Canisius coach Mike MacDonald is worried, but that should come as no surprise. What college basketball coach isn't fretting about his team's shortcomings on the eve of the season opener?
MacDonald, however, has some legitimate concerns heading into the Griffs' game tonight at St. Bonaventure (7:30, Radio 95.7 FM). Chief among them is the fact his team will be hard-pressed to match the kind of athleticism Bona displayed in opening with a 74-64 win Tuesday over Liberty.
The Bonnies recorded 11 dunks and center Caswell Cyrus overpowered Liberty with 23 points and seven blocks. Those are sobering numbers to the Canisius coach.
"Hey, I know we haven't had 11 dunks since practice began," MacDonald deadpanned Friday. "It's definitely a big concern. You can't defend those plays because we just can't jump with them."
And most observers think the Griffs can't stay with Bona unless senior forward Jamie Cammaert is a major contributor. Cammaert will start tonight, but is far from 100 percent after suffering an ankle sprain Nov. 3 in Canisius' first exhibition game. He just returned to practice Tuesday.
"He'll play as much as he can," MacDonald said of Cammaert, the Griffs' top returning scorer and rebounder from last year's 13-14 team. "He's been cleared by the doctors and they're not concerned about a new injury. We'll roll the dice and see how he does."
The Griffs have to find some way to contain the 6-foot-9 Cyrus, who is just four blocks shy of breaking the Bona career record of 163 set by Eric Stover in 1983. Cyrus is much improved offensively, with his shooting range extending out to 12 feet from the basket, and is Bona's first option in the wake of Rashaan Palmer's graduation.
"He's definitely a guy who has a realistic shot to play at the next level," MacDonald said. "He's getting into the category of a Nazr Mohammed (the Kentucky center who developed from an unheralded high school player into a NBA first-round pick last June). Cyrus just fills the stat sheet. The display with Liberty was unbelievable."
Canisius will start sophomore Darren Fenn at center against Cyrus, but junior Matt Tribul will see plenty of playing time as well. Red-shirt freshman Andrew Bush, the Olean Walsh graduate, is battling an ankle sprain and will see limited duty.
"Tribul can really shoot and we're hoping he can stretch their defense a little," MacDonald said. "That way, Cyrus will have to play more honest and not just sit under the basket all night."
While Canisius is most concerned about defending Bona inside, the Bonnies have worries of their own. Canisius does not have the kind of team that will provide heavy defensive pressure, but the press will be a hazard for Bona as long as freshman J.R. Bremer starts at point guard for the suspended Tim Winn.
The Bonnies committed 14 turnovers and hit just 7 of 28 shots in the second half against Liberty, when a 21-point lead half was whittled to as little as nine.
In the offseason, coach Jim Baron never gave much thought to having Bremer running the offense for more than a few minutes a night. That thinking changed when Winn was charged with felony assault earlier this month after a campus incident.
"It's a tough transition to make, one that takes a lot of time for everybody," Baron admitted. "It's like getting a new quarterback in football. Everybody has to get used to what he's going to do, get used to a new cadence.
"He has the ability there but we know it will be a gradual thing. Teams will try to put defensive pressure on us and every guy will have to work hard on handling it better."
The Bonnies lead the series between the schools, 91-56, although Canisius has won five of the last eight meetings. The teams split two games last year.
Canisius is just 2-26 at the Reilly Center, with the wins coming in 1994 and 1996 under John Beilein when MacDonald was an assistant.
In today's other Big 4 action, the University at Buffalo and Niagara both try to improve upon 1-1 records. UB is at Duquesne (tape delay at 5, Radio 1520) while Niagara plays a 7:30 game at Maryland-Eastern Shore.
Duquesne (2-0), in its first year under 28-year-old head coach Darelle Porter, posted a 59-50 upset of West Virginia on Wednesday. Maryland-Eastern Shore lost its opener last Saturday at North Carolina State, 73-57.