Friday, February 14, 2014

Niagara-Canisius Rivalry Always a MAAC Highlight

As another storm has turned much of the northeast into a winter wonderland, your Hoopscribe has located to the "balmy" Buffalo area where nary a flake has fallen.

But that's not the only positive related to being in the land of the chicken wing and beef-on-wick sandwich.

This is, after all, a basketball blog and one of the all-time items on my personal basketball bucket list is about to be realized tonight.

Although your scribe is approaching 41 years of covering college basketball, and nearly 30 of some sort of MAAC coverage, we have never before witnessed a Canisius-Niagara men's basketball game.

That wish gets fulfilled tonight, Canisius at Niagara in a 9 p.m. men's contest at the Taps Gallagher Center, seating capacity 2,450, and the expectation is every vacant space will be occupied tonight.

A brief aside ... at Niagara, these days, they're calling their facility "The Legendary Taps Gallagher Center." Sure, there's plenty of history here. And, to my knowledge, the building (erected in 1950) is the only basketball facility in the league older than your Hoopscribe. That, alone, makes it legendary to me!

It's not as if we're a stranger to significant rivalries.

I've been a pressbox presence at nine Army-Navy football games, and have witnessed more than a few other "Little Three" basketball confrontations.

By way of explanation ... the Little Three once referred to the Western New York's trio of Division I programs Niagara, Canisius and St. Bonaventure. As a long-ago student at St. Bona's, I had made my way to a few of the Bonnies' games against the other two WNY rivals. These days, with the addition of UBuffalo to the D-I ranks, the mythical affiliation is now referred to as "The Big Four."

But, Niagara-Canisius is the granddaddy of them all, to steal a phrase from football's Rose Bowl.

I've also been to many, many meetings of Siena and UAlbany, schools separated by a mere eight miles. And, that's as intense an annual meeting as it gets in New York's Capital Region.

But, MAAC officials assure that the Siena-UAlbany rivalry games pale in comparision to Niagara-Canisius on tonight's schedule.

We'll experience that first hand, and will provide a full report afterwards.

As for a short preview ...

The meeting is the longest currently rivalry among all MAAC members. The two programs have met 175 times, dating back to the '06-07 season ... and, that's the 1906-07 season, the second year or organized basketball at Niagara. The Purple Eagles, history shows, won that first meeting, 28-18.

Niagara currently leads the series, having won 100 times to 75 for the Golden Griffins.

Niagara has also won 18 of the last 23 meetings, although Canisius has won the last two (one last season, and the first of this season's two contests), its first two-game winning streak in the rivalry since 2001.

And, if Canisius can complete this season's two-game sweep, it will be the first for that program in the Western New York Rivalry since the 1994-95 season.

Canisius has been the better team so far, with a 10-4 MAAC record and a 16-9 overall mark. Niagara is 3-11 and 6-19. But, as the cliche goes for any rivalry ... you can usually discount the records of the teams.

Canisius, though, has lost its last two games and is expected to be withing its senior forward and leading rebounder 6-foot-6 Chris Manhertz, who suffered a broken nose last Friday in a game against Manhattan.

Niagara enters the game on a four-game losing streak.

The game also features two of the best players in the conference, both among the national scoring leaders.

Niagara's junior guard Antoine Mason tops all Division I scorers nationally, averaging 26.3 points per game. Billy Baron, the standout senior guard for Canisius, ranks fifth on the national scoring list at 23.6 ppg.

Your Hoopscribe can't wait.

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