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Howard Simon's Blog



MAAC Tournament Preview

Jim Baron brought Canisius College basketball back to life this season.  Now we’ll see if the revival continues into the post season.

The Griffs are the fifth seed in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament and will meet fourth seed Iona in a quarterfinal matchup Saturday at 4:30 in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Canisius is 18-12 overall, the most wins for the program since the 2000-2001 season. 

The Griffs went 11-7 in MAAC equaling the most league wins for Canisius since the conference went to an 18 game schedule 15 years ago.

But this group hasn’t experienced any success in the MAAC tournament and that is a concern of Baron’s.

Canisius is led by Billy Baron(son of the coach), who earlier this week became the first Griff to be named First Team All MAAC since Darren Fenn  in 2000.  Baron leads the team in scoring and is fifth in the MAAC, averaging 16 points a game.  The junior guard leads the league in assists.

Senior guard Harold Washington, who was named Third Team All MAAC, is second in scoring at 13 points a game and is second in the conference in three point shooting, hitting on 41% of his shots beyond the arc.

The Gaels are 17-13 overall and like Canisius, recorded an 11-7 league finish.  Iona is one of the most explosive teams in the country.  The Gaels average 81 points a game, third best in division one.

 Their star player is senior guard Lamont Jones, who began his career at the University of Arizona and transferred to Iona two two years ago. Jones’ 23 points a game tops the MAAC and is third best in the nation.

The teams split the season series with Iona prevailing 97-87 back on January 13th in New Rochelle.  Canisius came out on top 77-74 at the Koessler Center on February 2nd.

The winner of the Canisius-Iona game will play in the semifinals on Sunday afternoon against either Niagara, Marist or Siena.  Niagara is the top seed and awaits the winner of the Marist-Siena pre-quarterfinal game.

The Purple Eagles, who were picked to finish fifth in the pre-season poll, won the league for the first time since 2005, with a 13-5 record. 

Niagara is led by a pair of super sophomores and both Juan’ya Green and Antoine Mason were named First Team ALL-MAAC earlier this week.  Green was third in the MAAC in scoring, averaging 17 points a game.  The Philadelphia native was second in the league in assists, and third in steals.  Green rarely left the court as he averaged 37.8 minutes a game, fourth most in the country.

Mason was second in the MAAC in scoring with an average of 18 points a game.  He and Green were the only sophomores on the first team and they’re just the second duo at NU to make first team in the same season.

Niagara hasn’t advanced all the way to the championship game since 2009 and they last won the tournament in 2007.

The Purple Eagles swept the season series from both possible quarterfinal opponents.  Niagara beat Marist at home 94-72 and in Poughkeepsie 57-54 in a game where Mason was sidelined by an injury.

NU trounced Siena at the Gallagher Center 87-64 and were victorious in Albany 78-69.

You can listen to Niagara’s quarterfinal matchup Saturday at 2:30 on WGR.

 




 

Sabres Foligno struggling

I’d call it a sophomore slump but technically Marcus Foligno is still a rookie. 

It might not seem that way since Foligno played in 23 games last season but anything under 25 games and you are still considered a rookie by NHL standards.

Whatever the case, this season has been much more of a struggle for the 21 year old Foligno.

The left winger has just one goal  and is a team worst minus eight.  That goal came back on January 27th in a 3-2 loss at Washington so the Buffalo native drags an 18 game goal drought into tonight’s game at New Jersey.
The 6’2”, 227 pound winger is pointless in his last eight games.


Foligno has scored a point in just six of his 23 games this season.  Last season he had a point in 9 of 14.

There were pretty high expectations for Foligno  based on how well he played at the end of last season and how he experienced instant chemistry on a line with Tyler Ennis and Drew Stafford.

Foligno played in 13 games after being called up from Rochester on March 10th and wound up with six goals, 13 points and was a plus six.  It was probably unfair to expect Foligno to produce goals at that pace(35 over the course of a full season) because his shooting percentage  was 26%, which is very high for most forwards.

However, no one anticipated that shooting percentage to be way down at 2% this season.
Foligno is still doing what he can to help the Sabres.  He does have seven assists and has been better of late in terms of his physical presence. 

The Sabres fourth round pick in the 2009 draft said his benching on February 28th at Florida caught him by surprise but has probably helped him.  Foligno admitted he was confused about what kind of player he is and at times he was certainly guilty of over stickhandling and attempting to be a finesse player.

