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Mason Making Leap to Auburn

By Bob DiCesare

Antoine Mason's announcement that he'll play his final season at Auburn is being portrayed nationally as a quality catch for new Tigers coach Bruce Pearl. Whether that proves true depends on if Mason, a 6-foot-3 guard with one season of eligibility remaining, makes a seamless transition from the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, ranked No. 16 in the RPIs last season, to the SEC, ranked No. 7.

Mason averaged 25.6 points for Niagara last season, and that makes him the top returning scorer in the country. He pretty much had free reign as the Purple Eagles went young after coach Joe Miahlich left for Hofstra and three significant players transferred out. New coach Chris Casey gave him mega-minutes and rode the horse -- for better or worse. There weren't many other options at the offensive end.

Will Auburn grant Mason the same kind of freedom? And will his physical approach to offense remain effective against taller, stronger guards in the SEC?

Mason has always craved a challenge, whether it was coming back from the injury that ended his true freshman season or trying to carry his young teammates in the post-Mihalich upheaval. But despite his warrior-like attitude and his undeniable grittiness it's interesting that coaches left him off the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conferene first team after last season, going with five players instead of six even though Mason had been part of a six-man first team the season before.

Was that a commentary on his style? Does the demotion mean the coaches perceived his approach at exceedingly me-first? Maybe so. But there's no denying his offensive gifts.

That aside, Mason's departure was the best thing for Niagara moving forward. Casey can now build a program without deferring to one player. He can develop balance within the offense, something that wasn't going to happen so long as Mason was in uniform. This is a transfer situation that should prove best for all involved.

Two transfer from St. Bonaventure

By Rodney McKissic

Add two more names to the ever expanding transfer list: St. Bonaventure's Matthias Runs and Jean Yves Toupane who the school announced will not return to the program.

These aren’t huge losses. Runs, a 7-foot sophomore center from Hilversum, Netherlands, played in just two games while Toupane, a 6-foot-7 forward from Dakar, Senegal, played in six and scored four points.

The only other Big 4 player who has elected to transfer thus far is Niagara's Tajere McCall.

Canisius to CIT

By Bob DiCesare

Canisius has accepted a bid to the CollegeInsider.com Tournament and will host a first-round game at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Koessler Athletic Center against an opponent to be determined.

It's the second straight postseason appearance for the Griffs (21-12), who last Sunday fell to Iona in the semifinals of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament.

Canisius played in the CIT last season, defeating Elon and Youngstown State before a third-round loss to Evansville.

The invitation extends the careers of Canisius seniors Billy Baron, Chris Manhertz, Chris Perez and Jordan Heath. Baron averages 24.2 points and needs eight points for reach 1,700 for his collegiate career.

Baron Named MAAC's POY

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- Canisius guard Billy Baron, the rock-steady force behind the program's rise from the depths, this evening was named the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Player of the Year during award festivities at the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Baron is the first Griff since Darrell Barley in 1996 to receive the honor and the third overall. Craig Wise was the MAAC's top player in 1995.

A two-time first-team all-MAAC selection, Baron is the nation's No. 3 scorer at 24.4 points per game and ranks among the national top 20 in 12 statistical categories, including No. 2 in minutes played. He has averaged 25.7 points, 6 assists and 5.1 rebounds against MAAC opponents while shooting 48.1 percent from the field and 87 perfect from the foul line.

Meanwhile, on the women's side, Niagara's Victoria Rampado, a 6-foot-2 forward from Niagara Falls, Ont., was named the conference's Rookie of the Year. She averaged 8.9 points and 5.4 rebounds.

Baron is also a finalist for the Bob Cousy Award that goes to the nation's premier point guard and is a nominee for the Lute Olsen Award given to the top guard at the mid-major level.

Canisius, the No. 4 seed in the MAAC Tournament, plays Siena in a MAAC Tournament quarterfinal at 2:30 Saturday afternoon.

Other MAAC individual awards went to:

Men: Coach: Tim Cluess, Iona. Sixth Man: Maurice Barrow, Fairfield. Defensive: Rhamel Brown, Manhattan (three-time winner). Top Rookie: Khallid Hart, Marist.

