Canisius interviews three coaching candidates

Canisius’ search for a men’s basketball coach intensified this week, with three candidates visiting campus in the past five days.

Jim Baron, former University of Rhode Island coach, was the first to visit. He interviewed and toured athletic facilities Sunday and Monday and also met with players, as did all candidates.

Jayson Gee was next to visit campus, coming through on Tuesday. He is currently an associate head coach at Cleveland State.

The third candidate to visit campus, The Griffin has learned, is David Duda, an assistant coach from Saint Joseph’s University who was on campus Thursday.

Duda has been with St. Joe’s since 2006 and was previously the head coach at Division III Widener University.

This Sunday will mark four weeks since Tom Parrotta was let go after a 5-25 season. Canisius athletic director Bill Maher originally put a timeline of 4-6 weeks on his coaching search, and a decision could come as soon as this week, likely after the national championship game.

Canisius is also rumored to be interested in Creighton assistant coach Steve Merfeld, but he has not visited campus as of Thursday night, according to a source.

Baron, 58, was reported to have been offered a contract last week, but that report was inaccurate, the school said. He has ties to the Western New York area, serving as St. Bonaventure’s head coach from 1992-01. He spent the next 11 seasons at Rhode Island before being fired the same day as Parrotta. Baron has been to the NCAA Tournament twice, but not since the 1999-00 season.

Gee (pronounced like the letter G) is 45 and is also a former coach at Bonaventure. He joined the Bonnies staff in 2003 after spending six years as head coach at his alma mater, Division II Charlestown. He has been at Cleveland State for the last six years.

Canisius was 64-121 over the last six seasons under Parrotta and hasn’t finished above .500 since the 2000-01 season. The school’s last trip to the NCAA Tournament was in 1996, when Canisius lost to Utah, 72-43, in the first round.

Canisius refutes report Jim Baron has been offered coaching job

Though multiple sources reported this morning that Jim Baron has been offered the head coaching position of Canisius’ men’s basketball team, the school says it absolutely has not made anyone an offer at this point.

Baron was fired after 11 seasons at the University of Rhode Island following a 7-24 record this year. He has Western New York ties, serving as the head coach at St. Bonaventure from 1992-01.

Canisius athletic director Bill Maher was previously asked if he was looking into hiring Baron, to which he replied, “If that’s a possibility, we would absolutely consider it.”

Baron turned 58 on Tuesday and has taken teams to the NCAA Tournament twice – St. Francis in 1991 and St. Bonaventure in 2000 – but never with Atlantic 10 member Rhode Island, which was a key factor in his firing.

Baron has a career record of 390-367 (.515) and was 184-165 at URI (83-93 in conference) and took the team to the NIT five times.

He would replace Tom Parrotta, who complied a 64-121 record in six years at Canisius, which was his first head-coaching job.

Canisius College is rumored to be several million dollars in the red, and Baron likely wouldn’t come cheap. A report from December about Baron’s contract at URI said his base salary was nearly $350,000, and could almost double based on incentives. That base salary alone would make him the highest-paid employee at Canisius, according to the most recent tax documents available.

The Buffalo News reported that Canisius is still entertaining other potential coaches while it waits to hear from Baron. Jayson Gee (assistant at Cleveland State), Anthony Evans (head coach at Norfolk St.) and Bob Walsh (head coach at Rhode Island College, different from Rhode Island University) were named specifically in the report.

Canisius was formerly rumored to be after Bobby Hurley, but he decided to stay on as an assistant under his brother Dan, who replaced Baron at URI this week.

Numbers and tendencies and luck

Before I tell you anything my brain thinks about brackets, watch this video.

Then play this song while you read the rest of this post, because it always plays in my head when I fill out my bracket, like it’s a time-lapse scene in a movie when a computer crunches some numbers and then cuts to a close-up shot of a pencil writing a school name on a line.

It’s has to be the dramatic background music. Anyway, here are some things I’ve come to realize about brackets.

There are going to be upsets. Lots of them. If you don’t have a 12-seed beating a 5, you’re doing it wrong. Even having two 12’s advancing isn’t usually that bad of a strategy.

If you watched the video, you already know the following, but sometimes it helps to see it written down:

  • 11-seeds win one-third of the time in the first round.
  • 10-seeds win 40 percent of the time in the first round.
  • A 2-seed has been bounced before reaching the Sweet 16 in 14 of the last 15 years.
  • Not one, but two teams with double-digit seeds have made the Sweet 16 in 12 of the last 15 years.

I’ll show you my bracket before we talk strategy:

(Do me a favor and at least don’t insult me publicly for my picks.)

