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Tsuj’s Ten: College basketball, 12/28

Photo by Dave Marino

blog by Ben Tsujimoto  • 

The University at Buffalo Bulls (6-3) tackle the second tough road game in a row at 7:00 p.m. tonight against Temple (7-3), while Canisius (2-9) hosts the lowly Binghamton Bearcats (0-10) at the Koessler Athletic Center (7:30 p.m.). It’s a stiff test for UB, but the Griffins should waltz over Binghamton, Ken Pomeroy’s 342nd ranked school (of 345 DI college teams).

1) Post advantage: Much like the BYU game—which UB lost 93-78—the Bulls won’t have to contend with a dominant big man, a dying breed in collegiate basketball. While the Cougars’ Brandon Davies and Noah Hartsock are veterans who are committed to and have excelled in their roles for years, Buffalo’s big men face an inexperienced but athletic opposing frontcourt tonight at Temple. 

2) Clipped wings: 6’11 center Michael Eric—he of two first names—has missed the last seven games with a knee injury, and the double-double machine is still a ways from returning to the lineup. In his stead, 6’6, 210 pound junior Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson has been guarding power forwards, and he’ll face a tall task with the much more brawny Javon McCrea. 6’9 freshman Anthony Lee (too many first names!) has been pressed into duty more than Fran Dunphy had hoped, logging over 20 minutes per game and averaging just shy of seven boards. With the news that valuable reserve Scootie Randall will miss the season with a torn meniscus, escalating the development of Lee—and keeping him out of foul trouble—is of prime importance.

3) Under the keen (shooting) eye of the owl: There are fewer worries in the backcourt for Temple, as preseason all-Atlantic 10 first team selections Ramone Moore and Juan Fernandez lead the charge. Moore has tallied double-figures in points in all but one game this year, and he’s the heart-and-soul of the Owls, the player they rely on late in games. Fernandez, the epitome of a streak shooter, just recovered from a 14-45 slump (31%) with an 8-18, 23 point performance against Rice, including 5-7 from downtown. Junior guard Khalif Wyatt has been exceptional in a larger role this year, complementing his increase in minutes with a solid 15 points per game on 48% shooting.

4) Healthy Bulls: There’s no word on any major injuries stemming from the Bulls’ loss to BYU, a good sign that the team is relatively unscathed heading into the new year. Steadier doses of Cameron Downing and Xavier Ford should be expected tonight, as there’s really no reason to wear out Javon McCrea or Mitchell Watt in a game that has little bearing—UB has a very minute chance for an at-large bid. 

5) For the gamblers among us: Bovada lists Buffalo as nine point underdogs tonight, which doesn’t come as a huge surprise considering the location of the game and Temple’s quality wins over Villanova and Wichita State. Still, I expect the final margin to be under 10, as the Bulls’ frontcourt should be able to impose its will.

6) On to Canisius: Just how bad is Binghamton? The Bearcats are really bad. They’re 337th in the country in scoring (55 points per game), and they’re eighth from the bottom in three-point shooting as well (26%). Since losing by only four to Colgate in the first game of the season, Binghamton has lost its ensuing nine games by an average of 20.3 points. At this point, the Bearcats are whimpering for mercy.

7) Mayor’s kin: City of Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown’s son, Byron Brown Jr., is a guard for the Bearcats. The younger Brown (5’9, 160 pounds) is best known locally for his minor scrapes with the law—a bizarre joyride car accident at 16 and a shoplifting charge at A.J. Wright store last summer—but he played ball at City Honors and has only appeared in one game after making the jump from Erie Community College.

8) Time for ‘Shwan: Since the Bearcats have allowed opponents to shoot 50% from the field and 42% from three-point range, tonight is a perfect opportunity for Alshwan Hymes to find his shooting stroke. Between Hymes and Gaby Belardo, the backcourt duo is hitting at only a 35% clip—I’ve stressed this a lot, but considering they make up 2/3rds of the team’s scoring options, that rate is disturbing. We’ve seen Hymes crush the morale of opponents with three-point barrages—a school-record nine against Northwestern State, six against Siena and five against St. Peter’s last year—but those kind of outbursts have been sparse in 2011-12.

9) Coin-flipping big men: Josiah Heath and Kevin Bleeker have traded breakout games recently, but when one of them doesn’t put a serious dent in the box score, the Griffs are susceptible to a game like the 59-45 loss to Loyola of Chicago. It’s a rather unrealistic expectation to demand a big game out of two freshmen and a true sophomore (Chris Manhertz), but that’s just what the Griffin big men need. There’s virtually no depth to speak of.

10) Demanding more from Gaby: If the pressure is on Hymes to assert his leadership and improve his shooting percentages, the onus is on Belardo to put his back injury behind him and to be assertive on offense. For every wild Hymes launch from 26-feet with three on the shot clock, that possession could have been Belardo driving hard to the hoop and drawing a foul. Judging from Canisius Griffin sports writer Nick Veronica’s article, Belardo wasn’t bashful against Loyola of Chicago, but I’d like to see him attack the rim rather than settle for open three point looks. When’s he confident, he’s a fearlessly effective slasher.

BONUS
: Prediction for the Canisius game—if the Griffs turn the ball over 12 times or fewer, they’ll win by 20. If they carelessly give away more than 15, they’ll win by single digits.

TAGGED: big 4 basketball, binghamton bearcats, college basketball, fran dunphy, javon mccrea, ncaa hoops, ramone moore, temple owls, university at buffalo bulls

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