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Tsuj’s Ten: Can anyone stop Canisius?

blog by Ben Tsujimoto  • 

For a team projected to finish ninth in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the Canisius Griffins are making serious national noise. By winning their first two MAAC games, battling No. 4 Syracuse tightly for a half and soaring past the Temple Owls with a dominant second half, Jim Baron’s squad has vaulted to No. 27 in the nation according to CBS Sports’ RPI rankings (more on this stat later).

Wednesday’s 72-62 win over previously 8-1 Temple, who smothered the University at Buffalo 54-39 on Nov. 28, proved a signature non-conference victory for Canisius, who entered the contest as a 10-point underdog. It’s worthy of note, too, that Canisius was missing junior forward Jordan Heath, while Temple’s Anthony Lee—questionable entering the game—mustered 24 minutes.

1) Runnin’ Rebels in the way
: Canisius’ road doesn’t get much easier tonight, as the Griffs are in Las Vegas preparing to face No. 21 UNLV Runnin’ Rebels (10 p.m., AM 1400, available on a paid CBS live event stream). Even though Dave Rice’s team will be without star forward Mike Moser—a terrific rebounder and preseason All-Mountain West Conference pick—the Rebels have a stud in freshman Anthony Bennett, who Basketball Prospectus’ John Gasaway believed to be the best first-year player in all of college basketball after one month. At 6’8 with a face-up game, Bennett may be a more physical, if less refined offensively, version of Carmelo Anthony.

2) Rebels cont: Even without Moser available due to a dislocated elbow—he’s out til early January—UNLV isn’t just Bennett and a bunch of scrubs. Senior guard Anthony Marshall has suddenly shown accuracy from three-point range, and he’s a stat-sheet suffer with four boards and five assists per game. You may recognize the name Khem Birch, too—the McDonald’s All-America big man who grew unhappy in his freshman year at Pitt before transferring away from Jamie Dixon’s Panthers. After sitting out two semesters, Birch has played in the Rebels’ last two games and replaced some of Moser’s contributions. The arrow is pointing up for Rice’s crew.

3) Can Canisius contend?: Yes, they can, but they’ll have to shoot the lights out again. Central Florida transfer Isaac Sosa has busted out of his slump—hitting eight of 12 from downtown against Longwood probably didn’t hurt his confidence—and when Sosa hoists shots with confidence, he creates driving lanes for Harold Washington and Billy Baron. Jim Baron’s club leads the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference in three-point shooting percentage by a large margin, stroking 39.4% of their 236 attempts (roughly 24 attempts per game), and following this recipe should at least result in a close game against UNLV.

4) Magical Manhertz: Pickin’ Splinters blogger Paul Gotham dug deeper into the improvements of Canisius’ Chris Manhertz, who’s been engulfing rebounds at an alarmingly strong rate (8.2 rpg, second in MAAC to O.D. Anosike’s ridiculous 13 per game.) Manhertz’s combination of tenacity, positioning and brute strength has him creating several extra possessions for the Griffs, and Baron gushes about the effort of his center. Here’s evidence from Gotham’s piece:

“He’s got the body and the grit you need to have to win,” Baron said while comparing Manhertz, a Bronx native, to Delray James, (Brooklyn), a former Rhode Island player from Baron’s previous coaching tenure.  “All of the teams I’ve coached, I’ve always had a kid that has that kind of grit. I don’t know if it’s a New York thing , but they have that grit that they’re not afraid to use their body.”

5) Heath’s health: Junior transfer Jordan Heath, who’s averaging nine points, five boards and nearly two blocks per contest, was tentatively expected to suit up against Temple until he twisted his injured ankle in warm-ups. His availability for tonight would allow Canisius to more adequately combat Birch, who runs 6’9, 220 pounds, but Moser’s absence is a massive blow to the Rebels’ frontcourt. I’m not convinced Canisius has anyone who can match-up decently with Bennett.

6) ‘Pack on ‘pack on ‘pack: St. Bonaventure travels to Raleigh today for a 3 p.m. showdown against No. 25 North Carolina State (ESPN3), a team I’ve been able to watch four or five times already this year. The Bonnies’ offense is rolling, averaging 92 points in blowout home wins over the Citadel and Cleveland State, games where they’ve shot 56 and 54 percent, respectively.

