From early this afternoon past midnight, local college basketball junkies will get a big fix as each of the Big 4 men's teams and the University at Buffalo women host games today.
UB's women (15-6, 6-4) meet Ball State (17-5, 9-2) at 1:30, followed by the men (2-17, 0-10) against Bowling Green (9-10, 5-5) at 4 (Radio 1520) in a televised Mid-American Conference doubleheader on Empire.
At 2, St. Bonaventure (14-7, 5-4) faces St. Joseph's (18-4, 8-1) in a huge Atlantic 10 matchup at the sold-out Reilly Center (Radio 95.7 FM, 1300). Also at 2, Canisius (13-8, 5-7) welcomes Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference foe Marist (14-9, 9-4) to the Koessler Center (Radio 550).
The hoops fest concludes at midnight when Niagara (12-10, 9-4) goes for a share of first place in the MAAC against leader Iona (17-7, 10-3) at the Gallagher Center on ESPN 2 (Radio 1440).
Here's a close look at the games:
UB men vs. Bowling Green
UB coach Reggie Witherspoon did not attend Friday's practice. Instead, he was in Florida with athletic director Bob Arkeilpane and former coach Tim Cohane to meet with NCAA officials about alleged violations that led to Cohane's ouster in early December of 1999. Witherspoon was required to attend the meeting even though he wasn't the coach when the NCAA investigation began.
The Bulls could do without this distraction. They have lost 12 straight dating to Dec. 22, including one- and two-point losses the last two games.
Now, they must play a hot Bowling Green team that has won a season-high three straight, the last two on the road at Miami and Ohio. The Falcons lead the league in scoring (79.2 points per game) behind junior guard Keith McLeod (16.7 points per game) and junior center Len Matela (15.7 points, 9.1 rebounds).
UB women vs. Ball State
This contest will be a matchup of contrasting styles. Ball State is the highest-scoring team in the MAC, averaging 83.3 points per game. Center Tamara Bowie leads the way with a MAC-high 19.7 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. Point guard Shala Crook is first in assists (6.68).
UB has the top-ranked scoring defense, yielding just 61.7 points. But the Bulls can put points on the board as well behind dynamic duo Tiffany Bell (17.9 points) and Mari McClure (15.9).
St. Bona vs. St. Joseph's
The Bonnies certainly have a lot to play for in this one. They lost the previous meeting in overtime, 104-97, after blowing a five-point lead in the final 22 seconds of regulation. More important, a win today over the A-10 leaders tightens Bona's grip on fifth place, which comes with a first-round bye in the conference tournament.
Beating St. Joe's will be difficult. The Hawks are 12-1 since Dec. 21, including a current four-game winning streak. Five players average in double figures, led by guard Marvin O'Connor, the A-10's second-leading scorer at 20.5 points per game. Point guard Jameer Nelson (12.2 points, A-10-leading 6.2 assists per game) is one of the top freshmen in the nation.
"St. Joe's is a top-25 team in my opinion," said Bona coach Jim Baron. "It's a great opportunity for us to play the hottest team in the conference."
Facing St. Joe's is a lot tougher without a full complement of players. Bona center Peter Van Paassen has missed the last two games with tendonitis in his right ankle and is questionable. Guard Patricio Prato (fractured left wrist) won't be ready to play for at least another week.
Bona will need another big game from Kevin Houston (19.4 ppg), who is coming off a 36-point performance in Wednesday's win over Duquesne, and J.R. Bremer (15.2 ppg), who is averaging 24.7 points the last three games.
Niagara vs. Iona
Gallagher will be rocking tonight as Niagara hosts a nationally televised game for the first time.
"It's going to be a great night for college basketball," coach Joe Mihalich said. "The campus is alive right now."
Mihalich expects an angry Iona team coming off its embarrassing 24-point loss at Canisius Thursday. But Niagara has plenty of motivation on its side. Iona won the last meeting in overtime, 100-90, after a game-saving basket by guard Earl Johnson at the buzzer in regulation.
Mihalich is 2-0 against Iona at home. The Gaels have struggled on the road in conference play this year, losing three games by an average of 22 points. Niagara's four-game winning streak is the longest in two years. Michael Schmidt has been a big reason for the surge, as he's averaging 18.6 points over the last five games.
Mihalich remains uncertain of Daryl Greene's status tonight. The junior point guard missed Thursday's win over Marist with turf toe and ankle tendonitis. Iona could be without sophomore guard Maceo Wofford (Jamestown), who is questionable with a fracture near his left thumb.
Canisius vs. Marist
The Griffs may have played their best game of the season in their 93-69 win over Iona Thursday. The question is, can they duplicate that effort today?
Canisius is sure to get tested by Marist, which has a solid inside game with Drew Samuels and one of the MAAC's top point guards in Sean Kennedy.
"They run about 1,000 plays, which we have to get our guys to know," Griffs coach Mike MacDonald said. "It's a big game for us. It's one we definitely need."