After routing Coppin State, Buffalo Bulls Men’s Basketball (5-5) will now have a chance to show that their improvement over the last couple of games is here to stay. UB will face crosstown rival Canisius in one of the best sports venues Buffalo has to offer at the KeyBank Center.
The Golden Griffins are lead by former UB head coach Reggie Witherspoon. After fourteen years of leading the Buffalo program, his employment was terminated by former athletic director Danny White, finishing his Buffalo tenure with a 197-225 record. Leaving his hometown of Buffalo, Witherspoon spent a year each at Alabama and last year’s NCAA Tournament participant Chattanooga.
Last spring, Canisius College was in a bind after head men’s basketball coach Jim Baron surprisingly chose to retire. Rumors of what would happen soon turned to reality when current Canisius and former UB athletic director Bill Maher hired and brought Witherspoon back to his hometown. The hire only made sense.
Hiring Witherspoon brought joy to many college basketball fans in the city of Buffalo, including UB fans. But now the reality dawns: UB will continue to face Canisius once a year as part of the Big 4 tradition in Western New York. It is only fitting that the first time the Bulls face a Witherspoon coached Canisius team will be in KeyBank Center.
After a lukewarm 14-20 season last year, Canisius currently sits 6-5 overall. The Golden Griffins began their season in a matchup with nationally ranked Kentucky and gave the Wildcats a challenge in the first half. Currently, they sit on a three game winning streak with their most recent win being to SUNY Albany.
Coach Witherspoon has practically implemented the same style that pre-Hurley era UB fans saw. The characteristic ball screens are there and the Golden Griffins are shooting the ball well. Right now, they have the 45th best effective field goal percentage in the nation at 54.1%.
Canisius is lead by Kassius Robertson. The 6-3 junior currently averages 18 points per game. The Golden Griffins also have Jermaine Crumpton and Phil Valenti at their disposal. Crumpton is shooting over 50% and has 15.4 points per game. Valenti is averaging 12.4 points and 6.4 rebounds a game in his senior season.
If Buffalo wants to succeed in this game, they will need to push the tempo and cut their way into the lane or dish the ball off to their forwards. Canisius doesn’t play that fast and has the 279th defense in the nation.
UB should look to continue their improvements on preventing sloppy turnovers, especially now that key players CJ Massinburg and Quate McKinzie are back. Should the Bulls also shoot the three ball well, Canisius will be on the ropes for the entire game.
Canisius is clearly the underdog in this game, but they can challenge top teams. This is no team for Buffalo to sleep on and it means a lot for the Bulls to win a crosstown rivalry game in one of the biggest sports venues the city of Buffalo has to offer.
What’s also on the line is the symbolism that head coach Nate Oats can take for winning this game. It sounds fitting for one of the successors in UB’s coaching tree to take down a predecessor to show the growth of the program.
UB fans still love you, Coach Witherspoon, but for this one game they’re going to root against you.