By Nick Veronica
Canisius vs. Fairfield, 2 p.m., Koessler Athletic Center
Canisius: 18-10, 12-5 MAAC, 8-3 home. RPI: 101. Streak: Lost one, three of five.
Fairfield Stags: 6-22, 3-14 MAAC, 2-11 road. RPI: 288. Streak: Won one.
What’s at stake: Canisius dropped to fourth place in the conference standings with Thursday’s loss to Quinnipiac but can get back into a tie for third with a win today. That opportunity comes thanks to Siena, which upset Manhattan Friday night in Albany, 67-63.
Finishing third in the conference is greatly preferred to finishing fourth because of MAAC Tournament pairings – the top three seeds open the tournament against a team that had to win play-in game the night before, while the fourth- and fifth-place teams open against each other.
Home finale: Saturday’s game also marks the final home game of the season, aka the last chance for people in Buffalo to see Billy Baron play (unless Canisius hosts a CollegeInsider.com Tournament game, which I wouldn’t count out). It’s also Senior Day for the Griffs; Chris Manhertz, Jordan Heath, Chris Perez and Baron will be honored before the game (don’t listen to the roster on ESPN, Jordan Heath is a senior).
(I should also note that the media guide prominently mentions the ceremony will take place before the game, which differs from last year, when coach Jim Baron wanted the ceremony to be after the game … which turned into a mess after the Griffs lost to Rider.)
About Fairfield: I thought long and hard before writing this section as I tried to name Fairfield players who contributed to the team both this year and last year. After Maurice Barrow, I couldn’t think of anyone. Then I looked at their roster and realized he’s the only senior on the team and one of three upperclassmen. And lately, he’s been coming off the bench.
Barrow still leads the team in points per game but these are truly some new-look Stags. Marcus Gilbert and K.J. Rose are the new young leaders of the team, coming in at first and second in minutes per game and second and third in points. Thursday’s win against Niagara may have only been Fairfield’s third of 2014, but these Stags are just young enough not to know they shouldn’t be messing with anyone’s seeding for the tournament. I like the Griffs in this one but Fairfield could pull an upset if they’re taken lightly.
What the Griffs need to show: Chris Manhertz averages about 22 minutes per game. But in his return from a broken nose Thursday, he led the team with seven rebounds in 27 minutes. Why did he have to play 27 minutes? Because Jordan Heath fouled out and only played 18 minutes. A look at Heath’s game log shows a decrease in productivity over the last month and he’s been criticized for a lack of hustle at times. I don’t know if that’s necessarily the case — he makes a lot of hard work look easy by being 6-foot-10 — but the fact is his rebounding average is down from a year ago. That needs to change ASAP, and a game against a team like Fairfield that doens’t have a dominant big man might be a good place to start.
Recent history: The last time these teams met, this happened:
That’s Chris Manhertz putting a killer screen on K.J. Rose. If tempers flare, keep this incident in mind, but I don’t forsee anything coming because of it.
Scoring list: Billy Baron is third nationally at 24.9 ppg. Niagara’s Antoine Mason has lost his national scoring lead to Creighton’s Doug McDermott, who leads the way at 25.8 ppg. Baron passed Greg Logins on the all-time Canisius scoring list Thursday and with 29 points today, he can pass Larry Fogle, the last Griff to win the national scoring title (33.4 ppg, 1973-74)
Wild card: Fairfield assistant coach Tyson Wheeler played at Rhode Island but missed Jim Baron by five years.
Check back before game time for a live blog — I’ll have it up around 1:45 p.m.Follow @nickveronica