As a Buffalo native, there was nothing I enjoyed more growing up as a basketball fan than Big 4 rivalry games.
They were opportunities to see Buffalo, St. Bonaventure, Canisius and Niagara play in front of large and energetic crowds, something that wasn’t common during my teenage years in the mid-2000’s.
UB was starting to turn things around but always fell short in March. St. Bonaventure was struggling after being put on probation while Canisius was a complete mess.
The lone exception was Niagara who was going through a mini “glory” period under former head coach Joe Mihalich.
Regardless of how any of the four were doing at any given time, you knew it was going to be an exciting night when they faced off.
For that reason, I relished those games.
My dad bought me Canisius season tickets so I could watch the Golden Griffins up close in person.
Simultaneously, my uncle, a St. Bonaventure alumnus would talk smack about Canisius.
From him, I learned about the Bonnies history, hearing stories about the great Bob Lanier and how St. Bonaventure made the Final Four in 1970.
Relatives would tell me how amazing Calvin Murphy was while at Niagara and bring up the talented Canisius teams of the 1950’s.
Buffalo doesn’t have that same history but they’re building it now.
The Bulls are ranked 17th in the country and are off to their best start (8-0) since the 1930-31 season when they finished 15-0.
Their undefeated record that year might sound impressive but lets provide some context. It was eight years before the NCAA Tournament (1939) was even established with the vast majority of their victories coming against various local schools.
This year is different.
Buffalo is the first Big 4 school to open the season 8-0 since St. Bonaventure did so in 1970-71, the year after the Bonnies reached the Final Four.
Ironically, St. Bonaventure is also UB’s next opponent.
Buffalo will be looking to become the first Big 4 school to start 9-0 since the 1969-70 season, when both St. Bonaventure and Niagara accomplished the feat. In order to do so, the Bulls will need to takedown a hot Bonnies team that has won three in a row since Courtney Stockard returned to the lineup.
On paper, Buffalo has the advantage but we all know you can throw that out the window in this matchup.
Because the Reilly Center is tough place to play, even more so when the Bonnies student section is riled up. Another tidbit, St. Bonaventure has the historical edge, leading the all-time series 10-2 with a 6-0 mark at home.
With that in mind, a few Bona fans have been downplaying the supposed “rivalry” to which I shake my head.
This matchup doesn’t have the historical ties that the rest of the “Big 4” have with one another but it is a rivalry.
They’re both located in Western New York, coming off of NCAA Tournament appearances. They both recruit high-caliber athletes and both have been surging in recent years.
That’s why theirs excitement for this matchup. They might not have the historical animosity for each other but fans of both programs should start appreciating what this game could eventually turn into instead of dismissing it at a moments notice.
When the Bonnies student section started chanting “We want UB” during their game against Siena on Wednesday night, that serves as a seed for a rivalry. That’s respect. That’s Bona fans recognizing that the Bulls are a talented team they want to make a statement against.
Saturday’s game has already been announced as a sellout with many UB fans planning on making the trip. That’s another seed. That tells you that Bulls fans are excited and buying into the hype surrounding their team.
You can see a rivalry budding. There’s energy and passion growing for this matchup amongst both fanbases. Depending on what happens on the court, we might see a moment or two that adds fuel to the fire.
That’s fun. That’s exciting. I don’t know who wouldn’t love that.
Let’s not downplay this rivalry by dismissing it before it even has a chance to blossom into one.
Maybe it will, maybe it won’t. We’ll just have to wait and see.