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Pregame Prep: Canisius visits Niagara Monday night


Canisius at Niagara

7 p.m. Monday at Gallagher Center

Radio 1230, 1440. TV: Time Warner Cable.

The Setup: Canisius will try to keep its high-flying offense rolling and keep pace with the league leaders at the top of the standing in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. Niagara has shown some signs of improvement this season after enduring three terrible seasons under coach Chris Casey. This would be a good time for the Purple Eagles to make a statement that they are going in the right direction.

Recent history: Canisius beat Niagara three times last season, including a 102-97 OT decision in the MAAC Tournament. Jim Baron went 7-2 vs. Niagara the past four years.

Purple Eagle Questions: Does Niagara have enough scoring to hang with the Griffs? Scoring was a huge problem for Niagara last year, when it averaged only 62 ppg. Niagara is averaging 73.7 ppg this year. Matt Scott leads Niagara at 17.1 ppg. Kahlil Dukes averages 16.0. Niagara and Canisius are tied for second in the MAAC in three point shooting, making 9.3 threes a game.

Golden Griff Questions: Just how unreliable is the Canisius defense? The Griffs rank last in the MAAC in shooting percentage allowed. They're 313th in the nation in percentage allowed on two-point shots, meaning their interior D is shaky and they give up too many rebound put-backs. Part of the reason for this is Canisius likes to play a small lineup, with Phil Valenti and Jermaine Crumpton in the posts. That's a great offensive set for Reggie Witherspoon, but the downside is they give up size inside. On the upside, Canisius has been able to enhance its defense by forcing turnovers. The Griffs are forcing 15.9 a game, best in the MAAC. This should be a good matchup for the Griffs. Niagara is 328th in the nation in shooting percentage on two-pointers, meaning the Eagles don't finish inside well.

Key Matchup: Niagara's best on-ball defender is guard Chris Barton, who is having a fine sophomore season. Barton has size (6-3), strength and athleticism. Look for him to defend top Griff scorer Kassius Robertson (18.1 ppg), who's fourth in the MAAC in scoring. Barton has been a plus on offfense, too. Since Casey made him a starter eight games ago, Barton is averaging 8.6 ppg and shooting .622 from the field overall and a blazing .632 from three-point range.

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