Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Team Report: Canisius Men Face Rebuilding Season

And, now, begins the annual series of off-season team reports.

Each report will be a combination of looking back at the past season with an early crystal-ball glimpse of the future as best we can figure it.

We've decided to start in the west and, then, move eastward in some semblance of order.

So, we'll start with ...


2013-14 RECORD: 14-6 in MAAC play, tied for third; 21-13 overall that included a post-season trip to the Postseason Tournament (CIT) where the Griffs dropped a 111-100 decision.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Year 2 of the Baron era pretty much mirrored the first. Head coach Jim Baron directed a team spearheaded by his son, 6-foot-2 guard Billy, to a 20-14 record in 2012-13 and, then, went a game better this past season. It marked the first time in school history that a Canisius men's coach won 20 games in each of his first two seasons ... It was also the second straight year the Griffs went to the CIT. Last year's appearance was the program's first in national post-season play in 17 years ... Baron, the son, was the MAAC's Player of the Year and arguably the conference's best perimeter player since Luis Flores played at Manhattan. He finished fourth nationally in scoring (24.1 ppg.) and 41st nationally in assists (5.3, which led the MAAC). He also led the MAAC in three-pointers made (3.1 per contest). Individually, he might have been at his best when he played every minute of a triple overtime victory at Siena, scoring 40 points, grabbing 10 rebounds and dishing out five assists. And, his 821 points scored this season is the second-best single-season total in program history, trailing only Larry Fogle's 835 set 40 years ago ... He got some help from talented teammates, including senior guard Chris Perez (12.9 ppg.) and 6-11 senior center Jordan Heath (10.5, 5.5 rebounds and 72 blocks. Freshman Zach Lewis was one of the better young perimeter playes in the league (8.5 ppg, 63 made three-pointers), and Chris Manhertz was his typically tough inside force, averaging 6.9 rebounds per contest.

WHAT WENT WRONG: To many close losses. The Griffs lost MAAC games by one to Monmouth, by three to Marist, by five to Manhattan and by seven to Quinnipiac. Reverse two of those and they would have been strong contenders for the regular-season title ... Then, there was a three-point loss to Iona in the semifinal round of the conference's post-season tournament when a clearly tired Baron misfired on a pretty decent look on a game-tying three pointer. Instead, Iona held on for a 75-72 victory ... Manhertz also suffered a late-season broken nose, missed three games and wasn't 100 percent for a few games after that. It robbed the Griffs of their lone true inside toughness and they went 4-4 in their final eight regular-season games, a stretch that coincided with Manhertz' injury ... Otherwise, there just wasn't enough inside play. Canisius got outrebounded by 3.0 per contest ... And, its defense wasn't exactly a brick wall. Canisius allowed 75.6 points per game, and only 45 Division I teams allowed more ... That was never more evident than when the Griffs hosted their lone CIT game. Canisius scored 100 points in that contest, but gave up 111.

WHAT'S AHEAD: A major rebuilding process. Losing Baron, the player, is more than enough to set any program back a few notches. The team also loses its next two leading scorers in Heath and Perez and its leading rebounder in Manhertz. That's the program's top four players. Whew. But, the cupboard isn't totally empty, particularly on the perimeter. Rising 6-4 junior guard Dominique Raney (5.5 ppg.) and rising soph Lewis (9.5) are back, but neither is a true point guard. Neither is 6-4 Adam Weir, who redshirted this past season and who could get into the playing group. Your guess as to the Griffs' next point guard is as good as anyone's. It might be incoming JC transfer 6-5 Jamal Reynolds, who played the last two seasons at Mott (Mich.) CC. He was a highly touted floor general during his pre-college days in Canada. The front court, though, is really thin. Phil Valenti, a 6-7 forward, did come on as the season progressed and had a late-season 15-point/9-rebound effort against Iona. If he adds about 10 or 15 pounds of off-season muscle, he can be on his way to being one of the better front-court players in the league. Rising senior Josiah Heath, a 6-9 forward, also needs to step up. He only averaged 11 minutes per contest last season. The roster also includes 6-10 rising junior center Kevin Bleeker, the least-used player on this year's roster who is likely to get key minutes next season.

REASONABLE EXPECTATIONS: Any program with so many significant losses can't maintain what Canisius has done of late. Plus, there's plenty of inexperience at every position. If Canisius can approach .500 next season it will be a significant accomplishment. Most preseason predictions will see the Griffs picked near the bottom, and that's the thought here, too. Expect something in the bottom three, maybe even last, in a season of growth leading to better things in coming seasons.

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