Canisius can clinch first-round bye with win vs. Quinnipiac

By Nick Veronica

Canisius’ 1 p.m. meeting with Quinnipiac on Saturday may be the Griffs’ biggest game of the season.

With a win, Canisius can turn a long shot into a reality, clinching a top-five seed in the MAAC and earning a first-round bye at the conference tournament.

Here’s how:

Canisius has won two straight to get 9-8 in the conference with three games to go. Quinnipiac has lost two in a row to drop to 8-9, falling back into sixth place.

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A win would put Canisius two games up on Quinnipiac with two to play. The MAAC’s first tiebreaker is head-to-head results, so even if Canisius loses out after winning Saturday, the worst it can do is tie with Quinnipiac at 10-10 — but Canisius would have swept the season series.

Should Saint Peter’s or Siena level with Canisius at 10-10, Canisius has already swept both opponents and would win out. If multiple teams finish with the same record, the MAAC’s tiebreaker is to treat the teams as a mini conference and add up the wins and losses between tied teams, but Canisius would be undefeated in any mini conference.

Seeds 6-11 face off in play-in games Thursday, March 5 at the conference tournament while seeds 1-5 have byes into Saturday’s quarterfinals. (Should Canisius finish fifth, a quarterfinal matchup with fourth-seeded Manhattan seems likely, but that of course could change.)

Earning the first-round bye would cap off one heck of a job by Canisius coach Jim Baron, who loves to remind people that his Griffs were picked 10th in the MAAC’s preseason poll.

Canisius lost five of its top six scorers from last season and graduated the conference Player of the Year. Here’s what I wrote on the first day of practice in October, looking for the Griffs’ absolute best-case scenario this season:

… imagine everyone outperforms their projections, fits into their roles perfectly and no one gets injured.

If all of those things go right, the Griffs play lock-down defense, catch some breaks in the schedule, get a handful of lucky bounces, calls go their way and they go on a tear through February, then maybe they sneak into the fifth seed and avoid the play-in round at the MAAC Tournament. That would be more impressive than anything Jim Baron has done at Canisius.

Add in the facts that Canisius has lost not one, but two key forwards to injury, and that the freshman point guard I was imagining playing great so far has not, and this may go down as one of the best coaching jobs in Baron’s 28-year career.

Baron’s “Junkyard Griffs” — a term he created — are getting it done with defense and team play. Canisius’ defense ranks second in the conference in scoring, allowing just 61.5 points per game, fourth in field goal percentage (.407) and second in three-point percentage (.315). KenPom ranks Canisius 91st nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, which is the best among MAAC teams.

Even on offense, where the Griffs rank 311th nationally in field goal percentage (.400), the team is still second in the conference in assists per game (14.0) and even ranks third in offensive rebounding.

Canisius took a major blow when Phil Valenti was injured in the last meeting with Quinnipiac, but a win Saturday would be a huge lift for the team and a milestone for the program, marking the third straight year Canisius finished fifth or better in the MAAC. That hasn’t happened since the John Beilein era — 1995-97.