Mark Schmidt’s team hasn’t quite figured out how to win on the road yet, displaying just a 1-3 record away from the Reilly Center (and Blue Cross, I should add). St. Bonaventure swing-man Chris Johnson has continued his remarkable breakout season, averaging 14 points and four boards in 29 minutes per contest while shooting 51% from the floor and 47% from downtown. That’s efficiency.

7) Gottfried’s young, entertaining ‘Pack: NC State coach Mark Gottfried may have recruited the best freshman class in the country—featuring three McDonald’s All-Americans—but it’s the Wolfpack veterans who’ve picked up the slack recently. Instead of youngsters T.J. Warren, Rodney Purvis and Tyler Lewis stealing the show, it’s been two seniors and a junior—Richard Howell, Scott Wood and C.J. Leslie, respectively—who’ve been the clutch performers.

A head-scratching 20-point home loss to Oklahoma State and a thrilling road loss to Michigan are the two blemishes on NC State’s record, but the Wolfpack haven’t played a tough schedule—their only quality win is a 69-65 nail-biter over UConn. NC State’s most entertaining player is Lorenzo Brown, who never seems to be under control yet shows exceptional athleticism for a 6’5, 186-pound point guard.

8) Diagnosing Niagara: I had the privilege of chatting with current Medaille men’s head coach Mike MacDonald before his broadcast of UB vs. Niagara, and I picked his mind on the struggles of Juan’ya Green, Niagara’s highly-touted point guard. Without hesitation, MacDonald argued that Green is in perhaps the toughest year of a college basketball player’s career—the dreaded sophomore season—where opponents have ample game-tape to prepare for second-year stars. Green’s messy string of games continued last night in NU’s 89-67 loss to No. 22 Notre Dame in South Bend, where the Philly native shot 4-16 overall, 1-6 from downtown, en route to 11 points and only two assists in 36 minutes. It hasn’t helped Joe Mihalich’s club that transfer center Devon White has committed 12 fouls in his last 56 minutes on the floor.

9) Bulls’ road woes: It was tough to predict to what degree Jarod Oldham’s absence (8-10 weeks due to wrist injury) would hurt the UB Bulls, and Reggie Witherspoon’s team put up a valiant road fight against Washington State, losing 65-54 after leading 49-48 with 7:02 remaining. Frontcourt foul trouble killed the Bulls, as Javon McCrea was limited to two points in 18 minutes, while Cam Downing earned a staggering four fouls in 13 minutes. Buffalo hung tough, however, behind the three-point marksmanship of Auraum Nuiriankh (13 points) and Tony Watson II (18 points), as the duo combined to shoot 7-14 from beyond the arc.

After scoring eight points in the game’s first 11:30, freshman floor general Jarryn Skeete added only one more point in the remainder of the contest, finishing 3-13 from the floor. Raphell Thomas-Edwards stepped in as the starting shooting guard—adding toughness, rebounding and defense—but he logged only 15 minutes as Watson and Skeete played together frequently. The Bulls return to Alumni Arena for a 7 p.m. game Dec. 28 against Notre Dame College.

10) By the numbers:

Canisius, 8-2—Kenpom Ranking: 104 (Improved by 42, so +42)
Niagara, 5-7—Kenpom Ranking: 159 (+3)
St. Bonaventure, 7-3—Kenpom Ranking: 70 (+33)
UB, 4-8—Kenpom Ranking: 166 (-14)

(I don’t count CBS’ RPI rankings because, frankly, I think they’re stupid).

Previous Tsuj’s Tens:

Dec. 13
Dec. 8
Dec. 4
Nov. 30
Nov. 27
Nov. 19

(Canisius and UB photos courtesy of Robin David Brown, Buffalo.com freelance photographer).

TAGGED: big 4 basketball, canisius griffins, chris manhertz, jarryn skeete, juan'ya green, nc state basketball, niagara purple eagles, pickin splinters, tsuj's ten, wny hoops

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