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Big 4 Basketball Update: New Year’s Resolutions

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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.

DICK CLARKS NEW YEARS ROCKIN EVE WITH RYAN SEACREST 2018 (Photo by Lorenzo Bevilaqua/ABC via Getty Images) TIMES SQUARE BALL DROP

Happy New Year!

Pop your corks, it’s time to celebrate! 2018 was a banner year for Big 4 hoops.

Buffalo and St. Bonaventure both made the NCAA Tournament. Canisius won a share of their first regular season title since 1993-94 and Niagara made their first postseason appearance since the 2013 NIT.

While 2019 doesn’t have as bright of an outlook for the former “Little Three” schools, things are looking amazing for the UB Bulls. Nate Oats has Buffalo ranked No. 21 in the country, sitting at 12-1 overall heading into conference play.

Niagara is on mini-roll recently, winning five of their past six to improve to 7-5 overall, the lone MAAC team with a winning record.

Canisius and St. Bonaventure are both hoping to find themselves. The Griffs are going through a period of adversity after entering this season with high expectations while the Bonnies are hoping a clean slate of health will help them shock opponents in the Atlantic 10.

With that said, here’s our first and only edition of New Years Resolutions this year.

Week: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

SYRACUSE, NY – DECEMBER 18: Buffalo Bulls Head Coach Nate Oats hi fives with fans on the way to the locker room (Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Stock Up! 

#21/22 Buffalo:(12-1), Last Week: Win at Canisius

New Year’s Resolutions:

  • Don’t change anything!
  • No letdown performances!
  • Be ready for some #MACtion. The conference is looking strong this year. Games against Toledo, Ball State and Kent State will be very important.

Buffalo had a nice little break after losing their first game of the season against No. 20 Marquette.

The Bulls had the holidays off before returning to action Saturday evening against their crosstown rivals, the Canisius Golden Griffins.

Facing off against former UB head coach Reggie Witherspoon, the Bulls struggled early, quickly falling behind 23-13.

But that would be the only time they trailed on the night. Buffalo responded with a 24-3 run to take firm control of the game as they went on to win comfortably, 87-72.

That said, I was a little surprised that the Bulls weren’t able to pull away by more at any point throughout the game.

It was a well rounded effort for UB with their “Big 3” combining for 57 points. 

CJ Massinburg led the way with 22 points while Nick Perkins and Jeremy Harris chipped in for 18 and 17 apiece. Both had nine rebounds on the night.

Nate Oats was pleased with the Bulls performance but wished they got off to a better defensive start.

“I thought our defensive intensity was lacking there in the first half. We weren’t quite good enough,” said Oats following UB’s win over Canisius.

That said, Buffalo held the Griffs to only 36% shooting on the night, holding their star duo of Isaiah Reese and Takal Molson to 28 total points.

MAC Watch:

Buffalo opens up conference play next Friday at Eastern Michigan. The Eagles entered this season as the MAC West favorites but have limped out to a 6-7 start.

However, the rest of the MAC has been on fire! Toledo has won 10 in a row, sitting at 12-1 overall. They’re coming off a 32-point win over Penn which has them nearing the Top 50 of the NET rankings.

Central Michigan has cruised out to an 11-2 start thanks in part to an easy schedule. Ball State and Kent State look very good while Ohio and Akron have been defying their early season expectations.

Poll Watch:

I have no clue what to expect from the pollsters this week! The Bulls didn’t lose but a 15-point win over Canisius isn’t exactly considered a showcase victory.

I would never hold a victory like that against a ranked program but I’ve already seen some pollsters exclude UB from their rankings this week.

If I were to guess, I’d predict Buffalo to remain at No. 21 but don’t hold me to that. They could go anywhere.

Quick Facts: 

  • This was the first matchup between Buffalo and Canisius at the Koessler Athletic Center since November 20, 2012.
  • UB’s 12-1 record in non-conference play is the fewest losses they’ve had out of conference since they went 10-1 in 2005-06.
  • This is the seventh straight week the Bulls have been ranked, the longest stretch by a MAC team since the 1975-76 Western Michigan Broncos. No MAC team has been ranked for eight or more weeks since Ohio in 1969-70.
  • With his 18 point performance, Nick Perkins moved up to 7th place on UB’s all-time scoring list, surpassing Sam Pellom and Turner Battle.

Next Week: at Eastern Michigan

Gallagher Center

Stock Up!

