Home NCAAM Canisius College Big 4 Basketball Update: Buffalo, St. Bonaventure cruising into March

Big 4 Basketball Update: Buffalo, St. Bonaventure cruising into March

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Jim Kelly spoke with the UB Bulls following their dominating victory over Ohio on Tuesday evening. Courtesy: @UBmenshoops on Twitter

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.

You know UB basketball is on the map when former Bills greats Jim Kelly and Thurman Thomas start attending games at Alumni Arena!

They’re as good as it gets when it comes to Buffalo sports celebrities and their presence is a huge endorsement of the Bulls recent success.

UB has had a tremendous season and the local community is finally starting to take notice! 

Things are also heating up across the rest of the Big 4:

  • St. Bonaventure has won four in a row, improving to 9-5 in conference play. The Bonnies are in the midst of an incredible in-season turnaround. We’ll go into further detail below.
  • Canisius picked up a massive victory on Friday evening over Monmouth but couldn’t follow it up with another one on Sunday, falling to Iona. The Griffs are one of five teams in contention for the MAAC regular season crown.
  • Niagara’s struggles have continued. It’s now time to start questioning the direction of their program moving forward.

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

Stock Up!

#25 Buffalo: 24-3 (12-2), Last Week: Wins over Ohio and Kent State

“We can’t just do it tonight,” said Oats, “I think the next two and a half weeks are a huge stretch for us if we’re going to show people we’re worthy of a six or a five (seed).”

Nate Oats was spot-on with his comments following the Bulls record-setting victory over Ohio on Tuesday evening.

Right now, many national experts currently have Buffalo projected as a 7-seed in the NCAA Tournament.

That’s not high enough in my opinion. UB is 16th in the NET rankings (as of Saturday) and 20th in KenPom.

They have a 4-1 record record against teams in the top 65 of the NET rankings. That’s not the resume of a seven or eight-seed.

Instead, it’s the profile of a team that’s at least a six-seed, possibly a five. UB head coach Nate Oats is aware that Buffalo’s mid-major status requires them to do more in order to catch the attention of the selection committee.

They need statement victories.

Apparently defeating a 20-win Toledo team on the road didn’t qualify as one according to the national media. I say that because the Bulls didn’t receive any boost following one of their most impressive victories of the season.

So, how will Buffalo get the statement wins they need heading into March?

By dominating, that’s how.

If they’re not going to improve their resume by simply winning games, it’s now time for them to start kicking butt every night.

Bullying the Bobcats:

Buffalo took a step in the right direction this past week, taking down Ohio and Kent State by a combined 70 points!

The Bulls defeated the Bobcats 114-67, their largest margin of victory over a MAC opponent in UB history.

Their 114 points are a school record versus a Division I opponent. Buffalo also set a program record, connecting on 19 three-pointers.

Jayvon Graves had the best game of his UB career versus the Bobcats, scoring a career-high 26 points, going 7-9 from deep.

CJ Massinburg chipped in with 23 while Davonta Jordan dished out nine assists.

Jeenathan Williams also had a breakout performance, finishing with 13 points and eight rebounds, by far his best game as a Bull.

Blacking out Kent State:

Buffalo carried that momentum into their “Blackout” contest against Kent State.

I want to give a round of applause to all of the UB fans that attended Friday night’s game.

Alumni Arena was rocking for the nationally televised matchup on ESPN2 with a record-crowd of 6,682 in attendance.

That goes a long way in attracting recruits and building up your program.

As far as the actual game, we saw more UB domination! After getting off to a sluggish start, the Bulls used a 10-0 run at the end of the first half to take a 35-27 lead into the break.

Buffalo opened the second half with a 10-4 run, turning what was once a 27-25 deficit with two minutes left in the first half into a 45-31 lead early in the second.

The Bulls cruised from there, finishing off the Golden Flashes 80-57 for their 24th consecutive home victory, tying Tennessee for the second longest active streak in the country.

Nick Perkins was sensational! The senior forward scored a career-high 27 points, taking over during the late stages of the first half.

CJ Massinburg had a typical CJ “Buckets” kind of night, finishing with 18 points, five rebounds and five steals.

He had a scary moment five minutes into the second half after driving to the hoop. A Golden Flashes player landed on his ankle, causing some pain.

Massinburg was on the ground for a short period of time before jumping back up, limping off the injury and finishing the game.

He informed the media afterwards that his ankle is fine and that he doesn’t anticipate any issues moving forward.

Beyond Massinburg, Jordan had another big night, finishing with eight points, seven rebounds and eight assists.

