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Big 4 Basketball Update: Buffalo shines in national spotlight

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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.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Last week will be remembered as the stretch of games that catapulted the UB Bulls into the national spotlight.

Sure, they were undefeated and ranked heading into the week but it was their win at Syracuse and offensive explosion against No. 20 Marquette that showed the rest of the country what No. 14 Buffalo is made of.

Their victory over the Orange will do wonders for the Bulls perception across Western New York. Syracuse is the gold standard for college hoops across the state. Taking them down at the Carrier Dome will help UB earn the respect they rightfully deserve. 

As for the rest of the Big 4… sigh… it wasn’t a good week.

Canisius blew a late second half lead against Holy Cross, dropping to 3-7. St. Bonaventure lost a pair of games in New England against Vermont and Northeastern while Niagara was the lone saving grace, splitting a pair of games against Cleveland State and Army.

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

Week: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

Teams: Buffalo, Niagara, St. Bonaventure, Canisius

Stock Up:

No. 14/15 Buffalo: (11-1), Last Week: Win at Syracuse, Loss at No. 20 Marquette

As I mentioned in last week’s Big 4 Update, the Bulls pair of games against Syracuse and Marquette had the potential to define their season.

With a pair of wins, an at-large bid would’ve been essentially locked up in December. A split was expected while a winless mark would’ve put a major damper on their tremendous start.

Buffalo settled for the middle option. They defeated Syracuse on Tuesday evening for their first win over the Orange since 1963. Three days later, they jumped out to a quick start against No. 20 Marquette before watching Golden Eagles star Markus Howard explode for 45 points (40 in the 2nd half) in a 103-85 loss.

While it was disappointing to see Buffalo’s perfect start come to a close, it’s clear from watching both performances that the Bulls belong with the best of the best across the country.

SYRACUSE, NY – DECEMBER 18: CJ Massinburg #5 of the Buffalo Bulls drives to the basket during the first half against the Syracuse Orange. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

CJ Massinburg is a star and is being recognized as one. He was one of 20 players across the country named to the Oscar Robertson Midseason Watch List. The list is put together by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, awarding the top collegiate basketball player in the nation.

Massinburg looked the part against the Cuse, finishing with 25 points, eight rebounds and five assists. He leveled off against Marquette scoring 18 points on 5-14 shooting.

Jeremy Harris had a strong pair of games, averaging 20 points last week while Nick Perkins struggled to find his touch offensively, averaging 8.5 points (4-19 shooting) and 9.5 rebounds.

Davonta Jordan continued to show his amazing value, getting it done on both sides of the court. The junior guard has elite level quickness and is one of the top defenders in the MAC.

Additionally, Dontay Caruthers stepped up against Marquette after a quiet game against Syracuse, scoring 20 points on Friday night.

Let’s talk about what both games mean to Buffalo this year and moving forward.

SYRACUSE, NY – DECEMBER 18: Buffalo Bulls fans hold up a school flag during the second half of the Buffalo Bulls versus the Syracuse Orange. (Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The Syracuse victory means EVERYTHING! 

It validates the Bulls in Western New York. As hard as it is to believe, there were still a lot of doubters heading into UB’s game against the Orange on Tuesday.

There are many people who don’t take Buffalo athletics seriously because they participate in the Mid-American Conference. I’ve always scoffed at that view but it’s one that’s persisted since UB reinstated D1 athletics.

Many of those same people who were dismissive or unaware of the Bulls recent success are now woke! (Young person term, still learning slang)

Media coverage of the game was tremendous. All of the major Buffalo outlets covered the contest that aired nationally on ESPN2. WGR 550 was even talking about it on their airwaves the next day.

The “UB bandwagon” is quickly expanding and I expect it to keep growing as the season continues.

When it comes to the Marquette loss, that’s disappointing from a win-loss perspective but it’s not the end of the world.

MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN – DECEMBER 21: Markus Howard #0 of the Marquette Golden Eagles attempts a shot while being guarded by Nick Perkins #33 of the Buffalo Bulls. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

Buffalo jumped out to a quick start but ran into a “Steph Curry” type performance by Markus Howard. The junior guard posted his second 45-point effort of the season, hitting 9-13 from deep to hand the Bulls their first loss of the season.

So what will that mean for UB’s spot in the rankings? I detail that below.

Poll Watch:

I’m a firm believer that Buffalo will remain ranked despite their loss to No. 20 Marquette. The Golden Eagles were favored at home in a game that lived up to its hype for the first 35 minutes.

That said, the Bulls will drop at least a few spots in both polls. If I were a betting man, I’d put money down that Buffalo will be slotted between 18-20 in both polls next week.

You’re probably wondering, why that much of a drop following a road loss against a talented Golden Eagles team?

The answer: 

Many pollsters don’t watch every ranked team play. Many check nightly box scores and fill out their rankings simply based on win/loss results.

TEMPE, AZ – DECEMBER 22: Former Buffalo head coach Bobby Hurley’s Arizona State Sun Devils upset No. 1 Kansas on Saturday evening. (Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Based on that criteria alone, the Bulls will drop. They certainly passed the eye test but an 18-point loss will test many voters when figuring out where to slot UB.

The second issue, a bunch of quality teams behind Buffalo will be moving up.

Ohio State and Marquette are GUARANTEED to jump UB in the polls. Wisconsin, Mississippi State and Kentucky most likely will as well with Arizona State possibly jumping them despite falling to Vanderbilt earlier in the week after upsetting No. 1 Kansas on Saturday night.

Quick Facts: 

  • Buffalo’s victory over Syracuse was their first over an ACC opponent since defeating Miami (FL) on Nov. 18, 2006
  • The Bulls win over Syracuse was their first win over the Orange since 1963.
  • The last non-major conference team to beat Syracuse by at least that margin at the Carrier Dome was David Robinson’s Navy squad, which beat the Orange 97-85 in the 1986 NCAA Tournament.
  • The last time Syracuse played a team from New York ranked higher than them was 1998-99 when No. 9 St. John’s took on No. 17 Syracuse. 
  • Other than St. John’s the last time Syracuse took on a team from New York ranked higher than them was on February 8, 1955 against No. 16 Niagara
  • Senior CJ Massinburg moved into fifth place on UB’s all-time scoring list on Tuesday night, joining Javon McRea and Yassin Idbihi as the only three players in school history with 1,500 points and 600 boards.

Next Week: at Canisius

Niagara is the only team in the MAAC with a winning record.

Stock Neutral!

Niagara: (6-5), Last Week: Loss at Cleveland State, Win at Army

It was a pretty “blah” week from a Niagara perspective.

The Purple Eagles opened up with an ugly loss at Cleveland State but give them credit for responding with a strong second half performance to defeat Army.

At 6-5 overall, they’re currently the only team in the MAAC with a winning record. (It’s been an AWFUL start to the season for the conference)

With the way the MAAC is shaping up, I wouldn’t be surprised if Niagara somehow found their way towards the top of the conference at the end of the season.

Are they at that point right now? Nope. In fact, the Purple Eagles are only 259th in the KenPom rankings despite their winning record.

That ranks seventh in the MAAC. The good news, those rankings don’t determine where you’ll finish at the end of the season.

KenPom projects the Purple Eagles to go 16-15 overall.

The site projects Niagara to go 16-15 which seems about right. The Purple Eagles have decent talent, filled with some strong seniors and underclassmen.

Their main issue has been their consistency. 

Marvin Prochet is coming off a pair of poor shooting performances, averaging 13.5 points during his past two games on 9-30 shooting. He did however hit the boards once again, pulling down 9.5 rebounds per game last week. 

James Towns has continued to make an impact for the Purple Eagles. His quickness is a major asset for Niagara’s offense. He’s up to 13.5 points and 4.2 assists per game. His shooting still needs to improve but he’s definitely one of Niagara’s most important players. 

