Home NCAAM Canisius College Big 4 Basketball Update: The Madness Begins

Big 4 Basketball Update: The Madness Begins

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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.

The weekly YouTube videos were having issues embedding so we took them down for this version of the Big 4 Update.

As Jon Rothstein likes to say, “This is March!”

The winds are changing as each game takes on added meaning with conference tournaments getting underway later this week.

This is March! Courtesy: @JonRothstein on Twitter

For schools like Canisius and Niagara, their seasons will be on the line next time they take the court in Albany for the MAAC Tournament.

The Griffs enter as one of the favorites while the Purple Eagles don’t stand much of a chance.

Reggie Witherspoon is still seeking his first NCAA Tournament appearance as a collegiate head coach. This could be his best opportunity in quite some time.

His former stomping grounds is a lock for the tourney with Buffalo sitting pretty heading into their final two games of the regular season.

The winds have definitely changed for them during the past five years.

They’ve also changed for St. Bonaventure in just the past month, shifting from a team five-games below .500 to a program looking to make their mark in the Atlantic 10 Tournament, hoping to clinch their second consecutive NCAA Tournament berth.

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, 16

Could Buffalo make the Final Four? Jay Bilas has previously stated it’s possible. Courtesy: ESPN and @UBJonFuller on Twitter

Stock Up!

#21 Buffalo: 26-3 (14-2), Last Week: Wins over Akron and Miami (Ohio)

It wasn’t the prettiest of weeks for the Bulls but they took care of business nonetheless.

Buffalo won a pair of battles against MAC East foes, Akron and Miami (Ohio). The Zips took a lead into halftime before falling late while the Redhawks trailed 18-0 before chipping their way back in it, making it a competitive game until the final moments.

In the end, the only thing that matters is that Buffalo won both games, earning the one-seed in next week’s MAC Tournament down in Cleveland.

The Bulls are 26-3 with two games remaining in the regular season. When you factor in the MAC Tournament and inevitable NCAA Tournament bid, UB has a great chance of winning 30-game for the first time in program history.

OXFORD, OHIO – MARCH 01: CJ Massinburg #5 of the Buffalo Bulls drives to the basket while being guarded by Nike Sibande #1 of the Maimi (Oh) Redhawks during the second half at Millett Hall on March 01, 2019 in Oxford, Ohio. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)

If they do so, CJ Massinburg will be a major reason why. Already the top player in school history, CJ “Buckets” has increased his production and efficiency this year, averaging 18.7 points and 3.1 assists per game, shooting nearly 50% from the field.

The senior guard was already the Bulls go-to player last year but it feels different this time around. UB had four players averaging at least 15.5 points per game last season.

This year, Massinburg leads the way followed by Nick Perkins (14.4 ppg) and Jeremy Harris (13 ppg).

Perkins is having a strong season but Harris has really struggled to find his shot. He was dealing with a wrist injury earlier this season and hasn’t looked sharp, seeing his 3-point percentage drop from 41.8% last season to 26.6% this year.

The good news, Buffalo has more than enough depth to get by. Jayvon Graves and Dontay Caruthers are more than capable of picking up the scoring load when needed while Davonta Jordan and Montell McRae also continue to play vital roles on the court.

Jordan might be one of the more underrated players in the Mid-American Conference. The junior guard is quick, takes care of the ball and is fearless attacking the hoop.

The only thing missing from his game is a solid jumper. If he can make progress on that during the offseason, Jordan could develop into one of the top players in the MAC.

Let’s focus on this week for a moment.

Buffalo has a pair of games against Ohio and Bowling Green. The Bobcats will be looking for revenge after suffering one of their worst losses in school history earlier this season against the Bulls.

Ohio has been playing better of late, picking up road wins at Bowling Green and Akron while nearly upsetting Kent State at the Convocation Center. They have one of the best atmospheres in the conference but the big question is, do they have a chance of pulling the upset on Tuesday evening?

No way in hell!

Ohio Green used to flow through my blood but I avoid taking sides when it comes to facing off with Buffalo.

I’ll be upfront with all of you. I graduated from Ohio University in 2013. I grew up a UB fan and was devastated when the Bulls lost to the Bobcats during the MAC Championship in 2005.

While in college, I bled Green & White. Some of my readers won’t like reading that but I want to be open and transparent about it.

I like seeing both schools do well and I don’t pick favorites when they take the court versus one another.

That said, Ohio has no chance against Buffalo.

This Bulls squad is better than the Bobcats Sweet 16 squad in 2012. In fact, I believe this UB team is the best MAC team I’ve ever witnessed. 

I can’t speak on behalf of the 2002-03 Kent State squad that reached the Elite Eight but I do believe UB would be competitive with them.

