Tsuj’s Ten: College basketball, 12/16
blog by Ben Tsujimoto • December 16, 2011 @ 5:19pm
They’re sitting at opposite ends of the spectrum: the University at Buffalo, 6-2 overall—all non-conference, rests comfortably during its 10-day lay-off, knowing it owns a quality win (Dayton) and no truly embarrassing losses, while Canisius, 1-7 overall, 0-2 in the MAAC, doesn’t have quite the luxury. While Canisius certainly has more questions than the Bulls, it’s worth looking at the questions facing both teams entering the holiday season.
University at Buffalo Bulls:
1) Will there be some stability at the point guard position? Thus far, Bulls’ head coach Reggie Witherspoon has been riding the hot hand, starting with athletic sophomore Jarod Oldham but, more recently, relying on Tony Watson II down the stretch. Watson II has rewarded his head coach with some “daggers,” particularly in the Youngstown State win. The Buffalo News’ Bob DiCesare backed Watson II’s recent effort, but there are definitely concerns about the junior’s ability to keep the offense in motion while playing comparable defense to Oldham.
2) How healthy will they stay? Auraum Nuiriankh, Mitchell Watt and Xavier Ford were all banged up after the Youngstown State victory, but none of the injuries were considered severe, and all should be in the lineup for the date with BYU. Because of their lack of depth, the Bulls aren’t situated to withstand a slew of injuries—take Javon McCrea out of this lineup, and it’s much easier to defend.
3) Can Javon McCrea reduce his turnovers? I’m not expecting McCrea to be turnover-free, as his aggressiveness and brute strength will inevitably lead to some offensive fouls. Still, he’s had three games this year with five or more turnovers, and he’s struggled to put the ball on the floor effectively and occasionally forced passes into traffic. Kent State’s 6’8, 230 pound senior forward Justin Greene will pose a huge threat to McCrea on Jan. 7, perhaps the Buffalo star’s biggest one-vs.-one challenge of the season. Interestingly, Greene has faced the same struggles with giveaways, committing 18 turnovers in the last three games.
4) How will they handle their two biggest non-conference tests? Unfortunately, they’re not close to home—at BYU (Dec. 20) and at Temple (Dec. 28)—and the two opponents are a combined 14-4 overall. The Bulls have won their last two road contests—against Niagara and Dayton—but they’re liable to be rusty due to long lay-offs and nervous facing hostile opposing crowds. Even the Bulls can split, consider it a success.
5) Does zone defense make the most sense for the Bulls? Buffalo has played zone defense almost exclusively over the past two games, even tossing in a little 1-3-1 to confuse opponents. There’s no question the Bulls players have bought in, and the team has the personnel to excel at it, but good outside shooting teams will pick the zone apart—exactly how the underdog Penguins stayed close for the majority of the contest.
1) Will the offense become more balanced? Too many Canisius offensive possessions have ended in Alshwan Hymes hoisting a low percentage shot. In Hymes’ defense, he’s an excellent streak shooter with unlimited range—unfortunately, his cold spurts—combined with his volume shooting—can bury the Griffins in a large deficit. The junior guard is hitting at a 36.5% clip from the field and 31% from three-point range. For Canisius to keep conference games close, the Griffs will need scoring from other sources than Harold Washington and Hymes.
2) How quickly can the freshmen big men develop? Promising moments from Josiah Heath and Kevin Bleeker have brought smiles to the faces of Griffins fans, but both players have a long way to go in their development. Bleeker’s shown glimpses of becoming an adequate finesse forward, but he offers very little underneath the hoop with his frail frame and hesitance to bang bodies. Heath, the more physical of the duo, hasn’t shown any post moves or confidence in his offensive game. Will one or both of them step forward as the season progresses? (Update: Josiah Heath had his best game as a Griff against UMKC (14 points, 18 rebounds), showing a level of activity and aggressiveness unseen in his previous outings. Great sign there for the Canisius frontcourt.)
3) What exactly is Chris Manhertz? Canisius’ sophomore center has posted solid numbers—8.5 points per game along with eight rebounds. His points come primarily off put backs, and we haven’t seen much of his range on jump-shots. His strength in the paint suggests that he has potential for stardom, and he’s definitely still raw offensively. For Canisius to win 10 games this season, though, he’ll need to further accelerate his progress.
4) Will Gaby Belardo ever reach full health? Belardo has struggled recently with a nagging back injury, causing him to miss the better part of four games. He’s listed vaguely as day-to-day, and there’s no real reason to rush the junior point guard back before the Jan. 1 game against Fairfield. Even if he’s erratic, Canisius needs him in the lineup because he protects the ball better than Reggie Groves.
5) Will head coach Tom Parrotta deepen his rotation? He’s shown very little confidence in his reserves thus far, as Hymes and Washington average over 35 minutes per game, and Manhertz and Groves average just over 30. If Parrotta doesn’t show any confidence in Franklin Milian, Tyler Funk, Sean Ezeamama and David Santiago, how will those four improve?