Mark Schmidt has won an Atlantic 10 title at St. Bonaventure and coached an A-10 Player of the Year. He’s been honored as the conference’s top coach by The Sporting News and the state’s top Division I coach by the Basketball Coaches Association of New York. What Schmidt’s Bonnies haven’t done over his six-plus seasons is topple a ranked opponent. But opportunity’s at hand again this week as No. 21 UMass comes to town.
The Bonnies have had a couple kicks at the can already this season. They let a 13-point lead get away in a 73-68 loss to the 19th-ranked Minutemen in Amherst on Jan. 11. They led No. 24 Saint Louis by two on the road midway through the second half before falling by six. Now they get another go at UMass, which rose as high as No. 12 in the rankings before falling to 21st this week following a loss at Richmond.
“The thing that hurt us was turnovers,” Schmidt said after the first meeting. “We wanted to keep it under 12 and we had 20. Against UMass, out on the open court, that’s what hurts you.”
The Minutemen like to get after it. They’re 39th nationally in scoring (78.5), 20th in assists, 26th in rebounding and 51st in field goal percentage. Doubtless Bona will be out to regulate tempo, as it did until the final stretch of the first meeting.
Senior guard Chaz Williams leads UMass in scoring (15.9) and assists (7.4, fourth nationally) while 6-foot-10 junior Cady Lalanne averages 13.6 points and 9.1 rebounds.
Tipoff is at 7 Wednesday night.
The University at Buffalo (10-6, 4-2) makes its third straight start against a West Division foe when Western Michigan (11-7, 4-2) visits Alumni Arena at 7 p.m. Wednesday. The Bulls are coming off a 1-1 road trip on which they became the first Division I team in two months to lose to Ball State before rebounding with a victory at Northern Illinois. WMU has won two straight since losses to Eastern Michigan and Bowling Green and owns the conference’s scoring leader in David Brown, a 6-4 senior guard averaging 18.7.
UB concludes the week with a Sunday afternoon game at East Division rival Bowling Green (9-10, 3-3).
On the road
Canisius (14-7, 8-2) faces a sizable challenge when it opens a two-game swing through Connecticut on Thursday night at Quinnipiac (12-7, 7-3). The Bobcats lead the nation in total rebounding and offensive rebounding and just completed a sweep of Manhattan, the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference preseason favorite. The Griffs will face a pair of formidable post players in 6-foot-7 senior Ike Azotam (16.6 ppg, 11.7 rpg) and 6-9 junior Ousmane Drame (12.6 ppg, 9.8 rpg). They’re the glass cleaners on a team that produced its fifth 50-rebound game of the season Sunday against Manhattan. The 7:30 start will be televised on SNY. The Griffs finish up the trip Saturday afternoon at Fairfield (4-17, 1-9).
Niagara (6-15, 2-7) heads to eastern New York for games against Siena (9-12, 5-5) at 8:30 Thursday night and Marist (6-14, 3-7) at 7 p.m. Saturday. The Purple Eagles are coming off an 80-74 win over Marist on Friday.
Making a move
A couple of assistant coaches with local ties are on paths that could lead to spots in the NCAA Tournament. Williamsville North grad Adam Cohen is in his first season at Harvard where Tommy Amaker has guided the Crimson to a 15-3 record overall and a 2-0 start in the Ivy League. Former UB great/assistant coach Turner Battle is an assistant at Tennessee-Chattanooga, which is 14-8 overall, 8-0 in the Southern Conference and has built a 10-game winning streak.
Cohen’s an interesting story. He spent a year at UB as a student manager then transferred to Arizona and became a student manager and assistant video coordinator under Lute Olson. He spent two years at New Orleans as a graduate assistant, three seasons at Southern California where he ascended from video coordinator to director of basketball operations, and last season as an assistant at Rice.
Battle landed on his feet closer to his North Carolina roots after UB coach Reggie Witherspoon and his staff were fired following last season. Battle became the first assistant hired by first-year coach Will Wade, a four-year assistant at VCU under Shaka Smart. Not much was expected of the Mocs, who were picked to finish seventh in the SoCon preseason poll. But Chattanooga already has beaten preseason favorite Elon (by 21) and Thursday plays at preseason No. 2 Davidson, currently second in the conference at 6-1.
Jeff Bower drove the answer down the middle of the road when asked to assess Baron’s NBA chances. But since Bower spent 15 years in the NBA as a scout/GM/coach, the Marist coach is uniquely qualified to opine on the subject.
Here’s what he had to say about the Golden Griffins’ guard after Baron matched his career high by dumping 38 on the Red Foxes on Sunday:
“I think he’s terrific as a player now. I think the way he plays the game are things that a lot of teams will really like. I never plot a guy at this time of year honestly because you don’t know the draft and you don’t know how many people are going to be involved in it.
“But I know this: He’s a winner. He’s got skills. He’s got size. He’s got deep shooting ability. He’s got playmaking ability. And he is a competitor. And I know those are all qualities that every NBA team would value and will do their research and see. When it’s all said and done I would expect him to be rated or ranked ahead of a lot of guys. I think he’s the type of kid that helps your team and is going to have the poise to compete and help a team.
“It’s too early, honestly. The people that are talking now are usually guys that aren’t involved in decision-making that are saying where people are going. But he would be a guy that a lot of people are excited about and would want to dig very deep to find out about in my opinion.”
Top 20 national rankings for the Big 4:
Team - Three-point field goal percentage defense: UB, 11th, 28.0. Free throws made: Niagara, T-4, 421. Three-point field goals per game: Canisius, T-18, 8.5.
Players - Scoring: Antoine Mason, Niagara, 1st, 27.7; Billy Baron, Canisius, 3rd, 24.2. Free throws made: Mason, 1st, 186; Baron, T-20, 121. Free throw percentage: Baron, 8th, 91.0. Field goals made: Mason, 1st, 177; Baron, 6th, 158.
RPIs - St. Bonaventure 88, Canisius 95, UB 145, Niagara 292.