On Friday, Buffalo wraps up their regular season at home versus Bowling Green on Senior Night at Alumni Arena.

The Bulls will be honoring Rasaun Young during halftime. The former UB great played with Buffalo from 1993-98 when the team was a member of the Mid-Continent Conference. 

He led the league in scoring as a senior, averaging 19.3 points per game on his way to making his 3rd first-team all-conference selection.

Young held UB’s single game scoring record (39 points) until this year when CJ Massinburg scored 43 in the Bulls overtime win over West Virginia.

Now, let’s refocus on the Bowling Green game quickly. The Falcons are good!

BOWLING GREEN, OH – FEBRUARY 01: Bowling Green Falcons guard Justin Turner (10) and Bowling Green Falcons guard Dylan Frye (5) talk to each other during a time out on February 1, 2019, at the Stroh Center in Bowling Green, Ohio. (Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Justin Turner and Dylan Frye combined to score 47 points in BGSU’s 92-88 victory over Buffalo in February but have leveled off since, going 5-3, losing two of their last three.

They have the talent to give UB another close game on Friday but I don’t see them pulling off another upset.

Record home winning streak:

By now, it’s fairly obvious, Alumni Arena is one of the top home environments in the Mid-American Conference.

A major reason behind that has been UB’s emergence in recent seasons, establishing a program that expects to win every time they take the home court.

They’ve won 25 consecutive home games which is tied with Tennessee for the longest active streak in the country following Houston’s loss to Central Florida on Saturday.

It’s a major sign that the Bulls are moving in the right direction in building their fanbase in Western New York.

Poll Watch/Seed Watch:

There’s bound to be some movement in the polls this week. Several teams in front of Buffalo lost, leaving some room for the Bulls to move up in the rankings.

Among those teams include No. 12 Nevada, No. 16 Kansas State, No. 17 Maryland and No. 19 Wisconsin.

I wouldn’t expect UB to jump everyone of those schools but it’s certainly possible for them to surpass at least two or three of them.

I’ll be very interested to see how far Nevada drops after suffering their second loss in their last four games.

With that said, I’m projecting Buffalo to rise to 18th in Monday’s AP Poll.

Quick Facts: 

  • With UCF’s win at Houston, Buffalo is now tied with Tennessee for the longest home winning streak in the nation at 25 games
  • UB is the first Buffalo-area college hoop team to win 25 or more games in consecutive seasons. In fact, no one else has won 23 back-to-back.
  • Buffalo is the first MAC team to secure a top four seed in the conference tournament for six straight years since Kent State did it between 1999-2004

Next Week: at Ohio, vs. Bowling Green

Stock Up!

St. Bonaventure: 15-14 (11-5), Last Week: Wins over Duquesne and George Washington

What a ride the Bonnies are on!

St. Bonaventure has won six in a row, turning a once downtrodden season into one of hope and promise heading into the final week of the regular season.

I’ve been pessimistic about their Atlantic 10 Tournament chances the entire season but I’m about to eat crow!

Outside of VCU, the Bonnies have as good of a chance as anyone in the A10 of coming out victorious in Brooklyn two weeks from now.

Mark Schmidt has Bona playing some of the top defensive basketball in the country, ranking 55th in defensive efficiency according to the KenPom metrics.

That’s been the one constant throughout their season but they’ve really taken it up another notch during their recent winning streak, holding their opponents to 54.1 points per game during their past six games.

Simultaneously, the Bonnies have started to find more consistent scoring, averaging 70.5 points per game during that stretch.

Compare those numbers to their season averages of 67.2 points per game and 64.2 points per game allowed (26th in country) and you can see why St. Bonaventure has been rolling of late.

On the season, Bona is 13-0 when holding their opponents to 60 points or less as they secured their sixth consecutive A10 road win on Saturday in a 64-58 victory over George Washington.

Here’s a few other reasons for their recent success:

  • The Bonnies schedule has softened up in recent weeks
  • The Bona freshmen have gained valuable playing experience and are showing growth on the court
  • St. Bonaventure has found a way to finish off close games, winning their last three contests decided by six points or less.

To prove my point about the Bonnies schedule, their best KenPom win of the season was versus George Mason (#143) in Mark Schmidt’s record-setting victory.

Three of their past six opponents are sub-200 teams in the KenPom metrics. That’s not good but you can only take care of what’s in front of you.

I’m not faulting St. Bonaventure in any way. That would be stupid. What I’d like to point out is that their schedule has played a role in their recent success.

Now, let’s talk about their freshmen! We’ve been hyping them up all season and I’m not going to stop now!

I believe this is one of the most talented groups to ever take the court at St. Bonaventure.

