Tomorrow marks the beginning of MAC games for not only Buffalo, but for all schools across the under achieving Mid-American Conference. The College basketball season has so far be overshadowed but college football like it always is at the beginning of the season, but now that all the bowl games are over, its time for everyones collegiate attention to shift towards the hardwood.
So far the college basketball season has been pretty interesting, with a handful of ranked teams going down to very good mid-majors, and no team (in my eyes) that has established themselves as a clear cut powerhouse. Kansas had a big scare against a Cornell team that pretty much looked better than the Jayhawks, and Kentucky had to come down to the buzzer to beat a Miami(OH) team that really isn't that good. All this means is that this can be one of those years where anything can happen...
So far the MAC has been a decent conference, ranking pretty much right in the middle in terms of RPI, a few near big time upsets over power conference schools (like the before mentioned Kentucky vs Miami(OH) game) but no team getting of the hump and bringing in that big win. The power is clearly in the East with Akron, Kent St, Ohio, and Buffalo leading the way. The only "bad" MAC East team has been Miami, but they have played a ridiculously hard schedule, with a handful of really close heart breakers to the likes of Xavier, Kentucky, Dayton, Colorado, and Cincinnati. All of the MAC East teams have pretty much beaten all the teams they should have, with a couple of wins for each school over really good mid-major programs.
Meanwhile, the MAC West has been holding the conferences RPI down, losing to terrible schools and barely getting any "good" wins. Clearly the MAC West is the weaker division and is really holding the MAC back from getting any kind of respect as one of the better mid-majors.
The good news is that the conference is still up for grabs since no team has established themselves as a clear-cut favorite in the conference. Sure Akron has the best record right now like everyone predicted, but they haven't really been a dominating team, only beating the teams they were suppose to beat, and not pulling off the upsets over Texas A&M and URI. Kent St has played well, but still has 5 losses so far which is more than Akron and Buffalo have at this point in the season. Ohio, Bowling Green, and Eastern Michigan have all looked good at times, but when you watch its really hard to picture those teams as the best in the MAC. Buffalo has shown mixed signs through the early part of the year, so you cant be overly confident in them. And the other MAC West teams have shown they are not going to be good enough for the long haul of the MAC season.
So what do I think of Buffalo's play so far this year???
If I had to give them a grade for their out of conference play/record, I would have to give them a B- so far. Personally I thought they could go 9-2 through the non-conference schedule. I know that may seem a little optimistic, but they definitely had the talent to do so, and if it weren't for the debacles at home early in the season, that's what their record would be. For those who predicted 7-4, excellent job realizing that we are still in the city of Buffalo and that you cant be too optimistic with anything regarding sports in this town.
Rodney Pierce and Calvin Betts have both really come on after a shaky first few weeks of the season. Everyone knew coming in that they would have to be the main two guys if the Bulls were to have any shot this year, and with how they started of the year, well, it didn't look so promising. Pierce was taking too many forced shots, Betts didn't look as good as he was last year, and both of them just didn't look like they were ready for the season. But with all great players (even if they're great players for the MAC) they eventually come around, and luckily for Buffalo it only took them a few weeks instead of a few months.
Boyer is someone who really deserves a ton of credit for how he's played so far. His 5.5 assists per game rank second in the MAC, and hes done a really good job handling so many minutes, especially since hes the only true point guard that we really put out on the floor. Not only is he dishing out the ball well, hes getting more points than expected, finishing games at the free throw line, and is shooting really well form behind the arc (44%) when he's needed to make a basket. Props to Boyer for doing so well starting this year after coming off the bench last year.
The front court has shown signs of being really good, and signs where its still a little shaky. I think with the 4 forward rotation of T-Bob, Boudreau, Watt, and Alston has worked quite well so far considering none of those players are what you can call a "great" forward. I expected more from Watt so far this year, but from what I know he was having so problems over the summer and that hes just not the same person athletically as he was last year, so I guess he kind of gets a free pass. Alston has done a good job for the minutes he has gotten and has really made me look bad since I personally rip on him all the time. Hopefully he's back from his hand injury really soon to provide more depth and offensive rebounds.
The two most important forwards we have (Boudreau and Robinson)have both shown signs where they've been really good, and signs of being below par. Neither can seem to put together a string of games where they've established themselves as one of the better forwards in the MAC. Its been for a variety of different reasons too...foul trouble, bad shots, turnovers, and just not being fed the ball in the post. The two of them have completely different styles of play, and if Buffalo can get these 2 in a groove then they can really establish themselves as one of the better mid-majors in the country.
Smiley, Barnett and Filzen have all been streaky and big question marks (well its hard to consider Filzen streaky, you have to be hot at some point to be considered streaky, which Zach hasn't been the slightest bit). Smiley is a big question mark because there's some games where he's brilliant to watch, and other games where he just cant seem to get his shot off. Overall he's a real nice spark plug to the Bulls, and definitely deserves every minute he gets this year.
To be honest I didn't think Barnett was ever going to play, but since he started getting minutes he's really opened my eyes. I know the numbers aren't there, but hes really athletic, has a quick step and can take it to the rack, and does a really good job guarding a variety of players because of his size and quickness. I'm confident that over the next 16 games he can develop into a good swingman that will add a different dimension for Buffalo.
Buffalo has the ability to win the MAC, there is no doubt about it. Last year it came down to just playing poorly in the most important game, but with 7 seniors on the team and a loss in the championship last year, the Bulls are definitely the hungriest team in the MAC and have a really nice shot of being called on selection Sunday.