 10 points, five rebounds and three blocks.

Senior Nelson Kaputo returned to the Bonnies starting lineup for senior day, recording two steals in the winning effort.

Last week, I noted how St. Bonaventure can thank their lockdown defense for their amazing in-season turnaround.

They’ll need to continue playing at that level if they want to make a run in Brooklyn.

According to KenPom, the Bonnies have a 62% chance of making the A10 semifinals. In order to get there, they’ll have to defeat the winner of the George Mason vs. George Washington/UMass winner in the quarterfinals.

If they come out victorious, they’ll most likely take on A10 favorite VCU with a berth to the Atlantic 10 Tournament Finals on the line.

SYRACUSE, NY – DECEMBER 29: St. Bonaventure Bonnies Forward / Center Osun Osunniyi (21) grabs a rebound 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)

The Rams have one of the best defensive teams in the country, ranking fifth in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency.

St. Bonaventure saw what VCU is capable of up close in person in a  30-point beatdown of the Bonnies at the Reilly Center in early February.

Bona had no answers that afternoon.

If they want to make some March magic this week, that’ll need to change.

KenPom gives St. Bonaventure a 17% chance of advancing to the finals and a 6.6% chance of winning the tournament.

Those are far from the best odds but much better than what anyone would’ve thought one month ago.

This is where the fun begins!

I have no clue how everything is going to play out but I’m pumped for Bona fans that they have a chance heading into championship week.

Quick Facts:

  • The Bonnies have now won seven of their last eight games. Over that stretch, they held their opponents under 60 points seven times.
  • Osun Osunniyi rejected three Saint Louis shots, giving him 81 for the season. He is now tied for most blocks by a freshman in program history with Andrew Nicholson.

Next Week: Atlantic 10 Tournament

Season Over!

Canisius: 15-17 (11-7), Last Week: Win vs. Manhattan, Loss vs. Monmouth

They say it’s tough to defeat a team three times in one season.

I’m not sure the evidence backs that up. However, Canisius surely agrees with the thought process after seeing their season come to a close in the MAAC Semifinals versus Monmouth.

The Griffs had swept the Hawks during the regular season but struggled to get anything going on Sunday night.

The same could be said of Canisius’ performance on Friday evening against Manhattan. The Griffs struggled for most of that one before pulling out a gritty overtime win over the Jaspers.

They weren’t quite as lucky against Monmouth.

Reggie Witherspoon has a track record of falling short in March and it looked like a weight was on the Griffs shoulders.

They played tight, were sloppy on both sides of the court and essentially handed the game away with their poor mistakes.

Give credit to the Hawks for making Canisius pay for their mistakes.

That said, this is the second consecutive season the Griffs have failed to make the finals after securing a 2-seed in the MAAC Tournament.

That’s unacceptable with the league as open as it has been the past two seasons and will go down as a pair of wasted opportunities.

Half of the teams in the conference had a realistic chance at earning the league’s automatic bid. Instead, it’ll be Iona representing the MAAC for the fourth year in a row.

What’s frustrating is that Canisius didn’t play well on either side of the ball. Monmouth held the Griffs below 38% from the field, while shooting 47.1% themselves.

Diago Quinn carved up the Griffs, finishing with 14 points and 10 rebounds.

Canisius cut a nine-point halftime deficit down to a one possession game in the second half. They had the momentum on their side multiple times but couldn’t erase the Hawks lead.

The Griffs trailed 55-52 with 8:33 remaining but saw the Hawks go on 12-2 run over the next six minutes to seize control of the game.

So where will the Griffs go from here entering the offseason?

I think the best thing for them is to remain with their status quo.

They have plenty of talent coming back with Takal Molson and Malik Johnson expected to carry the reigns once again next year.

The Griffs will lose four seniors, the biggest losses being Jonathan Sanks and Jibreel Faulkner who both played well down the stretch.

