Andy Dufresne, Jay Gatsby and the Billy Baron effect

By Paul Gotham

BUFFALO, NY — In the closing moments of Thursday night’s victory, the nearly 1,400 in attendance stood and applauded the efforts of the Canisius Golden Griffins. It was a gesture not to be taken lightly. Outside more than a foot of snow blanketed Buffalo. Inside, Canisius added to the undeniable energy and enthusiasm growing on Main Street.

The Griffs improved to 9-3 with an 87-74 victory over the Alcorn State Braves.  Not since the 60s have the Koessler Athletic Center denizens seen a ledger like this. The Griffs are being mentioned in early season NCAA bracket predictions, and the RPI  can be considered an ally.

There is no mistaking the source of this change. It all starts with the name Baron. Jim Baron, the veteran coach of 25 years in the NCAA sitting on the brink of 400 victories, has been on the job less than eight months, yet he has fans thinking of the NCAA tournament. A place where the Griffs haven’t gone in more than 15 years.

The transformation, though, takes shape on the court in Baron’s youngest son, Billy, the sure-handed, sure-footed guard who guides much of the motion for Canisius.

With the younger Baron directing traffic, Canisius has increased its offensive production  (75.8ppg/56th in the nation) using an impressive attack from behind the arc  (9.6 per game/18th nationally).

But to stop there offers just a glimpse of Baron’s contributions to Canisius.  It’s  like summing up Springsteen’s Born to Run as a great Rock album or F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby as the quintessential narrative on the rise and fall of the American Dream during the Great Depression. There’s nothing wrong with what’s been said. It just doesn’t add anything to the discussion.

Instead to mention the Bo Diddley rhythm of She’s the One or how Springsteen’s album tells the tale of one summer day beginning with the slam of a screen door and ending with tonight…in…jungle….land, adds relevance. Or, by stating how Fitzgerald develops a character in Nick Carraway who shows the ability to overcome the materialism and self-centeredness of society, adds some meat to the potatoes.

And Baron has provided some choice cuts to the Canisius attack.

Four Golden Griffins (Baron, Jordan Heath, Chris Manhertz and Isaac Sosa) scored in double figures Thursday night. This was the third game in a row and sixth time (five scored double figures in the win over Buffalo on November 20th) the Griffs have accomplished this in 2012-13 already equaling all of last season.

Eight different Griffs have notched double-digits in the scoring column this year (Baron, Jordan Heath, Manhertz, Sosa, Reggie Groves, Josiah Heath, Alshwan Hymes and Harold Washington).

Thanks to the charts below from our friends at Sports-Reference.com, we get a closer look at how Canisius has made the change. The top chart looks at the five returning players and their numbers from last year.

The bottom table shows the current individual numbers for the Golden Griffins.

Rk Player TS% eFG% AST% TOV% USG% PProd ORtg
1 Alshwan Hymes .504 .487 11.4 14.9 25.4 415 98.5
2 Harold Washington .527 .476 19.4 16.3 27.6 489 103.7
3 Chris Manhertz .503 .438 4.1 19.0 15.4 230 102.4
4 Josiah Heath .552 .505 4.7 15.2 10.8 151 116.9
8 Reggie Groves .476 .440 19.4 26.3 16.2 153 88.9
Provided by Sports-Reference.com/CBB: View Original Table
Generated 12/28/2012.
Rk Player TS% eFG% AST% TOV% USG% PProd ORtg
1 Billy Baron .597 .524 32.7 13.7 24.9 221 127.1
2 Harold Washington .602 .558 16.1 17.8 22.7 159 113.0
3 Isaac Sosa .629 .615 11.5 6.1 22.6 112 132.0
4 Chris Manhertz .574 .500 3.3 17.4 12.3 83 117.8
5 Jordan Heath .543 .567 4.6 12.7 19.2 91 109.5
6 Alshwan Hymes .543 .493 10.8 25.0 23.3 84 94.6
7 Reggie Groves .487 .456 23.3 20.1 20.5 69 101.4
8 Freddy Asprilla .560 .583 5.1 21.4 14.3 37 101.4
9 Josiah Heath .397 .341 8.1 12.5 14.1 51 103.4
10 Tyrel Edwards .253 .167 0.0 11.2 23.2 4 61.1
Provided by Sports-Reference.com/CBB: View Original Table
Generated 12/28/2012.

