Canisius head coach Jim Baron feels a differently this season, even though once again he’s on top of the MAAC standings.
MAAC Player of the Year Billy Baron graduated and Canisius lost all but one starter from last year’s team that won 21 games, but the Griffs are off to a 4-3 start to the young season.
“That’s real significant for us,” the 60-year old head coach, in his third season with the Golden Griffins, said of their 2-0 start in conference play, the third straight time they have won their first two conference games. “Graduating so many guys, and having so many newcomers, it is pretty significant where we’re at right now playing against a tough schedule.”
After scoring better than 1.11 points per possession last season, Baron knew that his group was going to have to emphasize defense. So far, the Golden Griffins have allowed 0.97 points per possession, good enough to rank in the top third of the country in defensive efficiency.
“I think we’ve put a little bit more emphasis on that, just because we knew that we weren’t going to be able to score as much,” Baron said. “Our guys have done a really good job of listening, understanding and really positioning their bodies as we play.”
Canisius has turned teams over on 25% of their possessions, which ranks in the top 20 in the country. While sophomores Zach Lewis and Phil Valenti have led the way, averaging 12.1 and 11.0 ppg respectively, it has been different players leading the way on different nights to push the Golden Griffins over the top.
Senior Josiah Heath scored 10 points in Canisius’ win over Saint Peter’s and a career-high 13 in the Golden Griffins win over Niagara. Freshmen like Jermaine Crumpton, who delivered 31 points in Canisius’ last three games, have also contributed.
“They knew they were going to play and they have been ready to go,” Baron said of his bench. “That’s been a big addition for us to be able to play 10-11 guys.”
Junior college transfer Jamal Reynolds has also had an immediate impact on the group, starting every game and he has fit in perfectly.
“[He] has just been very aggressive for us with getting to the glass, rebounding and really defending,” Baron said of the 6’4″ Mott Community College transfer. “It’s little by little and I think you’re going to see different guys step up as we move forward during the year.”
Ryan Restivo wrote the America East conference preview for the 2014-15 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. He covers the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the America East conference and Hofstra for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.