Freshman Marcus Hammond had a strong week. He’s one of a bunch of Purple Eagles underclassmen that look like they’ll develop into solid players.

Fellow freshman Raheem Solomon has shown significant flashes while Keleaf Tate hit the game-winning shot against Cornell earlier this season.

Things are looking up for Niagara. They’re FAR from polished but they’re getting better. This year’s squad isn’t as talented as last year’s 19-win, CIT squad but the building blocks are there for them to continue growing into the future.

Quick Facts:

  • Niagara’s 51 second half points against Army are the most they’ve scored this season.
  • Dominic Robb has had at least three blocks in seven games this season.  
  • The Purple Eagles (6-5) are currently the only team in the MAAC with a winning record.

Next Week: vs. Norfolk State

SYRACUSE, NY – DECEMBER 22: Head coach Mark Schmidt of the St. Bonaventure Bonnies kneels at center court during the game against the Syracuse Orange. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

Stock Down!

St. Bonaventure: (4-8), Last Week: Losses at Vermont and Northeastern

It wasn’t an easy week for St. Bonaventure fans. 

The Bonnies dropped a pair of games in New England against Vermont and Northeastern after taking the court for the first time since their Buffalo loss following a 10-day break between games.

St. Bonaventure stormed out to an impressive start against the Catamounts, leading 31-22 heading into the half but were unable to hold on, falling 83-76 in double overtime.

Courtney Stockard and Kyle Lofton WENT OFF against Vermont, combining for 50 points on 18-36 shooting!

Stockard channeled his inner Jaylen Adams towards of the end of regulation, drilling a DEEP three that would’ve been an incredible game-winning shot had the score held.

Lofton has been the best part of the Bonnies season. The freshman guard already looks like he’ll become a future star. He’s averaging 13.9 points and four assists.

His freshman counterpart, Osun Osunniyi continues to be a beast down low, averaging 5.3 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game.

We could go on and on about Stockard as well but after a solid start, his addition hasn’t resulted in any wins during the Bonnies last three games.

SYRACUSE, NY – DECEMBER 22: LaDarien Griffin recently returned to the Bonnies lineup. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

St. Bonaventure received some great news prior to their Northeastern game with senior forward LaDarien Griffin returning to their lineup. He had been out since the end of the Bonnies season opener against Bucknell.

Griffin was quiet in his first action back, posting just three points and one rebound but it’ll be huge to get his legs underneath him as he tries to give the Bonnies a boost heading into conference play.

Speaking of Atlantic 10 play, St. Bonaventure is just one of four teams in the conference with a below .500 record.

The Bonnies are ranked in the middle of the conference according to the KenPom rankings (#153 overall) with the A10 (#10) one spot below the MAC (#9) in their conference rankings.

St. Bonaventure has a huge rematch this Saturday taking on Syracuse. Bona won their first game at the Carrier Dome last December in a 60-57 overtime victory over the Orange.

Quick Facts:

  • In a game of seven ties and 11 lead changes against Vermont, St. Bonaventure came up just short on the road, seeing a four-point lead in the second overtime erased.
  • Senior Courtney Stockard and freshman Kyle Lofton combined to score 50 points, with Stockard scoring 27 before fouling out and Lofton setting a career high with 23. 
  • Senior LaDarien Griffin returned to the Bona lineup against Northeastern, recording three points, one rebound and two steals in 26 minutes. Griffin had not played since suffering a knee injury in the season-opener against Bucknell.

Next Week: at Syracuse

TALLAHASSEE, FL – NOVEMBER 19: Reggie Witherspoon head coach Canisius College Golden Griffins watches from the sideline during the game against the Florida State University (FSU) Seminoles, Monday, November 19, 2018, at the Donald L Tucker Civic Center in Tallahassee, Florida. (Photo by David Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Stock Down!

