By Nick Veronica
The Griffs open the 2015-16 season tonight in Long Island, where they’ll meet former Niagara coach Joe Mihalich and CAA favorite Hofstra at 7 p.m.
Canisius Golden Griffins: 0-0 (18-15, 11-9 MAAC last year; played in CIT). KenPom ranking: 154.
Hofstra Pride: 0-0 (20-13, 10-8 CAA last year; played in CBI). KenPom ranking: 96.
Vegas line: Hofstra -9.5.
Long time, no see! What’d I miss?: The last time we saw Canisius, its third straight CollegeInsider.com Tournament run was coming to an end following a rowdy game at NJIT. Jim Baron was heated. Zach Lewis was still on the team.
Last year was positive for Canisius. Baron called it a rebuilding year in the summer and the league’s coaches picked the Griffs 10th out of 11 in the preseason poll. But come February, Baron’s “junkyard dogs” had clinched a bye in the first-round of the conference tournament, marking their third consecutive finish of fifth or better … which hadn’t happened since the John Beilein era.
“Jim Baron was billed as the Great Rebuilder when he was hired,” I wrote in my season wrap-up column from the MAAC Tournament, “and this season showed why.”
Here’s what’s happened since then:
- Leading scorer and free-shooter Zach Lewis transferred to UMass.
- Baron added a fifth-year senior and a JUCO transfer to lock down the point.
- The Griffs were picked sixth in the preseason poll and Phil Valenti was picked to the preseason third team.
- Canisius won both of its exhibitions handily, extending its preseason winning streak to one year in a row.
Who’s going to score this year?: Valenti was suspended for the exhibitions due to a violation of team rules but should be ready to go Friday. Look for him to significantly increase his scoring average from last year’s clip of 9.4 ppg.
Malcolm McMillan, a fifth-year senior point guard from Central Connecticut, scored 10.8 ppg in 2013-14 but played only two games last year before being shut down with a back injury. Once he gets back to game speed he should a significant contributor.
A slasher like Jamal Reynolds will get his points. Jermaine Crumpton’s offensive game was better than expected last year (7.2 ppg), and he’ll have an expanded role this season. Kassius Robertson’s role as an outside shooting threat will also expand; he made only 29 threes last year, but shot them at the best rate on the team, 38.2 percent.
All that is without mentioning the most senior player on the team, Kevin Bleeker, who will be a man among boys this year and ought to have scoring and rebounding numbers to reflect that. Kiefer Douse, a JUCO transfer, should contribute as well.
About Hofstra: The last time Niagara was good, Joe Mihalich was the coach and Juan’ya Green was the star play. Surprise! They’re still together, and they’re even better than before.
Green was named the Colonial Athletic Association’s Preseason Player of the Year and Hofstra was picked to win the conference. Joining Green on the league’s preseason First Team is Ameen Tanksley, who also came from Niagara when Mihalich left. Green scored over 17 ppg last season and averaged 6.5 assists, which was good for ninth nationally. Tanksley scored 16.2 ppg.
Scrolling through Hofstra’s media guide, what is sticks out most is how big the Pride are. They have six players 6-foot-8 or taller and four players 230 pounds or heavier. The only players Canisius has to match that are Bleeker, who’s 6-11, 230; Crumpton, who’s a big body at 245 but only 6-6; and Ron Gombe (6-8, 230), who’s never played a college game. Advantage: Pride.
MAAC outlook: Shocker, Iona and Manhattan are good again. Monmouth, Rider and Siena were also picked high the preseason poll. But Canisius fans may like the projections over at NYC Buckets, which give the Griffs the third-best chance to win the league.
Griffs add a walk-on: For the first time in Baron’s four seasons at Canisius, the team will have a walk-on. That’s Tyrell Taylor, a freshman forward from Brooklyn. He’s got the height at 6-5, but he’ll need to put weight onto in 183-pound frame.
Baron ties for 3rd in wins: I used this stat last year, but it’s a good time to remember Jim Baron compiled a record of 59-41 in his first three years at Canisius, tying him for the third-most wins in program history over a three-year span.
1. John Beilein, 1994-96, 62-33
2. Nick Macarchuk, 1985-87, 60-29
T3. Joseph Curran, 1955-57, 59-20
T3. Jim Baron, 2012-15, 59-41
Obviously, no other coach had the opportunity to play in the CIT before Baron arrived, but that’s not his problem.
Keeping up with the Joneses: Every game preview has one potpourri item, and today’s comes via Manhattan coach Steve Masiello, who casually has G-Unit rappers coming through practice.
How to follow Canisius-Hofstra: Hofstra may have video of the game, though I can’t say if it’s free. Canisius’ radio call will be available online (link will likely be here later) and over the airwaves at 102.9 FM and 1230 AM. I’ll have some updates on Twitter (@NickVeronica) and I’ll see if I can find some Hofstra writers to follow before the game.
Prediction: jk I never make predictions.Follow @NickVeronica