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Big 4 Basketball Update: Schmidt sets Bona milestone, UB picks up crucial road wins

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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.

“Some people want it to happen, some wish it would happen, and others make it happen.”

-Michael Jordan

Right now, the 25th ranked Buffalo Bulls are making things happen! They took care of business last week, picking up a pair of huge road wins over Akron and Toledo, giving a huge boost to their already impressive tournament resume.

St. Bonaventure is starting to trend in the right direction. Kyle Lofton is already ascending towards stardom.

Malik Johnson is leading by example on the court, guiding the Golden Griffins as they look to bring home their first outright MAAC Title since the 1993-94 season.

Then there’s Niagara redshirt freshman Dominik Fragala. He hasn’t seen the floor often this season but had a huge game on Sunday afternoon, posting 15 points in 11 minutes of action.

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

BUFFALO, NY – JANUARY 29: Buffalo Bulls fans were out in force to root for their team during the first half of the Ball State Cardinals versus the Buffalo Bulls game on January 29, 2019, at Alumni Arena, Buffalo, NY. (Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Stock Up!

#25 Buffalo: 22-3 (10-2), Last Week: Wins at Akron and Toledo

“It took a lot of maturity to come back in that environment and get a win.”

Nate Oats was proud of his team following Buffalo’s 88-82 comeback victory over Toledo at a sold-out Savage Arena on Friday evening.

The Bulls erased a 13-point first half deficit, earning their most important conference win of the season.

In doing so, UB solidified their NCAA Tournament resume, shifting into “lock” status.

BOWLING GREEN, OH – FEBRUARY 01: Buffalo Bulls guard CJ Massinburg (5) brings the ball up the court during a regular season Mid-American Conference game between the Buffalo Bulls (18) and the Bowling Green Falcons on February 1, 2019, at the Stroh Center in Bowling Green, Ohio. (Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Some readers might be thinking, isn’t that a bit premature?

I don’t believe so.

Buffalo was already on the right side of the bubble conversation prior to their pair of road wins last week. Their season sweep of Toledo only strengthens an already impressive resume.

The Bulls entered Friday ranked 22nd in the NET, the new NCAA formula replacing RPI moving forward. Their victory over the Rockets should give them a minor boost in that metric. 

UB is also grading out well in the KenPom rankings, sitting at 23 as of Saturday evening.

They’re currently 4-1 against teams in the Top 60 of both metrics. And if that wasn’t enough, they’re presently 25th in the AP Poll and 24th in the Coaches Poll.

No matter how you look at it, they’re sporting an impressive resume.

The Bulls are making the NCAA Tournament regardless of what happens in Cleveland. The only question now is, what type of seed is UB looking at?

At this moment in time, I believe Buffalo is looking at a six-seed. They’ll have an opportunity to improve or cement that seed with a strong finish to the regular season.

Let’s discuss how UB put themselves in that position.

Huge resume building week for surging Bulls:

Life on the road is never easy in the MAC.

Buffalo has dealt with that firsthand this season, playing in hostile environments every time they take the floor, receiving every teams best shot.

As a result, the Bulls lost a few games to Northern Illinois and Bowling Green.

This past week presented an abnormally high level of difficulty with UB hitting the road for a pair of games against Akron and Toledo, two of the top MAC programs in recent years.

They entered last week with a combined 22-2 record at home.

Let’s just say, that statistic took a hit during the past five days.

BUFFALO, NY – JANUARY 29: Ball State Cardinals Guard Tayler Persons (2) dribbles the ball with Buffalo Bulls Guard Dontay Caruthers (22) defending during the first half of the Ball State Cardinals versus the Buffalo Bulls game on January 29, 2019, at Alumni Arena, Buffalo, NY. (Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The Zips gave Buffalo everything they could handle, jumping out to an early lead but couldn’t keep up with the Bulls in the second half.

UB took a 30-28 lead into the break, then extended their advantage to 12 with 10:09 remaining, holding on to pick up their 22nd victory of the season.

CJ Massinburg led all scorers with 21 points while Dontay Caruthers chipped in 15.

Rather than travel back to Buffalo, Nate Oats kept his team in Ohio prior to their Friday night matchup at Toledo.

I didn’t see many people hyping what was probably the most important regular season matchup in the recent history of the Mid-American Conference.

And I’d like to point out, I’m strictly talking from a metric standpoint on how this could’ve impacted both teams moving forward.

