Buffalo Bulls vs Canisius Golden Griffins Basketball: Five Thoughts

Billy Baron leads Canisius into tonight's game against the Bulls - Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Five things to catch you up to speed before the Bulls' downtown matchup against Canisius tonight at the First Niagara Center

Maybe you've gotten caught up in the football season that only comes around once every five years. Maybe you hate basketball. Maybe you live in Buffalo and figured you'd just see what's out there on this "internet" thing.

I really hope it's not the last one.

But regardless, you're here now and interested in learning more in advance of UB's showdown with Canisius tonight at 8:00 at the First Niagara Center (Gamethread Here):

Home Court Disadvantage

Before I make my real point, know this: In the world of Buffalo basketball, UB is playing catch up to the history of the rest of the Big 4. This post is not about the value of decades-old tournament appearances, the relative weight of the last ten years or so, the advantages and disadvantages of playing in the MAC instead of a weaker conference, or just how much that welding certificate really matters, but we have to understand that in the eyes of many in Buffalo, Niagara has Calvin Murphy, Bonaventure Bob Lanier, and Canisius Anthony Masiello and a whole lot of history. Nevermind just how old that history is, Canisius has it and people think we don't.

If you don't believe me, spend some time this winter and pay attention to how the local media treats the two basketball programs.

The typical UB-Canisius scheduling runs just about how you would expect for crosstown rivals, as the schools alternate hosting and traveling the OOC staple. UB has a similar arrangement with Niagara and St. Bonaventure. Of course, it took until the turn of the millennium for the two schools to set that up, and in fact Canisius only played at UB once in the first 26 games of the series before 1995.

So of course it's no surprise that once someone finally puts together a Buffalo Basketball Doubleheader downtown at the hockey arena, it comes during a year that would be Buffalo's chance to host a game. On top of that, it comes during a year when crowds at Alumni will presumably be at their most inflated raucous in some time, thanks to the confluence of Senior Forward Javon McCrea, new coach Bobby Hurley, and momentum behind Danny White's New York Bulls Initiative.

This should be the largest "home" crowd UB plays in front of this year, but unfortunately, it will be swelled by Canisius fans who are shocked to discover that basketball can be played in larger buildings than Koessler Center (est. attendance 450 or so), and by Niagara fans from the first game of the doubleheader who may not cheer against the Bulls, but certainly won't be wearing blue. Furthermore, this could be a huge crowd by Buffalo area basketball standards and still look tiny in the 18,000 seat First Niagara Arena.

Add it all up - and don't forget the Wednesday night game time! - and you're looking at a home game with a neutral site crowd (at best) that will look tiny in the building and likely serve as a negative referendum on Buffalo hoops.

Crash the Boards

After that rant, let's look at the stats. Lots of folks are painting the Golden Griffins as a high scoring machine led by All-MAAC guard Billy Baron (more on him later), but in truth the numbers don't look that wildly different from UB's. Canisius is averaging 74.4 points per game to Buffalo's 73.8.

Keeping in mind when looking at the counting stats that UB has played two fewer games that the Griffs, the teams don't seem to be too different numbers-wise on offense, except for the Griff's 40% clip from distance compared to UB's 30%. That said, turnovers, blocks, steals, and free throws all seem even or slightly in UB's favor despite the two fewer games.

Let's look to the boards, though. UB's best player, Javon McCrea is eyeing a double double for the season, averaging 9.3 rebounds per game so far and leading the Bulls to 38 boards a night and rebounds on 54% of missed shots. By contrast, Canisius is pulling down 32 misses a game.

Spoiler alert: over the last fifteen years rebounding margin has been a better predictor of UB winning seasons than any other stat. Anything can happen on one night; in last year's 71-4 Canisius win the Golden Griffins were outrebounded 39 to 25, but Manhertz (seriously I think that family actually lives in the KAC; they've been there forever) and the Heath brothers won't be enough to combat UB's strength on the boards.

Bobby and Jim

In Bobby Hurley and Jim Baron we see two different sides of the coin when it comes to new hires. Ignoring the name brand of the former Duke star for a minute, this comparison reveals a successful assistant coach getting his first break thanks to an aggressive AD taking a risk on the beginning of a potentially long and successful career and a weathered head coach with experience leaving a program he built into a contender at a lower-level conference. At first it looks like two different strategies by the respective ADs, but I'd argue that in a different timeline Hurley and Baron could be coming into tonight's game from opposite locker rooms.