The numbers in the video are fairly convincing. You should pick, minimum, a 12, an 11 and at least one 10-seed in the first round, and then advance one or two of them to the Sweet 16 while knocking out a 2-seed. It seems like having a 10 beat a 2 kills two birds with one stone, but I decided not to because I couldn’t decide which one it should be (looking at you, Kansas) and didn’t want to risk blowing the points.

That’s where strategy comes in. Say you play the numbers at boot a 2-seed early. Don’t forget 2’s are pretty good teams. If you guess wrong and that team makes a run, you’re screwed in your pool. The same goes for any other upsets you pick.

You have to get over the idea of creating the perfect bracket. It’s not going to happen.

If you want to have a successful pool, the key is to play teams with high upset potential while minimizing foolish risk. You won’t win by playing it safe, but your risks have to be calculated.

Take Syracuse, for example. They aren’t going to win the tournament without Fab Melo, but they weren’t going to before anyway. But say you think Cuse is a train wreck without him and will lose early. Maybe you think the Orange won’t make it to the Sweet 16. But who do you put there instead?

Kansas State vs. Southern Mississippi is the 8-9 game that plays into Syracuse’s path. It was also one of the first round games (if you haven’t noticed, I’m refusing to acknowledge the NCAA refers to these as  the “second round,” claiming 60 teams get a bye from the play-in round) that gave me the most trouble when filling out my bracket.

Even if you decide you want Syracuse to lose at that point, you have to put K-State or Southern Miss there instead. If you guessed the wrong team in the opening (second) round, now that’s two games you aren’t getting any points for. Plus, Syracuse still has good players, and it has played without Melo for a little bit this year, so maybe it doesn’t lose after all.

Push the Orange ahead and don’t risk the points. If you pick Southern Miss to beat K-State and Cuse and it happens, you look like a genius, but if not, which is likely, you lose out on points and get behind.

The picture of my bracket was taken before the Melo news (I didn’t like Syracuse this year anyway), and I’m not so sure I like them to reach the Elite Eight anymore, but I’m also not sure I like Wisconsin going that far either. Decision, decisions.

Most years I look at the bracket and see at least one 12-seed right away that I think will beat a 5. This year, I don’t like any of them, but I have to pick one regardless. Long Beach State could be dangerous, but I like New Mexico’s chances, and the same can be said for Wichita State-VCU. I picked Harvard in the year of Lin, but I don’t have a lot of reason other than that. Especially with Syracuse down, it looks like Vanderbilt could get to the Elite 8, but now I’m just overthinking everything.

Three stats I look for in teams are scoring efficiency, three-point percentage and assist/turnover ratio. ESPN gives you the stats for points for and against, but I don’t pay much attention to that. That is a result of the style the team plays. If you run down and try to score as many points as possible (Iona), it will be higher, and if you have a slower pace (Wisconsin), it will be lower. Three-point rate is important for underdogs — if you want to pull of the upset, you have to be able to hit from distance. Assist/turnover ratio can alert you to teams that can’t take care of the basketball and/or are too one-dimensional.

Then there’s the Lin factor. There’s not really a reason for picking Harvard other than I needed a 12-seed to win. But there are so many games that will come down to the last minute, to one play, to whether or not a ball brushed someone’s leg before going out of bounds, that it’s impossible to think numbers can predict that type of stuff.

Stats can tell you generally what will happen, but other things like that are out of human reach. It’s just going to come down to luck, and picking a team because you like its mascot and know a girl there ends up being just as good of a reason as rebounding margin or out-of-conference RPI.

If I had the man power and the time, I’d create a stat for luck based on opponents’ free throw percentage and the percentage they actually shot against a given team, but who knows what that would show anyway. KenPom has a meter for luck, which it defines as “the deviation in winning percentage between a team’s actual record and [its] expected record using the correlated gaussian method,” another metric he created.

But I don’t so that’s why my bracket looks the way it does.

Other stuff you might be interested in:

  • Joining The Griffin’s bracket group on ESPN. I can’t give you any money, but the winner will get a write-up in the school paper and an interview from yours truly.
  • This cool map of all the NCAA teams. I like maps.
  • Knowing that Canisius played six games against tournament teams this year: two against Loyola and Iona, one against St. Bonaventure and one against UNLV. Lost ’em all. The Griffs also played Lamar and Syracuse last year (beat Lamar).

The way only a child can

I walked out of Tom Parrotta’s house on Tuesday while his son Mikey was shooting hoops in the driveway with a friend.

“Are they done interviewing him?” the friend asked.

“Almost. Just finishing up.”

