Big 4 Classic throwback jersey options, ranked

By Nick Veronica

Western New York’s four Division I basketball programs announced Tuesday that they’ll meet downtown this season for another edition of the Big 4 Basketball Classic.

Fans also have the opportunity this year to vote on which throwback jersey they’d like to see their team wear.

Here’s a look at all three options for each school, along with my picks. Feel free to disagree.

UB

UB throwback options

I like the simple blue and white color scheme of the 1980s jerseys, but the gaps in the script font bother me.

Both of the other two options include red stripes. I’m not wild about incorporating red into a UB jersey, though it does give the uniform a nice Buffalo feel, even if it says “Bills” more than “UB.”

Between the 1970s jersey and the 1990s jersey, the triple stripe on the ’70s jersey really screams throwback to me. I’m a fan of the UB logo on the ’90s shorts, but I’m going with the ’70s unis here.

Verdict: 1970s throwbacks. [Submit your vote here]

Canisius

Screen Shot 2016-07-27 at 1.04.42 PM

This one, to me, is a no-doubter: Bring back the 1980s Lakers-themed jersey.

The 1990s jersey is sharper. I love the lettering. It’s very ’90s. The S’s remind me of Star Wars for some reason and the striping is better than the 80’s jersey.

But the 1980s jersey is just awesome. Seeing Ray Hall’s No. 30 with the Lakers font brings back a time when Canisius basketball was big. I know the 55 is Michael Meeks’ jersey, but somehow Hall’s 30 means more. Maybe that one also gets a boost since Mike Smrek, who played for Canisius in the ’80s, also went on to win two NBA titles with the actual Lakers.

The ’50s jerseys aren’t bad, but they’re a little too plain for me. They would, however, make awesome tanks if the school wanted to give them out to students at a game.

Verdict: 1980s throwbacks. [Submit your vote here]

Niagara

Screen Shot 2016-07-27 at 1.05.16 PM.png

Big fan of the NU eagle logo on the 1978-82 shorts, but the top doesn’t do it for me. The number looks too big and the yellow border feels weird.

Conversely, I really like the top on the ’84-’88 jersey, but don’t care for the NU logo on the shorts. “Purple Eagles” is a lot of letters to stack on top of each other, but it works here.

But for Niagara I’m picking the 1970s throwback. I have no complaints about it; it’s simple and very clean. The striping isn’t over the top. The lowercase scripts feels super 1970s and apparently I like that. It’s sharp.

Verdict: 1970s throwbacks. [Submit your vote here]

St. Bonaventure

Screen Shot 2016-07-27 at 1.05.32 PM

So, these jerseys look kind of similar.

The 1960-61 jersey has a standard, boring font, but it’s a clean and serviceable jersey. I like the font better on the 1969-70 jersey, but the double stripes on the top don’t match the stripes on the on the shorts.

The yellow trim on the ’76-’77 jersey works better than the yellow on the Niagara jersey, and it’s similar to the color the Bonnies still accent with today. “St. Bonaventure” has to be shrunk down so it can fit across the jersey, but I don’t hate it. I guess I’d give this jersey the edge over the ’60-’61 jersey, but I could be talked into either.

Verdict: 1976-77 throwbacks, by a hair. [Submit your vote here]

 

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The Big 4 doubleheader returns Dec. 17

By Nick Veronica

The Big 4 Basketball Classic returns to First Niagara Center on Dec. 17, putting all four of Western New York’s Division I basketball teams under one roof on the same day.

St. Bonaventure and Niagara open the event at 1 p.m., with UB and Canisius to follow. That game will be Canisius coach Reggie Witherspoon’s first matchup against his former school.

The event marks the fifth time all four teams will get together in downtown Buffalo. They played in 1996, 1997 and 1998, but the event then lapsed until November 2014. There was no event last season.

Teams will again wear throwback jerseys for the event, though this time they will be jerseys the team previously wore instead of Buffalo Braves-themed throwbacks (pictured above). Fans can vote for the jersey they want their team to wear via each school’s website.

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Vote: Buffalo Canisius Niagara St. Bonaventure
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Tickets, good for both games, start at $25, with floor seats starting at $35. They are available through Tickets.com, at the First Niagara Center Box Office or by phone at 1-888-223-6000.

UB beat Canisius at First Niagara Center in 2014, 72-57, while St. Bonaventure beat Niagara, 74-59.

