By Paul Casey Gotham
Setting: The Koessler Athletic Center is the spot as Mitch Buonaguro brings his Siena Saints (5-8/2-1) to Buffalo for a tilt with Tom Parrotta’s Canisius Golden Griffins (6-7/0-3). The game will be televised locally on Time-Warner Sportsnet.
Plot: Metro-Atlantic Athletic Conference positioning is on the line as these intra-conference foes meet.
Sub-plot: The Saints have won 46 of 50 against MAAC schools including the last three regular season and conference tournament championships. But that was under the now-departed Fran McCaffery. Buonaguro comes to the KAC for the first time as head coach. The Saints trimmed Iona 73-67 last time out. The Gaels knocked off Canisius 94-85 early in December. Siena’s Clarence Jackson has missed the last four games.
Flashback: Alex Franklin scored 26, and Ryan Rossiter grabbed 17 rebounds when the Saints visited the Koessler last Valentine’s day. Siena has taken 10 straight from the Griffs dating back to December 11, 2005. The Saints hold a 47-36 advantage in the all-time series.
Siena represented the MAAC in each of the last three NCAA tournaments and has punched six dance tickets in their history. Canisius has earned four invitations to the NCAA tournament with back-to-back Elite Eight showings in ’55 and ’56.
Foreshadowing: Eleven Golden Griffins have gone on to play in the National Basketball Association including Mike Smrek who won a pair of titles with the Los Angeles Lakers. Siena’s Kenny Hasbrouck has had a roster spot in the past with the Miami Heat. Dan Terwilliger was taken in the eighth round of the 1982 draft.
Conflict: Teams that press don’t like to be pressed. That is, basketball teams that use a full or three-quarter court defense tend to not like when the same is done to them. How that plays out tonight could be pivotal; both Canisius and Siena press.
Fans of the MAAC have come to expect to see Siena at the top of the conference. Last year, the Saints rattled off 15 wins a row. Siena comes in with five wins and eight losses. Slippage can occur. That’s what happens when a new coach takes over, and he gives the ball to a freshman point guard.
Siena appears to have turned the corner. They have won three of five and limited their turnovers to less than 10 in their three previous outings.
Will that trend continue tonight?
Siena’s three wins during that streak all came at home in the Times-Union Center.
Freshman, Rakeem Brookins will need to cope with the Canisius defense. The Griffs employ a 1-2-2 three-quarter court press that drops back into a 2-3 sometimes and a man-to-man other times. Will Brookins be able to recognize the difference in time?
The Griffs also use a variety of half-court defenses. Canisius will play a straight 2-3, but will also trap the first pass. Sometimes, Canisius will show a 2-3 and morph into a man-to-man. Again, how will Brookins react?
Veteran leadership surrounds Brookins. Senior, Ryan Rossiter is second in the nation grabbing more than 13 rebounds a game. The 6’9″ forward has also shown the ability to grab a defensive rebound, pivot and run the break up the floor.
Junior, Kyle Downey has also worked his way into the starting lineup, After dealing with a series of injuries, the younger brother of former Griff great, Kevin Downey, has made contributions of late. Downey can handle the ball against the press. He feeds the post well, takes smart shots and is an aggressive rebounder and defender.
Owen Wignot and O.D. Anosike round out the starting five. The two combine for more than 14 points and seven rebounds.
After scoring in double figures for five consecutive games, Elton Frazier was shut out by the MAAC’s top defensive club, St. Peter’s. The Canisius power forward averages more than seven rebounds a game. Frazier also gets more than three fouls. Against Siena’s front line, this will be a challenge.
Gaby Belardo continues to adjust as the Canisius point guard. The red-shirt sophomore transferred from South Florida. His nearly four assists per game is impressive. His four turnovers can diminish from his accomplishments. Belardo averages 10 points a game. When he picks his spots to drive correctly, he is effective. If Canisius is to win tonight, Belardo will need to resist the temptation to try to do too much.
With the exception of his seven-point output against St. Peter’s, Julius Coles continues to contribute for the Griffs on the offensive end. The Griffs will need Coles to play consistently on the defensive end.
Greg Logins and Robert Goldsberry add senior leadership to the Griff lineup. Logins averages nearly nine points and more than five rebounds. Logins has hit 35 percent from behind the arc. At the same time, the 6’7″ forward can finish in the paint.
Goldsberry scores seven and hands out three a game, but his contributions are best measured with intangibles. If there is a hustle play to be made, Goldsberry can be found. The senior from Troy, Ohio is willing to dive on the floor, take a charge and get a tie up on a loose ball.
The Canisius bench has been the difference in all the Griffs’ wins. Alshwan Hymes draws special attention from opposing defenses. The sophomore hits more than 43 percent from long range. He is averaging 10 points a game. More than that, Hymes stretches the defense. He takes intelligent shots and gives almost two assist per game.
Senior, Tomas-Vazquez Simmons has adjusted well to coming off the bench. Vazquez-Simmons’s 2.2 blocks per game tops the current MAAC list. His 240 career rejections is number one in Canisius history and third in the MAAC all-time.
Resolution: Both teams play at a similar tempo scoring 69 per game. The Griffs need to slow Rossiter and make the rest of the Saints beat them. The Canisius defense will frustrate Brookins. Frazier will respond from a disappointing performance Monday to lead the Griffins past Siena.