Jim Baron and the Golden Griffins will have their work cut out for them this season. Coming into the 2014-2015 campaign, Canisius is without their star players from last season: Billy Baron, Jordan Heath and Chris Perez.
Baron of course will be especially missed. He led the team with 24.1 ppg.
The Golden Griffins’ 83-81 exhibition loss to Division II opponent Daemen previewed a glimpse of the struggles Canisius will face. However, on a positive note, when the lights went on the Griffs have started the new season with consecutive victories over Vermont and Lehigh.
Against Vermont, Canisius went with Zach Lewis, Jan Grzelinski, Jamal Reynolds as the three guards, and Phil Valenti and Josiah Heath as the two forwards in the starting lineup.
Two of the Golden Griffins starters (Grzelinski and Reynolds) never started or played in a game for Canisius before Saturday and Lewis is the only starter with the most starts from last season (19).
After the game against Vermont, coach Baron even went on to say he doesn’t know what to expect from his starting five.
Via The Buffalo News: “You look at our sheet and you’re like, ‘Who are these guys?’ ” Baron said. “The whole thing is a total composition, a whole new outlook.”
The first half of that game against the Catamounts was tough to swallow, as Canisius shot 28.1% from the field (along with 20% from three) and dug themselves into a four-point deficit going into halftime.
Coming into the second half behind 26-22, Canisius played an entirely different ball game. The team shot 50% from the field and knocked down 75% (6-8) of their three-point attempts.
Valenti shined, leading the Griffs with 24 points, and took the initiative of possibly becoming the new leader Canisius needs. Canisius will certainly look to feature the sophomore forward in a leading role, as Billy Baron was the unquestionable leader last season. After playing 34 games while starting three last season, Valenti will take on a larger scoring burden in 2014-15.
A slightly big issue with Valenti though is foul trouble, which he got into in the Golden Griffins 63-51 victory over Lehigh on Tuesday night. Four personal fouls saw Valenti on the bench more than the court.
Aside from Valenti, Lewis carried the load against the Mountain Hawks, scoring 24 points. Two games into the season Valenti and Lewis are the clear solidified starters for Canisius.
As for the rest of the Golden Griffins, there’s a reason it’s a rebuilding season. The post-Baron days will not be the same. It’s hard to tell what this team will look like come MAAC play. It is though intriguing to see what this team will mold into.
Jim Baron understands what this team will be going through this season and knows it will take some time to get to where they really want to be.
“We’re trying to bring it all together,” Baron told the Buffalo News. “It’s a hodgepodge. It’s putting the puzzle together and hopefully getting more pieces as you move forward. That’s how it’s going to be. It’s a junkyard dog game, but it makes it exciting, too. It’s like an equation. It’s rebuilding. And that’s why I’m still here.”
This starting five is what coach Baron is most likely to stick with, unless injuries or poor play force him to consider other options. Because a year after having such a strong core, Baron would like to avoid tinkering with his starting lineup and just find some consistency.