Immediate reactions: Iona 73, Canisius 55 (MAAC quarterfinals)

7-Canisius 28 27 – 55
2-Iona 43 30 – 73

By Nick Veronica

What it means: Iona eliminated Canisius from the MAAC Tournament for the third time in the last four years behind a barrage of three-pointers and its classic high-speed offense. The Gaels will face the Siena-Manhattan winner Sunday in the semifinals.

Canisius finishes the year 14-19 while Iona (20-10) clinched its seventh straight 20-win season.

2016maactrnbracketcanisiusloses

How it happened: Canisius kept the game close for about eight minutes before Iona ran away with it.

The Griffs had kept up early coming off Thursday night’s triple-overtime game against Niagara, but Iona’s press and three-point shooting caught up with them quickly.

A late 10-1 run pushed Iona’s lead to 18 late in the first half (43-25), and Canisius didn’t fare much better after intermission. Iona pushed its lead to as many as 24 points while MAAC Player of the Year runner-up A.J. English dished out 10 assists and added a game-high 20 points. The Griffs led for only 29 seconds all night.

Phil Valenti paced Canisius with 13 points, Kassius Robertson scored 11 and Kevin Bleeker had 10. Leading scorer Malcolm McMillan, who didn’t seem 100 percent this weekend, finished with eight points.

Iona hit 13 of 30 three-pointers (43%) and shot 47 percent for the game.

End of the road: Canisius can’t play in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament this year because it didn’t have a winning record, so the loss marked the final game for seniors Kevin Bleeker, Malcolm McMillan and Jamal Reynolds. Bleeker was the last player remaining from the Tom Parrotta years.

Tired legs? The scoreboard did a pretty good job of proving Canisius was feeling the effects from Thursday’s marathon game. But if you were looking for areas where tired legs might show up on the stat sheet, three places I guessed before the game were inability to close out on opponent’s three-point attempts, not being able to step into your own threes, and lack of turnovers created.

Iona was on fire from deep hitting 13 three-pointers, including nine in the first half. Canisius made only 6 of 21 threes for 29 percent. Iona was credited with seven turnovers while Canisius committed 11 after giving it away only eight times in 55 minutes Thursday.

Looking at the final stats, maybe the best indicator was fast-break points: Iona 17, Canisius 0. Rebounds were 39-31 Iona.

Better late than never:

In the house: Attendance at the Times Union Center was not strong, which is typical for the early rounds. The Buffalo News last week called for a move to campus sites, which I tend to agree with, at least for the opening round. Here’s what the crowd looked like at Canisius’ games:

Baron’s numbers: Coach Jim Baron signed a three-year extension this week. Through his first four years at Canisius, he has made one MAAC semifinal and owns a 73-61 record (54.5%), better than his career winning percentage of 51.8 percent. In the two years since Billy Baron graduated, Canisius is 32-34.

Baron can hit some notable milestones next year. With four wins, he’ll pass Niagara coaching legend Taps Gallagher for 78th on the NCAA’s all-time wins list (465). He also needs eight games to reach 900 for his career, which only 39 coaches have done. Becoming the NCAA’s all-time leader in losses is probably two years away; Friday’s loss moved him into a tie for fourth on the list with 430.

Vegas line: Iona -12.5, over/under 158.5. Iona covered, total was 128.

Next: That’s all, folks. See you for exhibitions in November. Enjoy the NCAA Tournament.

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Gameday: Canisius opens 2015-16 season at Hofstra, 7 p.m.

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.

New PG Malcolm McMillan

New PG Malcolm McMillan

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:
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Canisius’ season ends in 78-73 loss to NJIT

By Nick Veronica

Canisius’ CIT run was stomped out by NJIT Saturday night as the Griffs fell in the quarterfinals, 78-73.

Kevin Bleeker led Canisius with a season-high 16 points, including three three-pointers, but the rest of the team struggled from behind the arc, shooting just over 17 percent on the night.

The Griffs ended the year at 18-15 overall, which was a successful season for Jim Baron’s young team any way you cut it.

How NJIT won: Canisius pushed its lead to seven points at 55-48 with 11:18 to play but went scoreless over the next four minutes as NJIT climbed back into the game. Two free throws from Bleeker put Canisius up 62-59 with 4:57 left, but that would be the Griffs’ final lead of the year. They couldn’t find a shot when they needed it and were outscored 19-9 the rest of the way.

Damon Lynn and Tim Coleman each scored 22 points for NJIT, which improved to 21-12 overall and 15-2 at home. Lynn, the Highlanders’ leading scorer, was not what you would call efficient, going just 4 of 18 from the field (and 3 of 15 on threes), though he made up for it with 11 free throws. Coleman was the opposite, knocking down 8 of 11 shots and pulling in 11 rebounds. [Full box]

Fans get into it with Griffs: NJIT was assessed a technical foul at halftime for the conduct of its fans. Heading into the locker room at the break, NJIT’s student section apparently shoved Phil Valenti, who cut his head open as a result. Zach Lewis hit both free throws before the second half started. Police officers backed up the student section and remained under the basket for the remained of the game.

