Our 2015-16 college basketball preview will be published in Wednesday’s Buffalo News, but we’re tipping things off early at BuffaloNews.com. The lineup: Monday -- St. Bonaventure men and women; Tuesday -- Niagara and Canisius men and women; Wednesday -- University at Buffalo men and women, plus our cover story and more.
Canisius Golden Griffins
Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.
Jim Baron (4th year).
Jim Baron is in the motivation business, not the promotion business.
He’s not about to trumpet the prospects for his 2015-16 Canisius team just because the bulk of the roster helped the Golden Griffins exceed expectations last season. Baron is focused on turning this year’s roster into another group of overachieving junkyard dogs. (FYI: Junkyard dogs is one of Baron’s pet phrases.)
“I’m not going to give you that much because I don’t know,” Baron insisted after a preseason practice. “There’s a lot of ifs.”
OK, fine. Baron has been underselling and over-delivering most of his career. But the Griffs return five of their seven most talented players from last season. They look primed to have another winning record, even if they aren’t among the favorites in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.
“I like our numbers and I like our athleticism,” Baron concedes. “That allows you, No. 1, to work. It allows you to improve. Now we can get our defense going, we can pressure, we can up-tempo. They’re more my kind of guys, because they’re junkyard dogs.”
The Griffs share the ball. Last year they ranked 22nd in the nation in assists per field goal (61 percent). Junior forward Phil Valenti is as versatile as any player in the Big Four. He averaged 9.4 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.4 assists before dislocating his ankle last season. Senior wingman Jamal Reynolds is a prime defender on the wing. On the blocks, Canisius returns 6-10 senior Kevin Bleeker and bulky, 6-6 sophomore Jermaine Crumpton, who has a good outside shot. In the backcourt, the Griffs return MAAC all-freshman pick Kassius Robertson, who came on late last season. The point guards are new. Senior Malcolm McMillan transferred from Central Connecticut. He sat out almost all last season with a back injury. But he has 85 career starts, a 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. He averaged 10.8 ppg two years ago. Sharing time with him at the point is Chris Atkinson, a 5-9 freshman from Long Island who can pass.
“That little kid over there is a difference maker, I think,” says Baron, pointing to Atkinson.
With those two at the point, the Griffs should be able to recapture last year’s wonderful offensive chemistry.
“I hope, I hope,” Baron says. “It looks good in practice but I’ve got to see it.”
Leading scorer Zach Lewis (12.2) ppg transferred to UMass in one of the more confounding decisions of the offseason. (Baron let him take the fifth most shots in the MAAC.) Does Canisius have enough perimeter shooting in his absence? Between Lewis and graduated Jeremiah Williams, Canisius loses 118 treys. It must be done by committee. The Griffs need 6-3 Canadian junior transfer Kiefer Douse to produce. He’s a smooth-looking lefty. Roberston’s numbers should go up. It’s time for red-shirt sophomore Adam Weir (Canisius) to hit some shots. Can red-shirt freshman guards Isaiah Gurley and Raven Owen become role players?
Meanwhile, the graduation of center Josiah Heath is a loss. Bleeker came on late last year but he’s not as physical as Heath. The Griffs need some boards and defense from muscular 6-8 sophomore Ronnie Gombe. They need more good minutes from 6-6 sophomore Cassidy Ryan. How will Canisius hold up inside against the toughest frontcourts in the MAAC (Iona, Monmouth, Fairfield)? Baron will have to earn his money those nights.
Inside the numbers
Yes, Lewis scored, but he was not an efficient offensive player. He took 27 percent of Canisius’ shots. He made only 33 percent of them, and only 31 percent from behind the arc. Take his 405 shots and split them among Valenti, Robertson, McMillan and Douse. Canisius might be better off.
Inside the schedule
Canisius may do no better than 4-7 in a tough non-conference slate, which includes three teams picked to win their leagues (Hofstra, Lehigh and Louisiana-Monroe). They get the Bonnies at home. The Griffs are picked for sixth in the MAAC. Iona is the favorite, followed by Monmouth, Manhattan, Rider and Siena.
This is Baron’s 30th season as a head coach. Ten of his last 13 seasons have been winning years. Mark this down as another winning season. If they’re healthy at the end, the Griffs will be dangerous in the MAAC Tournament.
No. Name Pos. Cl. Ht. Wt. Hometown Last School
00 Ronnie Gombe F So. 6-8 230 Nairobi, Kenya Valley Forge Military
1 Malcolm McMillan G Sr. 6-0 180 Baltimore Cent. Connecticut St.
2 Jermaine Crumpton F So. 6-6 245 Niagara Falls Niagara Falls
3 Raven Owen G Fr. 5-10 155 Staten Island St. Joseph (N.J.)
4 Kiefer Douse G Jr. 6-3 175 Brampton, Ont. Jacksonville College
5 Kassius Robertson G So. 6-3 175 Toronto Thornlea SS
10 Cassidy Ryan F So. 6-6 215 Mississauga, Ont. Mount Carmel
11 Chris Atkinson G Fr. 5-9 155 Hempstead L.I. Lutheran
13 Isaiah Gurley G Fr. 6-3 195 Brooklyn Westinghouse
14 Kevin Bleeker C Sr. 6-11 230 Alkmaar, Netherlands BV Noordkop
22 Phil Valenti F Jr. 6-7 200 Victor Aquinas
23 Jamal Reynolds G Sr. 6-4 175 Pickering, Ont. Mott CC
25 Adam Weir G So. 6-4 190 Tonawanda Canisius
32 Tyrell Taylor F Fr. 6-5 183 Brooklyn Uncommon Charter
Date Opponent Time
Nov. 13 at Hofstra 7 p.m.
Nov. 16 Lehigh 7 p.m.
Nov. 21 Cornell 3:15 p.m.
Nov. 24 St. Bonaventure 7 p.m.
Nov. 28 at Buffalo 2 p.m.
Dec. 4 Monmouth 7 p.m.
Dec. 5 Quinnipiac 7 p.m.
Dec. 10 at Penn St. * 7 p.m.
Dec. 12 at Kent St. * 7 p.m.
Dec. 19 Boston University 2 p.m.
Dec. 22 vs. La.-Monroe * 5:30 p.m.
Dec. 23 vs. TBA * TBA
Jan. 2 at Marist 7 p.m.
Jan. 4 at Monmouth 7 p.m.
Jan. 7 Manhattan 7 p.m.
Jan. 9 Saint Peter’s 2 p.m.
Jan. 12 at Dartmouth 7 p.m.
Jan. 15 at Manhattan 7 p.m.
Jan. 17 at Quinnipiac 2 p.m.
Jan. 22 at Niagara TBA
Jan. 24 Siena 2 p.m.
Jan. 29 at Fairfield TBA
Jan. 31 at Rider 1 p.m.
Feb. 5 Iona 7 p.m.
Feb. 7 Rider 3 p.m.
Feb. 11 at Siena 7:00 p.m.
Feb. 14 at Saint Peter’s 3 p.m.
Feb. 18 Fairfield 8 p.m.
Feb. 20 Marist 3 p.m.
Feb. 25 Niagara 8 p.m.
Feb. 28 at Iona 4 p.m.
Mar. 3-7 MAAC Tournament
* Continental Tire Las Vegas Classic