Time to fly the Big-Four flag

Western New York's Division I hoops teams are all flourishing

Howard Simon
February 19, 2018 - 10:44 am

Photo: Rich Barnes - USA TODAY Sports


While fans of the Buffalo Sabres are depressed, despondent, or angry about what's turned out to be a miserable season, Western New York college basketball fans are loving life these days. This is the best Big Four season ever and by a wide margin. 

The Little Three became the Big-Four in 1991 when the University at Buffalo went to Division I, and we've never seen all four programs hit the 20-win mark in the same season.

St. Bonaventure and U.B. have already reached the 20-win mark, while Canisius has 19 victories and Niagara has 18. All four programs are in the top-three in their respective conference standings, and it's a real possibility that all four programs will receive some kind of postseason bid. The Big-Four are a combined 77-34 overall and an impressive 46-14 in their conference games.

U.B. will be the favorite to win the MAC tournament and if they do, the Bulls would be in the NCAA tournament for the third time in four years. St. Bonaventure has a real good shot at an at large berth should they not win the Atlantic 10 tournament. For Canisius and Niagara, their only shots for an NCAA berth will be to win the MAAC tournament, but there's always the NIT.

Not only are they winning, but they all play an entertaining style of basketball boasting the most explosive offenses in their leagues. 

St. Bonaventure, U.B. and Niagara can all make the argument that they have the best backcourt in their league. When it comes to the Bonnies, Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley make up one of the best backcourts in all of Division I. They've combined to average about 38 points a-game and have led Bona to a 20-6 overall record and a 10-4 mark in the A-10, where they've now won eight straight. The Bonnies' win over 16th ranked Rhode Island on Friday night was a fantastic game. On a night when Adams struggled to score because of the Rams' double-teaming defensive plan, Bona still found a way to record their biggest victory of the season and a win that can go a long way to securing a potential at large bid. Mobley had 26 points and LaDarien Griffin had numerous big plays on offense and defense.

Speaking of backcourts, how about the Bulls? The development of Davontay Jordan and the addition of Wes Clark for one season has given Nate Oats an embarrassment of riches at guard, where strong play is integral for postseason success. The Bulls have been toying with MAC opponents, and have already clinched the MAC East with four games left to play. U.B. has 79 wins over the last four seasons, which ties for the most in any four-year stretch in program history.

The backcourt makes Niagara go too. Matt Scott and Khalil Dukes combine to average 40 points a-game. They are a big part of why Chris Casey's Purple Eagles have seen a major turnaround this season. N.U. was an unsightly 32-96 over Casey's first five seasons, but they are 18-11 overall and third in the MAAC at 11-5 with a HUGE home game against second place Canisius coming up on Wednesday.

We shouldn't be surprised with Reggie Witherspoon winning at Canisius. Reggie has been a winner wherever he has coached, including U.B. Witherspoon had seven winning seasons, including four 20-win campaigns at U.B., but he just couldn't get over the hump and get the Bulls to the NCAA tournament.

Witherspoon is winning with a very young team as a handful of underclassmen are starting and playing key roles. The Griffs have their best MAAC record after 15 games and could set the school single season record for overall wins.

As much fun as it has been so far this season, the best could be yet to come. Imagine if we are all watching selection Sunday waiting to see where three of the Big-Four teams are playing in the Dance. That would be an appropriate ending for the best Big-Four season ever.

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