Home NCAAM Canisius College Big 4 Basketball Update: Conference play underway

Big 4 Basketball Update: Conference play underway

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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.

That feeling in the air, that’s the tension of conference play returning!

College basketball’s second season is the best part of the regular season. Every game means more, there’s familiarity between each opponent and one loss can impact the entire conference race.

All four of the Big 4 schools opened conference play this past week. For Buffalo and Canisius, that was exciting news.

For Niagara and St. Bonaventure, not so much. That said, the Purple Eagles and Bonnies will have more than enough opportunities to show what they’re capable of after opening conference play with a pair of road losses.

Here’s another edition of Stock Up, Stock Down! 

Week: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

SYRACUSE, NY – DECEMBER 18: Head coach Nate Oats of the Buffalo Bulls cheers for his team during the second half against the Syracuse Orange (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

Stock Up!

#20 Buffalo:13-1 (1-0), Last Week: Win at Eastern Michigan

Oh, what could’ve been!

Sitting at 13-1 overall with wins over West Virginia, Syracuse and San Francisco, the No. 20 Buffalo Bulls have been the darlings of the Mid-American Conference so far this season.

However, five hours west of the Queen City sits another MAC program hoping to make their mark in Northwest Ohio.

The Toledo Rockets entered their conference opener against Ball State on Friday, sitting at 12-1 overall, receiving five votes in the latest AP Poll.

With a Rockets victory over the Cardinals, we were primed to see a battle of 13-1 teams at Tuesday evening at Alumni Arena. A showdown with MAC supremacy on the line featuring two teams in the top 50 of the NCAA NET rankings.

This was going to be a game that would have March Madness implications for both teams.

It was all setting up perfectly… UNTIL… Toledo was destroyed at home by Ball State.

It’s still going to be a huge game for both schools BUT a lot of the pregame luster has drifted away as a result.

In the long run, the Rockets loss won’t really impact the Bulls. Buffalo is only concerned about one thing right now, taking care of business one game at a time.

After a slow start against Eastern Michigan on Friday, they found their stride late in the first half, taking a 10-point lead into halftime before downing the Eagles 74-58.

BOISE, ID – MARCH 17: Montell McRae #1 of the Buffalo Bulls reacts during the second half against the Kentucky Wildcats in the second round of the 2018 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

We’ll be remembering UB’s conference opener as the “Montell McRae Game.” The senior forward had his best performance as a Bull, finishing with 18 points and seven rebounds on 8-9 shooting.

McRae went a personal 10-0 run against EMU midway through the first half, giving Buffalo a 23-15 lead and they never looked back from there. He scored 12-consecutive points for the Bulls, throwing down three dunks and a pair of treys.

CJ Massinburg and Nick Perkins also finished in double-figures. Massinburg posted 12 points and four assists while Perkins had 15 points and six rebounds in his final collegiate game in his hometown of Ypsilanti, Michigan.

Jeremy Harris had a quiet scoring night but lit up the boards, posting nine points and 12 rebounds.

Buffalo struggled with the EMU 2-3 zone to open the game, which isn’t surprising. Eastern Michigan head coach Rob Murphy coached besides Jim Boeheim at Syracuse and brought his 2-3 zone to the Eagles.

While offensively challenged, no one can talk down the effectiveness of Eastern Michigan’s zone.

The good news for UB, they won’t have to deal with it again until January 18th when they host EMU at Alumni Arena.

BOISE, ID – MARCH 15: Head coach Nate Oats of the Buffalo Bulls reacts against the Arizona Wildcats during the first round of the 2018 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

They have three games before then. On Tuesday, they’ll battle Toledo like I mentioned above. On Saturday, Miami (Ohio) will make the trip from Oxford, Ohio to Buffalo.

The following Tuesday, UB will travel to Kalamazoo, Michigan, taking on Western Michigan.

The Bulls schedule is setting up for a historic season. I would not be surprised to see them winning 30+ games this season.

If you break it down like this, the math adds up.

  • 12-1 non-conference record
  • 15-3 conference record (worst case record for this simulation)
  • 3-0 record in MAC Tournament
  • 30-4 overall

And believe me, I’m being conservative with Buffalo going 15-3 in conference play. That’s their MAC record from last year.

I wouldn’t be surprised if they eclipse that and finish somewhere between 16-2 and 18-0 in MAC play. If they do so, 30 wins would be a lock for UB.

