In second year at Canisius, Jim and Billy Baron picked up where they left off, winning 21 games and reaching CIT once again. (Photo courtesy of the Buffalo News)
Canisius brought Jim Baron in two years ago after he was dismissed from Rhode Island to restore a program that had been stricken by mediocrity under his predecessor Tom Parrotta in an attempt to return the Golden Griffins to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1996, when John Beilein was at the helm in Buffalo.
Baron brought his son Billy with him to the home of the Bills and Sabres, and together, father and son helped revitalize the Griffs, winning 20 games and advancing to the quarterfinals of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament. Their encore, which included the arrival of Dominican senior guard Chris Perez, proved to be just as successful.
Although the end result for Canisius was ultimately fulfilling, it did not start out easy in the least. Shocking early-season losses to St. Bonaventure and Rutgers kept the Griffs from playing at Madison Square Garden for the semifinals of the Preseason NIT Tip-Off, and another defeat at the hands of Division II program Metro State left the team picked third in the MAAC preseason coaches' poll at 3-3 going into the opening weekend of conference play.
That was when the Griffs hit their best stride, winning 13 of their next 17 games. Aside from a 16-point loss to St. Francis in December, Canisius lost three games by a grand total of 10 points to the likes of Notre Dame, Marist and Monmouth, who won the last of the three on a last-second three-pointer by Andrew Nicholas.
Home losses to eventual MAAC champion Manhattan and regular season titleholder Iona, from whom Canisius stole a thrilling victory at the Hynes Center in January, dropped the Griffs from contention as the No. 1 seed going into the conference tournament, but Baron; whose 24.1 points and 5.3 assists per game coupled with his 107 three-pointers propelled him to a runaway recognition as the MAAC Player of the Year, carried his team to wins in four of its final six regular season games, including a career-high and conference season-high 40 points in a 92-88 triple overtime win on February 16th at Siena, who the Griffs defeated a third time in the quarterfinals of the MAAC tournament in Springfield. A second loss to Iona the following day relegated Canisius to the CIT, where VMI ended Baron's career with a 21-13 record in his final campaign.
Aside from Baron, Chris Perez (12.9 PPG) will also need to be replaced, as will big men Jordan Heath (10.5 PPG, 5.5 RPG) and Chris Manhertz. (8.4 PPG, 6.9 RPG) In their absence, MAAC All-Rookie selection Zach Lewis becomes the face of the program as he enters his sophomore season as the Griffs' leading scorer, with junior guard Dominique Raney joining him in the backcourt while Phil Valenti and Josiah Heath anchor what will be a front line undergoing a cosmetic overhaul of sorts. It will be a season of transition for Canisius, but one in which the Griffs can still be a team that makes some noise in the MAAC.