What impressed me the most from Friday’s victory was the Bulls defensive intensity. They absolutely shutdown Kent State, forcing 24 turnovers, 13 of which came from UB steals.

The Golden Flashes struggled to generate anything offensively, with the MAC’s leading scorer Jaylin Walker held to 12 points on 4-11 shooting.

So how will last week’s results impact Buffalo’s ranking and seed projections moving forward?

Let’s take a look.

Poll Watch:

It’s going to be very interesting to see where the Bulls land in the polls on Monday.

They’re definitely moving up, that’s a guarantee.

SYRACUSE, NY – FEBRUARY 20: Tyus Battle #25 of the Syracuse Orange drives to the basket past Khwan Fore #4 of the Louisville Cardinals during the second half at the Carrier Dome on February 20, 2019 in Syracuse, New York. Syracuse defeated Louisville 69-49. (Photo by Rich Barnes/Getty Images)

A bunch of teams in front of them suffered losses including No. 17 Villanova, No. 18 Louisville and No. 19 Iowa State all losing twice.

Buffalo should jump ahead of all three of those programs.

In addition to those schools, Virginia Tech (Virginia), Iowa (Maryland) and Florida State (UNC) all lost as well.

I don’t think the Bulls will pass all three of them but I definitely think it’s possibly they could jump at least one them. 

With that said, I’m projecting Buffalo to be ranked 22nd in the country in Monday’s AP Poll. 

When it comes to their seeding, I believe UB is really, really, close to being a six-seed. Their resume speaks for itself. 

Now, it’s time for them to be recognized.

Quick Facts: 

  • Massinburg scored 18 points, moving into third place on UB’s all-time scoring list, surpassing hall of famer Jim Horne. Massinburg now has 1,835 points in his Buffalo career.
  • Buffalo is the only program in the nation to score at least 110 points three times this season against a Division I opponent.
  • The 114 points scored vs. Ohio were the most in UB history against a Division I opponent and the third highest total in school history.
  • Buffalo set a record for 3-pointers (19) in a single game in their victory over Ohio.
  • Their 47-point win over Ohio was UB’s largest margin of victory over a Division I opponent.
  • With their victory over Kent State, Buffalo set a record for most regular season wins (24) in program history.
  • Their crowd of 6,682 vs. Kent State was their highest attendance at home since renovating Alumni Arena. (All-Time record was 8,971 vs. NIU in 2004)

Next Week: vs. Akron, at Miami (Ohio)

Stock Up!

St. Bonaventure: 13-14 (9-5), Last Week: Win vs. La Salle, Win at Fordham

What an amazing in-season turnaround it’s been for St. Bonaventure!

The Bonnies were down in the dumps to open A10 play, sitting at 6-12 (2-3) overall. They were struggling to find any offensive cohesiveness while trying to figure things out with LaDarien Griffin and Dominick Welch returning from injuries.

Simultaneously, Jalen Poyser went down with a head injury, missing a significant amount of time. Granted, he had already lost his spot in the starting lineup but was a big loss nonetheless.

Safe to say, things weren’t looking good for the Bonnies. They lost seven of nine, dropping to six games below .500.

Things were looking bleak but something changed during their double-overtime loss versus Dayton.

St. Bonaventure started clicking and should’ve won the game. I don’t know if it was the close result or how they executed but it seemingly gave them confidence moving forward.

From there, they won three of their next five, relying on their suffocating defense to shutdown opponents. Their games weren’t pretty but the wins counted the same in the record books.

Recently though, the Bonnies have stepped their game up to another level. They’re still playing phenomenal defense but they’ve also found some offensive firepower along the way.

St. Bonaventure has now won four in a row, improving to 13-14 (9-5). They’re sitting in a three-way tie with George Mason and Duquesne for 4th in the Atlantic 10, something that would’ve seemed inconceivable one month ago.

They’re getting hot at the right time heading into March. If they can finish strong, they might even have hope of making a shocking run in Brooklyn.

I wouldn’t bet on it but I’m not as closed off to the possibility as I was earlier this year.

A big reason why is the play of their freshmen and I’m not just talking about Kyle Lofton, though he has been impressive.

Lofton had one of the top moments of his young career against La Salle, hitting a game-winning jumper with 3.1 seconds remaining to give the Bonnies a 62-60 victory over the Explorers.

Osun Osunniyi is one of the best young defenders that I’ve seen up close in person. He could go scoreless on a nightly basis and still make a tremendous impact with his rebounding and shot-blocking ability.

Dominick Welch has also been tremendous of late. He has an impressive stroke from deep which has come in handy for the Bonnies in recent weeks.