Sure, there’s rivalry games (Kent/Akron, Ohio/Miami) that mean more historically to their fanbases but this matchup had huge NCAA Tournament implications for both Buffalo and Toledo.

Toledo played like a team that wanted to prove a point. The Rockets opened the game on a 10-0 run, quickly showing that their 30-point loss to the Bulls earlier this season was an aberration.

On the other side of the court, Buffalo was struggling to find their own rhythm, dealing with foul trouble and an inconsistent whistle from the men in stripes.

CJ Massinburg was tagged with three quick fouls as Toledo jumped out to an early 17-4 lead.

However, it’s nearly impossible to keep the Bulls down for an entire half. UB eventually found their stride, generating defensive stops while simultaneously figuring out how to attack the Rockets defense as they ended the first half on an 11-4 run, drawing back within three.

KENT, OH – JANUARY 25: Buffalo Bulls forward Nick Perkins (33) scores with a dunk during the first half of the men’s college basketball game between the Buffalo Bulls and Kent State Golden Flashes on January 25, 2019, at the Memorial Athletic and Convocation Center in Kent, OH. (Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Buffalo kept their momentum going in the second half thanks to an enormous performance by Nick Perkins.

Their senior leader had a huge outing, finishing with 26 points and 10 rebounds, hitting 4-6 from behind the arc.

Behind Perkins, it was a team effort with four other Bulls scoring in double figures. 

Jeremy Harris posted a double-double, finishing with 11 points and 10 rebounds while Massinburg scored 14 on the night. 

Montell McRae had an impressive evening, posting 12 points and five rebounds while Dontay Caruthers reached double-figures once again, finishing with 10 points.

As stated earlier, it was a great performance for Buffalo in front of a national television audience on ESPNU.

Now, they return home for a three-game home stand as they get ready to face-off against Ohio on Tuesday evening at Alumni Arena.

Poll Watch:

It’ll be interesting to see where Buffalo ends up in the polls this week. They dropped two spots in the AP Poll last week after coming back to defeat Central Michigan at home.

MADISON, WISCONSIN – FEBRUARY 12: Ethan Happ #22 of the Wisconsin Badgers dribbles the ball in the second half against the Michigan State Spartans at the Kohl Center on February 12, 2019 in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

This week, they put together two impressive road performances.

That has to count for something, right?

I’m not sure it will. There wasn’t a ton of meaningful results by teams ahead of them in the rankings.

No. 20 Wisconsin fell to Michigan State but I’m not sure they’ll be penalized for a home loss against a ranked opponent. 

The same goes for No. 18 Kansas State and No. 24 Maryland which both suffered losses against Top 25 programs.

It could be enough for UB to possibly jump one or both of them in the polls but we’ll just have to wait and see.

My expectation is for the Bulls to leapfrog Maryland, moving up to 24th in the AP Poll.

Quick Facts: 

  • Senior Nick Perkins played in his 128th career game on Friday evening against Toledo, tying the all-time school record for games played with Mitchell Watt (2008-12) and Javon McRea (2010-14).
  • Over the last five years, Buffalo and Toledo are the two winningest programs in the MAC as UB has recorded 127 wins since the 2013-14 season, while Toledo has 124.  In MAC play, UB has 71 wins and Toledo has 63.
  • Of teams in the Top 100 of the NET rankings, Buffalo is the first to register 10 true road wins this year.
  • Nick Perkins and Jeremy Harris both posted double-doubles at Toledo, the first time since Jan. 26, 2018 that two UB players had double-doubles in the same game.

Next Week: vs. Ohio, vs. Kent State

St. Bonaventure head coach Mark Schmidt following his record setting win. Courtesy: @Stadium on Twitter

Stock Up!

St. Bonaventure: 11-14 (7-5), Last Week: Win at St. Joseph’s, Win vs. George Mason

Let’s start off by congratulating St. Bonaventure head coach Mark Schmidt on becoming the winningest coach in program history.

He surpassed the great Larry Weise with his 203rd victory, leading the Bonnies past George Mason on Sunday afternoon at the Reilly Center.

Schmidt is beloved by Bona fans and for good reason. St. Bonaventure was a program in turmoil prior to him taking over in 2007.

He guided them from a 8-22 mark during his first season in Olean to a 46-46 mark over the course of his next three seasons.