However, that’s something to worry about later in the season. Right now, Buffalo is focused on getting off to a strong start in conference play and I’m confident they will.

Poll Watch:

With conference play underway, Buffalo has reached the point of the season in which they should start stabilizing within the polls.

The Mid-American Conference is having a great year but even with that said, there’s no other teams within the conference outside of possibly Toledo and Ball State that would be considered a quality win.

As a result, the Bulls won’t move up much in the polls unless they pile together a bunch of wins. However, the opposite will be the case if they lose.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – JANUARY 01: Shamorie Ponds #2 of the St. John’s Red Storm handles the ball on offense against the Marquette Golden Eagles. (Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images)

Pollsters hold mid-majors to a unrealistically high standard, keeping them on a much shorter leash. One loss could drop Buffalo out of the rankings.

That being said, UB is safe at the moment. They might move up a spot or two this week. If I were to guess, I’d project them to be ranked between 18th and 20th in this week’s AP Poll.

Ohio State and Kentucky both lost on Saturday and both should drop below the Bulls in the polls. No. 6 Nevada was destroyed by New Mexico as well. It’ll be interesting to see where the pollsters put the Wolfpack after their abysmal performance.

Another interesting team is St. John’s. They’re currently in a battle with Buffalo for the honor of “Best team in the State of New York.” The Red Storm are 14-1 overall, coming off of wins over No. 16 Marquette and Georgetown.

It’s possible they’ll jump Buffalo in Monday’s polls.

Quick Facts: 

  • 14 NBA scouts were on hand for Friday’s game between Buffalo and Eastern Michigan.
  • Heading into league play, the MAC is ranked as one of the Top 10 conferences in the nation.
  • At #20 in the country, UB became the highest ranked team ever to play at the Convocation Center and the first ranked program since #21/#22 UMass on Dec. 3, 2013
  • Friday night’s trip to Eastern Michigan was the final one for Ypsilanti, MI native and senior Nick Perkins. It was the third trip to EMU for Perkins.
  • It was also a homecoming for head coach Nate Oats, who spent 11 years as head coach at nearby Romulus High School, just about 16 miles away.

Next Week: vs. Toledo, vs. Miami (Ohio)

TALLAHASSEE, FL – NOVEMBER 19: Takal Molson (15) guard Canisius College Golden Griffins jogs down the court following a change in posession during the game against the Florida State University (FSU) Seminoles. (Photo by David Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Stock Up! 

Canisius: 5-8 (2-0), Last Week: Wins at Marist and Siena

It was far from pretty at times but Canisius did exactly what they needed to do this past week, scraping out a pair of crucial road wins to open conference play 2-0.

Throughout the season, it’s become increasingly difficult to stick up for the Golden Griffins. They had a disastrous Florida trip and really struggled to find their stride after returning to Buffalo.

Yet, there was still a quiet confidence that they would turn things around in conference play. Even with that said, I was starting to have my doubts.

Last week proved my original thoughts correct. Even with their struggles, Canisius is one of the top contenders in the MAAC.

It shouldn’t be surprising that players like Takal Molson and Isaiah Reese are both coming off two of their best games of the season against Marist and Siena. They’re both familiar with the rest of the MAAC and look more comfortable in conference play.

Canisius opened the week with a down to the wire victory over Marist. Jibreel Faulkner was the unsung hero on Thursday scoring 18 points on 7-13 shooting.

ORLANDO, FL – NOVEMBER 22: Canisius Golden Griffins guard Isaiah Reese (13) during the 2018 AdvoCare Invitational mens college basketball game between the Canisius Golden Griffins and Villanova Wildcats. (Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Isaiah Reese also had himself a standout game despite finishing with only nine points. The junior guard is starting to display the well rounded numbers we’re accustomed to seeing from him. He had seven rebounds and eight assists against the Red Foxes.

Then on Saturday, he really one upped himself. Reese went off for 20 points, eight rebounds, five steals and three assists against Siena in the Griffs 70-66 victory over the Saints.

Canisius showed solid composure, keeping in the game despite falling behind 15-points midway through the first half (32-17, 6:44 left in 1st).

The Griffs entered halftime down 10 but started the second half strong, outscoring the Saints 23-11 in the first 10 minutes to make it a ballgame once again. From there, they were able to hold on, finally pulling away in the final minute of regulation. 