Consider this: Baron was named Canisius Head Coach on April 2nd, 2012, while Danny White came to the top job at UB on May 8th of the same year. A lot of things would have to go differently, but it's not crazy to think that if Danny was looking for a head coach a year earlier, or Canisius a year later, that the roles may be flipped.

An Oracle in Olean?

There's only so much you can glean from the commutative property in sports. I'm sure that in a different world UB creams Niagara, who only has one other win on the season, and Canisius doesn't lose to "Metro State", whatever that might be. But let's have fun with it anyway. As we all know, UB's latest game was a bit of a highlight: the school's first win over St. Bonaventure since 1996 (pre-Welding Certificate!). The Bulls, led by young point guards Jarryn Skeete and Shannon Evans, were forced to take the ball out of McCrea's hands and shoot from the outside, and succeeded to the tune of an 18-7 run to close out the game.

Meanwhile, oh...

Canisius Golden Griffins vs. St. Bonaventure Bonnies - Recap - November 16, 2013 - ESPN

ST. BONAVENTURE, N.Y. -- Matthew Wright scored a career-high 27 points and St. Bonaventure rolled to an 86-64 win over Canisius on Saturday night. St. Bonaventure (3-0) opened the second half on a 28-10 run to pull away from Canisius, leading by as many as 28 in the second half.

...

St. Bonaventure held a 44-25 rebounding advantage and shot 54.8 percent from the field. The Bonnies also scored 56 points in the paint compared with 30 for the Golden Griffins.

Well that's something. For the record Bonaventure was only outrebounded by two in their game against Buffalo, but topped the Griffs by nearly 20 in that stat earlier in the season. Looks like things are shaping up nicely for Javon's final game against the Griffs

Daddy's Princess, Reprise aka 2 Daddies 2 Princess aka The Baron is a Princess!

The last summer I played baseball, before I learned that I just couldn't see a curve and that there's only so far you can get on smarts and speed, I had the pleasure of playing with your classic coach's son. Every game I got to bat fifth behind the coach's son and bunt him over to second so that we could end the inning with a fat kid on second, then start the next inning late while he put his catcher's gear on while I got to learn center field and third base after playing catcher for eight years. It was a delight.

Some years ago, there was a man in the MAC named Ernie Zeigler who coached the Central Michigan Chippewas, coached his son into a 4-star prospect out of Michigan, and then (shocker!) successfully recruiting his son to Mount Pleasant. Mr. Trey Zeigler had a successful-ish time at CMU, but when you looked past the points totals, you noticed that he was a bit of a ball hog and wasted a lot of possessions on missed shots and turnovers. Somewhere on that team there was a kid ordered to bunt down the first base line time and time again so that Trey Ziegler could dribble a ball off his foot and score 23 points on 20 shots from the field (that's not a good number, for the record).

Anyway, it turns out that when you chant "Daddy's Princess" at Trey Zeigler during a first round MAC playoff game, Ernie Zeigler gets upset at you and spends lots of time glowering at students instead of coaching basketball. One of True Blue's finer moments, if I do say so myself.

When Zeigler was fired from CMU, he Zach Maynard'd his way to an Assistant Coach gig at Pittsburgh and brought Princess Trey along with him. Somehow, someway, Pitt and Trey got the NCAA to grant a hardship waiver to allow him to play immediately. This is not all that uncommon when a player wants to move closer to home due to family tragedy or something like that, but in this case, it seemed that the waiver was granted simply because Trey's father was moving. Stay with me here: Ernie was probably fired because he let Trey play too much, but then when he moved, it constituted as a "hardship" and Trey didn't have to sit out a year. On second thought, given Ernie's resume, maybe it would have been a hardship to spend more time under his tutelage.

In Billy Baron this evening, the Bulls meet Daddy's Princess 2.0. Pretty much the same story: apparently it's too much of a "hardship" to follow the transfer rules when you just want to play ball for your dad. Except Baron is a heck of a better player than Zeigler. Oh, and Baron probably won't get a DUI and transfer a second time before he (maybe... I don't know what happened to Trey.) graduates.

This is a secondary reason I'm bummed this game isn't at the Big A. Between last year's game at the KAC and this year's "home" contest downtown, Baron will never get to hear True Blue at full strength reminding him that he is indeed Daddy's Princess.

Also, this:

Enjoy the game tonight, where ever you're watching from. Go Bulls!

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