Women: Coach: Billi Godsey, Iona. Player: Damika Martinez, Iona. Sixth Man: Aaliyah Robinson, Iona. Defensive: Leanne Ockenden, Marist.

-- Jerry Sullivan and Bob DiCesare

Blown Call Hurt Niagara

By Bob DiCesare

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- The Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference office issued a statement Thursday night saying officials were wrong when they awarded a jump ball to Monmouth with 1:44 remaining in the Hawks 66-62 victory over Niagara in a morning pre-quarterfinal.

The tie-up occurred with Monmouth holding a 60-59 lead that expanded to 62-59 on the ensuing possession. Niagara coach Kendra Faustin asked for clarfication at the time but game officials carried on under the assumption that the possession arrow was correct.

"Niagara started with possession at halftime," reads the statement. "Following that, there was a jump ball at 16:34 and possession went to Monmouth. The next held ball should have been given to Niagara with 1:44 left on the game block. Instead, it was given to Monmouth.

"As a result, I determined the table crew was in fact incorrect and Niagara should have been given the ball with 1:44 left to play. All rellated parties have been reprimanded by the Commissioner."

It's unclea rin the statement if the explanation provided is given by Commissioner Rich Ensor or MAAC Coordinator of Officials Marty Novitch, who was asked by the league to review the matter.

Big 4 Hoops Scenarios

By Bob DiCesare

Here's where the Big 4 basketball teams stand as of 6 p.m. Saturday:

MAC

Men

UB has clinched at least a tie for the East Division title and it becomes an outright championship if Bowling Green beats Akron tonight. More importantly, the Bulls have clinched a top-four finish within the MAC overall and have earned a bye into no less than the quarterfinals in Cleveland. They can finish top 2 by winning their final two games regardless what happens in tonight's Toledo-WMU game. The Bulls are at Akron Tuesday and home to Bowling Green next Saturday.

Women

UB (9-7) has the tiebreaker advantage over Toledo (8-7) as they battle for the No. 4 seed and bye into the quarterfinals. WMU (8-8) lurks. UB has Akron (18-8, 12-3) and Kent (6-20, 3-12) at home. Toledo plays Central Michigan (18-9, 14-1) Sunday and finishes with Eastern Michigan and Ball State. If UB wins out it's in the quarters. If Toledo loses to CMU the Bulls can take probably still take the No. 4 seed with a 1-1 finish. That presumes CMU beating WMU, never a sure thing in a rivalry game.

MAAC

Men

Canisius finishes with the No. 2 seed if it wins at Manhattan Sunday AND Quinnipiac loses to Marist. The Griffs get the No. 3 seed if they beat the Jaspers AND Quinnipiac beats Marist. A loss gives Canisius the No. 4 seed  and a MAAC Tournament quarterfinal game against Siena on Friday in Springfield.

Niagara will be the No. 11 seed and face the No. 6 (either Rider, Saint Peter's or Marist) at 9 p.m. Thursday in Springfield.

Women

Canisius and Niagara are 8-11 and tied for the No. 6 seed heading into Sunday's finales. Canisius is home to fifth-pace Rider (9-10) and Niagara is home to Fairfield (14-5). If Canisius and Niagara both win there will be a three-way tie for seeds 5-7. Canisius would be 3-1 among the trio, Niagara 2-2 and Rider 1-3. If Canisius wins and Niagara loses the Griffs take the No. 5 seed based on a sweep of Rider and Niagara becomes either the No. 7 or 8 seed depending on the tiebreaker with Manhattan (8-12). If Canisius and Niagara both lose it's a three-way tie for Nos. 6-8 among Canisius, Niagara and Manhattan with Manhattan being 3-1 in the group, Niagara 2-2 and the Griffs 1-3.

ATLANTIC 10

Men

Bona is 6-9 and No. 8 in the conference and can go no higher. They can drop no lower than No. 10. La Salle (5-8) and Duquesne (4-10) also factor in. Bona finishes at VCU. La Salle was playing Fordham Saturday and still has games with George Mason and Saint Joseph's. Duquesne has UMass and George Mason.