Baron’s radio comments: Jim Baron did not hold back on the fans or the refs on the Canisius radio post-game interview:

“They got the home-court advantage,” Baron said. “This is their third [home game] in a row. The people are fired up. They got a band. I don’t know where the hell they got this band from. But it’s about a 50-piece band banging the drum the whole game. We didn’t get calls down the stretch. Some cheap calls. And I told the officials, they didn’t need you guys. They could have beat us by themselves. But we turned it over … they made some shots, got the crowd into it and it became a fiasco.

“That first half was as dangerous of a situation as I’ve ever been in,” Baron continued. “That crowd came on the court, Valenti got his head split, they were very unorganized. I was very, very disappointed with the crowd. Wildness. And I’ll tell you, it was extremely dangerous. They let everybody in here, kids were drunk, they were behind the basket.

“But anyway, they’re a good team. They deserved the game. It’s a home game for them. They won two in a row, this is their third one, they’ll probably get another home game. But that’s what happens.”

(For the record, NJIT will go to Northern Arizona next round.)

Baron on the officiating: “The called cheap fouls. That charge he took was unbelievable (I think he’s referencing Heath’s fifth foul, which was a questionable blocking call underneath Canisius’ hoop). It’s just, I don’t know. I thought these guys were gonna be neutral and I was very disappointed. Very disappointed. Because they got to the foul line and they were just taking free throws. (Free throw stats: NJIT 23-33, Canisius 19-24.)

” … We ran into a buzzsaw the second half and we couldn’t do anything about it. They got what they wanted, they got another home game, they got the crowd into it, they got a 50-, 60-piece band from, I don’t know where they came from, St. Patrick’s Parade or something — they’re not part of the school’s — but I’m very proud of our kids. They deserved this tournament. I think we showed people how good this team is. I told our kids we’re very proud of them.”

Struggling from behind the arc: While Bleeker had the hot hand from three-point range, the rest of the team was ice cold. Consider the following:

Hard to win when your guards are that cold. Broken down, their three-point numbers were: Jeremiah Williams 0-8, Zach Lewis 0-5, Kassius Robertson 0-3, Adam Weir 0-1; Bleeker 3-4, Jermaine Crumpton 1-1, Phil Valenti 0-1.

Lewis was 4 for 13 from the field, finishing right near his final season field goal percentage of 33.4. That number will need to improve next season.

Crumpton’s return: Jermaine Crumpton scored five points in 12 minutes Saturday in his first game back from a broken foot.

Final games for Heath, Williams: Josiah Heath fouled out late in the second half after a handful of calls he was rightfully upset with and had to watch his career wrap up from the sidelines. He finished as Canisius all-time leader in games played (131) and showed vast improvement during his senior season (Heath’s season-by-season stats).

Jeremiah Williams worked hard to become a valuable contributor this season after being ruled academically ineligible for the second semester last year. He scored 8.1 points per game and became the starting point guard late in the season.

Baron’s three-year totals: Jim Baron compiled a record of 59-41 in his first three years at Canisius. Fifty-nine wins in a three-year span is tied for the third-most in program history.

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.

Looking ahead at next season: I’ll take a more in-depth look at 2015-16 at a later date, but there is plenty to build on for next year. When Heath sat with foul trouble Saturday you got a look at next year’s frontcourt, which will feature a Valenti-Bleeker-Crumpton rotation with Jamal Reynolds playing as a swingman.

I was impressed with Kassius Robertson’s development this season, and with Williams graduating, I think you’d have to pencil Robertson in as next year’s starting point guard. Jan Grzelinski’s role has been so diminished that he didn’t even play Saturday. I’m told it was strictly a coach’s decision.

Way-too-early 2016 Griffs prediction: 18-11 overall in the regular season, 13-7 in the MAAC, third seed in the conference tournament.

Immediate reactions: Rider 60, Canisius 59

Rider 28 32 –60
Canisius 36 23 — 59

By Nick Veronica

How it happened: Everything looked great for Canisius at halftime. The Griffs shot 68 percent in the first 20 minutes and outrebounded Rider 12-6. Josiah Heath had 14 points and Canisius looked poised to steal a win in its first game down Jermaine Crumpton and Phil Valenti.

But Canisius’ offense regressed to its short-handed expectancy in the second half and second-place Rider came back for a tight win. VCU transfer Teddy Okereafor led the Broncs with 15 points — including 13 in the second half — and had eight assists while Jimmy Taylor scored 13 points.

