Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Men's Preview: Excitement Building Around Canisius

Here's another in the series previewing conference teams.

Up now ...


2011-12 RECORD: 1-17 in MAAC play, 5-25 overall. Lost to Niagara, 80-70, in MAAC tournament play-in round.

KEY RETURNEES: 6-1 senior guard Harold Washington (17.0 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.8 assists per game last season), 6-2 senior guard Alshwan Hymes (15.4, 3.2, 84 3-pointers), 6-6 junior forward Chris Manhert (7.0, 7.4), 6-2 junior guard Reggie Groves (5.8, 2.3), 6-9 sophomore forward Josiah Heath (4.5, 6.0).

KEY LOSSES: Guard Gaby Belardo (12.0).

KEY NEWCOMERS: 6-10 senior center Freddy Asprilla, transfer from Kansas State; 6-10 junior center Jordan Heath, transfer from Roberts Wesleyan; 6-3 senior guard Isaac Sosa, transfer from Central Florida; 6-2 junior guard Billy Baron, transfer from Rhode Island.

NOTES: Nothing like a complete re-make to turn things around at Canisius ... Three of the four now-eligible transfers are starters, and a fourth (Asprilla, the 6-10, 280-pounder) comes aboard right now, after serving a three-game suspension for a violation of team rules last year, and he'll get significant minutes, too. Plus, senior returnee Washington is among the top guards in the league ...The Golden Griffins are designed to win right now with four seniors and four juniors among the team's top nine players ... And the program is poised to regain the type of interest that hasn't been seen around the downtown Buffalo campus in many years. In fact, it already has. The past two games have brought back-to-back sellout crowds (2,196) to the on-campus Koessler Athletic Center, the first time that has happened since the 2002-03 season ... And, the crowds are seeing good basketball. The Griffs have started 3-0, the fastest start since a 4-0 beginning to the 2000-01 season, which is also the last time the program had a winning record for an entire season. It's also just the fifth time in the past 50 years Canisius has started 3-0, and just the third time in the past 30 years ... Clearly, it's a good year to be a Canisius fan ... The revitalization will bring much credit to new coach Jim Baron, who had varying degrees at success in 11 seasons at Rhode Island. Baron is a native son, of sorts, having played at St. Bonaventure and also having coached there for nine seasons before moving on to Rhode Island, so his presence brings instant credibility ... Of course, Baron is the director of the current sounds of sweet music, but he's also got considerably more talent on hand than predecessor Tom Parrotta ... The talent includes four eligible transfers, three of them (Asprilla, Jordan Heath and Sosa) were brought in by Parrotta. The fourth, Baron's son Billy (16.0 ppg., 6.0 assists so far), a transfer from Rhode Island, has had the biggest impact so far. He joins talented holdover Harold Washington (19.0 ppg. through three games) to form one of the top backcourts in the MAAC ... Manhertz, another returnee (8.3, 3.7 so far) is contributing, and Jordan Heath (8.0, 5.7) is providing enough in the post so far. And, the post gets a "big" lift now that Asprilla has served his three-game suspension ... There's also plenty of depth with Hymes, one of the league's best long-range shooters, coming off the bench along with Sosa (9.7 ppg. so far). Another returnee, 6-2 Reggie Groves (2.0 ppg. so far), is probably the team's No. 5 guard, and would start for a few MAAC teams. More depth up front comes from 6-9 sophomore Josiah Heath (3.7, 3.7 so far) ... And, as if the winning hasn't gotten the fan base enthused, two of the first three victories have come against regional rivals St. Bonaventure and Buffalo.

CANISIUS STRENGTHS: Talent, depth (the team goes legitimately nine deep), outside shooting in Washington and Hymes, inside play with Jordan Heath and, eventually, Asprilla. A strong point guard (Baron) who had success in the Atlantic 10. And, the type of fast start that builds confidence quickly. Give Baron credit, too, for bringing a lot of pieces together quickly.

CANISIUS WEAKNESSES: Having to adjust to so many new players. But, three of them (Asprilla, Heath and Sosa) were in place last year and able to practice with the Griffs. And, the fourth, Baron, filled a specific need at point guard. Questions about chemistry issues, for now, have been answered positively. But, there's another coming up with the impending return of Asprilla. Plus, we'll need to see how the Griffs can do on the road. All three wins so far have at the cozy confines of the Koessler Athletic Center.

REASONABLE EXPECTATION: League coaches, in their preseason poll, picked Canisius to finish ninth, and we're finding out that's not reasonable. With the talent in place ... if things mesh ... the Griffs have as much potential as anyone. Why not contend for the league title? It's not out of the realm of possibility. Reasonably, Canisius is likely to finish in the upper half of the league standings.

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