Friday, April 23, 2010

Off-Season Report: Griffs Solid Again

Here's the latest installment in the "10 Teams in 10 Days" series. Up, now ...

CANISIUS (8-10 in the MAAC, 15-17 overall)

FINAL RPI: 206 of 347 teams nationally.

RECAP: The 15-17 final overall record marked progress. It was just two seasons ago that the Golden Griffins finished 6-25 overall. It was also the closest the program has come to a .500 season since it finished 20-11 in 2000-01. This past season was the beginning of a culmination of some good recruiting efforts that should continue on this season. It also firmly established 5-foot-10 point guard Frank Turner as one of the top backcourt performers in the program's history. But, the Griffs were pretty much a two-man team offensively (Turner and junior Julius Coles) and struggled against opponents that could limit those two. Some early season personnel losses and an early season injury also limited the team's depth. But, the Griffs were close, losing one league game by a point in overtime and another by two points.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Turner had a step-up season, playing like a senior leader and lifting the team back to respectability. Coles (13.6 points per game) began to emerge as one of the league's better small forwards. A group of hard-nosed players, led by Tomas Vazuez-Simmons (29th nationally in blocked shots), Elton Frazier and Robert Goldsberry gave opponents a battle every night. The season highlight was a 73-70 overtime victory against regional rival Niagara on Jan. 24 before a home crowd of 2,196, the largest turnout at the Griffs' Koessler Athletic Center since the facility was renovated in 2002.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Hulking center Chris Gadley was lost to the program due to academic issues and never played a game. Highly touted incoming guard freshman Rob Gagliardi also left the program for personal reasons without ever playing a game. And another freshman, guard Reggie Groves, tore his ACL in the team's seventh game after a promising start. That robbed the team of most of its depth. The team failed to find a legitimate third offensive option, and the injuries/defections pushed Goldsberry, whose talent doesn't come close to matching his enthusiasm, into a prominent role at guard. The team's hard-nosed style of play (some opponents accused the Griffs of being borderline "dirty" players) also brought some well-deserved criticism in that regard.

WHAT'S AHEAD: It should be interesting to see how a team that returns the majority of its contributing players can do without Turner, the program's backbone for the past four seasons. Clearly, a guard has to step up both with talent and with leadership skills. The best candidate might be 6-2 sophomore Gaby Belardo, a transfer from the University of South Florida, where he played sparingly as a freshman. Someone else, maybe Groves if he's healthy, also needs to supplant Goldsberry in the starting lineup. Chris Manhertz, a 6-6 forward, is the top incoming recruit, according to reports, and might provide some help.

PREDICTION FOR 2010-11: The program had win-total jumps of five (from six to 11) two years ago and four last season. Another move like that would get the Griffs to the 19/20-victory range, but that's too much to expect, particularly with the questions surrounding the replacement of Turner. The team now appears to have an abundance of solid players, but needs more than just Coles to be an offensive weapon. Points have been hard to come by for the Griffs in recent years, and probably will be again in the coming season. The team is likely to be pretty much what it was this past season ... solid, hard-nosed and right around the .500 level with its league and overall records.

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