Women

The Bonnies are done with the regular season and will be the No. 2 seed behind Dayton in the Atlantic 10 Tournament. They'll play the winner of the 7-10 game in the quarterfinals at 5 p.m. Friday in Richmond.

Canisius-Fairfield Game Wrap

Canisius 90, Fairfield 78

How Canisius Won: Recent opponents have been shredding the Canisius defense at the KAC. Manhattan did it. Iona. Quinnipiac. And Fairfield was on the same track after a 57 percent first-half shooting effort. So the number that stands out it what the Stags shot after intermission: 29 percent. Would it have been different if point guard KJ Rose hadn't been ejected? Maybe so. But you have to play the hand you're dealt.

Turning Point: The Griffs trailed by four when Jordan Heath was called for an offensive foul with 14:22 left. Bodies tangled. A skirmish ensued. Rose was ejected to his overzealous actions during during the scuffle. Billy Baron made 5 of 6 free throws to Fairfield's two and the Griffs took the lead for good soon after.

Player of the Game: Baron made just two field goals, both first-half threes. But he finished with a team-high 22 points with a 16-for-18 showing at the foul line. And he handed out nine assists, his second-highest total of the season. Funny how drastically he impacts a game when it seems like he's not impacting the game.

Best Supporting Role: Freshman guard Zach Lewis found his stroke, going 4 of 6 from three, 7 of 8 from the line and scoring 21 points. And he did it on an afternoon when Canisius needed him to do it.

Stat Check: The Griffs went 26 of 36 from the foul line in the second half alone. They were 29 of 40 for the game.

What It Means: Canisius is tied for third with Manhattan with two games left -- at Rider and at Manhattan. The Griffs can finish no worse than fourth.

In the House: Billy the Kid's among four seniors playing their final regular-season home game and it's not a sellout???? The attendance checked in at 1,909.

-- Bob DiCesare

 

 

Canisius-Iona Game Wrap

Iona 101, Canisius 91

How Iona Won: The Gaels made it seven straight victories and avenged an earlier loss to the Griffs by playing their fast-paced, free-wheeling style to near perfection. They had David Laury work the inside early and pounded the Griffs from long range in the second half. It's as good an inside-outside mix as there is in the league and when the ball movement's brisk, as it was Sunday, the defending MAAC champs are an awfully tough out.

Turning Point: The Griffs were up five with just under 13 minutes left but Iona burst for eight straight points, six of them on threes by Isaiah Williams. Two ties later the Gaels went ahead for good on a layup by Williams.

Player of the Game: The Gaels lost guard MoMo Jones, the MAAC Player of the Year, to graduation last season. But who notices when his replacement, sophomore guard A.J. English, goes off for a career-high 32. English was Iona's glue in the first half, scoring 18 points, before the offense really got rolling.

Player of the Game, Losing Effort: Canisius got the norm from Billy Baron (23 points) and have seen Chris Perez (24 points) have games like this before. The unknown was freshman forward Phil Valenti filling in for the injured Chris Manhertz. Valenti exceled in his first start: 15 points, nine rebounds, four assists, no turnovers. Griffs could cause some matchup problems by giving him some minutes at the 3 spot. He has the athleticism.

Stat Check: Iona backup center David Laury defied the odds by going 9 of 11 at the foul line. He's a 53 percent free throw shooter.

What It Means: Iona's in the MAAC driver's seat, two games up with six to play. Canisius fell into a tie for second with Manhattan, which owns the tie-breaker advantage. It'll be a three-way tie for second if Quinnipiac beats visiting Marist Monday night.

In the House: They filled the KAC for the third time in the last four games. Apparently Jim Baron's pleas didn't fall on deaf ears.

Next Up: The Griffs head over the bridge for a Valentine's Night encounter with Niagara. The Griffs won the first meeting 87-74 but the Purple Eagles are sure to be focused and angry after suffering excrutiating one-point losses this weekend to Iona and Manhattan. It's a 9 p.m. start on ESPNU.

-- Bob DiCesare

 

 

 

 

Griffs Crack MM Top 25

By Bob DiCesare

It's no surprise Canisius has finally cracked the collegeinsider.com Mid-Major Top 25. The surprise is that they debut at No. 22, 12 spots behind Manhattan despite leading the Jaspers in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference standings and sitting three spots higher in the RPIs.

