3 Reasons Canisius Basketball is Struggling
To say the season has not gone as expected for the Canisius Golden Griffins (1-6) would be an understatement. This was going to be their year. The year a 22-year drought would end and two players with NBA aspirations would take them there.
At a glance, one would assume the drought has no end in sight and those aspirations were downright foolish.
That may be true, but there is still part of me that believes the Griff’s talent didn’t just die in the offseason and the ugly play on the basketball court will be fixed with the next game. But saying ‘the next game’ six games in a row becomes a broken record fast.
Now that the most difficult part of Canisius’ schedule is behind them (No.21 UB looms on 12/29) the calendar is now filled with winnable games to turn the record around.
The first way to do that is identifying and addressing the problems. Here are the top three issues I see with the team:
Being at the AdvoCare Invitational, I saw up-close just how inferior this team is on the boards. You can bring size and strength into play looking at the Griffs opponents, but at the end of day, those who put in the work on the glass get rewarded. Canisius hasn’t been rewarded because the effort isn’t there.
If your 5’10 155-pound point guard is one of your best rebounders and one you trust on the block during free throw attempts, that shows one problem. Malik Johnson puts in the effort and work, but his size limitations prevent him from making an impact on the glass.
Canisius has been dominated on the glass in every game outside of their season opening win over Bucknell.
W-Bucknell: +8 rebounding margin
L-UAlbany: -5 rebounding margin
L-Florida State: -15 rebounding margin
L-Villanova: -27 rebounding margin
L-Memphis: -23 rebounding margin
L-UAB: -9 rebounding margin
L-St. Bonaventure: -10 rebounding margin
For the remarkable progress sophomore forward Scott Hitchon has made in his second season, he lacks the strength and will down low to succeed–at least at this point in time. He is averaging 2.3 rebounds per game. If he can control his temper, he can harness that into a momentum builder for this Canisius team.
The other starting forward, sophomore Jalanni White has received inconsistent minutes from Reggie Witherspoon, but has not done much with his time on the floor. At 6’7 185-pounds he doesn’t offer much size in the rebounding department–and besides taking the opening tip-off, he has no business being considered a ‘center’. He is averaging 1.9 rebounds per game.
Dantai St. Louis would seemingly be Witherspoon’s go-to-guy when he needs a big man in the middle, but his out-of-control style of play can only last so long on the court. I will give credit to St. Louis, he has improved his game drastically since he first stepped on campus, but his athletic limitations severely limit his all-around game. St. Louis averages 2.7 rebounds in over 16 minutes of action per game.
The leading rebounders for this Griffs team: the three starting guards.
Isaiah Reese: 5.7 rebounds per game
Takal Molson: 4.0 rebounds per game
Malik Johnson: 3.7 rebounds per game
Those are solid numbers for the players, but it’s not helping the team win. If Canisius is going to step up, especially during conference play, they will need their forwards to make an impact on the glass.
How Reggie Witherspoon gets that to happen in the question?
Covering last year’s Canisius team was fun. They were electric offensively and had multiple players who could go off on any given night. Only one of those players, Jermaine Crumpton, is gone–so what gives?
Last Year FG%: 46 percent
This Year FG%: 38 percent
Last Year 3-PT%: 35 percent
This Year 3-PT%: 27 percent
Last Year PPG: 76.3 points
This Year PPG: 63.0 points
Pretty simple numbers to analyze. The Griffs can’t make shots, they don’t score as many points, they lose ball games.
What doesn’t make sense is why and how? The team stayed virtually the same, although ‘Crump’ was an irreplaceable-type of player.
My first thought watching the team this season: the offensive system. Which is odd because the coaching staff didn’t go through an overhaul by any means, but this team looks and plays differently this year.
There seems to be a lack of movement, at least inside, and the lack of an inside scorer impacts that–but there is just too many weaves and hand-offs outside the three-point line. To me, it accomplishes nothing besides the occasional open pick-n-roll opportunity.
The other variable is the play of Isaiah Reese. Plain and simple, this is not the same player from a season ago. Call it a lack of confidence, a cold spell, constant thoughts of playing at the next level, lack of focus, or aliens stole his talent–however you phrase it, Reese’s game is hurting the Griffs in more ways than one.
Reese Last Year: 16.9 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.7 assists per game. 46%-FG/36%-3-PT/88%-FT.
Reese This Year: 11.1 points, 5.7 rebounds, 3.1 assists per game. 32%-FG/27%-3-PT/57%-FT.
Besides rebounds, he is down considerably in every area. I’ve never seen a dip like this in recent memory and for a guy that was supposed to lead Canisius he has become a hindrance, even getting benched in the second half of ball games.
One would assume Reese will pick up his play at some point. But when? Conference play? Griffs fans hope so.
I never want to be the guy to call out a coach for a job not well done, but Reggie is making it hard. I see the talent this team has and to watch how poorly they have played can only fall on the players until someone mentions the coach.
Reggie earned my respect last season taking this somewhat unknown Canisius team to a 21-12 record and 15-3 in MAAC play en route to being Co-Regular Season champs. Impressive, but that loss in the Griffs’ first game of the conference tournament still stings.
Expectations were high before the start of the season and I don’t know how well he’s handled those expectations with himself or his team.
The lack of effort his team has displayed in concerning–do they not want to play hard for their coach? Does he not have the players respect, or ear?
Just questions that have floated around my head while covering the team this season.
Witherspoon is a coaching legend in Buffalo, starting his career at Erie Community College before manning the UB Bulls for 14 seasons. During his coaching tenure he’s never reached the NCAA Tournament, despite having some talented squads with the Bulls and at a smaller level, last year with Canisius.
I like the man, but is he the type of coach you want leading a program like this?
Recruiting aside (I have my own questions regarding that), but how he reacts and navigates this season after the 1-6 start will be very telling. If he gets his team to rebound (figuratively and literally) then maybe he is the man who can lead this Canisius basketball team back to the Tourney.