When Foligno is on his game, he is all about playing north-south, dumping pucks in and working on a forecheck, winning one on one battles along the boards and digging pucks out for linemates.
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But when presented with the opportunity, Foligno does need to do a better job of finishing.  Just the other night in Carolina, he had a pair of good chances but couldn’t beat Canes goalie Justin Peters.
 
 
 

 




 

Sabres Foligno struggling

I’d call it a sophomore slump but technically Marcus Foligno is still a rookie. 

It might not seem that way since Foligno played in 23 games last season but anything under 25 games and you are still considered a rookie by NHL standards.

Whatever the case, this season has been much more of a struggle for the 21 year old Foligno.

The left winger has just one goal  and is a team worst minus eight.  That goal came back on January 27th in a 3-2 loss at Washington so the Buffalo native drags an 18 game goal drought into tonight’s game at New Jersey. The 6’2”, 227 pound winger is pointless in his last eight games.

Foligno has scored a point in just six of his 23 games this season.  Last season he had a point in 9 of 14.

There were pretty high expectations for Foligno  based on how well he played at the end of last season and how he experienced instant chemistry on a line with Tyler Ennis and Drew Stafford.

Foligno played in 13 games after being called up from Rochester on March 10th and wound up with six goals, 13 points and was a plus six.  It was probably unfair to expect Foligno to produce goals at that pace(35 over the course of a full season) because his shooting percentage  was 26%, which is very high for most forwards.

However, no one anticipated that shooting percentage to be way down at 2% this season.

Foligno is still doing what he can to help the Sabres.  He does have seven assists and has been better of late in terms of his physical presence. 

The Sabres fourth round pick in the 2009 draft said his benching on February 28th at Florida caught him by surprise but has probably helped him.  Foligno admitted he was confused about what kind of player he is and at times he was certainly guilty of over stickhandling and attempting to be a finesse player.

When Foligno is on his game, he is all about playing north-south, dumping pucks in and working on a forecheck, winning one on one battles along the boards and digging pucks out for linemates.

But when presented with the opportunity, Foligno does need to do a better job of finishing.  Just the other night in Carolina, he had a pair of good chances but couldn’t beat Canes goalie Justin Peters.

 




 

Are Rolston's Sabres better?

Six games into the Ron Rolston era, are the Sabres any better? If you look at some of the key numbers, the answer is yes.

The most important numbers are the record.  Under Rolston, the Sabres are 3-2-1 so they’ve earned seven out of a possible 12 points which equals 58%.  Under Lindy Ruff, Buffalo was 6-10-1, getting just 13 out of 34 points or 38%.

One of the areas in which the Sabres were struggling was team defense.  With Ruff behind the bench, the Sabres goals against average was 3.52 but in Rolston’s six games, its 2.56 so nearly a goal per game has been shaved off.

Secondary scoring has improved as well.  In the first 17 games of the season, forwards not named Vanek, Pominville or Hodgson combined for just 11 goals.  That same group has scored eight goals in the last six games. 

Nathan Gerbe, Drew Stafford and Jochan Hecht have all broken into the goal scoring column since Rolston took over.  Gerbe has three, Stafford with two and Hecht with one.

The Sabres are also doing a better job of handling some adversity.  If you go back to Rolston’s first win, at Tampa, his club gave up a goal just 84 seconds into the game but instead of being rattled and giving up another, they shutout the Lightning over the remaining 58 plus minutes.

Tyler Myers put Buffalo up 52 seconds into the third period and they did something else that hadn’t been done with much frequency this season, protect a lead.

Two nights later against Florida, the Sabres blew a 2-0 first period lead in a matter of 56 seconds.  But a minute and twenty six seconds after seeing the Panthers tie the game, Gerbe scored to restore the lead.

The Sabres couldn’t close that game out, giving up a  tying goal to Brian Campbell with 1:26 left but they went on to win in a shootout.

At home against New Jersey, Rolston’s troops opened the third period on the power play, in a 1-1 tie but gave up a shorthanded goal.  Pominville, who basically gave up on that goal, redeemed himself 1:49 later by scoring to tie the game at two.

Hecht put the Sabres up and once again they couldn’t hold on to a lead but still earned two points with a shootout victory.

In New York two nights ago, the Sabres quickly went from leading 1-0 to trailing 2-1 after the Rangers scored a pair of power play goals in 43 seconds.  Still killing the Patrick Kaleta major, the Sabres tied the game on a Gerbe goal and gained one point with a shootout loss. http://prohockeytalk.nbcsports.com/2013/03/04/video-does-patrick-kaleta-need-to-change/

There are still areas that have yet to improve like the power play, which is 1-22 under Rolston.

