By Sam Brouwere
Hoops are back at Canisius, as both the Griffs’ men’s and women’s teams start their regular season schedule this Sunday.
The men’s team is coming into this season with a much different team from a season ago, as the Griffs are coming into this season with a new head coach. Another big difference from a season ago is that the Griffs have seven new players, as half of the team’s roster wasn’t on the team a season ago. This season will be determined on if the new pieces are able to mesh well for the Griffs.
When asked about what his goals are for his team this season, Coach Reggie Witherspoon said, “They’re all short term. We haven’t looked down the road and said we need to win this many games. They all are short term goals and, for right now, we’re trying to get our guys familiar enough with the basics of how we play and that they can actually be aggressive with playing as hard as they can at the basics that we play at, and that’s a process that we’re making baby steps at right now. ”
The Griffs still do have some key players on the roster from a season ago. Senior forward Phil Valenti returned for his last year of eligibility. Valenti started all 33 games for the Griffs in the 2015-16 season, averaging 14.6 points per game and 6.1 rebounds per game. Valenti was also named to the Preseason All-MAAC Third Team. Valenti will also take on a leadership role this season, as he is one of the more experienced players on the team and is one of two players that started in all games last season.
Valenti expressed that helping his teammates is one of his individual goals for the season. “Just help my teammates around me. We got a lot of new guys, so just preparing them for the big stage and I think they’re going to be ready,” said Valenti.
Junior guard Kassius Robertson will be another key player for the Griffs this season. Like Valenti, Robertson started in all 33 games for the Griffs in the 2015-16 season, averaging 14.1 points per game during the season. It should be expected that Robertson takes the next step this season after having a successful sophomore season.
The Griffs were ranked ninth in the 2016-17 Preseason Coaches’ Poll. The Monmouth Hawks are coming into the season as the favorite to win the conference. They were followed by the Siena Saints, Iona Gaels, Saint Peter’s Peacocks, and Fairfield Stags in the top five. The Manhattan Jaspers, Rider Broncs, Marist Red Foxes, Griffs, Quinnipiac Bobcats, and Niagara Purple Eagles rounded out the poll.
The Griffs will definitely need to improve on their 8-12 conference record from last year. This will start with taking advantage of the home games against conference opponents this season, which the Griffs really didn’t do last season, as they posted a 4-6 home record against conference opponents.
The Griffs definitely have some key games on the schedule that jump out. The first key game will be played on Dec. 17 at the KeyBank Center in Downtown Buffalo against the University at Buffalo Bulls. This will be Coach Witherspoon’s first game against his former team and it allows the Griffs to play a solid non-conference team.
Another key game for the Griffs will be played on Jan. 16, as the Griffs host the MAAC Preseason favorite Hawks. The Griffs were able to defeat the Hawks last season and will look to continue that success under the new coach.
The two games that can’t be overlooked are the games against the rival Purple Eagles. The Griffs will travel on Jan. 23 to play the Purple Eagles at their court. The Griffs will host the Purple Eagles on Feb. 10 at the KAC. The Griffs were able to come out victorious in all three games against the Purple Eagles last season.
The women’s team is coming into this season with continuity, as eleven players from the 2015-16 season returned for this season. The team will be coached by longtime head coach Terry Zeh, this will be his thirteenth season coaching the Griffs. A key player for the Griffs this season will be Sophomore guard Maria Welch. Welch played in all 30 games during the 2015-16 season, started in eight of the final nine games. She was also named to the Preseason All-MAAC Third Team, so her performance this season will impact where the Griffs eventually finish.
The Griffs were ranked sixth in the the 2016-17 Coaches Poll for the MAAC. The Bobcats are coming into the season as the favorite to win the conference, as they were ranked as the top team in the conference. They were followed by the Gaels, Saints, Stags, and Red Foxes in the top five. The Griffs, Jaspers/Hawks (tied for seventh in poll), Purple Eagles, Broncs, and Peacocks rounded out the poll.
The Griffs will definitely need to improve on their 8-12 conference record from a season ago if they wish to compete for the top spot in the MAAC. The Griffs will have to capitalize on their home games against conference opponents.
A key home conference game to look at for the Griffs will be against the Bobcats on Jan. 7. The Bobcats are the best team in the conference, as shown by their top ranking, and the Griffs may have an opportunity to steal a win from the Bobcats here. The Bobcats had an away record of 10-5 during the 2015-16 season. Another key game is going to be when the Griffs play against the Gaels on Feb. 4 at home, a game in which the Griffs have an opportunity to win a game against one of the top teams in the conference. The Gaels had an 8-8 away record a season ago, so they aren’t a very strong road team and the Griffs should capitalize on that when they play. Also, the Griffs play the Purple Eagles, their rival, on Jan. 18 at Niagara and then hy host the Purple Eagles on Feb. 10 at the Koessler.
Both basketball teams come into the season with not very high expectations and they should use the role as an “underdog” to their advantage this season.