Kyle Lofton is already a young star in the Atlantic 10 while Osun Osunniyi will be an NBA prospect when it’s all said and done.

He’s averaging 7.4 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game as a freshman and displays one of the longest wing spans you’ll ever see.

Dominick Welch is another solid contributor, averaging 6.4 points and 4.2 rebounds. He also has the potential to become a big-time player in the A10.

It’s no wonder why the Bonnies are starting to turn things around. I’m well aware that Mark Schmidt historically has his teams playing their best basketball in February but this team is different.

To do so with three freshmen in the Bonnies starting lineup is an UNBELIEVABLE feat that not many coaches across the country would’ve been able to pull off.

Let’s get to my last point.

St. Bonaventure is finding a way to win close games. Like I said earlier, a big reason why is because they play phenomenal defense.

In this age of crazy offensive efficiency, you don’t see many teams where you can trust their defense to make a stop with the game is on the line but the Bonnies display one of them.

Week in Review:

I want to take a moment to appreciate Courtney Stockard.

The Bonnies senior leader has had an interesting college career and it looks like he wants to finish it off with another NCAA Tournament appearance.

He posted 21 points and six assists against Duquesne last week, helping St. Bonaventure jump the Dukes in the standings.

Stockard leads Bona in scoring at 15.8 points per game. He could go down as one of the truly special players in program history if he can guide the Bonnies to a second consecutive tourney appearance.

LaDarien Griffin and Osun Osunniyi were equally crucial last week.

Griffin had one of the best games of his season, posting a double-double against the Dukes, then followed that up with 11 points and seven rebounds against George Washington.

Osun Osunniyi had another “typical” week by his standards. First, he had 10 points, nine rebounds and three blocks against Duquesne… That was his “average” game.

He followed that up with a monster performance against George Washington, willing the Bonnies to a second half comeback, posting 18 points, 16 rebounds and three blocks.

As good as Kyle Lofton is, I don’t think it’s a reach to say Osun Osunniyi might be the most valuable freshman in the Atlantic 10 in terms of what he brings to both sides of the court.

Big Week Ahead:

St. Bonaventure has a HUGE week in front of them. They enter their final two games of conference play sitting at 11-5, good for a third place tie in the A10.

Should they remain there, the Bonnies would receive a double-bye in the upcoming Atlantic 10 Tournament but that’ll be easier said than done.

Sitting right behind SBU is Duquesne and George Mason at 10-6 overall. The Bonnies swept the Dukes and split with the Patriots this season.

St. Bonaventure is hoping to avoid giving up ground to either team. In order to do so, they’ll need to take care of business against either Davidson or St. Louis.

Quick Facts:

  • GW’s 58 points marked the 10th time the Bonnies have held an A-10 opponent to 60 points or fewer. St. Bonaventure is 13-0 this season when it holds its opponent to 60 points or less.
  • Now at 6-2 in A-10 road games, the Bonnies have tied the program mark for most conference road wins in a season set by the 2015-16 team.
  • St. Bonaventure’s six-game win streak is the second-longest in the A-10 behind only conference-leading VCU’s 10-game streak. 
  • St. Bonaventure has now won 10 or more Atlantic 10 games five seasons in a row, a program record.

Next Week: at Davidson, vs. St. Louis

Stock Neutral!

Canisius: 14-16 (11-7), Last Week: Loss vs. Niagara, Win vs. Niagara

There’s a lot of things I could say about Canisius but I’m not really sure what to think about their regular season.

It’s been an interesting ride, that’s for sure. However…

  • Has it been an enjoyable one? No
  • Did the Griffs meet their preseason expectations? No
  • Do I feel good about their MAAC Tournament chances? I’m not sure.

On one hand, I’m really impressed by Canisius’ resiliency this year. They battled back from a very difficult non-conference stretch to post a respectable season.

They also had to deal with the Isaiah Reese situation. Most teams would’ve let that destroy them but the Griffs didn’t.

They remained focus on finishing strong and that’s exactly what they did.

That said, I’m not sure Canisius is consistent enough on a game-to-game basis to win in a tournament setting.

I hope I’m wrong.

I definitely like some of the talent the Griffs display.

Takal Molson is easily one of the top players in the MAAC. He’s one of the best young Canisius players that I’ve seen in recent years, entering the conference tournament averaging 17 points and 5.5 rebounds.

Those numbers are similar to what Isaiah Reese posted last year, finishing second on the team in scoring as a sophomore.

Next week will all come down to whether or not the Griffs can put a solid stretch of games together.

They’ve had solid teams fall short in the past and will need to show they’re capable of winning in Albany before earning the trust of anyone.

