Hoops Week by Bob DiCesare: Big 4’s star attractions shine - The Buffalo News
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Hoops Week by Bob DiCesare: Big 4’s star attractions shine

Antoine Mason dumps a career-high 39 points on Brown. Billy Baron matches his career high with 33 at Notre Dame and moves an ESPN analyst to more or less call him the best player no one ever talks about. Javon McCrea goes off for 25 points and 14 rebounds against Binghamton and comes within a rebound of his third straight double-double in a win at Drexel.

Perhaps not since the days of Bob Lanier and Calvin Murphy have Western New York teams featured multiple players capable of taking over a game on a nightly basis. At least not to this extent.

Niagara resumes conference play this week with Mason, a junior guard, holding firm as the nation’s scoring king at 29.1 points per game. He leads Creighton senior Doug McCermott by better than a four-point average as he vies to become the third player in Little Three/Big 4 history to top the nation in offensive production. Larry Fogle of Canisius won the 1973-74 scoring title at 33.4 and Niagara’s Alvin Young captured the crown in 1998-99 at 25.1 (which was the lowest average for a scoring champion since 1948-49).

Mason has upped his career total to 1,466 points and potentially could take a run at Murphy’s storied school career mark of 2,548 points. The caveat is that Murphy played just three seasons (freshman were ineligible). He averaged 29.4 as a sophomore, 32.4 as a junior and 38.2 as a senior but never won a scoring title as LSU’s Pete Maravich went off at 43.8, 44.2 and 44.5 over those corresponding seasons (the three highest scoring averages in NCAA history, by the way).

Baron, a senior guard, played the best statistical game of his career Sunday as Canisius fell in overtime at Notre Dame. He was 10 of 20 from the field, perfect in nine trips to the foul line and added six rebounds, six steals and five assists against just one turnover while playing 43 minutes. That prompted ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla to tweet “If Billy Baron transferred to Arizona or played at North Carolina, we’d be raving about him on ESPN.”

Baron has hit for at least 30 in two of the last three games (31 against Holy Cross), upping his average to 21.0. Does he have a triple-double in him this season? Odds are he’ll knock hard on that door a couple of times.

At UB, McCrea has regained form as the Bulls adjust to new roles and a new offensive approach under first-year coach Bobby Hurley. McCrea, a senior forward, has averaged 21 points and 11.3 rebounds over the last three games after managing just 10.7 points and 5.7 rebounds in the previous three. He needs to average 13.9 points over UB’s remaining 19 regular-season games to eclipse Rasaun Young’s school career mark of 1,908 points and average 18.7 to become UB’s first 2,000-point scorer. The needed averages decline with additional games in the conference tournament and a post-conference tournament.

The week aheadMAAC

Canisius (8-5, 2-0) and Niagara (4-9, 1-1) both completed non-conference play over the weekend and embark on their first Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference road trips of the season. Niagara plays at Rider (6-5, 2-0) on Thursday and at Iona (5-6, 2-0) on Saturday. The Griffs get a replay against Saint Peter’s (4-7, 0-2) on Saturday and a first meeting with Marist (3-9, 0-2) on Monday. The Griffs beat Saint Peter’s by 15 in Buffalo on Dec. 6.

Preseason prognostications have held true to date with Manhattan (9-2, 2-0) retaining the title of Team to Beat. The Jaspers’ most notable win might be a 18-point conquest at South Carolina, part of their 7-0 record at road/neutral sites.

The Griffs don’t meet up with the Jaspers until Feb. 7 in Buffalo. They conclude the regular season against each other on March 2 at Manhattan.


UB (6-4) wraps up non-conference play when it hosts South Dakota State (8-7) at 7 Friday night. The Jackrabbits have won four straight but aren’t the same team that went 25-10 last year and lost to Michigan in the second round of the NCAAs. Gone is guard Nate Wolters, the 38th pick in the NBA Draft. He’s averaging 6.5 points and 3.5 assists with the Milwaukee Bucks.

Mid-American Conference play begins the following week and the West looks like it will hold true to projected form. Toledo took a 12-0 record into Monday night’s game at Kansas and is receiving votes in the AP Poll although the schedule hasn’t been all that challenging. In the East, preseason favorite Akron (6-5) has been up and down while Ohio (8-3) has surprised. Two of the Bobcats three losses were to ranked teams (Ohio State, UMass) and they opened more eyes with an OT road win at Richmond.

UB opens its Mid-American Conference schedule at home Jan. 8 with a crossover against Northern Illinois (5-5).

Atlantic 10

St. Bonaventure has fought through injury issues affecting guards Matthew Wright and Jordan Gathers and was 8-4 out of conference going into Monday night’s game against visiting Delaware. The Bonnies get another Reilly Center tuneup at 2 Saturday afternoon against winless Cornell before shifting to A-10 action with the Jan. 8 opener against visiting Richmond (9-4).

Preseason favorites VCU (11-3) and Saint Louis (11-2) have played to form but George Washington and to a lesser extent UMass have surprised. UMass, picked fourth in the preseason poll, is 11-1, ranked 23rd by AP and has a number of quality wins, including victories over LSU and New Mexico. GW, picked 10th in the A-10, beat Miami in overtime and knocked off then-No. 20 Creighton during its 11-1 start. The Colonials visit the Reilly Center on Jan. 18, UMass on Feb. 15.

email: bdicesare@buffnews.com

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