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Tsuj’s Ten: Prepare for another Big 4 battle tonight

blog by Ben Tsujimoto  • 

We’re at the end of the road in terms of non-conference Big 4 match-ups; Saturday night’s Niagara University vs. University at Buffalo clash marks the final meeting of the season.

Neither squad has enjoyed a particularly inspiring start to the season—UB stands at 3-7 (1-2 at home), while Niagara boasts a record of 3-5 (1-3 on the road). Tip-off is at 7 p.m. at Alumni Arena, and tickets can be purchased here.

Four for Niagara:

1) Niagara coming off impressive win over Loyola (MD): An 11-point loss to Iona proved an ugly start to conference play for Joe Mihalich’s crew, but the Purple Eagles rebounded with an impressive—albeit narrow—road victory over Loyola (MD), a MAAC favorite. I think it’s odd that the Metro-Atlantic Athletic Conference begins its slate in early December rather than early January like nearly every other conference in Division I, and I’m not sure I can think of any perks of starting so early.

2) Return of Juan’ya: I perhaps unfairly disparaged Juan’ya Green after a string of poor outings, but he answered the bell with an efficient 19 points, five assists and only three turnovers—including the Purple Eagles’ final four points of the one-point win. His overall statistics still aren’t all-conference caliber—16 points per game on 41% shooting, but his five assists per tilt and 39% three-point shooting are trending in the right direction. He’ll have a bona fide tete-a-tete with UB point guard Jarod Oldham, assuming that the Bulls don’t play strictly zone defense.

3) Checking out T.J.: With Devon White on the shelf recovering from a torn Achilles’ tendon—the LaSalle transfer will be out until late December or January, it sounds— true freshman T.J. Cline has been forced into 22 minutes per game in the first eight contests of the season. Even though he has a tendency to shoot too many threes, Cline leads the Purple Eagles in rebounding and has provided at least some semblance of an interior presence for Joe Mihalich’s program. Can he handle Javon McCrea, though? Doubtful.

4) Winning ‘on the road’: Niagara is typically a terrible road team, improving from 2-14 in 2010-11 to 5-11 last season. The signature win of Loyola (MD) was the Purple Eagles’ first road victory this year, and it’s tough to categorize tonight as a road game. Sure, it’s at Alumni Arena, but the atmosphere will likely be a little subdued with final exams on the docket for students and a fair portion of True Blue who’ve already returned home for the semester.

Four for UB:

5) Light a fire under Javon: The Bulls’ best player posted a ridiculous line on Wednesday against Milwaukee—31 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks on 15-19 shooting. He committed seven turnovers, but it’s clear that Reggie Witherspoon emphasized pounding the ball into McCrea in the paint, who had at least 20 pounds on any of the Panthers’ big men. It’s easy to forget that—at 6’7, 250 pounds—McCrea is a freight train in the post and a match-up nightmare if the opponent lacks beef.

6) Keeping up with Niagara in transition: With a stable of guards and a very small lineup, Niagara will push the tempo relentlessly and try to play a game in the 80s, forcing the Bulls to do one of two things: 1) Dictate a slower tempo, feed McCrea and shoot efficiently or 2) Play at Niagara’s tempo and hope for an outstanding shooting evening. Clearly, option No. 1 should be Reggie Witherspoon’s goal, but limiting turnovers will be crucially important in dictating the tempo, and both Jarod Oldham and Buffalo’s bigs must protect the basketball to avoid being run out of the gym.

7) UB Zone: Reggie Witherspoon has shown no hesitance in resorting to a zone defense this year, and tonight may be another good opportunity. The Purple Eagles shoot 34% from downtown—good for fifth in the Metro-Atlantic Athletic Conference—but they’re prone to long cold spurts. Junior Marvin Jordan, who tweaked an ankle against Central Michigan and missed the win over Loyola, may suit up tonight. Nicknamed “the microwave” by Mihalich after a press conference last season, Jordan’s the most dangerous Purple Eagle to force Buffalo out of a zone. If he doesn’t play, UB could force Niagara into an ice-cold evening from the floor.

8) Tube socks: I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that UB’s True Blue is giving away 1500 pairs of tube socks until supplies last, beginning with the women’s game against Binghamton at 5 p.m. Adorned with a UB Bulls logo, these fuzzy socks will keep your feet AND calves warm deep into conference play. The rumors that Tony Watson II will wear these against Niagara are unfounded, unfortunately.

9) Canisius continues to roll: The Griffins improved to 5-1 on the season with a 67-55 road conference victory over Fairfield. Jim Baron’s club was a scorching 9-16 from three-point range, and six different Griffs connected on a trey. Perhaps more impressive was Canisius’ stifling of Fairfield’s veteran point guard Derek Needham, who finished with just 11 points, five assists and four turnovers.

10) Griff guard greatness: Harold Washington and Billy Baron evenly split 38 points in the win, accounting for more than half of Canisius’ total output. The duo produced efficiently as well, shooting 12-19 combined from the floor and 11-12 combined from the free-throw stripe. Both guards are in the top six in the MAAC in points per game and more importantly are learning quickly how to play off one another. It’s a special backcourt for Jim Baron, and one that will be a joy to watch go head-to-head against Juan’ya Green and Antoine Mason in the two Battle of the Bridge games later this season.

(Header photo courtesy of Robin David Brown from Canisius vs. UB game— full gallery here).

TAGGED: big 4 basketball, jarod oldham, javon mccrea, joe mihalich, juan'ya green, niagara purple eagles, ub bulls, university at buffalo

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