St. Bonaventure head coach Mark Schmidt speaking to the Bona crowd following his record victory. Courtesy: @Mike_Bundt on Twitter

During that time, a revelation by the name of Andrew Nicholson made his mark at the Reilly Center. Magic struck during his senior season.

The Canadian forward led the Bonnies to an upset victory over Xavier in the 2012 Atlantic 10 Tournament Championship Game, guiding St. Bonaventure to their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2000.

That was the beginning of a special ride. Bona went 14-15 in 2012-13, their last losing season under Schmidt.

They’ve gone 104-57 their past five seasons heading into this year, making the NCAA Tournament in 2018 after falling short in 2016, settling for the NIT.

College Basketball: NCAA Playoffs: St. Bonaventure Jaylen Adams (3) in action vs Florida at American Airlines Center. Dallas, TX 3/15/2018 CREDIT: Greg Nelson (Photo by Greg Nelson /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images) (Set Number: X161798 TK4 )

The Bonnies have taken a minor step backwards this season but that’s to be expected after losing Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley.

It takes time and talent to build yourself back up but the pieces are already in place.

St. Bonaventure has won five of their last seven games, improving to 7-5 in Atlantic 10 play.

They have a few stars in the making with freshmen Kyle Lofton and Osun Osunniyi making their presence known early in their Bonnies careers.

Lofton entered Sunday’s action averaging 14.2 points per game and 3.6 assists. I think it’s safe to say, those numbers are about to improve!

The freshman sensation posted a career-high 32 points in the Bonnies 79-56 victory over George Mason, adding seven assists to his credit.

Osunniyi was equally impressive in other aspects of the game, pulling down 11 rebounds and blocking five shots.

Dominick Welch also got in on the action, hitting two 3’s, finishing with 10 points on the afternoon.

The Bonnies opened with a 16-0 run vs. George Mason. Courtesy: @Stadium on Twitter.

It was one of the Bonnies best efforts of the season, opening the game on a 16-0 run, defeating one of the top teams in the Atlantic 10.

It’s also important to mention Bona’s victory over St. Joseph’s from earlier in the week. St. Bonaventure absolutely obliterated the Hawks 76-51, a victory which put Schmidt in a tie with Larry Weise for the most wins in Bonnies history.

SBU jumped out to a hot start in that one as well with their senior leaders taking center stage.

Courtney Stockard had 19 points and eight rebounds while LaDarien Griffin posted a double-double, recording 16 points and 10 rebounds.

With their pair of wins, the Bonnies future looks bright. KenPom has them listed as favorites in five of their last six games of the regular season and with good reason.

Outside of their road matchup at Davidson, there’s no reason why St. Bonaventure couldn’t win the remaining games left on their schedule.

As inconceivable as it sounds, it’s possible for the Bonnies to finish with a .500 or better record.

It’s honestly remarkable when you think about it and it makes you wonder what could’ve been if they had been healthier to open their season.

Regardless, the Bonnies should enter the Atlantic 10 Tournament with some momentum on their side, giving fans at least a little bit of hope that they could possibly win a game or two in Brooklyn.

Quick Facts:

  • Schmidt, who is in his 12th season at St. Bonaventure, now has 203 wins in charge of the program. He passed Larry Weise, who guided St. Bonaventure to 202 wins over 12 seasons from 1961-73.
  • Lofton now has six games of 20 points or more and Osunniyi has six games with 10-plus rebounds.
  • Lofton went 7-8 from long range against George Mason on his way to a career high 32 points.
  • The Bonnies have won 10 of their last 11 meetings with St. Joseph’s.

Next Week: vs. La Salle, at Fordham

Stock Neutral!

Canisius: 12-14 (9-5), Last Week: Win vs. Fairfield, Loss vs. Manhattan

Canisius is sitting in a tie atop the MAAC standings, owning the tiebreaker with Quinnipiac.

Yet, despite all of the craziness that’s ensued during the past few weeks, it’s slightly disappointing they’re not in a better position.

That’s because the Griffs let a valuable opportunity slip through their fingers on Sunday afternoon. 

Canisius couldn’t put away a middle of the pack Manhattan team, falling at home in a critical February contest versus the Jaspers.

Pair that together with recent losses to Niagara and Marist and it seems like anyone could win the conference.

Eight teams are within two games of first place Canisius with four games remaining in the regular season.

MAAC Standings. Courtesy: @ESPN

The Griffs real test will be this upcoming week with road matchups against Monmouth and Iona.