Josiah Heath finished with a career-high 20 points, beating his old high of 15 set earlier this year, and added six rebounds. Kevin Bleeker played 30 minutes in his first start of the year and scored nine points. Jan Grzelinski was held scoreless for the third straight game.

What it means: Canisius was competitive with a team near the top of the conference but has now lost four games in a row since losing Valenti. Rider goes to 17-9, 11-4 MAAC and Canisius sinks under .500 in MAAC play for the first time this year (12-12, 7-8).

It was over when: Zach Lewis finished Heath’s miss to cut Rider’s lead to 58-56 with 9.3 seconds left, but Okereafor hit two free throws with 6.7 seconds left to put it away. Kassius Robertson hit a 3-pointer with 0.3 seconds remaining, but it was too late for Canisius.

Lineup shifts again: Crumpton had been filling in for Valenti in the starting lineup, but with his foot injury, Bleeker picked up his seventh career start and his first since 2012. Bleeker had nine points on 3-of-6 shooting (2-2 on 2-pointers, 1-4 on 3-pointers) with four rebounds, three assists and four turnovers. Heath played a season-high 36 minutes, but Cassidy Ryan still only played three minutes off the bench.

Stats that were good: Josiah Heath’s shooting — 8 of 11 from the field, 4 for 5 at the line — and his defense, which helped hold Rider’s 7-footer Matt Lopez to just seven points, well below his 12.8 average.

Stats that were bad: Zach Lewis’ shooting — 3 of 12 from the field and 1 from 5 from three-point range. When I asked Jim Baron after the game if Lewis still has free range to shoot given how hard defenses shade toward him, Baron basically said Lewis has to keep trying to score because the team doesn’t have many other options.

Happy Valentine’s Day: Rider’s Shawn Valentine wears No. 14 and has pink shoes. This is his weekend! (At least in theory.) He finished with three points in 17 minutes off the bench.

Vegas line: Vegas Insider had Canisius as a 2.5-point favorite over Rider, which was curious given Rider’s place in the standings and Canisius’ injuries. Over/under was 121.5. Rider covered, total was 119.

Next: Canisius hosts Saint Peter’s at 2 p.m. Sunday.

5 questions for Canisius basketball in 2014-15

griffs_maac

By Nick Veronica

Canisius has its first official basketball practice of the season today. Here’s a look at five questions facing the Griffs in 2014-15.

1. Wait, before we start, remind me who’s on this team again:


Canisius lost six players from last year’s team and added five new ones (don’t forget Billy Baron wasn’t using a scholarship).

Departures:
G Billy Baron (graduation)
G Chris Perez (graduation)
G Dominique Raney (scholarship not renewed)
G Lou Dunbar (scholarship not renewed/pursuing other opportunities)
F Chris Manhertz (graduation)
F Jordan Heath (graduation)
Asst. coach Mike Mennenga (Oregon)

Kassius Robertson

Kassius Robertson

Additions:
G Jamal Reynolds (JR)
G Raven Owen (FR)
G Jan Grzelinski (FR)
G Isaiah Gurley (FR)
F Cassidy Ryan (FR)
Asst. coach Mike Iuzzolino

Last season’s redshirts:
G Kassius Robertson
G Adam Weir
F Jermaine Crumpton

Which bring us to the 13-man roster:

Guards (8)

Jeremiah Williams, senior
Jamal Reynolds, junior
Zach Lewis, sophomore
Kassius Robertson, redshirt freshman
Adam Weir, redshirt freshman
Jan Grzelinski, freshman
Isaiah Gurley, freshman
Raven Owen, freshman

Forwards (5)

Josiah Heath, senior
Kevin Bleeker, junior
Phil Valenti, sophomore
Jermaine Crumpton, redshirt freshman
Cassidy Ryan, freshman

Don’t blink on Senior Day this year. You might miss the ceremony.

1. Thanks for that. Question 1 for real this time: I need some optimism in my life. What’s the absolute best-case scenario for this year’s Griffs?


Well, the Griffs only return one starter from last season, so there will be plenty of new faces in the lineup. That usually doesn’t bode well for a team’s outlook, but since you’re looking for unbridled optimism here, let’s imagine everyone outperforms their projections, fits into their roles perfectly and no one gets injured.

Zach Lewis

Zach Lewis

Zach Lewis becomes a stud and starts torching teams for 18 points a game, getting into consideration for Second Team All-MAAC. Josiah Heath brings it every night, finds his scoring touch and hauls in nine rebounds a game, combining with Phil Valenti to form a respectable inside game. Kevin Bleeker breaks out, Jeremiah Williams comes back with a chip on his shoulder after being ruled academically ineligible last year, Jan Grzelinski brings some Polish flair, Kassius Robertson is as good or better than advertised, Jamal Reynolds and Cassidy Ryan play at a level that forces Jim Baron to give them some floor time and local kids Jermaine Crumpton and Adam Weir are forces off the bench. (Switch Isaiah Gurley or Raven Owen in there anywhere you like.)

