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Tsuj’s Ten: Wrestling with Regan, Griffs road problems

blog by Ben Tsujimoto  • 

The story of Nichols School star Will Regan seemed well on the path of other local stars that eschewed playing college ball in Western New York. Jonny Flynn, Paul Harris, Julius Page, Leonard Stokes and Lazar Hayward left the area for Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Marquette, while athletes like Rodney Pierce, Greg Gamble, Byron Mulkey, Hodari Mallory and Brian Dux stayed local but were not as highly touted.

Regan’s choice of the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Virginia Cavaliers, then, made perfect sense—even if it fed our region’s inferiority complex when it comes to convincing WNY talent to stay local while accepting a slight drop in competition.

When the three-time All-WNY First Teamer and two-time Buffalo News Player of the Year decided to return to the area—even if it meant sitting out a year—it made Big 4 basketball fans salivate, dreaming of a low-post combination of McCrea and Regan at UB or an athletic big man to add to a stable of gifted guards at Niagara. St. Joseph’s and Penn were in the conversation, but that pair seemed unlikely because UB head coach Reggie Witherspoon had offered Regan a scholarship in eighth grade.

Regan never visited Niagara and chose the Bulls, then watched as McCrea and Mitchell Watt led UB to the MAC Semifinal against Ohio while battling them daily in practice. Here’s what we’ve learned about Regan so far this year:

1) He’s learning: For those who had unreasonable expectations for Regan—I consider myself among this crowd, as I thought averages of 15 and eight rebounds were reasonable (though they still may be)—the Nichols grad’s adjustment to Reggie Witherspoon’s style has been a work in progress. He’s averaged a healthy 26 minutes per game, about the norm for a starting big under Witherspoon, and he’s posted a line of nine points and four rebounds per game in his first seven outings. His percentages are excellent, however, as he’s shooting 56% from the field, 79% from the line and a sparkling 64% from three-point land.

2) He’s raw: Regan’s two turnovers per game are a little high, and when UB runs its patented high-low attack—where one big moves out to the elbow and tries to find his cutting partner at the opposite block—there’s a big discrepancy between the graduated Watt and the newcomer Regan. When asked about Regan’s development, Witherspoon responded as follows:

“Right now, the biggest thing for Will is to find ways to anticipate what’s going to happen next, and when he does that, he’ll know it before it happens, and then we’re in a flow. It’s only going to strengthen his game,” said the veteran head coach, who used the same “anticipating” and “reacting” terms when talking about Jarod Oldham last year.

As a refined senior, the 6’11 Watt was an underrated passer, an imposing shot blocker and a very long defender. It’s unfair to compare Watt to Regan, however, and there’s still a ton of room for Regan to grow as a player and get accustomed to his teammates—a heartening prospect for Bulls’ fans and a major story-line as the 2012-13 season unfolds.

“I think all of our post players complement each other really well,” Regan explained, “and I think we know that and, in practice, we try to improve each other. In terms of me and Javon, we’ve gone against each other and it’s improved the both of us. I tried to learn some things from Mitch [Watt]—Mitch and Javon had a good chemistry, and I tried to learn a little bit from what they used do. Not just Javon, but Cam and X [Xavier Ford] all bring different talents.”

3) Where does Regan fit?: Don’t start using terms like “stretch 4” around Witherspoon, because he’ll tell you that he doesn’t organize his team by numbers. He wants to accentuate each player’s strengths—Oldham’s defense, Watson’s shooting, McCrea’s low-post game, etc—and having a team perfectly fit the 1-through-5 mold is oft-impossible at the collegiate level.

“What’s good is that that problem [Regan’s true position] becomes a problem for our opponent,” Witherspoon mentioned. “[Will] can play around the basket, he can play away from the basket and he runs the court very well. Where he ends up—we’re fine with either one.”

There absolutely have been times this season—especially in the NABC Coaches vs. Cancer Classic—where Regan has looked overwhelmed inside, uncomfortable defending and attacking bigger opponents. Because of our familiarity with him, though, it’s easy to forget that he’s just a sophomore, a guy who’d only suited up for 132 minutes for Virginia (he’s played 180 already this year).

“I sat out a year and a half without getting a lot of experience on the court—game by game I feel like I’ve been getting more confident and my teammates have done a good job in believing in me, helping me be more confident and getting me the ball,” Regan said after dropping 15 points, a game-high, on Division II foe Mansfield.

4) What’s he good at?: He’s a terrific shooter, possesses a soft touch around the rim and is a more-than-capable foul shooter. His range extends defenses, theoretically giving McCrea more space inside. He’s not a great defender yet, but he has the length to at least alter shots, and an increased comfort level with the Bulls’ system—which frequently alternates between zone and man depending on the opponent—will pay dividends.

5) Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers: The Bulls’ (2-5) primary focus recently has been reducing turnovers, as immense struggles in that category doomed the team against Florida State and Canisius. In the Big 4 rivalry game, UB turned the ball over 24 times, leading to 27 Griffin points—and these struggles were both physical (the Bulls were very short-handed in personnel) and mental (early in the season, miscommunications, blown assignments).

Despite inferior competition, the Bulls turned the ball over just 11 times against Mansfield, contributing to only 11 points for the Mountaineers. “I thought we moved the ball well, and that’s certainly an area we’ve been working on very hard—learning the lesson of not beating ourselves,” Witherspoon added.

In chatting with Witherspoon, the team’s benchmarks appear to be as close to 10 turnovers as possible on offense (or lower, of course) and to force the opposition to shoot 40% or lower from the floor. If UB can keep both of these numbers low, odds are strong that the Bulls will win most of those games.

6) The Watson Effect: Against Mansfield, UB shot 7-23 (30%) from three-point range—the absence of Tony Watson II has been felt, not just in missing his deep shooting, but also in establishing Witherspoon’s rotation. Watson’s ankle injury opened up minutes for touted freshman Jarryn Skeete, who’s been allowed to make a few of those freshman mistakes that hasten development. Is Skeete ready for 20 minutes against an Akron or an Ohio, though? Nope, but it’s more than likely that Watson will return to the lineup soon.

“We’re hoping to get Tony back real soon, and then we can start to make a little bit more of a rotation,” Witherspoon said after the Mansfield win.

7) Improving by Jan. 9: This date marks the start of Mid-American Conference play, as Buffalo travels to Athens to tangle with the Bobcats. When asked if he had this date circled on the calendar as the time when the Bulls must round into form, Witherspoon agreed—with a little hesitation.

“Once you get into conference it’s every night that way—the teams that we play in our conference are going to be teams that are very well prepared,” he said. “We just have to get better every day and prepare ourselves—we played three true road games and won one. We have to get in here and win at home and strengthen ourselves to win on the road.”

8) Griffs run into a brick wall of Seawolves: Take a team that’s still jelling, put them on the road against a hungry and underrated opponent, and you have a recipe for disaster. That’s just what happened when Canisius dropped an 82-75 contest to Stony Brook, the Griffins’ first road test of the season. That statistics tell a lot of the story—Canisius shot 7-26 from downtown (27%), were out-rebounded 47-32 and leading scorer Billy Baron, while pacing the team with 22 points, shot just 5-17 from the floor.

Isaac Sosa, the Griffs’ best three-point shooter, was invisible, missing all three shots from beyond the arc while playing only eight minutes. He was 3-10 in 16 minutes against Buffalo, so this qualifies as a mini-slump for the heralded transfer from Central Florida. Kansas State transfer Freddy Asprilla, eligible for the first time after serving a three-game suspension, tallied five points, two rebounds and two steals in 22 minutes, but he connected on only one of four free throw attempts.

9) Bonnies reign supreme: The St. Bonaventure bench, keyed by Marquise Simmons’ 12 points and 12 rebounds (a whopping seven offensive!), outscored Niagara’s 31-18 and used a 9-0 run early in the second half to beat the Purple Eagles 80-75. Chris Johnson and Demitrius Conger continue to form Mark Schmidt’s one-two scoring punch, and Michael Davenport showed signs of life in his return from injury.

10) Injuries and stupidity: Not a lot of time here to look at the larger college basketball scene, but the wrist injury to Louisville’s Gorgui Deng (4-6 weeks) will definitely set back the No. 5 team in the country. He’s a menacing shot blocker, a decent interior defender and a fine rebounder, all qualities that Rick Pitino’s squad will miss until conference play begins.

Trey Zeigler, son of former Central Michigan coach Ernie Zeigler, was arrested for DUI earlier this week, and he’s been suspended indefinitely from the Pittsburgh Panthers. I bet the Michigan Wolverines are thrilled that they passed on Zeigler, as Beilein’s club courted Zeigler before CMU and after.

Here’s the official word from Jamie Dixon, courtesy of USA Today:

Dixon issued a statement Monday calling the incident ‘not only surprising, but incredibly disappointing’ and ‘out of character’ for Zeigler, who transferred to Pitt this season from Central Michigan after his father was fired as coach there in March.

(Photos from UB vs. Princeton by Don Nieman; photos from UB vs. Canisius by Robin David Brown.)

TAGGED: canisius griffins, college, hoops, mac basketball, reggie witherspoon, st. bonaventure, ub bulls, university at buffalo, will regan

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