And you can’t forget about Courtney Stockard and LaDarien Griffin. It’s easy to overlook them with how great the SBU freshmen have been but they’re equally crucial to St. Bonaventure’s chances in March.

Stockard is leading the team in scoring, averaging 15.9 points and six rebounds while Griffin is averaging 10.5 points and 5.6 rebounds.

Bona doesn’t have a ton of depth but they’ve received more balanced scoring of late. One player to keep an eye on is Jalen Poyser.

He recently returned to the Bonnies lineup, scoring 20 points off the bench against Fordham on Saturday afternoon.

He would be a huge bonus to SBU’s hopes down the stretch if he can build off of that performance.

St. Bonaventure has four games remaining before the A10 Tournament. If they can find a way to win at least three of them, they’ll have a solid chance of clinching the four-seed and securing a double-bye in Brooklyn.

Quick Facts:

  • The Bonnies have limited five of their last six opponents to under 60 points and to less than 38 percent shooting overall.
  • St. Bonaventure has now won five straight A-10 road games.
  • At 9-5, the Bonnies are now guaranteed of at least a .500 finish in the A-10, which is their fifth straight season at that level or better. One more would be St.Bonaventure’s fifth season in a row of double-digit conference wins

Next Week: vs. Duquesne, at George Washington

Stock Neutral!

Canisius: 13-15 (10-6), Last Week: Win at Monmouth, Loss at Iona

I have mixed feelings as I write this.

On one hand, I’m incredibly proud of Canisius’ resiliency of late as they continue fighting in spite of their best player being suspended indefinitely.

However, on the other hand, I feel like they let a massive opportunity slip through their fingers on Sunday afternoon.

The Griffs had a golden chance to grab a firm grasp of the MAAC heading into the final week of the regular season but couldn’t put away a feisty Iona team, surrendering their hold of first place in the conference.

If there was one game Canisius had to win, it was Sunday against the Gaels. Unfortunately, it didn’t play out that way with Iona finishing off the season sweep.

Now comes the interesting part.

Iona is in first place at 11-6 with only one game remaining at Rider while Canisius is tied with four other teams at 10-6.

The Gaels matchup versus the Broncs is far from a gimme for Iona, meaning the conference race is still wide open.

Normally, I like to focus on the previous week for each team I cover but I’m going to change things up this week. With that said, I’m going to focus on what Canisius needs to do in order to win the MAAC.

MAAC Race:

First off, Canisius needs to win both of their remaining games at home versus Niagara and Siena.

That would put them at 12-6.

Anything less would put them at 11-7 or 10-8. I’m not sure if there’s any scenarios in which they could win the regular season crown at 11-7. 

What I do know is that they wouldn’t win the head-to-head tiebreaker if it comes down to them and Iona. If you add in a few other teams, it might get tricky but I would need to look into that further.

But let’s keep it simple.

The best path is to go 2-0 next week and hope Iona loses to Rider. 

Canisius already owns the head-to-head tiebreaker with Quinnipiac and they’ll have an opportunity to finish off a season sweep of Siena after splitting with Rider.

If they can take care of business, they’ll have a realistic chance at winning their first outright MAAC title since the 1993-94 season.

Crazy Statistical Win:

I thought this was crazy. Canisius defeated Monmouth on Friday evening despite shooting under 30% from the field.

The Griffs only connected on 17-57 (29.8%) shots while hitting 10-34 (29.4%) from deep. Simultaneously, Monmouth went 22-51 (43.1%) overall.

It’s rare to see a team winning during such a poor shooting performance. Two factors helping the Griffs that night was that they forced 17 turnovers and pulled down 12 offensive rebounds.

Canisius wasn’t quite as lucky against Iona. The Griffs shot 31-60 (51.7%) against the Gaels but struggled to defend Rickey McGill, allowing the Gaels lone senior to score 30 points. Iona shot 27-52 (51.9%) as both teams combined for 20 three-pointers.

WEST LONG BRANCH, NJ – DECEMBER 04: Canisius Golden Griffins head coach Reggie Witherspoon during the first half of the NCAA mens basketball game between the Monmouth Hawks and the Canisius Golden Griffins on December 04, 2016, at OceanFirst Bank Center in West Long Branch, NJ. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Congratulations Reggie!

With his win on Friday, Canisius head coach Reggie Witherspoon won the 250th game of coaching career (Doesn’t include record at ECC).

Witherspoon is in his 3rd season at Canisius, leading the Griffs to the postseason in his each of his first two years.