Immediate reactions: Canisius 102, Niagara 97 (3OT) – MAAC Tournament

Niagara 36 35 15 7 9 – 102
Canisius 40 31 15 7 4 – 97

By Nick Veronica

ALBANY – If you can have an instant classic from the play-in round of a conference tournament, Thursday’s Canisius-Niagara game would be it. The seventh-seeded Griffs outlasted their rivals in triple overtime, 102-97, to advance to Friday’s quarterfinals.

What it means: Canisius lives another day and will face No. 2 Iona at 9:30 p.m. Friday. This will be the third time they’ve met in the MAAC Tournament in the last four years. Iona swept the season series from Canisius this year.

Niagara finishes the year at 7-25 but could bring back its entire roster since it has no seniors. Canisius is now 14-18. It was the first time Canisius and Niagara had gone to overtime in the MAAC Tournament in seven meetings.

canisiuswinsbracket

How it happened: I gave up trying to make this nice prose. Here’s a period-by-period rundown:

End of regulation: Tied 71-71, Canisius has the ball with a chance to win, 18 seconds left … Kevin Bleeker’s potential game-winning three-pointer won’t fall. Headed for overtime.

OT: Canisius up four with 22 seconds left. Blackman gets a tip-in, McMillan hits one of two free throws when he could’ve made it a two-possession game. … Blackman is fouled on a desperation three-point attempt with 1.1 seconds left and calmly makes all three free throws to force a second overtime. Wow. Cool as can be.

Double OT: Malcolm McMillan hits long two-pointer with 1:28 left to make it Canisius 93, Niagara 91. Karonn Davis ties it with 45 seconds left. Phil Valenti misses two big free throws with 24 seconds left, giving Niagara a chance to win … Emile Blackman’s potential game-winner wouldn’t fall. Triple OT.

Triple OT: Emile Blackman steps in to take a charge with four fouls and gets the call in his favor. Gutty. Malcolm McMillan ties it at 97 from the line with 1:47 left. Phil Valenti puts Canisius up with 1:04 to go, 99-97. Blackman misses on Niagara’s possession. Big offensive rebound by Kassius Robertson after McMillian’s miss; McMillan hits both free throws to make it a four-point game with 20.5 left, 101-97. Niagara can’t get a bucket … Phil Valenti hits one of two free throws to seal the deal. What a game.

Stats & leaders: Valenti led all players with 33 points while Blackman led NU with 26. McMillan and Davis both scored 20. No player recorded double-digit rebounds because both teams shot so well/struggled on defense: Niagara hit 51 percent of field goals while Canisius made 43 percent. The Griffs were 34-44 from the line, while Niagara was only 10-17.

Records & notes: The 199 total points scored is the most ever for any MAAC Tournament game.

— Phil Valenti’s 33 points are the most for a Canisius player in a tournament game.

— 102 points is a tournament record for Canisius.

— It was the 19th time Canisius and Niagara have gone to OT; Canisius is now 10-9 in those games.

NU’s Matt Scott misses game: Niagara sophomore Matt Scott did not play Thursday due to a lingering foot injury. Scott (15.4 points per game, 7.1 rebounds per game) was the only member of either team to be named to a MAAC all-star team earlier this week. He was the team’s leading rebounder and second-leading scorer behind Emile Blackman (15.5 pgg).

Unsung hero: Niagara guard Chris Barton stepped up in Scott’s place. Barton, a freshman from Pontiac, Mich. making his fifth career start, entered the game shooting just 18.8% on 3-pointers but made 4 of 5 in the first half to spark Niagara. He easily surpassed his career high of 13 points before finishing with 17.

Three-point watch: An interesting matchup coming into the game was Niagara’s three-point shooting. The Purple Eagles rank 343rd out of 346 D-I teams in three-point percentage (27.6%) while Canisius ranks 315th in three-point defense (37.6%). … Niagara ended up shooting 9 for 21 (43%) in the game.

Canisius press conference:

Niagara press conference: 

Baron’s contract extended: Canisius coach Jim Baron received a three-year contract extension this week, announced Thursday afternoon, which locks him up through the 2019-20 season. Next year would’ve been the final year of his original contract.

Interestingly, there’s a strong possibility Baron becomes the NCAA’s career leader in losses over the life of his new extension. That speaks more to his longevity and the type of teams he’s taken over than being a bad coach, but it’s still an incredible factoid.

Baron ranks 79th on the all-time wins list. The next coach he will pass is legendary Niagara coach Taps Gallagher, whom NU’s basketball arena is named after.

Vegas line: Canisius -6.5, over/under 138.5. Niagara covered, total was well over.