Then the friend got curious and asked a question in the way only a child can, where he says one thing that means so many others on levels he can’t possibly understand.

“Why do you guys want to talk to him?”

A shooting pain ran up my surgically repaired ankle as I planted my foot into the concrete and stopped dead in my tracks.

My mind raced. What could I tell him? He’s old enough to read the “For Sale” sign on the lawn, but how much explanation does a kid need that his neighbor is moving? I didn’t know how much he had already been told. I certainly wasn’t going to be the one to tell him Mikey’s dad lost his job and the family decided to put up the house.

That would only lead the friend to more questions, anyway. If his dad ever got fired, he would probably come home acting a little different, he would tell his wife in private, maybe call his parents, and then in a day or two they would have a little family meeting to try to explain it to the kids in the simplest terms possible.

But Mikey’s dad was the coach at Canisius, a Division I basketball team that lost almost twice as many games as it won over the last six years. When he lost his job, people found out about it. It was on Twitter immediately, because that’s how news gets spread these days, and then Mikey’s dad’s boss sat down in front of news cameras later that night to explain to people why he made the tough decision to take Mikey’s dad’s job away.

Even one of the captains of the team, Chris Manhertz, said this week that he would have liked to hear the news directly from Parrotta himself, instead of finding out over the Internet like everyone else.

But little boys don’t pick up the paper or flip on the news. They may tweet, in this day and age, but I’m fairly certain he isn’t among my followers. Even still, I wouldn’t have been prepared for any of his follow-up questions. No reporters came to his house when his dad lost his job, and good luck explaining to a boy that someone could be more important than his dad.

I thought about lying. I could have convinced myself it was for his own good, that I fibbed to protect him. But I couldn’t do it. Something like, “our bosses made us come here,” probably would have done the trick, but that’s not how it went down and I couldn’t tell him that it was.

Maybe I’d tell him a story. Kids love stories, and I could spin it to leave him with any lesson I wanted. I could tell him the story of Bob Bevilacqua, a walk-on that Parrotta ran into the ground and told he would only be a practice player, there to push the others but not to get in the games.

During a blowout against Rider one day, Parrotta put Bevilacqua into the game, and the team played much better. The walk-on was in there again 12 days later when Niagara came into the Koessler Athletic Center, where “Drinks” – the nickname Parrotta gave him in Italy, knowing, as a fluent Italian speaker, that his last name translates to “drinking water” – connected on a huge three-pointer late in the game to give a struggling team and coach a much-needed victory over its arch rival.

I had some quotes from Drinks in my backpack that would have been great to pull out. He said he feels lucky to have played for Coach Parrotta. “My future is brighter because of him” and “the way he carries himself will always serve as a model for me in my future endeavors,” were his exact words, and they would have been great for me to tell a certain inquisitive young man, but I didn’t have them in front of me.

I tried to remember what former Griff Rob Goldsberry had told me about Parrotta, that “He taught me how to become a man,” but I couldn’t remember that either.

I also wouldn’t feel right giving just one side. I’d need to balance it. For all the players who loved Parrotta and may have even shed tears upon hearing of his dismissal, some were less than warm to him. Tomas Vazquez-Simmons probably hasn’t forgotten about the six minutes he played on Senior Day last year and Rokas Gricius probably doesn’t have a ton of sympathy for a man getting the “it’s a business” speech a year after hearing it himself, when Parrotta informed him he wouldn’t have a scholarship to give Gricius for his senior season.

I opened my mouth but nothing came out. I had to say something. The game had stopped now, as four little eyes fixed themselves on me and four little ears anxiously awaited my answer.

I probably just should have told him how Parrotta still feels like a winner in big picture, for changing the lives of several men who happen to be better than the rest of us with an orange ball in their hands.

But then I finally knew what to say.

I smiled and tried to sound as adult and as reassuring as I could.

“Well, his dad’s a pretty important guy.”

Satisfied, the boy shrugged his shoulders and the two quickly returned to game, as if what felt like an hour never happened. The friend ran up to the hoop, set to its lowest level, and put up a two-handed shot that bounced off the backboard and went in.

Parrotta out, Canisius AD hopes to find new coach in 4-6 weeks

Tom Parrotta’s reading glasses sat on his office desk in the Koessler Athletic Center Sunday night, but they will be gone soon. Canisius has announced that Parrotta will not return for a seventh season as men’s basketball coach.

Parrotta was believed to have one year remaining on his contract, but athletic director Bill Maher said late Sunday night that the final year was school option, which Canisuis decided not to pick up.