 


 

Big Four basketball in good hands

I thought it would be nice to take a short break from obsessing over whether or not the Sabres are going to miss the playoffs for the fourth time in six years and when/if the Bills will draft the next "quarterback of the future."

I wanted to point out the tremendous coaching jobs being done by the quartet who oversee the Big Four men's basketball programs.

Joe Mihalich is once again working his magic on Monteagle Ridge.  Niagara University wrapped up its first ever outright MAAC title over the weekend which means the Purple Eagles have clinched, at the very least, a berth in the National Invitation Tournament.  Niagara will be the top seed at this weekend's MAAC tournament which rewards an automatic NCAA bid to the winner.

In this his 15th season at Niagara, Mihalich has guided 5 teams to at least a share of the MAAC regular season crown and will lead his team into a fifth post season tournament.  The Purple Eagles earned an NCAA bid in 2005 and 2007 and played in the NIT in 2004 and 2009.

NIagara was coming off back to back losing seasons and were picked to finish fifth in the pre-season poll due mainly to the fact that Mihalich had a very young team.  But a pair of very talented sophomores, Juan'ya Green and Antoine Mason, led NU back to the top of the conference for the first time since 2005.

Green averaged 17 points, 5 assists and 4 rebounds while playing an average of 37 minutes a game which is eighth best in the country. Green became the second sophomore in NU history to reach one thousand points in his career and is one of 25 finalists for the Mid-Major Player of the Year award.

Mason led the team in scoring at 18 points a game and became the third sophomore at Niagara to reach the thousand point mark.  He missed four games late in the season but the Purple Eagles still held off the likes of Loyola, Rider, Iona and Canisius for the regular season crown.

The winningest coach in MAAC history, Mihalich should get consideration for Coach of the Year honors but there's no question the award should be given to his counterpart at Canisius, Jim Baron.

When Baron was hired by Canisius, I thought it was a great move because he had a track record of winning at St. Francis(PA), St. Bonaventure and Rhode Island.  

All Baron did was lead Canisius to the third biggest improvement in division one with 13 more wins than last season.  Baron inherited a program that was an embarrassing 1-17 in MAAC play last season and led them to an 11-7 league finish and a five seed in the upcoming tournament.

The 11 MAAC wins are their most since 1999 and the 18 overall wins represent the Griffs highest total since 2001.  Canisius had gone 13 consecutive seasons without a winning record in the conference and then Baron showed up on Main Street.  

His season highlights include their first win at Niagara in ten years and wins over NU, Bona and UB in the same season for the first time since 2001.

Baron instituted an entertaining, up tempo style of ball.  The Griffs are third in the MAAC in points per game and second in the country in three pointers made per game.

Baron's son Billy, who transferred to the college to play for his Dad, led the team in scoring and led the conference in assists and should be named All MAAC this week. Like Green at Niagara, Billy Baron is a finalist for the Mid Major Player of the Year honor.

If his father wins the Coach of the Year award, he would be the first Canisius coach to receive the honor since John Beilein back in 1994.

Canisius will play fourth seed Iona in the quarterfinals Saturday at 4:30.  The Griffs and Gaels split the season series with the home team winning both times.

Niagara will play at 2:30 on Saturday against either (9)Marist or (8)Siena.  The Purple Eagles swept the season series from both the Red Foxes and the Saints.

The work of Mark Schmidt at St. Bonaventure and Reggie Witherspoon at the University at Buffalo should not go unnoticed.

Schmidt  resuscitated a Bonnies program that crashed and burned after NCAA sanctions, leading them to the NCAA tournament last season, the school's first appearance since Baron was working the sidelines in 2000.

But Andrew Nicholson went on to the NBA, where he plays for the Orlando Magic and Da'Quan Cook headed overseas for his professional career.  The cupboard wasn't exactly bare but that's some pretty sizable shoes to fill.  Yet the Bonnies are 14-13 overall and 7-7 in the Atlantic Ten which is the seventh rated conference in division one.  

Over at UB, the Bulls were coming off a 20 win season and best ever 12-4 record in the Mid American Conference.  But  Witherspoon lost three starters and four of the top five scorers(58% of the offense) to graduation.  

Yet the Bulls are 7-7 in MAC play, which is tied for third in the East and tied for fifth best in the league.  UB just recorded its first ever win over a ranked program, knocking off 24th ranked Akron this past weekend.  The Zips had been unbeaten in the MAC games and had the longest winning streak in the country.

For the first time in the 21 year history of the Big Four, all four programs are in good coaching hands at the same time.

 




 
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