Then there’s the Isaiah Reese situation. I have no inside information but I would assume he’s done at Canisius after being suspended indefinitely and missing the last 12 games of the season.

Regardless of what happens, they’ll be in position to compete in the upper echelon of the MAAC once again next year.

When evaluating the Griffs this season, I’ll give Canisius a C+

They had an unrealistic non-conference schedule filled with opponents they weren’t ready to compete against.

Then, they dealt with the Isaiah Reese drama towards the middle of conference play.

The Griffs responded well by finishing tied for second in the MAAC but once against bowed out prematurely in the conference tournament.

With all of the preseason hype surrounding the program, I’d have to classify this season as a mild disappointment for Canisius.

Preseason Prediction: 19-11 (13-5), 2nd in MAAC (regular season only*)

Final Record: 15-17 (11-7), Tied for 2nd in MAAC

Season Review: Mild Disappointment

Season Over!

Niagara: 13-19 (6-12), Last Week: Loss vs. Monmouth in first round of MAAC Tournament

Let’s keep this quick, it was a disastrous end to the season by Niagara.

The Purple Eagles went 2-10 over their last 10 games, finishing with their fifth losing season in six years under head coach Chris Casey.

I’ve been repetitive about their collapse throughout the past few weeks but still don’t believe it needed to play out that way.

(Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Niagara was led by second-team all-conference performer Marvin Prochet who averaged 15.7 points and 7.3 rebounds per game.

He was one of four seniors expected to carry them in MAAC play. Instead, the opposite took place.

The Purple Eagles went 7-6 in non-conference play, picking up wins over St. Bonaventure and Pittsburgh before falling apart in January, opening MAAC play 2-5.

Chris Casey’s team still showed signs of life, responding with wins over Monmouth and Canisius but couldn’t consistently show up throughout the season.

Coaching was a major deficiency.

Niagara stubbornly remained with their status quo the entire year, sticking with the same starting lineup until the final week of the regular season.

Keleaf Tate started the majority of the season despite shooting only 32% from the field, an awful percentage for a DI performer.

Simultaneously, Marcus Hammond showed the potential of becoming a future star the MAAC, averaging 5.8 points per game, shooting 48% from the field and 52.2% from deep, an unbelievable rate.

I’m curious why it took Chris Casey so long to insert Hammond into the Purple Eagles starting lineup.

The dynamic freshman averaged nearly 20 minutes per game but didn’t start until Niagara’s fourth-to-last game of the season against St. Peter’s on February 24th.

(Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

So where does the Purple Eagles program go from here?

They’ll lose Marvin Prochet, Dominic Robb, Chris Barton and Greg King to graduation.

Prochet and Robb will be their two largest losses. They were Niagara’s leading scorers and top rebounders from last season.

That type of production isn’t easily replaceable.

Moving forward, Niagara’s future success will be determined by their dynamic freshmen. I’ve already gone in detail about Marcus Hammond.

Their other dynamic youngster is Raheem Solomon. The Connecticut native had the best game of his Purple Eagles career in his MAAC Tournament debut versus Monmouth, posting 24 points and five rebounds, going 5-8 from deep.

Solomon and Hammond provide some hope for Niagara fans patiently waiting for the program to turn the corner but it’s too early to tell either way.

For now, it’ll be interesting to monitor the Purple Eagles heading into the offseason.

(Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Many fans are calling for Chris Casey to be fired.

The sixth-year head coach has a 64-129 (33.2%) record at Niagara. The majority of Division I coaches wouldn’t survive that type of sustained mediocrity.

Casey is in an interesting situation though.

He was given a contract extension by the Niagara administration prior to the start of this past season. 

As a result, I think he’ll be given another year despite another awful season for the Purple Eagles.

Preseason Prediction: 11-20 (6-12), 10th in MAAC (regular season only*)

Final Record: 13-19 (6-12), 11th in MAAC

Season Review: Disappointment

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

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