Niagara: (7-5), Last Week: Win vs. Norfolk State

New Year’s Resolutions:

  • Continue giving the young guys minutes! Tate, Solomon and Hammond will be crucial to the Purple Eagles future success.
  • Marvin Prochet and James Towns need to continue taking games over offensively.
  • Dominic Robb will dominate in MAAC play. He’s not quite the scorer of the above two names but he impacts the game in just as many ways.

Last week presented a simple dynamic for Niagara. Avoid having a letdown performance against Norfolk State! 

The Purple Eagles made sure they didn’t. 

Marvin Prochet responded to his recent down week in a big way, posting 23 points and eight rebounds in Saturday’s 83-75 victory over the Spartans.

Four other Purple Eagles joined him in double-figures (James Towns, Dominic Robb, Raheem Solomon, Keleaf Tate). Two of the four are underclassmen with Robb being the lone senior of the group. That’s great news for Chris Casey!

He’s developing a solid group of youngsters that should help Niagara re-establish themselves among the top teams in the MAAC.

Niagara’s expectations have risen heading into MAAC play.

It’s hard not to like this Purple Eagles squad. They’ve re-grouped after an inconsistent start, winning five of their last six to improve to 7-5 overall.

They’re currently the only team in the MAAC with a winning record, which says more about the conference than Niagara at this point of the season.

That said, you can see that this is a team gaining confidence with each and every win. With the way the rest of the conference looks, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Niagara near the top of the conference heading into March.

The Purple Eagles have a busy stretch in front of them. They host Albany on New Year’s Eve before opening MAAC play over the weekend at Manhattan on Saturday and Fairfield on Monday.

Quick Facts:

  • Niagara’s 7-5 record is its best start through 12 games since the 2009-10 season (8-4). 
  • James Towns nearly missed a triple-double vs. Norfolk State. He finished with 15 points, a career-high 10 assists, and tied a career-high with seven rebounds.
  • Five Purple Eagles scored in double figures on Saturday for the first time this season.

Next Week: vs. Albany, at Manhattan

SYRACUSE, NY – DECEMBER 29: St. Bonaventure Bonnies Forward Courtney Stockard (11) dribbles the ball toward the basket. (Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Stock Down!

St. Bonaventure: (4-9), Last Week: Loss at Syracuse

New Year’s Resolutions:

  • Develop the youngsters! Kyle Lofton and Osun Osunniyi have big-time potential.
  • Find some chemistry! Early season injuries have messed with the Bonnies lineup. SBU needs Stockard and Griffin to start gelling soon or it’s going to be a long few months.
  • Be patient! St. Bonaventure isn’t in a position to win now. Their recent stretch proves that but that doesn’t mean they can’t shock a few teams in A10 play along the way.

Boy, what a difference a year makes!

One year ago, I was one of the thousands of St. Bonaventure fans that made the trip to the Carrier Dome to see the Bonnies takedown the Cuse at the Dome.

Fast forward to this past Saturday… that didn’t quite happen again.

Syracuse dominated from start to finish in an 81-47 rout. Courtney Stockard and LaDarien Griffin combined for only seven points on 2-7 shooting in 31 minutes of game action.

The Bonnies couldn’t get anything going offensively, shooting 35.6% on the night, including 15.8% from deep.

Simultaneously, they also couldn’t stop the Orange. Syracuse has not been a well-oiled machine this year, especially at home, losing games against Old Dominion and Buffalo but you wouldn’t know that based off of their performance on Saturday afternoon.

Led by Tyus Battle’s 21 points on 8-8 shooting, the Cuse shot 58% from the field in front of an announced crowd of 21,968 at the dome.

With the game getting out of hand, the Bonnies were able to clear their bench, getting 12 players into the game.

SYRACUSE, NY – DECEMBER 29: St. Bonaventure Bonnies Guard Kyle Lofton (0) dribbles the ball toward the basket.(Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Freshmen Kyle Lofton and Osun Osunniyi were two of the lone bright spots for St. Bonaventure. 

Lofton posted 12 points and three assists while Osunniyi had seven rebounds and three blocks.

With the loss, the Bonnies have now dropped four in a row, falling to 4-9 overall, their worst non-conference record since Mark Schmidt took over as head coach.

The last time they won less than four non-conference games was in Anthony Solomon’s final season coaching the Bonnies in 2006-07.

So what does this all mean?

Essentially, it’s close to what I said at the beginning of the season before I backtracked and flipped my view.

