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Tsuj’s Ten: College basketball, 1/4

blog by Ben Tsujimoto  • 

Before I jump into college basketball chatter, I need to elaborate on one of my more disturbing traits. I am mildly allergic to bananas. My throat constricts a tad—there’s a brief period of discomfort after munching on something with real banana involved—but it’s not severe at all. Strangely, I refuse to avoid the awkwardly-shaped, potassium-laden, fibrous fruit—I’ve willingly gobbled a fried banana in London (how many opportunities to you get to eat a fried banana in Camden Town?) and just devoured a slice of deliciously moist banana bread. Incredibly strange, right?

1) Oh yeah, college basketball: You probably guffawed when you saw that Buffalo State men’s basketball plays at the University at Buffalo tonight. Division III school with an enrollment of just under 10,000 students against a mid-major Division I program with three-times the student body? It shouldn’t be fair. In their defense, though, the Bengals are currently the 21st-ranked D3 school in the nation, and they advanced to the Sweet 16 of the D3 National Tournament last year.

2) Pausing Bengals: Did you know Buffalo State College has a period of the day called Bengal Paws (Edit: It’s ‘Bengal Pause,’ apparently, a nifty play on words, confirms Buffalo State alum Tom Fusillo), where no classes are scheduled so campus groups can meet or community outreach activities can take place? Ah, life at a predominantly commuter college. Anyhow, Jake Simmons—who led the Bengals in scoring with 15 against UB in 2009, a 93-65 UB win—has excelled in his junior year, scoring 17 or more points in all but one of the Bengals’ 11 games and averaging 20.5 ppg for the season. He’s a dynamic guard that’s not a volume shooter—he’s hit at a 54% clip (47% from three) this year while often facing the opponent’s best defender. Don’t be surprised if he scores over 20 tonight against D1 competition.

3) Thriving Mitchell: Surrounding Simmons with a strong complementary scorer hasn’t been too difficult, as lanky Timon St. Jude graduate Justin Mitchell has blossomed in his three years as a Bengal. More of a slasher than a shooter, Mitchell is active on the glass (7.3 rebounds per game), and he put up one of those absurd Anthony Davis-like stat-lines against Cortland this year: 14 points, 14 rebounds (seven offensive), six assists and six blocks. Mitchell enters the UB game on a hot streak as well—he earned Catholic University Classic MVP honors and SUNYAC Player of the Week distinction after dropping 27 points on the tournament host in Buffalo State’s championship victory.

4) But let’s be realistic: Do I think UB is going to lose tonight? Let’s not be crazy—if the Bulls’ interior size is a menace for quality D1 opponents like BYU and Temple, Javon McCrea and Mitchell Watt should flat-out destroy the Bengals in the post. I know that it didn’t happen in the road test against the Owls, but tonight’s 7:00 p.m. match-up, aired live on Time Warner Cable Channel 13, should feature a steady dose of youngsters Xavier Ford and Cameron Downing. The experience could be valuable for both players if injuries strike the Bulls’ usual starters during conference play. Tickets are free for students (who can also bring a +1) and season ticket holders, while general admission is $5.

5) Memories on the Bengal bench
: Buffalo State head coach Fajri Ansari is one of the “good guys” of the WNY basketball scene over the last two decades. He led Turner Carroll High School (Julius Page, anyone?) to two State Federation Championships and five State Catholic Association titles—he’s even coached the Rwanda men’s national team. Ansari, who also had the blessing of coaching his son, Tariq, in high school, is admired for starting Camp ACHIEVE, a free week-long camp that focuses on improving the SAT scores of local athletic stars. 

6) Amazing orange: Malik Campbell, one of Ansari’s assistant coaches, is remembered as one of the greatest pure athletes in Western New York history, a dual-sport standout in football and basketball at Turner Carroll—under Ansari—who continued his career in both at Division I Syracuse University. Since graduating with a degree in social work, Campbell has remained true to his Buffalo roots, coaching an AAU team and working at the Kensington Bailey Community Center. If it wasn’t for academic eligibility issues and a football position change that derailed his career, it’s possible that Campbell could have played in the NFL.

7) Canisius visits St. Peter’s: Thursday night takes the Canisius Golden Griffins to St. Peter’s for a conference clash that’ll be carried by ESPN3. Both teams are mired in losing seasons, as Canisius’ 3-10 overall record is only slightly better than the Peacocks’ 2-12 mark. The Buffalo Bulls trampled St. Peter’s earlier this season, although the MAAC school was missing its leading scorer Darius Conley in that contest.

8) Two Quincys, a Perry and a Pierre: Their first names don’t necessarily create an image of manliness, but the Baylor Bears’ stars are for real. Sure, they may have resorted to “winning ugly” recently—a 54-52 win over #14 Mississippi State and a 61-52 victory over un-ranked (and really bad) Texas A&M—but the #5 team in the land has enough scoring resources that teams cannot focus on one player. Perry Jones III, the Bears’ super soph, has arguably regressed in his second year, looking less assertive and far more tentative than I remember from last season. Still, if Pierre Jackson reduces his alarming turnover rate, Jones III adopts an attacking mentality and the Bears continue to receive big buckets from unheralded players like Cory Jefferson, Brady Heslip and A.J. Walton, the Final Four should involve Waco.

9) Cincinnati rising:  The fallout of the fight between Cincinnati and Xavier has been a catalyst for one side and a catastrophe for the other. Highlighted by a 20-point win over Wright State and a three-point conference victory over Pittsburgh, the Bearcats didn’t suffer defeat during leading rebounder Yancy Gates’ six game suspension. Mick Cronin’s team has embraced a “40 minutes of hell” style, playing regularly with a four-guard line-up and pressing at every opportunity. Hey, he’s copying Missouri! 

10) Xavier plummeting: I was fortunate(?) to have checked out Gonzaga vs. Xavier on New Year’s Eve, and it’s clear that the brawl with Cincinnati divided Chris Mack’s team. Tu Holloway looks a mixture of ill, injured or disinterested, watching Kenny Frease lumber around the court is almost painful and Mark Lyons continues to launch shots at every opportunity (11 for 35 in his last two games)—the Musketeers have lost four of five games, and St. Bonaventure has a realistic shot of beating them in Atlantic 10 play.

Photo courtesy of Flickr / nannetteturner.

TAGGED: buffalo state bengals, canisius griffins, cincinnati, college basketball, fajri ansari, jake simmons, malik campbell, tsuj's ten, university at buffalo bulls, xavier

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