Canisius: (3-7), Last Week: Loss at Holy Cross

Welp…

It hasn’t been a fun start to the season for Canisius fans. The Griffs entered this year with high expectations but they haven’t come close to living up to them in non-conference play.

After a tough showing in the AdvoCare Invitational, many figured Canisius would figure things out once they returned home, facing lesser competition.

That hasn’t been the case. In fact, despite posting back-to-back wins entering last week, the Griffs future looks even bleaker now than it did while they were in Florida.

However, that doesn’t mean it’ll continue to play out that way.

Canisius plays in the 27th ranked conference in the country according to KenPom. Niagara is the only team in the MAAC that currently displays a winning record.

And as a result, the Griffs (#221) are actually the third ranked team in the MAAC. I know that’s hard to believe but it’s a reason for hope heading into January.

KenPom projects Canisius to go 13-16 (10-8) overall. Now, that’s nowhere near their expectations heading into the season but it’s also much better than many fans expect moving forward.

If they could finish 10-8 in MAAC play, they would have a legitimate chance of winning their conference tournament and heading to their first NCAA Tournament since Jon Beilein coached Canisius in 1995-96.

What’s it going to take for them to turn things around?

TALLAHASSEE, FL – NOVEMBER 19: Isaiah Reese (13) guard Canisius College Golden Griffins works the corner against PJ Savoy. (Photo by David Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

First, it’s going to require Isaiah Reese to start playing like the player we saw last year. He has struggled all season, opening the Elon game on the bench.

He looked better overall against Holy Cross, posting 16 points and four assists but managed to turn the ball over five times.

Canisius needs him to take over the primary scoring role, posting between 16-18 points per game.

They also need some secondary scoring to step up. Takal Molson is a consistent double-digit scorer but who is their third or fourth options?

Scott Hitchon has stepped up in recent games but he still a lot of room to grow. Canisius leaves a lot to be desired after Reese and Molson in their lineup.

Thirdly, they need to find a way to finish off opponents. The Griffs were in a golden position to come away with a win over Holy Cross but couldn’t hold on to a nine-point lead with seven minutes remaining.

Those are the type of results you can’t allow to happen.

It’ll be the first time Canisius has ever hosted a ranked opponent at the Koesller Athletic Center according to the Golden Griffins athletic department.

Big 4 Watch:

Canisius will be hosting Buffalo on Saturday evening at the Koessler Athletic Center. It’ll be the first time they’ve hosted a ranked opponent since taking on No. 24 West Virginia at HSBC Arena on December 22, 2007.

It’ll be the first time Canisius has ever hosted a ranked opponent at the Koessler Athletic Center according to the Golden Griffins athletic department.

The game is already sold-out due in part to two major factors.

  1. The Koessler Athletic Center is one of the smallest venues in college basketball (2,000 capacity).
  2. Buffalo is off to a historic start. Many UB fans have been purchasing tickets for the Big 4 rivalry contest.

As for how this game will play out… Do you really need me to answer that?

This one will get ugly! There’s no ifs, ands, or buts. Buffalo has too much talent and depth for the Griffs to keep up.

Prediction: Buffalo 93-67

Quick Facts:

  • Thursday was the sixth time in series history where the final score between these two programs was settled by less than five points. Holy Cross is 5-1 in those six contests.
  • The loss drops Canisius to 77-2 since 2013-14 when leading with 2:00 left on the clock.
  • Molson has now scored in double-figures in all 10 games this season and in 14-straight games, dating back to last year.
  • Canisius is set to host Buffalo. If the Bulls remain in the Top 25, it’ll be the first time the Griffs have hosted a ranked opponent at the Koessler Athletic Center.
  • It’ll be the first time Canisius has hosted a ranked opponent since December 22, 2007 when they took on No. 24 West Virginia at HSBC Arena.

Next Week: vs. No. 14 Buffalo

Team facts courtesy of the UB, Canisius, Niagara and St. Bonaventure athletic departments.

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