But the Griffs are satisfied that at least they're attracting some notice after winning 8 of their last 11 and maintaining a share of the conference lead with 8 games left on the MAAC schedule.

Wichita State tops the charts, of course, and owns all 31 first-place votes. Among the Big 4 conferences, Toledo is No. 3, Manhattan No. 10, Ohio No. 14 and Akron No. 16. The MAAC has two coaches on the poll, Jimmy Patsos of Siena and Tom Moore of conference  newcomer Quinnipiac. The Mid-American Conference also has a pair: Tod Kowalczyk of Toledo and Steve Hawkins of Western Michigan.

It's been a good week for the Griffs on the publicity front. Billy Baron was named the Lute Olson national mid-major player of the week after totaling 70 points in wins over Niagara and Marist.

The collegeinsider.com poll:

 

RECORD POINTS PREVIOUS  
1. Wichita State (31) 21-0 775 1 Missouri Valley
2. Gonzaga 18-3 740 3 West Coast
3. Toledo 17-2 694 4 Mid-American
4. Green Bay 17-3 641 5 Horizon
5. Harvard 15-3 631 2 Ivy League
6. Indiana State 16-4 630 6 Missouri Valley
7. Stephen F. Austin 18-2 566 7 Southland
8. North Dakota State 15-5 523 10 Summit
9. Princeton 12-3 493 9 Ivy League
10. Manhattan 14-5 489 8 Metro Atlantic
11. Saint Mary's 16-5 466 11 West Coast
12. Mercer 17-5 439 12 Atlantic Sun
13. Northern Colorado 13-4 353 15 Big Sky
14. Ohio 14-5 344 13 Mid-American
15. New Mexico State 15-7 314 16 WAC
16. Akron 13-6 306 17 Mid-American
17. Belmont 16-7 232 23 Ohio Valley
18. UC Irvine 13-8 224 14 Big West
19. UC Santa Barbara 12-6 165 18 Big West
20. Georgia State 14-6 156 25 Sun Belt
21. IPFW 16-6 153 24 Summit
22. Canisius 14-7 71 NR Metro Atlantic
23. Delaware 14-7 67 NR Colonial
24. North Carolina Central 13-5 66 NR MEAC
25. Chattanooga 14-8 61 NR Southern


Notice that Chattanooga also slipped in at No. 25. Former UB player and assistant coach Turner Battle is an assistant with the Mocs.

 

 

Baron and Beyond

By Bob DiCesare

Sat next to a scout from the San Antonio Spurs Sunday but he didn't give up much when I asked about Billy Baron's NBA prospects. So postgame I turned to Marist first-year coach Jeff Bower, who spent 15 years with the Charlotte Hornets in such capacities as GM and coach. Here's what he had to say when I asked him about Baron:

"I think he's terrific as a player now. I think the way he plays the game are things that a lot of teams will really like. I never plot a guy at this time of year honestly because you don't know the draft and you don't know how many people are going to be involved in it.

"But I know this: He's a winner. He's got skills. He's got size. He's got deep shooting ability. He's got play-making ability. And he is a competitor. And I know those are all qualities that every NBA team would value and will do their research and see. When it's all said and done I would expect him to be rated or ranked ahead of a lot of guys. I think he's the type of kid that helps your team and is going to have the poise to compete and help a team.

"It's too early, honestly. The people that are talking now are usually guys that aren't involved in decision-making that are saying where people are going. But he would be a guy that a lot of people are excited about and would want to dig very deep to find out about in my opinion."

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About Campus Watch

Bob Dicesare

Bob DiCesare

Western New York native Bob DiCesare covers UB football, Big 4 basketball and writes an occasional column. He still holds a grudge against Chris Ford who, he's convinced, cost St. Bonaventure the 1970 NCAA basketball championship.

@TBNDicesare | bdicesare@buffnews.com


Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz, a native of Lockport, has covered colleges for The Buffalo News since 1999. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism/mass communication from St. Bonaventure University and a master’s degree in humanities from the University at Buffalo. An endurance athlete, she has completed several triathlons, half marathons and marathons.

@amymoritz | amoritz@buffnews.com

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