The unofficial "Big 4 Round Robin" continues this weekend with the biggest matchup of the bunch as UB makes the 90-minute journey to St. Bonaventure.
1. There's a lot more riding on this game for St. Bonaventure than UB
The Bonnies come out of November more-or-less where they started the season; potentially in the mix for an NCAA at-large bid, but probably not on the inside track. The Bonnies let an opportunity to really bolster their resume slip away against Florida, and while the Little Rock loss isn't terrible on paper, it does take another slice off the Bonnies room for error.
Buffalo may have been an NCAA Tournament Team a year ago, but it's unlikely that the Bulls are a top-100 RPI team this season. (They're currently ranked 124th in KenPom ratings.) Even so -- the Bulls have already lost against their best "resume building" opportunities, making an at-large bid unlikely.
The difference for the two teams is this: the Atlantic 10 likely has three top-50 RPI teams (Dayton, Rhode Island, and VCU) and a few more potential top 100 teams (Richmond, St. Joseph's) for the Bonnies to put together quality wins against. The MAC does have some potential top-100 teams in Eastern Michigan, Ohio, and Akron, but none are likely to be in the top-50.
All things being equal, conference play alone will boost St. Bonaventure's RPI more than UB's, which is why the at-large discussion is important for the Bonnies, and not UB.
2. Turnovers have to be a major concern for the Bulls. Fouls? Maybe not so much, at least for this game.
Buffalo ranks 341st (out of 351 teams) in the nation in turnover percentage. (The percentage of possessions that end in turnovers, one of the "Four Factors.") Bona's defense is 56th in forcing them. That's a potentially dangerous mix for UB.
Matt Mobley and Jaylen Adams are both strong defenders for St. Bonaventure, and combine for more than three steals a game between them.
UB has struggled all year (with Xavier and Alaska Anchorage being great examples) of keeping opponents off the foul line. It's a major reason why the Bulls are -46 in free-throw attempts through just 7 games. It's not the refs. It's that opposing teams are getting the ball inside, while the Bulls rely far too much on jumpers. So, why won't this be a concern against Bonaventure? The Bonnies are struggles are nearly as bad; St. Bonaventure is -30 in free-throw attempts through six games.
At this point, I'm hoping that both teams can break their foul trends, or it's going to be a long, and possibly boring, game.
3. I'm not sure I can find nine more wins for Niagara on the schedule
In three seasons at Niagara, Chris Casey hasn't gotten the Purple Eagles to 10 wins once. I'm not sure I see the path there this season, unless there's some major improvement. Sure, Niagara has been competitive in almost all of their games, but their defense a) can't force turnovers, b) struggles to keep teams off the line because c) they can't keep teams out of the paint. It's not a very good combination, and their schedule gets tougher before it gets easier: Iona, Kent State, and St. Bonaventure in December are all better than any team they've faced so far, with the possible exception of UB.
The MAAC even appears to be a bit stronger than it's been in the past, with Siena, Monmouth, and Iona all off to solid starts. They have been on the road for most of their season, and that continues in December. Maybe returning to Niagara Falls will give them a boost in January.
4. Canisius will be better if they fall out of love with the three
...because they're only shooting 32.9% from three-point range, which isn't very good. In their win against Youngstown State, the Griffs put up 90 points with just 22 three-point attempts, which is probably a good target number for this team. (Not the 30 and 29 they put up in home losses to UT Martin and Tennessee State -- who are both pretty good teams) Phil Valenti may have shot 38.8% from deep last season, but he hasn't had the touch this fall, hitting just 2-18.
The Griffs do need to get more physical inside, and that falls on guys like Valenti and Jermaine Crumpton. They may be giving a few inches against some teams, but they've got to do a better job of winning the one-on-one battles under the rim.
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