Tsuj’s Ten: Rising, falling in Big 4 basketball
blog by Ben Tsujimoto • December 04, 2012 @ 11:22am
We’ve reached December of the college basketball season, and the Big 4 teams are sailing through their non-conference schedules, eager to start conference play—the contests that truly matter.
Ideally, teams are firing on all cylinders by the onset of conference play, boasting a defined rotation, a deep-enough bench and relatively refined offensive and defensive approaches. This is rarely the case, however, as young teams slowly learn which players can be counted on under pressure, and coaches sleeplessly tinker with both personnel and strategy.
While finding a preferred style and rotation can be frustrating, the non-conference slate gives heartening signs as well—unexpected players step forward, showing intriguing, recently-honed areas of their game, or simply the confidence of jumping from a nervous, ‘reacting’ sophomore into a grizzled, ‘anticipating’ junior.
Big 4 Rising:
1) Jarod Oldham, UB junior point guard: It’s tough to find any glimmers of hope in UB’s 2-7 season so far, but Oldham’s exceeded expectations—in my mind, at least. With the injury to Tony Watson II, Oldham’s been asked to play 33 minutes per game, five more than the next Bulls player. He’s been inconsistent with his shooting stroke, but as the narrow loss to St. Bonaventure showed, at least he’s willing to hoist it after being quite reluctant last year.
Hopefully for Reggie Witherspoon’s team, Oldham’s 5-for-7 outing from behind the three-point arc is a sign of things to come, not an outlier. His turnovers are a little higher than Bulls fans would like—especially after protecting the ball well last year—but this is a function of unfamiliar teammates and too many minutes, perhaps.
2) Marquise Simmons, St. Bonaventure red-shirt senior forward: Simmons’ college career has been derailed more than once by injury, with the most recent a season-ending Achilles tear in the 2011 opener. The program is still awaiting word on whether Simmons has received his second medical red-shirt, perhaps giving him another season beyond 2012-13.
Maybe the string of unlucky events has ended for Simmons, who’s been a rebounding machine this year for Mark Schmidt’s Bonnies. Considering that Achilles injuries usually adversely affect leaping ability, it’s a testament to Simmons positioning in the block, tenacity and devotion in recovery that have allowed him to average seven rebounds per game, including 19 offensive boards on the season (the next Bona player has 10 o-boards.) He’s not Andrew Nicholson, but he’s still an important—and surprising—cog in a competitive A-10 team.
3) Chris Johnson, St. Bonaventure senior swing-man: Because last year’s St. Bonaventure offense was predicated on the inside-out play of Nicholson, the slashing ability of Demitrius Conger and the outside shooting of Eric Mosley and Matthew Wright, there wasn’t much room for Chris Johnson to thrive. He started only one of 30 games, averaging seven points in roughly 16 minutes per game—an “instant offense” bench role if I’ve ever seen one.
In 2012, an expanded role has been kind to Johnson, who’s graciously accepted the role as go-to scorer. He’s putting up 16 points per game on 55% shooting, remarkably efficient for an athlete who shoots through traffic so often.
4) Chris Manhertz, Canisius junior center: Canisius’ strongest big man isn’t going to record many double-doubles, and he won’t sink many 15-footers. Still, he’s been a very central part to Jim Baron’s turnaround at the Koessler Athletic Center, doing everything from contributing clutch buckets, gobbling plenty of rebounds and defending very physically. Last season, Manhertz had to be wary on the defensive end, careful to avoid foul trouble because of Canisius’ dearth of big men. Now with Jordan Heath and Freddy Asprilla joining Josiah Heath and Manhertz, the longest tenured Griffin big man can finally use his strength to his advantage.
Big 4 Falling:
1) Juan’ya Green, Niagara sophomore point guard: Call it a sophomore slump, call it increased defensive attention—it doesn’t matter: Juan’ya Green is struggling. Take Niagara’s three-game losing skid for example: Green is 12-33 shooting, has averaged 12 points and has committed more turnovers (14) than assists (11) in that span. It’s not what Joe Mihalich is looking for from his marquee player, but the Philadelphia native has a month to right the ship before Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) play begins.
2) Corey Raley-Ross, UB junior guard: It’s not that expectations were particularly high for Raley-Ross, who’d shown little in his first two years, before the season. Still, he had the first opportunity to fill the void left by Zach Filzen as the off-guard, and he certainly hasn’t seized it. Witherspoon’s patience is wearing thin, too, as CRR was yanked after committing two turnovers in the first minute against St. Bonaventure, finishing the game with only two minutes played. At this point, I’m not sure he’s a serious part of the Bulls’ rotation anymore.
3) Isaac Sosa, Canisius senior guard: Lost in the promising starts of Harold Washington and Billy Baron has been Isaac Sosa’s struggles. The Central Florida transfer came to the Canisius program as a refined three-point specialist, but perhaps sitting out a year due to eligibility rules has added rust to Sosa’s stroke.
Since his 32-minute outing against St. Bonaventure, Sosa has played just 40 minutes total over the ensuing three games, shooting 5-20 from the floor and 2-11 from three. We knew coming into the year that minutes would be hard to be earned by Canisius guards—there’s a logjam, in other words—and Sosa is currently the odd man out. With MAAC play beginning this week with two road tilts, it will be interesting to see how much Baron trusts the senior transfer.
4) Charlon Kloof, St. Bonaventure point guard: It’s fine that Charlon Kloof will probably never be a 45% shooter—that’s simply not his role in the Bonaventure offense. He’s still a terrific defender, but he needs to bring something on the offensive end to prove that he’s a starting caliber high-major point guard. Right now, 32% from the floor isn’t cutting it, and neither is his 62% clip from the free-throw line.
He’s only tallied one more assist (16) than turnovers (15), and these numbers really need to improve for Mark Schmidt’s team to climb the A-10 ladder. Mosley and Wright are solid role players, good cogs in the rotation, but Kloof’s defense may be the most special trait on the Bonnies, especially when it comes to hounding the opposition’s best guard. He needs to be on the floor, but at what sacrifice?
9) St. Bonaventure vs. Siena TONIGHT: We love nationally-televised Big 4 games over here at Buffalo.com, especially when it’s a game that the local team is favored to win. St. Bonaventure is favored to beat Siena (2-6) by a whopping 13 points, and the game will be televised at 9 p.m. on the NBC Sports Network. You can watch for Chris Johnson’s emergence and Charlon Kloof’s struggles—perfect application after reading this four up, four down column.
10) By the numbers:
Canisius, 4-1—Kenpom ranking: 206 (Improved by 4, so +4)
Niagara, 2-5—Kenpom ranking: 176 (-18)
St. Bonaventure, 4-2—Kenpom ranking: 106 (-11)
UB, 2-7—Kenpom ranking: 188 (+12)
Previous Tsuj’s Tens:
(All photos courtesy of Robin David Brown—see his UB vs. Canisius gallery here).