Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Off-Season Report: Transition at Canisius

Here's another in the series looking at conference programs.

Up now ...


2010-11 RECORD: 9-9 in MAAC play, 15-15 overall.

2010-11 RECAP: For a program that has been "down" moreso, maybe, than any other program in conference history a .500 record is progress. It marked the first time the Golden Griffins didn't finish with a sub-.500 overall record since the 2000-01 season, when it turned in a 20-11 mark. The proverbial bottom never really came, except for a 6-25 finish in 2007-08 when many of this season's players were freshmen. Otherwise Canisius has won at least nine games in every season of the last 10, with four 15-victory or better seasons. The past season was notable also because the Griffs finished sixth in the MAAC's regular-season standings, avoiding the play-in round of the conference's post-season tournament for the first time in 11 years. The relative success came without a signature star, but with plenty of balance. The five leading scorers averaged between 8.9 and 12.5 points per game. The team went legitimately seven deep, which is as good as most conference programs. And, the two top reserves made significant contributions.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: A confluence of veteran players who had been together for the past four seasons, and their progress can be charted by the program's record during their time in Buffalo; 6-25 in 2007-08, followed by 11-20, 15-17 and this year's 15-15 record. That type of heavy veteran presence usually is accompanied by success. Whether a .500 record qualifies as a major success is debatable, but it's success here considering the nine preceding seasons. And, it came without a single contributor taller than the 6-foot-7 Tomas Vazuez-Simmons, a fifth senior who came off the bench this year and was the team's third-leading rebounder. The balanced attack was probably a plus, too.. The only non-senior starter was sophomore point guard Gaby Belardo, a transfer from South Florida, who had a nice first season in the MAAC (10.3 points, 3.9 assists0, including making several late-game, game-winning shots. He is the top returnee and looks like a future conference all-star.

WHAT WENT WRONG: The lack of height didn't matter much as the team used its overall athleticism to hold its own on the boards. It even led the conference in blocked shots and finished 37th nationally in that statistical category. But the lack of a signature "star" player probably did. The Griffs suffered six of their nine conference losses by nine or fewer points, a sure sign that it didn't have a go-to player down the stretch. The closest wasn't one of the seniors, but Belardo, who made three game-winning shots during the season.

WHAT'S AHEAD: Program sales are likely to skyrocket next year as the program undertakes a personnel turnover that is probably unprecedented in conference history. Nine scholarship players are coming aboard, including three transfers who won't be eligible until the 2012-13 season. The backcourt should be among the better ones in the MAAC with the return of current sophomores Belardo, sharpshooter Alshwan Hymes (69 3-pointers) and Reggie Groves, who missed most of the 2009-10 season with a knee injury and showed signs of returning to full health this past season. After that, though, no returnee played more than seven minutes per game. It's hard to tell how good the incoming freshmen will be, although at least one new player, 6-1 guard Harold Washington, has previous collegiate experience having played at Cecil Community College. The best players joining the program look to be 6-10 center Freddie Asprilla, a transfer from Kansas State; 6-10 center Jordan Heath, a transfer from Robert Weslyan; and 6-3 guard Isaac Sosa, a transfer from Central Florida, but those three will merely be practice players having to sit out the year due to transfer rules. It means better days are ahead for the Griffs, but probably not until the 2012-13 season.

PREDICTION FOR 2011-12: Canisius fans will need to enjoy watching team and individual development this coming season because the loss of the team's top three scorers and five of its top six players doesn't bode well for on-court success. The Griffs' appear destined to drop back below .500 and, likely, will return to the post-season tournament's play-in round. But that situation should be short-lived, provided the transfers turn out to be as good as expected two years from now and the heavy influx of freshmen progress throughout the coming year.

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