Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Team Reports: Despite Losses, Canisius Still Solid

Here's another in the "Team Report" series, taking a look back and ahead at conference teams.

Up now ...


2012-13 RECORD: 11-7 in MAAC play (tied for fourth), 20-14 overall. Lost to Iona, 89-85, in the conference tournament's quarterfinal round. Received a berth in the Tournament where it beat Elon and Youngstown State before losing to Evansville, 84-83 in overtime.

2012-13 RECAP: A new coach in Jim Baron, and new results. The 20 overall victories were a 15-win improvement from the previous year, the largest one-season jump in Canisius history and the third-best improvement nationally from the previous season. The CIT berth was the program's first national post-season appearance since 1996. There were four sell-outs of the 2,196-seat Koessler Athletic Center during the season, after only 11 total sellout crowds over the previous 10 seasons.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: The entire team, except for Baron's own son Billy, was recruited by previous coach Tom Parrotta, but Baron sure knew what to do with the talent on hand. And, Baron was the best addition of all, a transfer from Rhode Island who received an NCAA waiver that allowed him to play immediately. He was a first-team all-MAAC pick, and arguably the most-versatile player in the league averaging 17.2 points, 4.1 rebounds and a league-best 5.0 assists. Harold Washington (13.8 ppg.) and Isaac Sosa (11.6, and a program single-season record of 95 three-pointers made) completed one of the top perimeter trios in the league. And, the No. 4 guard, Alshwan Hymes, added 7.1 ppg. and finished with 1,047 career points. The Golden Griffins got off fast, an 8-2 start, that included a win at Temple, and got a rare sweep of "Big Four" rivals St. Bonaventure, Buffalo and Niagara during the season. The 20 victories was a first since the 2000-01 season. Baron's 584 points scored was the most in a single season by a Griff since Ray Hall had 628 in the 1984-85 season. Even in defeat, Canisius looked good, particularly in its quarterfinal-round conference tournament loss to Iona, arguably the best-played game of the event, and the Gaels went on to win the tourney title and advance to the NCAA's. Chris Manhertz, an undersized (6-foot-6) power player led the team with 8.7 rebounds per game. The team also played a considerably more-exciting brand of basketball than in previous years, averaging 73.5 points per game. And, there were the two CIT victories, including a stirring rally from a 22-point second-half deficit against against Youngstown State with the Griffs eventually earning an 84-82 victory. Much of what Canisius did, though, was a result of having more talent in place than at any time in more than a decade.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Hard to find too much fault in the program's best season, all things considered, in 17 years. But there were some disappointments. Start with a one-point home loss (66-65) to rival Niagara in the regular season. Then there was the close loss to Iona in the MAAC tournament, and the season-ending loss to Evansville in the CIT after Canisius held a six-point lead late in regulation of that game. Canisius also probably relied a little too much on its perimeter players, possibly out of necessity. But, Manhertz (7.6 ppg.) was offensively challenged and the Heath brothers, Jordan (9.2 points, 5.9 rebounds) and Josiah (3.1, 3.5) didn't contribute as much as it seemed they are capable of. And, neither did Asprilla, a touted transfer from Kansas State, who never looked to be peak condition and only averaged 11.4 minutes per game. Still, things could have been a lot worse, particularly with so many new pieces to acclimate. Baron didn't officially get clearance until mid-August. Jordan Heath, Aprilla and Sosa also joining the game-eligible group for the first time after transferring, although those three all practiced with the team the previous year. And, Baron was a new coach, albeit a veteran one, and his solid reputation as a program builder at his previous stops certainly served him well ... and, held up ... at Canisius.

WHAT'S AHEAD: More change, and much uncertainty. Washington and Sosa, the team's second- and third-leading scorers, are gone, as is Hymes (the sixth-leading scorer), Reggie Groves (seventh) and Aprilla. That's five of the team's top nine players from this past season. Groves, who graduated, did have another year of eligibility. And, lightly used forward Tyrell Edwards, also left the program. But, Baron is back and a good point guard, which he most definitely is, cures a lot of ills. And, the three top front-court players, the Heath brothers and Manhertz, are also returning. But Baron, in his first full recruiting cycle, had to find players and is bringing in five newcomers, including Jeremiah Williams, a junior college transfer (from high-powered Vincennes JC of Grand Rapids, Mich.). Williams, though, only averaged 4.4 points and 2.7 assists, but had an exemplary 91 assist/43 turnover total. If Williams can play the point, it would allow Baron to log some minutes at shooting guard. And, Canisius is finally landing some local players. The incoming freshmen include 6-4 swingman Adam Weir (of Buffalo's Canisius H.S.) and 6-6 forward Jermaine Crompton of Niagara Falls H.S. Also in place is Phil Valenti, a 6-7 forward from Aquinas H.S. in the Rochester area, who redshirted this past season.

PREDICTION FOR 2013-14: As good as the Barons are ... father as a coach, Billy as a player ... it might be difficult for the program to duplicate this past season. Difficult, but not impossible. There will likely be a greater emphasis on getting production from the front court, and the Heaths and Manhertz are capable of better. But, for Canisius to expect to finish in the top five (to get a first-round MAAC tournament bye), it will need to find some backcourt help for Baron, with the options all incoming players, making it hard to predict just how capable those players will be. If the front court makes forward strides, and the team can find some production from several of the incoming players, a top five finish ... maybe as high as third ... isn't out of the realm of possibility. But, there's also the chance that if those things don't fall into place, Canisius will be looking at a lower finish. The bottom won't drop out, though. At worst, the Griffs are still sold and it would be hard to envision a sub-.500 season.

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