Tsuj’s Ten: Bulls grow up, Battle of the Bridge awaits Canisius, Niagara
blog by Ben Tsujimoto • January 24, 2013 @ 2:29pm
The UB Bulls’ power forward Javon McCrea has shown stretches of dominance since his freshman year, but rarely have they been consistent. The burly big would post an eye-popping 20-point, 10-rebound stat-line in one game before disappearing with a foul-marred 12-and-6 follow-up.
UB head coach Reggie Witherspoon challenged McCrea before the season to routinely takeover games—at the mid-major level, there’s no doubt that the undersized power forward with shoulders like boulders and thighs like tree trunks could raise his game to another level.
Results were mixed early on, but McCrea has produced a marvelous three-game stretch in a narrow loss to Kent State and victories over Bowling Green and Ball State. Here are his lines:
Vs. Kent State: 33 points, 10 rebounds, two steals, four blocks (15-15 FTs)
Vs. Bowling Green: 21 points, 14 rebounds, one steal, two blocks
Vs. Ball State: 24 points, seven rebounds, two blocks (10-of-12 from the field)
His three-game averages: 26 points, 10 rebounds, one steal and three blocks.
1) What does McCrea’s success mean?: As UB head of sports information Jon Fuller tweeted out last night, eight of the 12 teams in the Mid-American Conference sit at 2-3, a logjam in the middle of the pack that includes the Bulls. Last night’s 66-63 win over Ball State—the Cardinals’ 10th straight defeat against a MAC East foe—was a concerted effort for Witherspoon’s Bulls to pound the ball into the paint, putting the Cardinals at risk of foul trouble, including double-double machine and JUCO transfer Majok Majok.
Here’s McCrea’s quote to The Star Press in Muncie, Ind.: “I wanted to come out here with a lot of energy. This is my last time playing at Ball State, so you know I wanted to let everyone know how good of a basketball player I am.”
2) Praise for Skeete: While McCrea’s exceptional spurt has stolen the headlines, there’s growth in other areas too. Sophomore forward Will Regan received a fortunate bounce in the game-clinching three over Ball State on the road—a massive confidence builder for a player who’s been hot-and-cold this year, while freshman point guard Jarryn Skeete earned the plaudits in this UB Spectrum feature by editor-in-chief Aaron Mansfield.
3) Maintain the momentum: Canisius’ early-season slogan now applies to the Bulls—can UB capitalize on the positives of the last two wins and apply them in Saturday’s road contest at Akron (7 p.m.)? The Zips are 5-0 in MAC play, but their opponents are currently own a 10-15 conference record in total. Akron and Ohio, who’s also unblemished in conference, haven’t squared off yet, and Keith Dambrot’s squad has non-conference losses to Coastal Carolina, Oklahoma State, Creighton and Detroit.
In typical Akron fashion, the Zips trot out 11 players who average double-digit minutes per game. Point guard Alex Abreu paces the club with 29 minutes per game, while senior center Zeke Marshall averages 13 points, seven rebounds and four blocks per game—even though he’s historically struggled against the Bulls’ long frontcourt. Without Watt and Robinson manning the post, however, perhaps Saturday will be Marshall’s chance to breakout.
4) A zip of confidence: Akron’s expectations for the season are through the roof—read junior forward Demetrious Treadwell’s comments to the Cleveland Plain Dealer following Akron’s win over Kent State:
“We want to be the first team to go undefeated in the MAC,” Treadwell said. “We want to be the first mid-major to win a national championship. We’ve got goals. I feel like we should be like [the second-half effort against KSU] each and every night. It is something we have to do if we want to be great, if we want to win a national championship.”
Treadwell’s reeled in 27 rebounds over the last two games, startling numbers for a 6’7, 225-pound forward. As a whole, Akron has the MAC’s most prolific offense, third-best defense, second-best offensive field goal percentage and the top defensive field goal percentage. Where’s Akron weak? Free-throw percentage (10th at 67%), and that’s about it. Can the Zips push their winning streak to 10 on Saturday?
5) Battle of the Bridge: 4 p.m. Sunday will bring the much-anticipated Battle of the Bridge—the annual all-sport battles between Niagara University and Canisius College—and the men’s basketball tilt sold out early this week. Niagara holds a slim 6-5 advantage so far in 2012-13, but Canisius took last season’s cup by a score of 18.5 to 14.5.