“In the end, our goal is to compete for championships in our conference,” Maher said. “We simply have not made sufficient progress toward our goal. We think it’s in our best interest if we make this change at this point in time and move forward with our basketball program.”

Parrotta had a six-year record of 64-121 and did not have a winning season. His best year was the 2010-11 season, when the five seniors of his prized recruiting class finished 15-15 and 9-9 in MAAC play. That was also Parrotta’s only team that escaped the play-in round at the conference tournament.

This year’s team finished 5-25 overall and just 1-17 in conference play. Parrotta had a 3-10 record against rival Niagara, including Friday’s 80-70 loss in the opening round of the MAAC Tournament.

Though Maher physically wouldn’t have had a press conference Sunday night if Canisius had won in the tournament, he said Parrotta’s future was not hinging on that game.

“The loss to Niagara was not a final straw in any way at all,” Maher said. “We look at everything, we look at the full body of work over the six-year period, look at the future of our program moving forward, and make the decision we think is the best decision for us.

“I do think that we have the talent to be more competitive than we have been, and that’s been a disappointment.”

Parrotta was asked Wednesday at the team’s media day if he had heard the rumors about his future and if they were a distraction.

“Sure … [but] I don’t think it can be, because that’s the world of coaching,” Parrotta said. “If you win, you have those distractions too. Never once have we [the coaches] spoken about it, we don’t talk about it as a staff, because that’s my job. I’m in it for the right reasons and if you stay true to that, you don’t even have to go down that road.”

Parrotta was not available for comment Sunday but may speak with reporters early this week.

Maher said the school hopes to complete its search for a new coach in the next 4-6 weeks. Outside help may be used to aid in the process but no search firm has formally employed at this point.

Maher said Canisius would like to hire someone with head coaching experience and wouldn’t shy away from someone who has been successful at a lower level, noting the success of coaches like former Canisius head man John Beilein (now at Michigan) and current Iona coach Tim Cluess, who took a step up coming to the MAAC.

“Trying to find folks who have the ability to recruit and develop student-athletes and also have experience in coaching them would be the profile that we’re looking for,” Maher said. “Certainly, and it’s always easy to say, but someone who has head coaching experience would be preferred if we can do that.”

Maher spoke with reporters late Sunday night.

Rhode Island also fired its coach, Jim Baron, on Sunday. Maher said the school has not considered any individuals yet, but “if that’s a possibility, we would absolutely consider it.”

Players, as expected, were not happy about the decision. No players were available for comment but many voiced their frustrations on Twitter. Most are not from the area and viewed Parrotta as a father figure.

“I can’t even believe this,” Gaby Belardo, one of the more tenured and vocal players, tweeted shortly after the news was broken.

Kevin Bleeker, a freshman Parrotta recruited from the Netherlands, kept it short and sweet: “Damn, this sucks.”

“I feel sick,” Sean Ezeamama posted, while fellow walk-on Tyler Funk wrote that his “mind is spinning in every possible direction.”

Parrotta was well-liked on campus and received national recognition for implementing a program in which all players took summer classes and graduated with their master’s degrees in just four years.

Former Griff Julius Coles offered some of the best perspective on Twitter: “Coaching is a hard job to have. It’s unfortunate that keeping your job depends on wins and losses not personality traits.”

Maher acknowledged the risk that some players in the program may want to leave following Parrotta’s departure.

“That’s always a concern,” he said. “We’ll work with the young men in our program to lead them through that decision-making process, assist them with that process. Many of those young men, because of the progress they’ve made academically, are very close to graduating and it is my hope that they will see the opportunity of completing their degree requirements.”

Parrotta made a gambit this season, choosing to take in three transfers whom he believed would greatly help the team next season. Freddy Asprilla started at Kansas State before coming to Canisius and Isaac Sosa played about 25 minutes per game in both his sophomore and junior seasons at Central Florida. The team was perhaps most excited about Jordan Heath, older brother of Josiah Heath, who showed a lot of good things in practice this year and challenged other players – his brother, especially – to get better.

“You have to keep things in perspective,” Parrotta said Wednesday. “A lot of the reasons why it has been challenging [this year] is because of the calculated decision we made to bring those three guys to Canisius, which would have been unheard of on a lot of different levels. We know that’s something to look forward to. If we can inject those three guys with everybody back from this year’s team, I think we have something special.

“I think that’s something where it’s taken so long, the six years, to get to that point, where you can finally attract those kind of people to Buffalo and here to Canisius … Not just to win and kind of [have] a flash in the pan – we’re looking to sustain things. That’s what the whole approach has been about.”

But after six years and a 30-78 record in conference play, the school decided to move forward with someone else’s approach.