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.

[RELATED: Lewis’ ankle has ‘significant sprain,’ no breaks after CIT scare]

2. Seems like a longshot. What’s the absolute worst-case scenario this year?


Remember 2012? That was the last time Canisius lost a lot of veterans all at once. If you’ve tried to erase that season from your memory, it was the year after Elton Frazier, Greg Logins, Julius Coles, Rob Goldsberry and Tomas Vazquez-Simmons all graduated and the team went 5-25. This year could be similar to that if things don’t go well.

Those Griffs couldn’t stop anybody. They had injuries up the wazoo and averaged the fewest assists in school history. That team needed a point guard like those walruses in Alaska need ice. Who runs the point this year? I don’t know, but it will be somebody who’s never done it before at this level. Lewis started 19 games last year but Billy Baron ran the show. Grzelinski is a point guard, but who knows if he’ll be able to adjust to Division I fast enough. Robertson and Gurley are supposed to be decent but were recruited as a shooting guards. Maybe Jeremiah Williams? The Griffs have eight guards on the roster so there should be some decent competition.

After that, there are still plenty of questions. Not only did the Griffs lose four starters, they lost five of their top six scorers from last season and four of their top five rebounders. Those numbers aren’t easily replaced. Last year’s team had the conference Player of the Year and only finished in fourth place. This year’s team is asking freshmen and sophomores to do jobs seniors had trouble with last year. The 2014-15 Griffs have more talent than the 2011-12 version, but the worst case here is the same: Canisius gets throttled all season and loses the battle with Niagara for last place in the MAAC.

[RELATED: Exit interview with former Griffs assistant Mike Mennenga]

3. Dang. So if those are the two extremes … does Canisius fall in the middle? Seventh or eighth place?


Falling in between two extremes is usually a safe bet. But if you’re being realistic, the Griffs’ worst-case scenario is a lot more likely than the best-case scenario. I’d say Iona, Siena, Manhattan and Quinnipiac are the conference favorites this year. Then there’s a bunch of teams in the middle, and then Canisius, Niagara and Marist will battle it out for the last three seeds.

Phil Valenti

Phil Valenti

Offense might be hard to come by, and scoring will be especially thin in comparison with last year’s team, which set the school record for points in a season. Every returning player combined scored less than 20 points per game last year. Zach Lewis, an all-Rookie selection, has shown he can score, but what’s to stop teams from shifting their defense to take him out of the game? Can Phil Valenti and Josiah Heath score enough to make them pay? If not, it’ll likely be up to a rookie.

Canisius will almost certainly be in the play-in round at the MAAC Tournament. Having a play-in game doesn’t have the same stigma as it used to (before the conference expanded, seeds 7-10 had a play-in game; now it’s seeds 6-11), but those games are Thursday evening before the weekend of the tournament. If the Griffs are seeded low enough, there’s a chance they could be headed home before the party even starts.

[RELATED: Baron: ‘It’s going to be a rebuilding type of year for us’]

4. Speaking of all the players who graduated, is this team going to get any rebounds?


Good question. On the surface, it looks bad with Chris Manhertz and Jordan Heath out of the picture. But when you think about it, the Griffs didn’t rebound well last year, anyway. They had formidable players, but that didn’t translate to the stats. Canisius was dead last in the MAAC in rebounding. Dead last! So even if the Griffs are poor rebounders again, it’s not like it’ll be a big drop-off in production from what they were getting before. The only difference is if this year’s team is bad at rebounding, you’ll probably notice it more. Billy Baron & Co. were efficient enough on offense to make up for it. This year’s Griffs may not be.

[RELATED: Billy Baron signs with Lithuanian club

5. There’s a lot of young guys on the team. Who redshirts?

=
We know Jim Baron loves his redshirts. Three players sat out last year and I’d expect at least three to sit out again this year. Baron usually keeps a short rotation but may be forced to go a little deeper this year. I don’t think any forwards will redshirt. Heath is a senior, Bleeker, Valenti and Crumpton already have, and if Ryan redshirted, an injury would make the Griffs seriously thin at the position.

That leaves guards. Grzelinski, Gurley and Owen are all true freshman. If Baron doesn’t get early indication that they could make an impact right away, they’ll be watching this year. Lewis won’t redshirt; he’s already established. Reynolds is a JUCO transfer, which should put him ahead of other players developmentally, but could mean he needs more seasoning. Williams is a senior so he probably won’t redshirt unless something is off academically. Exhibitions don’t count toward redshirting, so we’ll see at the first game on Nov. 15 who’s in and who’s out.

[RELATED: Canisius to face UMass, but big names absent on schedule]