Throughout the course of a college basketball season, there are always games considered to be more important than others; at least to media and the fans.
Saturday’s ESPN Bracket Buster contests to UB, Niagara and Canisius seemed to offer one of the most irrelevant games of the year for all three schools.
The pros and cons are far outweighed by the negative appeals. It’s a non-conference game at the end February. It’s a team you know virtually nothing about, not to mention not needing to win in the long run.
Most of all, it’s a game designed to give a mid-major school national exposure and a chance to boost computer numbers for a potential at-large bid. For the three local schools, none of the games were on TV, and none of our area schools will be sitting on pins and needles come Selection Sunday.
But, on a day ESPN gives to the little guys, one of the most important results was one game that was deemed irrelevant by most nationwide.
No, the 80-65 win over Wisconsin-Milwaukee won’t stir the NCAA Selection Committee into considering the UB Bulls (16-9, 7-5 MAC) as a possible at-large team. No, the Bulls, riding a two-game losing-streak and losers of three of four, didn’t move up in the MAC standings after falling from the top so quickly.
But, it meant a lot to Reggie Witherspoon and meant a lot to a team that seemed to fade into oblivion after such a remarkable start.
Witherspoon, who lost his father Moses Tuesday night, spoke of how much the win and fan support meant to him.
Perhaps putting things in perspective this week helped UB focus on what they do best, tenacious man-to-man defense, that was unrelenting against UW-Milwaukee.
They held the Panthers to 40 percent shooting and just maybe are ready to go for their biggest week of the season when they travel to play Kent State and Akron this week.
Don’t look now, but the Niagara Purple Eagles (8-21, 4-12 MAAC) are peaking at quite the convenient time. They’ve won four of their last five after starting 4-20. They snuck by Canisius on a bizarre ending that saw them win on a walk-off goaltending call, but then beat Central Michigan 61-55 behind Anthony Nelson tying the school’s all-time assist record.
Ironically, Nelson tied the record after picking up a steal, a category that he leads the entire country in.
Canisius (13-14, 7-9 MAAC) lost their third straight game with an eight-point loss to Boston Unversity, but returns home for their final two games of the year. The Griffs are tied with Siena for sixth in the MAAC, which is the final first round bye. If Siena beats conference favorite Fairfield, they will own the tiebreaker, but if they don’t, then Canisius will likely win the tiebreaker. That means they’d only have to split their remaining games against Manhattan and Loyola to likely get that bye, which is more than to be expected.
St. Bonaventure (14-11, 6-6 A-10) had its three game-winning streak snapped with an 82-65 loss at Richmond. But, the Bonnies had Michael Davenport caught up in foul trouble and Andrew Nicholson struggling with cramps. Considering they faced the senior-laden Spiders still in contention for an at-large bid, it shouldn’t be considered any type of a setback.
This week: Canisius and Niagara wrap up their regular season, starting Friday and ending Sunday. On Friday, the Griffs host Manhattan while Niagara hosts Loyola. They swap opponents Sunday.
St. Bonaventure returns home Wednesday to face Fordham, a team winless in the A-10 before heading to Duquesne Saturday. As mentioned earlier, UB takes its final road trip of the year to face Kent State Wednesday and Akron Saturday. Both schools are tied or ahead of UB in the MAC standings. Both UB and Bona (and the rest of Division I) wrap up their regular seasons the following week.