Previously, he was the head coach at Buffalo for 14 seasons, guiding the Bulls to a 198-228 record over that span, making the postseason four times including a trip to the NIT in 2005.

His record currently sits at 250-271.

Quick Facts:

  • Canisius has now won 10-or more MAAC games in three-straight seasons and in six of the last seven years.
  • The win on Friday was the 250th in the head coaching career of Reggie Witherspoon.

Next Week: vs. Niagara, vs. Siena

Stock Down!

Niagara: 12-17 (5-11), Last Week: Losses at Rider and St. Peter’s

I’ll be the first one to admit that I had low expectations for the Purple Eagles entering this season.

But my thoughts changed after Niagara jumped out to a strong start, picking up wins over St. Bonaventure and Pittsburgh.

Turns out, I never should’ve changed my mind.

The Purple Eagles are bad… like really bad.

I’ve made a point of not being overly critical on this blog to avoid upsetting anyone close to their program.

That said, it’s clear the issues at Niagara start at the top.

Teams are supposed to improve as the season progresses. However, that hasn’t been the case with the Purple Eagles.

They’ve gotten worse instead of getting better.

A lot of that falls on Chris Casey. 

I thought he did a great job getting the most out of his talent during the non-conference portion of the Purple Eagles schedule but things have taken a turn for the worst during MAAC play.

Niagara has stubbornly stuck with their starting lineup in spite of their struggles, losing 12 of their past 17 games.

Casey finally made a change on Sunday, starting Marcus Hammond, Raheem Solomon and Greg King in place of James Towns, Keleaf Tate and Dominic Robb.

It’s a move that some fans have been clamoring for a while.

They had their wishes granted against St. Peter’s but it didn’t pay off. At this point, it’s too late to really impact Niagara’s season.

They have fallen to 12-17 (5-11), sitting in a three-way tie for last place in the MAAC. 

That’s something I never thought I’d be saying in late December. I really believed they would finish in the top half of the conference.

What makes things even worse is that this has been the most wide-open the MAAC has been in years!

Niagara was never even in contention. Even more disappointing, the Purple Eagles are coming off an 18-point loss against the last place team in the conference.

This team is a mess at this point. I was really high on players like Marvin Prochet, Dominic Robb and James Towns to open the season.

I still believe they’re decent players that have their moments but they’re not at the level where they’re able to elevate their teammates around them.

The three seniors combined for 19 points on 7-21 shooting against Rider on Friday as NU went into halftime down 31. 

That led Casey to give big minutes to Hammond, Solomon and Dominik Fragala. The three freshman didn’t fare much better, combining for 33 points on 11-33 shooting. 

Still, it was refreshing to see the Purple Eagles youngsters receive more playing time. They went through their share of struggles as expected but need the experience moving forward.

The big question heading into the final week of the season is, how should Niagara move forward?

Should they continue to start their freshmen or should they go back to their traditional starting lineup for the MAAC Tournament.

I’m a firm believer in sticking with your youngsters. You can’t reverse course after giving them an opportunity this late in the season.

Another important question is what Niagara should do with Chris Casey moving forward? I’m not going to state my opinion but will list the facts relevant to the conversation.

Casey is 63-127 (38-76) overall during his six seasons at Niagara, sporting only one winning record to his name (19-14 in 2017-18).

Despite winning only 33.1% of his games, the Purple Eagles administration gave him a contact extension prior to the start of this season.

Niagara has taken small steps in the right direction, improving from 22-73 during his first three seasons to 41-54 during his past three years at the helm.

Regardless, that’s not getting the job done and it’s not like Casey hasn’t had more than enough time to turn things around.

Niagara struggles to attract solid talent to Lewiston. They’ve had a few hits but haven’t been able to consistently bring in the caliber of athletes needed to turn things around quickly.

Those are the facts.

I’m not going to advocate for him to stay or go but it’s clear that the Niagara administration needs to have a conversation about the direction of the program moving forward.

CLEVELAND, OH – (Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Congratulations Dominic Robb:

It hasn’t been a pretty time to be a Purple Eagles fan but the players still deserve credit when they reach personal milestones.

Such was the case for senior Dominic Robb on Sunday who joined the 1,000 point club during Niagara’s loss at St. Peter’s.

Congratulations to him on the career milestone!

Quick Facts:

  • Dominic Robb joined the 1,000-Point Club in the game. Robb and Joe Arlauckas are the only Purple Eagles in program history with 1,000 career points and 200 career blocks.
  • Dominic Robb is now tied for first in career blocks with 220 after swatting three shots.

Next Week: at Canisius, vs. Siena

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

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