The second round of Billy Ball should be just as exciting and as memorable as the first with senior guard Billy Baron, the MAAC preseason player of the year, firing at will. Last year he shouldered an enormous burden – he took 12.6 shots a game – but Baron will likely have to share.
His father, second-year coach Jim Baron, wants to see more box scores similar to the one last week in the exhibition against Daemen College – four starters in double figures with two reserves in the neighborhood – to help build chemistry and continuity in his free-flowing offense.
Canisius scored 102 points in its 18-point exhibition win over Daemen and the tone of Jim Baron’s voice suggests the Griffs have the potential for more.
“This is the second year of my philosophy of up tempo, running, pushing the ball, attacking and also defending,” Baron said. “A lot of it is it builds chemistry and it builds the bench. We have a lot more quality depth than we did last year.”
NBA scouts are intrigued by the size, skill set and upside of Jordan Heath, the 6-10, 240-pound senior forward who averaged 9.2 points, 5.9 rebounds and shot 37 percent from three-point range in his first season of Division I basketball after transferring in from Roberts Wesleyan. He is being asked to step up his game offensively while his younger brother, 6-9 junior Josiah Heath, returns to provide interior defense and rebounding.
Canisius will run a three-guard system with Billy Baron, Stetson transfer Chris Perez and sophomore Dominique Raney. Freshman Zach Lewis will be the first guard off the bench.
Baron redshirted Raney, freshman Phil Valenti and sophomore Kevin Bleeker last season, and Adam Weir (Canisius), Jermaine Crumpton (Niagara Falls) and Lou Dunbar, the son of Harlem Globetrotter Louis “Sweet Lou” Dunbar, will likely redshirt this season. Valenti and Bleeker are forwards who can stretch the defense.
Keys to success
The losses cannot be overlooked. Harold Washington was an All-MAAC guard and buttery shooting Isaac Sosa, who knocked down a team-high 95 three-pointers, should have been. Even Alshwan Hymes and Reggie Groves had their moments.
“You just don’t replace that,” Baron said. “With those guys, they have tremendous experience over the last three or four years. There’s no question we have to plug some holes.”
But Baron apparently filled the blanks and the only question now is consistency. Landing Perez, essentially Sosa’s replacement, was huge. A transfer from Stetson, Perez isn’t similar to Sosa in terms of three-point shooting, but is a better all-around player who will get a taste of the point when Baron is moved off the ball. At 6-3, 210 pounds, Perez is physical and can work some in the low post.
But the health of senior forward Chris Manhertz is a concern. Manhertz, who averaged 7.6 points and 8.7 rebounds as a junior, returned to practice last week after missing three weeks with a high-ankle sprain. Rebounding is once again a concern and the Griffs need Manhertz to clean the glass. Junior reserve point guard Jeremiah Williams has also missed practice because of injury.
The Griffs will participate in the NIT Season Tip Off which includes Arizona, Duke and Alabama. Canisius plays at Rutgers, rebuilding from the Mike Rice scandal, in the first round then plays either Elon or Drexel. Win both games and they move to the semifinals, possibly against Arizona. Canisius travels to New Rochelle to face Iona on Jan. 17 and hosts Manhattan Feb. 7.
Canisius returns a solid nucleus, fortified its bench and are pulsating with confidence after qualifying for postseason for the first time in 17 years. Development from Jordan Heath, who keyed in on his strength and ball-handling this summer, will make Canisius and Billy Ball a tough out come March.