Canisius is WNY’s College Basketball Team to Watch in 2018-19
Western New York is not considered a hot bed for great college basketball, but over the last five years that has changed dramatically. Stealing the headlines are the UB Bulls and the St. Bonaventure Bonnies and rightfully so, those programs have become perennial NCAA Tournament squads. The Bulls have made the Big Dance three times since 2015, even mounting one of the biggest upsets when they took down the No.4 seed Arizona Wildcats 89-68 last season. That Wildcats team had the eventual number one pick in the NBA Draft, DeAndre Ayton, who is beginning to dominate the Association in year one.
The upcoming 2018-19 season however, will be remembered as the year of the Griffs.
The Canisius Golden Griffins that is.
Canisius surprised many last year taking home a share of the MAAC regular season title with a 21-12 (15-3) record. In only year two under head coach Reggie Witherspoon, the Griffs exceeded every expectation. A team that was picked to finished ninth in the MAAC ended up as co-regular season champs.
The upcoming 2018-19 season has a chance to be a special one for the Canisius fan base.
Back with the team are junior Isaiah Reese, who was voted as the Preseason MAAC Player of the Year and sophomore Takal Molson who is the reigning Rookie of the Year in the MAAC. Those two along with a team filled with depth are ready to challenge for the Griffs first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1996.
Reese, who was also named to the 2018-19 Preseason All-MAAC First Team, is coming off a sophomore campaign which saw him lead the team in rebounding average, assists per game average and steals per game average while ranking second on the roster in scoring average. His 16.9 points per game ranked seventh best in the MAAC a season ago, and his 4.7 assists per contest ranked fifth-best in the league. His 73 steals in 2017-18 stand as the most for a Canisius player since 1995, and his 2.2 steals per game ranked 15th nationally among all Division I players.
Molson, a Buffalo native, was named to the Preseason All-MAAC Second Team. The former St. Mary’s standout set the program record for points in a Canisius debut by a true freshman with 25 at Buffalo, he ended his first campaign with the Griffs second in the MAAC among all newcomers with 12.6 points per game. He was also good for 5.0 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game last season in 33 starts.
Both Reese and Molson tested the NBA Draft waters after the 2017-18 season, but they decided against turning pro, returning to do something a Canisius squad has failed to do in over two decades. Make the NCAA Tournament.
The Griffs schedule doesn’t do them any favors, however, it can help highlight a squad that is completely unnoticed by the national media and has become a third-rate program even in Western New York.
Their non-conference slate is littered with powerhouse schools, even the reigning National Champs. From Villanova to Florida State, even the possibility of Memphis or Oklahoma State in the highly respected AdvoCare Invitational, the Griffs will be tested early. Should they shock some of these teams, the Golden Griffins will have earned a resume not many schools can compete with.
The real test will come not in the regular season, but their conference tournament. Last year, the Griffs were upset in the quarterfinals of the MAAC Tournament by the seventh-seeded Quinnipiac Bobcats–a team they did not lose to in the regular season. For most mid-majors that dashes any hope of a NCAA Tournament appearance, especially those in the MAAC.
There is a lot of time and basketball to be played from now until the MAAC conference tournament, but Canisius is the most talented basketball team in WNY and for those hoop fans living in the area, catching a game at the Koessler Center this season must be at the top of your ‘to-do’ lists.
Canisius will officially open the 115th season in program history on Tuesday, Nov. 13, when the Blue and Gold travels to play at defending Patriot League champion Bucknell. The Griffs’ 2018-19 home opener is set for Saturday, Nov. 17, against Albany, and the team will start MAAC play Jan. 3, 2019 at Marist.