When one thinks of sports in Western New York, the Bills and Sabres immediately come to mind. The two franchises are what keeps the blood pumping during the chilly fall, winter and spring months.
It is rare that college basketball fever sweeps through the area and takes attention away from Buffalo’s beloved football and hockey teams.
The University at Buffalo Bulls making their first ever NCAA Tournament appearance in 2015, and then punching their ticket again in 2016, comes to mind.
St. Bonaventure making its legendary Final Four run in 1970 also comes to mind.
However, the seasons each member of the "Big 4" are having thus far may produce an unprecedented case of March Madness in the 716.
The Big 4, which consists of UB, Canisius College, Niagara University and St. Bonaventure University, all currently sit in the top three of the standings in their respective conferences.
Not only that, all four are on the cusp of winning 20 games in the same season, something that has never happened in the programs’ history.
The most impressive and nationally recognized squad of the bunch are the Bonnies of St. Bonaventure.
Led by senior guard Jaylen Adams, averaging 20.0 points per game –which is good for fourth in the Atlantic 10 Conference – the Bonnies are 20-6 overall and coming off their strongest victory of the season, a 77-74 home win over No. 16-ranked Rhode Island.
The Bonnies are more than likely the only team of the Big 4 who have a chance to get into the NCAA Tournament without winning their auto-bid conference tournament. They were recently selected as one of the last four teams in by ESPN’s Joe Lunardi.
Their victory over Rhode Island, which was riding the nation’s longest win streak at 16 games before the loss, is one of the highest-quality wins of the year, and would seemingly help their case greatly.
As for the UB Bulls, who are on pace for one of their greatest regular seasons in school history, it would take winning the Mid-American Conference Tournament to punch a ticket to the Big Dance.
With a championship there, it would be not only their third ever MAC Tournament title, but their third in the last four years. The only other team in MAC history to accomplish that feat was Kent State in 1999, 2001 and 2002.
A young Bulls team, which has only two seniors and sits at 20-7 overall, is led by junior guard CJ Massinburg, who is averaging 17.5 points and 7.6 rebounds per game. They have already clinched the MAC East regular season title with four games remaining.
Finally, the two Western New York representatives of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, Canisius and Niagara, are locked in a battle for a conference title.
While St. Bonaventure and UB both have a shot at reaching the NCAA Tournament, unfortunately for the Golden Griffins and Purple Eagles, the only way into March Madness will be winning the MAAC Tournament. It’s one or none for these rivals.
Canisius (19-10) and Niagara (18-11) currently sit second and third respectively in the MAAC standings, behind Rider. They were to go head-to-head on Feb. 21, a match-up the Purple Eagles won handily back on Jan. 27.
Niagara’s scoring attack of Kahlil Dukes (20.8 ppg, second in MAAC) and Matt Scott (19.5 ppg, third in MAAC) look to carry them to their first Big Dance appearance since 2007, while Canisius forward and Niagara Falls product Jermaine Crumpton (16.9 ppg) hopes to lead the Griffins there for the first time since 1996.
Only once have two teams from the Big 4 reached the NCAA Tournament in the same year. One has to go back to 1970, when St. Bonaventure and Niagara both made it.
This year is different however. Not just two teams from the 716 have an opportunity to make the Big Dance, three do.
If Buffalo, St. Bonaventure and Canisius or Niagara are all wearing dancing shoes come Selection Sunday, a message will be sent loud and clear: college basketball is alive and thriving in Western New York.
Adam Gorski is a senior at Cardinal O’Hara High School.