Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Baron, Transfers Could Mean Success at Canisius

April is here, college basketball season comes to an end after tonight's NCAA women's tournament's championship game, and that means one thing ..

A time to look back, and to look ahead. Today begins the annual team-by-team report on all 10 men's and women's MAAC programs. We'll start from the bottom of this season's men's standings and work upwards. After reviewing the men's program, we'll do the same for that school's women's program (regardless of where it finished this past season). So, after doing the Canisius men first, we'll follow up with the Canisius women's review in our next post.

So, let's begin. First up ...


2011-12 RECORD: 1-17 in MAAC play, 5-25 overall.

RECAP: A season of transition for the program in just about every way possible. After losing four starters to graduation after the 2010-11 season, the Golden Griffins knew they'd be down this past year. But, they didn't expect to be this far down. Blame a little bit on the injury to all-league caliber guard Gaby Belardo, who played through the season with significant back issues. He practiced fewer than 10 times all season, and was clearly far  below his best physically. Blame, too, an effort by coach Tom Parrotta to reload for next season by bringing in three quality transfers in 6-10 center Freddie Asprilla (Kansas State), 6-10 center Jordan Heath (Robert Weslyan) and 6-3 guard Isaac Sosa (Central Florida). All are expected to be significant contributors next year ... heck, all three might be in the starting lineup. But, that didn't help things this year as the Griffs got just one victory in MAAC play (a 67-57 victory over Marist). It wasn't anywhere near enough for Parrotta to keep his job. School officials fired him the morning after Canisius lost its first-round MAAC tournament game.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: A little. For instance, the emergence of junior college transfer Harold Washington (17.0 points per game), one of the most-talented backcourt performers in the league. Also, the development of Alshwyn Hymes as a premier long-range sniper (84 tree-pointers). Reserve guard Reggie Groves also bounced back well after knee woes. Freshman Josiah Heath, the 6-9 younger brother of Jordan, had flashes including back-to-back rebounding efforts of 18 and 15 in mid-season non-conference games. But, he only had one other double-figure rebounding effort other than those contests. And, 6-6 sophomore Chris Manhertz (7.0, 7.4) had a nice season as an undersized power forward while moving into the starting lineup after being a lightly used reserve as a frosh.

WHAT WENT WRONG: With the perimeter talent, Canisius should have had a better record. But, then, came the back woes of Belardo that probably cost the team a couple of wins. And, there just wasn't enough quality height. Teams just pounded the ball inside against the Griffs with great success. Canisius allowed 75.7 points per game, the worst by more than a point among conference teams and 323rd of 338 teams nationally. Other than watching Washintgon's individual achievements and Hymes' long-range accuracy, just about everything else went wrong. And, fans can justifiably question whether it was wrong to bring in three transfers, two of which (Sosa and Asprilla) only have one season of eligibility apiece, rather than traditional four-year players who could have used this past season to develop and create a better foundation for the program.

WHAT'S AHEAD: Canisius hire 58-year old Jim Baron, who was fired after 11 seasons at Rhode Island, to replace Parrotta. The good news here is that Baron has a lot to work with right away. Every player who saw significant minutes this past season returns, and the three talented transfers can all play next season. Parrotta did the shopping and, now, Baron gets to do the cooking. The result should be an on-court culinary delight, at least for a season. After that? Baron better get to recruiting right away because Belardo, Washington, Jordan Heath and Asprilla, arguably the program's best four players, will be gone after the 2012-13 season. The coming season could well be a one-hit wonder. Baron knows western New York, having played at St. Bonaventure and coaching there for nine seasons before taking over at Rhode Island. How much will Baron mean to Canisius? He is a know commodity, and will probably command the respect of his players which will be huge as he tries to fit all the pieces into a cohesive unit and salve egos. There are at least eight, if not nine, players here that could start for most MAAC teams and three or four of them might not be overjoyed about coming off the bench. As far as creating something here for the long term ... the jury is still out. Baron had four straight 20-win seasons before a 7-24 mark this past season, and one bad season was all Rhode Island needed to get rid of him despite two years remaining on his contract. Plus, he has only gone to the NCAA's twice in 25 years as a head coach.

PREDICTION FOR 2012-13: Things can't get any worse. In fact, they'll get much better. All Baron has to do is keep his players' egos in place and figure out how to find enough playing time for nine quality players, and where they all fit. Hard to tell, for sure, how things will go particularly since the three key transfers haven't been seen by most MAAC observers (including your scribe). But, if they are as good as advertised ... and Balardo's back improves ... Canisius has as much talent as any other MAAC team. The feeling here, though, is that it's difficult to incorporate so many new players into a team concept. Loyola and Manhattan will probably be the two teams expected to do the most next season, but Canisius won't be far behind contending for third, fourth or fifth in the conference. For sure, it will contend for the greatest positive turnaround of any program nationally.

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