MAAC Tournament Gameday: 5-Canisius vs. 4-Monmouth

MAAC Tournament quarterfinals: 4-Monmouth vs. 5-Canisius,
2:30 p.m., Times Union Center, Albany

By Nick Veronica

After earning a surprising fifth-seed in the MAAC, Canisius meets No. 4 Monmouth today in the quarterfinals.

Canisius Golden Griffins: 16-13 overall, 11-9 MAAC, picked 10th in preseason poll. RPI: 171. BPI: 161. KenPom: 176. Streak: W1.

Monmouth Hawks: 17-14 overall, 13-7 MAAC, picked sixth in preseason poll. RPI: 194. BPI: 182. KenPom: 185. Streak: W1.


Sooo… who’s gonna win? At first glance, Monmouth appears to have an edge in this matchup, given that it’s seeded higher and that it swept the season series from Canisius. But it’s certainly worth noting that Canisius fared better than Monmouth in all three national rankings listed at above. Additional, KenPom’s MAAC Tournament preview favored Canisius over Monmouth, projecting the Griffs to advance to the semifinals 51.2 percent of the time. (KenPom also gave Canisius a 19.9 percent shot of advancing to the championship game and a 9.6 percent chance of winning the whole thing. Iona, of course, is the favorite.)

[Niagara eliminated from MAAC Tournament, 71-54]

Monmouth’s King Rice is seen a slick, up-and-coming coach while Jim Baron is the savvy old vet who brings his lunch pail to work and just the job done. Both teams are known more for their defense than their offense, though Canisius has the edge in rebounding. This one could go either way, but after how the last two seasons ended for Canisius, doesn’t a third meeting with Iona feel imminent?

(What’s that? No? Hmm. Well, like I said. Toss-up.)

If it makes you feel any better, Canisius’ game notes are feeling confident:

Screen Shot 2015-03-06 at 11.56.08 PMVegas says: At the time of this writing, Vegas Insider has the game as a pick. Like I said, toss-up.

Players to watch: Monmouth guard Justin Robinson was named First Team All-MAAC by the league’s coaches after averaging 13.4 points and 3.8 assists per game, which was fourth in the conference. Deon Jones adds 12.7 ppg for the Hawks while Brice Kofane leads the team with 5.8 rebounds a night.

[Marist upsets Quinnipiac at MAAC Tournament]

Canisius is led by MAAC Third Team selection Zach Lewis, who averages 12.9 points a night but hits only 33.3 percent of his field goals (120 for 360). Forward Josiah Heath has stepped up his game since Phil Valenti’s injury, averaging 13.6 points and 10.7 rebounds since becoming the go-to forward. Heath’s improved play can also be attributed the senior’s experience, becoming the Griffs’ all-time leader in games played (127) during the final week of the regular season (breaking a record held by Frank Turner). Additionally, Jeremiah Williams has been hot, averaging 15.6 points per game over the last five games.

Series history: Season: Monmouth 2-0. All-time: Monmouth 3-1. Tournament: 0-0. Jim Baron vs. Monmouth: 7-9.

Bleeker honored: Canisius redshirt junior Kevin Bleeker was named to the MAAC’s all-academic team Friday afternoon. Rider’s Kevin Baggett was named Coach of the Year. As I said here, I would’ve voted for Baron, but expected Baggett to win.

Random player tweets: 

Bold prediction: Jim Baron gets hit with a technical foul Saturday. BONUS BOLD PREDICTION: The Tim Horton’s coffee I get before the ride to Albany will be Roll up the Rim winner. (I don’t know which is more likely.)

Score guess: Canisius has outperformed every projection this season, so I won’t pick against it now. Canisius 71, Monmouth 65.

How to follow the game: I’ll have courtside updates on Twitter and will have reactions, video and more posted here shortly after the final buzzer. The game will be available online via ESPN3. You should also send a Twitter follow to Jon Snyder and Pat Malicaro, whom I’ll be bothering with random sports trivia the entire ride down.


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.

Postgame video: Marist 75, Canisius 67

By Nick Veronica

Interviews following Canisius’ 75-67 loss against Marist, which has won only four games all season but three in a row…

Canisius coach Jim Baron

“We knew it was going to be a battle,” Jim Baron famously opened.

“Our youthness caught up [to us],” he said, alluding to new roles young players had to take on following Phil Valenti’s injury (update here).

“With Phil being out, now we have to put Crump in, who’s a freshman, and Cassidy [Ryan] in, who’s a freshman. It’s a league that’s very challenging when you have so many young guys who have to perform. But that’s all part of it. That’s no excuse. Guys have to step up.”

Baron called Marist’s Chavaugn Lewis “one of the best wingmen in the league.”

“He just took it to us,” Baron said. “We had nobody to guard him.”

Canisius players Jermaine Crumpton, Zach Lewis

“I think he was on fire,” Zach Lewis said of Chavaughn Lewis, who dropped a career-high 35 points.

(Which is a great lead-in to an NBA Jam discussion we had on Twitter during the game. That’s current Canisius assistant Mike Iuzzolino on the screen.)

(Lozar was not the one who made Iuzzolino 0-for-10.)

Marist coach Mike Maker and Chavaughn Lewis


Postgame video: Manhattan 63, Canisius 60

By Nick Veronica

Canisius coach Jim Baron

Jim Baron was not happy with his team after the game. They’re too passive to shoot, he said. They got spooked by Manhattan’s defense. They need to get better. His whole presser is worth listening to.

The game was there for the taking. Jeremiah Williams missed two free-throws in the last minute after being hand-picked to shoot them following a technical foul (he shoots 88.9 percent on the year). Then he missed a layup, Phil Valenti missed a layup and Zach Lewis missed a three-pointer. The Griffs lost by three.

Canisius players Zach Lewis and Jermaine Crumpton

“This weekend, I think both games could’ve went either way,” Lewis said. “Being a young team, it’s good to have those type of games right now and keep building on it and learn in film tomorrow and the next day, how we can get better in those situations? When there’s four minutes left in the game, how do we close out those games?”

Crumpton, one of the more willing shooters, had a career-high 16 points on 7-of-11 shooting.

Manhattan coach Steve Masiello and Shane Richards

Take that 15-footer, huh? More on Masiello’s interesting answer here.

Postgame video: Canisius 67, UMKC 52

By Nick Veronica

Canisius coach Jim Baron

“We’re resilient and we can fall back on defending,” Jim Baron said of what he’s learned so far about his team. “But we have to keep getting better. Our bench has to become a lot more consistent. We’re going to need to play a lot of guys the way we play.”

Baron had some good advice for former Griff Jordan Heath, who is playing professionally in Belgium: “It’s not how much [money] you make, it’s how much you keep.”

Canisius guard Zach Lewis

“We defended and we rebounded. Those are things coach tells us every single day. Defense and rebounding — that’s the only way we’re going to win games.”

Canisius forward Phil Valenti

“Guys are playing real active, and that’s the key on defense. When you’re lazy, it’s easier for them to get to the rim. But when you’re active it makes them force up bad shots.”

UMKC did not meet with the media.