Takal Molson and Scott Hitchon were both strong offensively for Canisius against Siena. Molson had 23 points on an efficient 8-16 from the field while Hitchon finished with 11 points, mostly on post-ups in the paint.

Hitchon’s improved offensive presence is a good sign for the Griffs who desperately need more scoring down low.

Even with things looking up for Canisius, there are still some concerns present. They struggle to block out defensively at times, allowing 12 offensive rebounds Saturday evening.

I also believe they have room for improvement with their ball movement. It’s gotten better in recent weeks but I still see them making many unnecessary passes while setting up their offense.

Those are all things the Griffs will continue working on but for now, fans should be excited about them starting to turn the corner in MAAC play.

Canisius has a very busy week ahead. On Tuesday, they’ll take a one-game hiatus from MAAC play, battling Brown out of the Ivy League.

That’ll wrap up the non-conference portion of their schedule. From there, the Griffs will have a pair of HUGE conference games against preseason MAAC favorite Rider and perennial MAAC contender, Iona.

The three programs (Canisius, Rider, Iona) are the only teams in the MAAC without a conference loss, with all three sitting at 2-0 through one week of league play.

All-in-all, it should be a fun week ahead!

Quick Facts:

  • The Griffs win over Siena moves Canisius to 2-0 in MAAC play for the second-straight season and for just the seventh time since joining the conference before the 1989-90 academic year.
  • Canisius had two players (Molson and Reese) score 20-or more points in a game for the first time this season. The last time the Griffs had two players with 20-or more in a contest was Feb. 18, 2018 at Rider when Jermaine Crumpton scored 24 points and Reese added 23.
  • Molson extended his streak of scoring in double-figures to 17 games, dating back to last year.
  • Reese’s season-high five steals allowed him to move past Canisius Sports Hall of Famer Brian Dux for 10th all-time in career steals. Reese now has 141 steals to his credit.

Next Week: vs. Brown, vs. Rider, vs. Iona

CLEVELAND, OH – DECEMBER 19: Niagara Purple Eagles head coach Chris Casey on the sideline during the second half of the college basketball game between the Niagara Purple Eagles and Cleveland State Vikings. (Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Stock Down!

Niagara: 7-7 (0-1), Last Week: Losses vs. Albany and Manhattan

What a disappointing week for the Purple Eagles!

Coming in having won five of their last six games, Niagara struggled to hold onto a pair of late leads against Albany and Manhattan, losing back-to-back games for only the second time this season.

The fashion in which they lost both games was completely different.

The Purple Eagles spotted Albany a 16-0 lead right off the bat, falling behind by as many as 18 points before cutting into the Great Danes lead in the second half.

From there, Niagara caught fire, taking a 71-66 lead with 4:37 remaining. But that’s when things fell apart once again. 

Albany finished the game on a 13-3 run, upsetting the Purple Eagles at home, 79-74. Chris Casey received balanced scoring throughout his lineup but it wasn’t enough.

Marvin Prochet had 13 points and nine rebounds. James Towns had 14 points and five assists while freshmen guards Marcus Hammond and Raheem Solomon scored 16 and 15 points respectively.

It was a disappointing non-conference home loss for Niagara, but forgivable heading into MAAC play.

Their second loss of the week didn’t fit that category. The Purple Eagles loss against Manhattan fell into the infuriating column.

After a tight start to the game, Niagara was in complete control, leading 57-43 with 14:07 left in the second half.

The Purple Eagles were well on their way to a 1-0 start to conference play when things took a wild 180 degree turn!

Manhattan outscored Niagara 47-23 over the final 14 minutes, delivering the Purple Eagles a shocking road loss in their MAAC opener.

Now, how should we dissect this?

The most obvious point is that Niagara took their foot off the pedal but that doesn’t give enough credit to the Jaspers who took it to NU in the second half.

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

To score 54 points in a half is an incredible accomplishment, even more-so for a team entering Saturday night’s action averaging just 55 points per game!

Niagara’s defense was roasted by the Jaspers! Manhattan shot 63% from the field for the game! That’s an unacceptable percentage to allow for any team, much less one that expects to compete for a MAAC crown.

Even with their meltdown, Niagara led up until the final minutes. The Purple Eagles finally saw their lead relinquished with 3:09 remaining when the Jaspers jumped ahead 79-78.

Manhattan never looked back from there, finishing the game on a 16-2 run.