Which side of the Grand Island bridges will reign supreme? Even though the Koessler Athletic Center will be at its 2,100 capacity, the game will be televised on ESPN3 as well as aired on AM 1400. Niagara hosts the rivalry rematch at 2 p.m. on Feb. 10, if you’re looking forward to the future.
6) Purple Eagles alone at the top: After rolling through Siena and Manhattan last weekend, Niagara head coach Joe Mihalich’s crew sits atop the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference at 7-1, nudging Iona, Loyola and Rider—all 6-2. The Purple Eagles face a tuneup at 7 p.m. Friday on the road at Siena (Time Warner Cable Sports Channel) before clashing in the “Battle of the Bridge” against Canisius on Sunday (it’s already sold-out and promises to be an electric atmosphere).
Following the weekend’s pair of games, Niagara confronts a rough stretch of its schedule: Iona, Loyola, Rider and Canisius over an 11-day span. Presently, the combined conference record of the quartet is 23-9. The fact that three of those four are at the Gallagher Center is a relief for Niagara, but it’s certainly a make-or-break period of the season. Niagara is currently “receiving votes” in College Insider’s Mid-Major Top 25.
7) Cline’s rise: Niagara freshman T.J. Cline, son of Hall of Famer and former WNBA star Nancy Lieberman, earned MAAC Rookie of the Week honors for the second time this season due to his shooting efficiency in last weekend’s pair of games. He isn’t bashful to shoot from deep, and it still surprises opponents when a slightly-awkward 6’9 freshman heaves shots from 25-feet and beyond. The Buffalo News’ Amy Moritz penned a feature on Cline—and his relationship with his superstar mother—just days before his conference accolades.
8) Scintillating Sosa: I was wrong when i thought Isaac Sosa was merely going to be a complementary piece to the new Canisius puzzle before the season. Frankly, we didn’t know a lot about him—just that he led Conference USA in three-point shooting percentage as a sophomore and never started half of the Knights’ games over his three season.
He wasn’t prone to scoring outbursts, but his usage was dampened by the presence of Marcus Jordan, the youngest son of Bulls’ great Michael Jordan. At Canisius, though, Sosa’s three-point shooting proficiency has become Jim Baron’s go-to option offensively, as the senior from Puerto Rico has a knack for locating free space against zone and playing smoothly off ball-screens in man-to-man situations.
This past week, Sosa secured Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Player of the Week honors, the second Canisius player this season to capture the award (guard Billy Baron has done so twice already).
The sharpshooter admitted that he’s been guarded differently of late—opponents aren’t committing Sosa’s defender to any “help” responsibilities, even when the ball is on the opposite side of the floor.
9) Bonaventure battles back: After dropping their first three A-10 games, the St. Bonaventure Bonnies have won two straight on the road, including a three-point win over Temple and a nine-point defeat of St. Joseph’s. Guard Matthew Wright has caught fire when the Bonnies needed him most—he’s drilled nine of his last 11 three-point attempts and contributing 22 points against Temple and 18 against St. Joseph’s. Perhaps most importantly is that the 6’4 junior has played 37 and 35 minutes, respectively, over his last two—both exceeding his previous season-high of 33 minutes.
St. Bonaventure returns to the Reilly Center for its winter homecoming weekend and a 4 p.m. Saturday tilt (Time Warner Sports Channel) against the St. Louis Billikens, a program that nearly knocked off No. 1 seed Michigan State in the third round of last year’s NCAA Tournament. St. Louis is 13-5 so far this year despite recent losses to Temple and Rhode Island.
10) By the numbers:
Canisius, 12-7—Kenpom Ranking: 120 (Improved by 15, so +15)
Niagara, 11-8—Kenpom Ranking: 142 (-8)
St. Bonaventure, 9-9—Kenpom Ranking: 106 (+22)
UB, 7-12—Kenpom Ranking: 206 (-15)
Previous Tsuj’s Tens:
(Photos from UB vs. Kent State courtesy of Robin David Brown; photo of Cline courtesy of PurpleEagles.com; photos of Akron courtesy of the Zips’ Facebook page.)