Tsuj’s Ten: College basketball, 2/8
blog by Ben Tsujimoto • February 08, 2012 @ 11:22am
1) Crush the Chips: Every road game against a West Division MAC foe feels like a “trap” game for the University at Buffalo men’s basketball team. Even though the Bulls have won six straight, including the last four over the inferior West, there’s always the lingering belief that Buffalo will play down to the level of its opponent and falter late in the game. Perhaps that’s just college basketball fan paranoia, but when you see #15 Creighton lose to Evansville and #5 Kansas fall to Iowa State, with both teams away from home, you realize that winning road games against a lesser opponent is by no means automatic.
2) Lockdown D: Even though there’s no offensive juggernaut in the MAC West, the Bulls have held opponents to an average of 61 points per game during their winning streak. It must be comforting to know that, if you maintain this level of effort on D, that 65-70 points offensively will more than likely win a given game. The switch of sophomore Auraum Nuiriankh into the starting lineup and senior Dave Barnett to the bench has bolstered the defense of the second unit, and I think that’s made a noticeable difference. The team’s dominant defensive qualities are abundant—Javon McCrea’s rebounding prowess, Mitchell Watt’s shot-blocking and Titus Robinson’s new-found energy and aggressiveness have humbled many a quality opponent. Head coach Reggie Witherspoon’s rotation, however, has made a great defense even stiffer.
3) If CMU scores over 60 tonight, I’ll be shocked: The Chippewas have lost seven straight, posting only 58 points per game in that span. A key stat? Central Michigan concedes the most rebounds in the MAC, as opponents average 38 per game. Since UB averages 41 boards per game—third in the entire nation—expect a painful butt-whooping on the glass tonight. There’s nothing worse than a painful butt-whooping, aside from splinters, paper-cuts and sliced corneas.
4) So many Zeiglers!: In my life of basketball nerdiness, I often wonder if Trey Zeigler regrets his decision to play for a rebuilding mid-major program. Central Michigan’s sophomore guard turned down offers from major schools also in his home state—Michigan State and Michigan—for an opportunity to play basketball for his father. I respect that, for sure, but when he sees a bounce pass smack off Andre Coimbra’s knee and bounce out of bounds, doesn’t he wish for a second that inside target was Michigan State’s Draymond Green? When Derek Jackson rifles a pass to no one in particular, wouldn’t Zeigler dream of Michigan point guard Trey Burke feeding him the ball on the wing?
5) MAC East update: First-place Akron (8-1 in MAC East) continues to sizzle, and that’s a testament to the value of having a deep rotation. Head coach Keith Dambrot trusts nine players with over 15 minutes a game—and none over 30—and the Zips’ scoring is impressively balanced. They’ve had a different leading scorer in each game over their last five (Walsh, Harney, Diggs, Gilliam and Marshall), and it’s only a matter of time before point guard Alex Abreu and forward Nikola Cvetinovic join the party. Even though Buffalo took the Zips down 82-70 at Alumni Arena, it’ll be a stiff test at Akron Feb. 29. The Bulls (7-2) are currently one game back of the East Division leader, and according to teamrankings.com, Buffalo is only a few percentage points behind Akron in likelihood of winning the MAC Tournament.
6) Crazy BracketBuster travel: The Buffalo News’ Bob DiCesare did some excellent digging to find out just how hard the Bulls’ travel schedule to South Dakota State would be for the nationally-televised Feb.18 mid-major spotlight game. Ouch.
7) Rider revenge: Canisius College men’s basketball, losers of seven straight, will try to avenge an earlier 89-65 defeat to Rider with a clash at Koessler on Thursday (7 p.m.). The Griffins (1-12 in conference) are last in the MAAC—and 2.5 games behind the nearest opponent—and Tom Parrotta’s crew is desperately trying to find positives to take into the MAAC Tournament. After battling co-conference leader Iona to a stalemate for 30 minutes last week, there’s definitely a ray of hope for Canisius to make some conference tournament noise, but the Griffs will essentially have to play perfect basketball to compete. According to teamrankings.com, Canisius has a .02% chance of winning the conference tournament. So you’re saying there’s a chance!
8) Across the nation: I’ve watched plenty of Top 25 college basketball over the last week, so here are some quick tid-bits:
— Watching Missouri’s junior Michael Dixon, now a reserve after two years as a starter, is a roller-coaster of excitement and frustration. The instant-offense guard thrives on big shots, but he also makes some maddening plays (like the blatant elbow against Kansas that nearly stunted the Tigers’ fierce comeback). With go-to guard Marcus Denmon struggling recently, Dixon has shouldered a bigger portion of the scoring load—and he’s fearless. There’s inherent danger to playing with too much emotion as, while the highs can be really high, the lows can blow up an entire team. Could be a story-line to watch come NCAA Tournament time.
He’s also more than willing to instruct you how to “Douggie,” in case you weren’t able to figure it out from John Wall:
(You’re right: I only wrote about Dixon so I could show the really awkward YouTube video.)
— God’s Gift: It’s been a struggle for rebuilding St. John’s to contend in the Big East—the Johnnies are 4-7—but it’s not the fault of former Erie Community College star God’s Gift Achiuwa. The Nigerian-born forward averages over 32 minutes a night—high for a post player—and his stats are formidable: 10 points per game and six rebounds while shooting 55% from the floor. His game is built more around strength and position instead of hops—it’s sometimes nice to see an old-school big man, even if he’s a bit under-sized—and it’s great to see a kid who developed at a lower level locally see some national success.
—Tim Hardaway Jr. chose a bad time for a disappearing act in Michigan’s 64-54 loss to Michigan State, especially due to Michigan State’s Draymond Green’s “guaranteed win.” Whenever a player guarantees a victory, I’ll immediately root against them. Blame it on Rasheed Wallace. Anyhow, the Wolverines look worse and worse, and Green, active despite a recent knee injury, continues his maddening rise up draft boards. On a side note, Michigan State’s freshman guard Branden Dawson will be a tremendous player in the Big Ten.
(Header photo courtesy of Don Nieman, Buffalo.com freelance photographer.)