The Purple Eagles shot 47.3% as a team. Five players scored in double-figures led by Dominic Robb’s 17 points and 10 rebounds.

Niagara is seeing players like Keleaf Tate and Marcus Hammond consistently step up in the box score, joining their go-to scoring options, Marvin Prochet and James Towns as viable options.

But they need to learn how to finish games. Niagara stopped moving the ball in the second half against Manhattan, settling for difficult contested shots. There’s no reason for that.

Give the Jaspers credit for adjusting and making their shots but also hold Niagara accountable for allowing them back into the game.

As disappointing as both losses were, I still believe this Purple Eagles squad can compete with the top teams in the MAAC. 

Do I believe they’ll win the conference? Nope. Do I believe they could finish in the top three? Definitely.

It was a tough week but that’s to be expected. In the beginning of the year, I wrote how Niagara’s inconsistency will be frustrating for fans throughout the season and nothing has changed since then.

The Purple Eagles have talent. They just have to find a way to put it all together. Chris Casey has the next two months to come up with a solution.

Quick Facts:

  • Freshman Marcus Hammond led the Purple Eagles in scoring against Albany for the first time in his young career. He scored 16 points off the bench, including 14 in the first half.
  • Manhattan has won five of their last six meetings with Niagara and six straight in Draddy Gymnasium.
  • Head Coach Steve Masiello improved to 10-5, all-time, against the Purple Eagles with Manhattan now holding a 53-33 lead in the all-time series.
  • Over the final 14 minutes, Manhattan shot 69.3 percent (16-of-23) from the floor with nine assists and eight forced turnovers.

Next Week: at Fairfield, vs. Iona, vs. Rider

SYRACUSE, NY – DECEMBER 29: Head coach Mark Schmidt of the St. Bonaventure Bonnies shouts to his players during the second half against the Syracuse Orange. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

Stock Neutral!

St. Bonaventure: 4-10 (0-1), Last Week: Loss at George Mason

I almost categorized St. Bonaventure as “Stock Up” due to Dominick Welch returning to their lineup but couldn’t make the switch due to their less than impressive results on the court.

That said, it’s nice to see the Bonnies healthy once again. Courtney Stockard is back to dominating opponents while LaDarien Griffin is slowly transitioning back to form, recently returning to the St. Bonaventure starting lineup.

His return hasn’t helped the Bonnies find the win column. St. Bonaventure has lost five straight, including their Atlantic 10 opener against George Mason on Sunday afternoon.

Welch returned to the Bona lineup in the loss, only seeing the court for three minutes, pulling down a pair of rebounds in the Bonnies 68-53 loss.

It’ll be interesting to see how Mark Schmidt manages his minutes going forward as Welch transitions back into game action.

Courtney Stockard and Kyle Lofton both had strong performances against the Patriots. The Bonnies senior leader had 16 points and five rebounds with his freshman counterpart scoring 17 points on 8-12 shooting.

While it’s been nice to see each perform at a high level, it’s been disappointing seeing the rest of the Bonnies lineup struggle.

Jalen Poyser has been a major disappointment this season. The UNLV transfer is averaging 8.6 points and one assist per game during Bona’s five-game losing streak.

SYRACUSE, NY – DECEMBER 29: Syracuse Orange Forward Oshae Brissett (11) and St. Bonaventure Bonnies Forward LaDarien Griffin (15) and St. Bonaventure Bonnies Forward Courtney Stockard (11) compete for position. (Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

He’s 14-51 (27.4%) from the field during that stretch including 6-24 (25%) from deep.

Poyser is far from the only Bonnies contributor struggling. St. Bonaventure hasn’t gotten the production they were hoping for this season out of Amadi Ikpeze and Nelson Kaputo as well.

It’s been a struggle for their entire roster. Part of it is a result of their early season injuries but we’re past that now.

The Bonnies just aren’t as good as many Bona fans expected heading into the year. We can all hope that’ll change before the end of the season but I’m not optimistic it will. It’s asking a lot of this current Bonnies lineup to instantly build the chemistry they’ll need to have a successful conference run.

Quick Facts:

  • Sunday marked the Bonnies’ first loss to George Mason since the Patriots joined the A-10 (5-1).
  • Dominick  Welch played in his first game since suffering a foot injury against Georgia State on Nov. 19.
  • For the first time this season, St. Bonaventure was able to dress all 11 of its scholarship players

Next Week: vs. St. Joe’s, vs. Fordham

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

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