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Tsuj’s Ten: The day after Canisius toppled UB

blog by Ben Tsujimoto  • 

If you’re a local college basketball fan, you’ve probably heard about Canisius’ wild 26-4 run to close out a 69-55 win over the University at Buffalo Bulls.

Several thorough game stories have been published so far: The Buffalo News’ Bob DiCesare, Pickin’ Splinters’ Paul Gotham and It’s Always Game Seven’s Nick Veronica all produced various takes.

Instead of taking the conventional route—frankly, it’s a little late for that—I’ll post 10 fairly short statements about the game that will range from conservative to mildly controversial:

1) Teams are guarding Javon McCrea much like how St. Bonaventure’s foes defended Andrew Nicholson midway through his senior season—during an 11-game stretch, the current Orlando Magic forward averaged just 12.8 points as he struggled to find space and shots against a collapsing zone defense (it didn’t help that he was battling an illness at the time, too).

His teammates struggled to get him the ball, and Nicholson quickly got frustrated when he failed to find a rhythm—or even touch the ball.

McCrea finds himself in a similar situation after Saturday’s game vs. St. Bonaventure—where he didn’t attempt a field goal in the second half—and last night vs. Canisius where he scored just 13 points, none in the game’s final 15:16.

St. Bonaventure head coach Mark Schmidt and Canisius’ Jim Baron both openly admitted that zoning McCrea was the game-plan, and future opponents will certainly mimic that approach.

How did Nicholson respond? Well, he developed an outside game. After hitting just four three-pointers in the first 22 games of 2011-12, the Canadian big sank 19 of 30 threes over the last 10 games, averaging 24.7 points in that run to the NCAA Tournament.

How will McCrea respond? Unlike Nicholson—who proved he could step out and sink outside jumpers prior to his three-point barrage—McCrea probably won’t develop a mid-range game, which will certainly make his adjustment more difficult than the Bona graduate’s.

Through his own movement within the zone—if that means setting screens high or low or being more demonstrative in showing for the basketball (or improved marksmanship from Hurley’s array of erratic guards, I suppose)—the Bulls must do something to attack a zone defense.

2) Billy Baron’s post-game statement about how the Griffs defended UB was telling—not only in how the zone flustered McCrea, but also how Canisius dared Bulls point guard Jarod Oldham to beat them offensively.

The UB senior point guard hit 2-7 shots—0-2 from three-point land—and has never developed into a true offensive threat (contrast with St. Bonaventure’s Charlon Kloof, who’s now a weapon for Mark Schmidt).

Oldham’s season-ending left wrist injury last year hampered his development, but if he’s not a threat off the dribble or from the perimeter—he’s basically a glorified defensive stopper masquerading as a starting point guard. And that’s troubling if you’re Bobby Hurley.

3) Look, I like most of Jarryn Skeete’s game. He generally makes good decisions with the basketball, he’s a willing defender and he’s one of the few trustworthy UB ball-handlers. He deserves to get major minutes, because he will improve and honestly, Hurley doesn’t really have a better option. Still, Skeete is a dreadful shooter. Absolutely dreadful.

The Canadian PG hit at a 35 percent clip from the floor last year (30 percent from 3), and that’s dropped even further to 29 percent from the floor and 27 percent from three. Is there any hope for his perimeter game? It’s not like he’s taking a lot of challenged threes.

4) It’s heartwarming to see Will Regan becoming more and more acclimated to Hurley’s offense, even if it’s not really one that suits his talents.

Why UB didn’t run more pick-and-pop plays against the Canisius zone down the stretch, I’ll never know. It worked the one time they tried it, and Regan didn’t miss on the evening. If there’s someone who’s going to step forward on the perimeter, it might as well be Regan.

Right now, Shannon Evans, Joshua Freelove, Regan, Xavier Ford and McCrea are the Bulls’ best five. There is literally no doubt in my mind about that. Creativity, explosiveness, strength, rebounding and shooting are all woven together in that quintet.

5) Speaking of Evans, it’s already becoming clear that the 6’1 freshman is a team leader.

Vocal, confident and generally positive, Evans has already won the respect of his teammates from a talent standpoint, so those are four prime ingredients required for a leader.

It’s easy to overlook the fact that he dropped six dimes on Wednesday night even though his shot wasn’t falling.

Just from the few UB games I’ve digested, I can’t say I’m excited to watch any Big 4 player more over the next four years than Evans.

6) It’s funny to think about now, but Canisius could have used a player of Phil Valenti’s ilk last year when the Rochester product red-shirted.

Though he’s probably developed considerably over the last year—tough for the media to tell considering he did so behind closed doors—he’s the ultimate glue guy, reminiscent of a bigger Robert Goldsberry.

The chic explanation is to talk about Valenti’s “great motor” and “unrivaled compete,” but the reserve Griff is that guy you hate to play against in pickup.

He’s incredibly awkward in action, but he’s a pest at both ends of the floor, doesn’t quit on the glass, is surprisingly cagey around the rim and fuels his team through his emotions. Other than Billy, who brought that emotion last year?

7) I felt sympathy for Skeete last night as, by design, Chris Perez abused him in the paint. Terrific pre-game preparation by Jim Baron and his staff in identifying the mismatch and focusing on it repeatedly—Perez scored eight points during the Griffs’ decisive run.

I’m not entirely sure why Jim Baron likened Perez to Celtic legend Bob Cousy after the game—perhaps it was the scoop layups and finger rolls the senior transfer scored—but there’s no doubt that the former Stetson star is most dynamic in the paint where he can use his 6’3, 210-pound frame to his advantage.

8) Aside from Valenti, depth remains a concern for Canisius.

Baron’s bench doesn’t run much deeper than last year—but Kevin Bleeker’s absence due to injury affected the rotation last night.

First-year Griffs Zach Lewis, Dominique Raney and Jeremiah Williams are all in over their heads at this point, making none of them trustworthy—as of yet—for conference play. It will be a major boon for Jim Baron and the Canisius program if one of that trio takes a step forward and becomes a reliable contributor.

Regardless, Billy Baron and Perez are accustomed to logging major minutes, so 35 minutes per night for the starters in MAAC play should keep the pressure off the youngsters.

9) Canisius should make quick work of St. Francis (Brooklyn) (No. 239 in KenPom) before a worthy road meeting with the Patriot League’s Holy Cross (5-4, only lost to UNC by 8).

After that pair, the only foe standing between Canisius and Christmas is a home date with Lamar, which is a feeble 1-7 overall with its lone win over 2-8 Savannah State). To close the calendar year, Canisius visits Notre Dame on Dec. 29, a match-up I plan on traveling for.

10) Question of the day: If you had to start a team from scratch, and both Will Regan and Jordan Heath were the same age, who would you choose?

(All photos courtesy of Don Nieman from last night’s game—see the entire gallery, including Niagara vs. Davidson photos, here).

TAGGED: bobby hurley, canisius griffins, chris perez, college basketball, downtown, first niagara center, javon mccrea, jim baron, tsuj's ten, ub bulls

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