This Bonnies squad isn’t prepared to win at a high level. They have top-level talent in Stockard and Griffin but they don’t have enough depth to compete against higher caliber teams.

I won’t use the term re-building but it’s clear this is going to be more of a developmental year. 

Best case scenario, Stockard and Griffin find their groove in conference play and the Bonnies finish in the middle of the Atlantic 10.

Worst case scenario, things never come together and St. Bonaventure finishes with their worst season of the Mark Schmidt era.

This squad is certainly more talented than Schmidt’s initial teams at St. Bonaventure but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be more successful after dealing with injuries all season.

With the non-conference portion of their schedule wrapped up, Bona opens A10 play on the road on Sunday against George Mason. 

Quick Facts:

  • Stockard failed to reach double figure points against Syracuse for the first time in his seven games this season.
  • Osunniyi now has recorded at least two blocks in 10 games this year; he has 34 for the season.
  • The Bonnies 4-9 non-conference record is their worst mark of the Mark Schmidt era.

Next Week: at George Mason

Koessler Athletic Center

Stock Down! 

Canisius: (3-8), Last Week: Loss vs. No. 21 Buffalo

New Year’s Resolutions:

  • Start passing the ball better. Better passing will lead to better shooting. 
  • Establish a post presence down low. Find a way to get Scott Hitchon involved. Offense is too one dimensional right now.
  • Need Isaiah Reese to start taking games over. He was named Preseason MAAC Player of the Year for a reason. Now, it’s time to prove it.

No one is happier about the start of conference play more than the Canisius Golden Griffins.

Non-conference play has been brutal to the Griffs this season. They’ve only had three of their first 11 games at home.

They’ve played two ranked opponents. That doesn’t include matchups against the defending national champs, Villanova and former college powerhouse, Memphis.

Their schedule has played a major role in their struggles but they’ve also been missing something on the court.

Early in the year, they were getting dominated inside. That hasn’t been the case recently but the Griffs still aren’t getting it done in the paint.

They’re too one dimensional offensively. They don’t move the ball well, leading to difficult contested shots.

That’s put a tremendous strain on Isaiah Reese and Takal Molson who have both struggled despite averaging in double-figures.

Despite their struggles, Canisius actually jumped out to a quick 10-point lead against No. 21 Buffalo on Saturday evening but it was unrealistic to expect them to maintain that start.

The Bulls responded with a massive run, eventually taking control of the game. The Griffs did manage to keep within 15 points for the majority of the night, eventually falling 87-72.

While far from a moral victory, Canisius did show signs of life. There’s hope they’ll be able to turn things around heading into conference play but I’ll have to see it before I proclaim it to be the case.

All year long, I’ve been predicting a turnaround but it just hasn’t happened. We’ll see if it does but we’re not at that point yet.

One thing I did find interesting from Saturday’s game was from the postgame press conference. Buffalo head coach Nate Oats referred to the contest as Canisius’ “Super Bowl.”

I don’t think he meant any ill-will with those thoughts but it was apparent speaking with Canisius head coach Reggie Witherspoon following the game that he wasn’t fond of those comments.

Reggie wouldn’t address what was said, simply downplaying the matchup as a non-conference game that’s scheduled every year.

TALLAHASSEE, FL – NOVEMBER 19: Reggie Witherspoon head coach Canisius College Golden Griffins applauds from the sideline. (Photo by David Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Witherspoon had coached at Buffalo for 14-seasons but wouldn’t address any questions regarding his past with the Bulls and what it meant to him facing off against his former school.

And honestly, none of that is really shocking, especially with how his firing at UB went down. None of this really matters in the grand scheme of things. 

Though it certainly makes for some solid water cooler talk.

Canisius opens up MAAC play this week at Marist and Siena.

Quick Facts:

  • Saturday’s game marked the 103rd time in program history where Canisius played a team ranked in the Associated Press Top-25 poll, but it was the first time the Griffs hosted a ranked opponent in the Koessler Athletic Center.
  • This was the 51st all-time meeting between the two cross-town rivals. Canisius leads the series 32-19.
  • Molson extended his streak of scoring in double-figures to 15-straight games, dating back to last season, with his 15-point effort on Saturday.
  • The five assists for Johnson gives him five-or more assists in 36 career games. It also gives him 331 career assists, which ranks him 12th in school history.

Next Week: at Marist, at Siena

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

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