I have no clue how things are going to play out. One thing I do know, it’s going to be fun watching it all go down.

Let’s look back at the past week.

Canisius got off to a slow start against Fairfield before coming back to defeat the Stags 72-68.

It was a breakthrough performance for Scott Hitchon. The Griffs big man went 5-7 from deep, scoring a career-high 21 points.

Jalanni White also had himself a night, scoring 16 points and pulling down seven boards. But if there’s been one player the Griffs have needed to step up since Isaiah Reese was suspended indefinitely, it’s been Malik Johnson.

The junior guard has been stuffing the box score during the month of February and that didn’t change on Friday evening. He had nine points, five rebounds and seven assists against the Stags, continuing his solid play despite a poor shooting night.

On Sunday, he had an eight point day, recording nine more assists. Jibreel Faulkner had one of the best offensive performances of his Griffs career, finishing with 20 points and seven rebounds but it wasn’t enough for Canisius to come out victorious.

The Griffs took a two-point lead into the half but struggled to stop the Jaspers during the second half. Manhattan shot 65.1% from the field on the day, hitting 70% of their shots during the second half.

The Jaspers didn’t rely on one person, seeing 10 players find the scoreboard. Canisius led 42-41 five minutes into the second half but a 19-7 Manhattan run doomed any chances the Griffs had of winning the game.

So where does Canisius go from here?

We’ll have a better idea one week from now!

Quick Facts:

  • Manhattan has defeated Canisius in the Koessler Athletic Center 14 times, which is the most for any MAAC school.
  • The nine assists for Johnson matches his career-high, and it marks the third time this season he’s recorded nine assists in a game. The Richmond, Va., native has been credited with seven-or more assists in seven-straight games, dating back to Jan. 30 at Niagara.

Next Week: at Monmouth, at Iona

Stock Neutal!

Niagara: 12-15 (5-9), Last Week: Loss vs. Manhattan, Win vs. Fairfield

It was another typical week for the Purple Eagles.

A disappointing home loss versus Manhattan followed by a strong response against Fairfield.

The MAAC is more wide-open than it’s been in years and Niagara isn’t even part of the conversation.

That’s disappointing. Talent wise, the Purple Eagles are no worse off than the majority of schools throughout the conference.

Despite their losing record, Niagara is competitive on most nights.

So what’s behind their struggles?

That depends on who you ask. These appear to be the most common targets:

  1. Coaching
  2. Poor rotation
  3. Playing style
  4. Lack of “clutch” factor

I don’t intend on using this blog to target any individuals. That said, there’s no denying that it’s been a disappointing conference season for the Purple Eagles.

Some of that has to fall on coaching. Niagara is 310th in the country in the KenPom rankings and 337th in their adjusted defensive efficiency.

Those are awful numbers.

Part of that is a result of their style of play but they’ve also shown a lack of defensive awareness at times. 

That’s going to happen when you give youngsters a bunch of minutes but that’s not always the case for NU.

Niagara is led by their upperclassmen, Marvin Prochet, Dominic Robb and James Towns. I’d expect more accountability on the defensive side of the court with that type of leadership.

Robb is a block machine and is coming off one of the top offensive weeks of his career, averaging 20 points and five rebounds in the Purple Eagles last two games.

Marvin Prochet had a difficult week, averaging 5.5 points and seven rebounds. 

The one HUGE surprise of the week, the amazing second half performance by redshirt freshman Dominik Fragala against the Stags. He had 15 points in 11 minutes, guiding Niagara to a five-point victory over Fairfield.

Performances like that make you want to see the Purple Eagles youngsters receive more playing time.

I get that players have to earn their minutes but it may be time for Niagara to focus more on their future moving forward.

As for their lack of a “clutch” factor, you either have that or you don’t.

Good teams find a way to win. Bad teams don’t. Make your own conclusions about Niagara.

Quick Facts:

  • Dominic Robb’s two blocks on Sunday give him 217 for his career, just three blocks away from tying the program record for career blocks (Joe Arlauckas – 220).
  • Marvin Prochet, who also had two blocks for Niagara on Sunday, is now seventh in program history in career blocks with 114, surpassing Benson Egemonye (113).
  • Niagara has earned back-to-back home wins in the Gallagher Center against Fairfield for the first time since 2008-10.

Next Week: at Rider, at St. Peter’s

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

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