Starters: Canisius Malcolm McMillan, Kassius Robertson, Jamal Reynolds, Phil Valenti, Kevin Bleeker. Niagara: Cameron Fowler, Chris Barton, Emile Blackman, Marvin Prochet, Dominic Robb.

Canisius and Niagara men’s basketball, women’s basketball and hockey all to meet in playoffs

By Nick Veronica

Canisius and Niagara have met in the playoffs plenty of times, but never quite like this.

The Western New York rivals’ three most prominent sports teams – men’s basketball, women’s basketball and ice hockey – will all face each other in the first round of their respective conference tournaments this week.

Never before have all three teams met in the playoffs in the same year, let alone in the same round or weekend. 2011 was the only year Canisius and Niagara met in the postseason in two of the three sports, with Canisius women’s basketball beating Niagara in the play-in round and the Griffs hockey team winning in the semifinals.

The chart below shows the history of their postseason meetings. The teams are 3-3 in men’s basketball while Niagara has never beaten Canisius in a postseason women’s basketball or hockey game.

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This week’s schedule

The Canisius-Niagara women’s basketball game kicks off the entire MAAC Tournament weekend, starting things bright and early Thursday morning with a 9:30 a.m. contest at Albany’s Times Union Center.

[2016 MAAC Tournament brackets]

Canisius (8-12) is seeded eighth and Niagara (5-15) is seeded ninth. Canisius swept the regular-season meetings, winning the road game in overtime. The winner plays No. 1 Quinnipiac at noon Friday.

The men’s basketball teams meet in the play-in round at 7 p.m. Thursday night. Seventh-seeded Canisius (also 8-12) swept both games from Niagara (also 5-15) this year.

The winner faces No. 2 Iona at 9:30 p.m. Friday.

The hockey teams play a best-of-three series this Friday-Sunday. No. 7 Canisius (10-13-5) is the higher seed, so it will host all three games at HarborCenter, with faceoff at 7:35 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 5:05 p.m. Sunday if necessary. 

Canisius took the season series from Niagara (5-18-6, seeded 10th) with a win and a tie. Both games were at HarborCenter.

Atlantic Hockey reseeds teams after the first round, so the next opponent is not yet known. It will either be 1-Robert Morris, 2-Air Force or 3-Holy Cross.

Canisius has already clinched the Battle of the Bridge – the all-sport competition between Canisius and Niagara – for the sixth year in a row. Only regular-season games are included in the competition.

Canisius picked 6th in MAAC preseason poll, Niagara 11th; Valenti and Blackman to 3rd team

griffsniagaramaac

By Nick Veronica

Canisius was picked sixth in MAAC preseason poll, which was announced Wednesday night. Niagara was picked by the conference’s 11 coaches to finish last for the second consecutive season.

Canisius looks to build on last season’s 11-9 conference record, which earned the Griffs the fifth seed in the conference tournament. Niagara’s low ranking was expected with such a large roster turnover.

Canisius forward Phil Valenti and Niagara forward Emile Blackman were both named to the MAAC’s preseason Third Team. Blackman finished 11th in the conference in scoring last season at 13.5 ppg. Valenti averaged 9.4 points per game in 24 games, missing all of February with an ankle injury.

Iona was picked to win conference while its star guard A.J. English was named the league’s preseason player of the year.

Preseason rankings:

Voting:

Rank Team (1st-place votes) Points
1. Iona (10) 119
2. Monmouth 105
T3. Manhattan (1) 91
T3. Rider 91
5. Siena 84
6. Canisius 67
7. Quinnipiac 49
8. Fairfield 42
9. Saint Peter’s 37
10. Marist 23
11. Niagara 18

Preseason teams:

First Team
G Marcus Gilbert, Fairfield, Sr.
G Schadrac Casimir, Iona, So.
G A.J. English, Iona, Sr. (unanimous)
G Justin Robinson, Monmouth, Jr.
G Teddy Okereafor, Rider, Sr.

Second Team
G Isaiah Williams, Iona, Sr.
G Shane Richards, Manhattan, Sr.
G Khallid Hart, Marist, Jr.
G Deon Jones, Monmouth, Sr.
G Marquis Wright, Siena, Jr.

Third Team
F Phil Valenti, Canisius, Jr.
G RaShawn Stores, Manhattan, Sr.
G Emile Blackman, Niagara, R-Jr.
G Jimmie Taylor, Rider, Jr.
F Brett Bisping, Siena, R-Jr.

Preseason Player of the Year
G A.J. English, Iona