To start understanding Baron’s impact look at Harold Washington’s numbers. His offensive rating  (the estimate of points produced per 100 possessions) has increased by more than nine. This despite that he is averaging almost three points less per game (17ppg in 11-12 vs. 14.3 so far this season). Washington plays 3.5 minutes less (35mpg last year/31.5 currently) per game. He has cut down on turnovers (3.1 to 2.6) while increasing his field goal percentage (.445 to .467) and three-point percentage (.360 to .458).

On one hand it’s the simple of idea of less is more. Washington is required to do less and he is accomplishing more.

But that is just half of it. Hoop-Math.com shows the effect Baron is having just on Washington.  Last year 17 percent of Washington’s baskets at the rim came as the result of passes or assists. This year that number has increased to 30 percent. The same goes for 2 pt. jumpers 10 percent last year and 14 percent through a dozen games this season. Seventy-seven percent of Washington’s three-point field goals have been assisted upon this year as compared to 56 percent last year.

What this looks like in the game is when Baron takes an outlet pass after a defensive rebound, uses one or two dribbles and finds Washington up ahead of the defensive for a an open-floor layup. Last year, Washington took the outlet pass and tried to go end to end for the basket.

In basketball parlance, Washington is using less energy to create his own shots this season. He can play off Baron who draws the defense, creates space and lanes thus allowing Washington to be more successful. This is measured in TS% (True Shooting Percentage; a measure of shooting efficiency that takes into account 2-point field goals, 3-point field goals, and free throws). Washington’s has improved from .527 to .602.

Baron’s effect can also be seen on Manhertz whose ORtg has increased from 102 to 117. Referring back to Hoop-Math might create some confusion when comparing Manhertz’s current numbers to last year’s.  Manhertz’s offensive rating has gone up, but the number of baskets assisted on at the rim (where the Griffs’ True Grit gets most of his points) has decreased: 67 percent a year ago to 40 percent. But this makes sense. Manhertz is pulling down almost three offensive rebounds per game and converting those with a polished jump hook into second-chance points.

Rebounding is the mixture of a lot of things. Certainly, athleticism, height, strength and leaping ability all contribute to rebounding. Geometry also enters into the equation. A player’s ability to predict where a rebound will land is based upon an understanding of angles and depth.

Beyond that is an awareness of timing. A timing created by the rhythms of a cohesive offense. A player anticipating a shot understands the offense and can predict when teammates are going to the basket thus creating an advantage. A rebounder’s body language says a lot. If a player is heading to the basket while his teammate is in his shooting motion it is a sign of approval.  Good shot brah. Let me get to rim and clean it up if it rims out. Manhertz fits the role perfectly. With his 6’6″ frame he moves around the paint quickly. He knows when to expect shots from his teammates and moves into open spaces for rebounds. Then he uses his strength to finish in traffic.

It comes as no surprise that Sosa leads the Griffs with an ORtg of 132. The 6-3 shooting guard has scored in double figures  the last six games for Canisius. He has hit more than four 3-pointers per game in those six contests.  Baron assisted on three of Sosa’s five treys, Thursday night. With Baron delivering pinpoint passes to his shooting pocket, Sosa is in complete rhythm with his shooting motion. There is no hesitation as Sosa steps into his shots and lets fly.

Baron’s effect is infectious. Another way to measure it can probably be the smile on Washington’s face. Washington, who was slowed by a sore heel Thursday night and did not take a shot, has gone from last year having the curled lip visage of  Andy Dufresne gazing at a poster of Raquel Welch  (What say you there, fuzzy-britches?)  to the full-toothed grin of a freed man on the beach in  Zihuatanejo.  Both qualify as smiles. It’s just that the latter is more sincere. Washington smiled a lot last year as he led the team in scoring. This year, that full-toothed grins means more.

Baron has provided with a well-balanced attack. There are a number of ways to score in a basketball game: first shot off a half-court set, second chance opportunities created by an offensive rebound, rebound – outlet and beat the defense up the floor in an advantage situation, negative offensive or creating a turnover and scoring at the opposite end, and inbound situations to name a few. Baron allows each of his teammates to fit into his own role.

Back to the Springsteen discussion. It is often overlooked that Ernest “Boom” Carter played drums on Born To Run. It was Carter’s only appearance in the Springsteen catalog.  He left soon afterward to form a jazz band with David Sancious, the original keyboardist of the E Street Band; a decision he regrets and sums up by explaining how he wants to run in traffic every time he hears the song on the radio.  Figured that gives some gravy to the conversation.

Canisius travels to Detroit on Sunday to take on the Titans. A 3 p.m. tipoff is scheduled for Dick Vitale court.

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