The same can be said of Reggie Witherspoon. The Griffs third-year head coach is still looking to make his first NCAA Tournament.

He’s had plenty of opportunities, twice losing in the MAC Tournament Finals while coaching at Buffalo. Then losing in the MAAC quarterfinals versus Quinnipiac last year after tying Rider for the regular season title.

Witherpoon’s reputation in March has been the one blemish on his wonderful career.

This could be the year that he clears that mark off. Canisius has as good of a chance as anyone else in the conference.

The Griffs went 7-1 versus the teams that finished between 3rd and 6th in the MAAC. Their issue, they went 0-2 against Iona (MAAC regular season champions) and Niagara (MAAC last place).

Like I said, they have the talent but they don’t consistently show it.

That much was evident on Wednesday evening against Niagara. For 35 minutes, the Griffs couldn’t do anything right.

But in the time it takes to snap your fingers, they wiped out the deficit, using a 13-1 run to tie the game in the final minute.

Canisius went on to lose but that’s not the important point. How could the second best team in the conference get swept by the last place team in the MAAC?

That’s unacceptable and shows why the Griffs can’t afford to take any matchup for granted.

I understand that the Purple Eagles are a rivalry matchup and bring their best effort against Canisius. That said, good teams find a way to win those games.

Will Reggie Witherspoon be able to lead this team to the MAAC Championship game next week?

We’ll have to wait and see. Your guess is as good as mine.

Quick Facts:

  • Johnson’s 12 assists are the most for a Canisius player in a game since Dec. 8, 2013 when former Griff Billy Baron had 13 assists in a home win over Siena.
  • The game, which was broadcast to a national TV audience on ESPNU, was the Griffs’ fifth national TV game of the season, which is tied for the most in program history. The 2013-14 Griffs also played on national TV five times.

Next Week: MAAC Tournament vs. Manhattan/Fairfield

Stock Down!

Niagara: 13-18 (6-12), Last Week: Win at Canisius, Loss vs. Siena

Good News: Niagara swept Canisius, which finished second in the MAAC this season.

Bad News: The Purple Eagles went 4-12 versus the rest of the conference on their way to a disappointing last place finish.

I had low expectations for Niagara entering this season but still find myself disappointed with how the year has played out.

My season preview had them going 11-20, finishing 10th in the MAAC.

The Purple Eagles found a way to win a few more games than I originally projected, finishing the regular season 13-18 overall.

That said, I never expected them to finish last in the conference.

That’s an unacceptable result. This past week displayed once again why Niagara fans have been so frustrated with the program.

They were in complete control against Canisius before collapsing in the final minutes, hanging on for dear life.

Then against Siena, the Purple Eagles couldn’t hold onto a second half lead, going on to lose in overtime.

Niagara has lost too many winnable games this season. Some of that is on their players but a march larger percentage falls on their coaching.

The Purple Eagles might not have the most talented team in the world but they have a roster that’s definitely good enough to finish in the middle of the MAAC.

I still can’t fathom how they finished last in the conference, during a season in which the league was wide open.

I entered MAAC play thinking they could finish in the top-half of the standings… What was I thinking?!

I was big on Marvin Prochet and Dominic Robb. 

Both had their moments but not enough of them to carry the Purple Eagles down the stretch. 

One thing that does give me hope for their future is the emergence of Marcus Hammond who had a huge night against the Griffs on Wednesday evening, hitting 5-6 from deep for 18 points.

He’s the key to the Purple Eagles future. Hopefully he’s up to the challenge because Niagara will be relying on him to be one of their leading scorers moving forward.

Congratulations Dominic Robb:

Dominic Robb didn’t have the best senior day but finished his rivalry experience against Canisius on a high note, hitting the game-winning shot against the Griffs on Wednesday evening.

He also recorded the 221st block of his career in the final seconds, setting NU’s all-time record.

MAAC Tournament Preview:

With their loss on Sunday, Niagara secured the bottom seed in the upcoming MAAC Tournament. 

That means they’ll battle Monmouth on Thursday evening in Albany, needing four wins in five days in order to clinch their first bid to the NCAA Tournament in 12 years.

That doesn’t seem likely.

One thing in their favor, the Purple Eagles dominated the Hawks in their only matchup of the regular season, defeating them by 27-points.

Will they have a repeat performance on Thursday? I wouldn’t bet on it but hey, it is March!

You never know… 

Quick Facts:

  • Niagara swept their series with Canisius for the second time in the last three seasons and have won five of the last six meetings.
  • Dominic Robb became the program’s career leader in blocks (221), surpassing Joe Arlauckas ’87.

Next Week: MAAC Tournament vs. Monmouth

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

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