The 2011-2012 Buffalo Bulls basketball season is right around the corner, and the only person who can be more excited than myself is the actual team (hopefully). This years team is sure to present excitement, experience, talented youth, and a growing fan base that believes that this may possibly be "The Year." With the football team struggling I'm sure plenty of people are just waiting to start a major college sports year new, and this Bulls team is the team to do it.
One of the popular topics amongst Bulls fans every year tends to be about who should start for the team, and who the minutes on the court should go to. Regardless of what we think (unless we have a close tie to the coaches) we cant change who starts or how many minutes each player gets, but from following Reggie over the past 5 years I think we can have a pretty good understanding of how its going to play out. Here's what I think Reggie will do with his players minutes this year.
PG. Jarod Oldham - To the eye, the loss of Byron Mulkey seems like it has the ability to single-handily lose the faith of the masses in terms of the point guard position. Mulkey was the leader of the team emotionally, 2nd in scoring, first in steals, and first in assists last season. Mulkey really helped the team last year, but if you look at his track record as a whole he really didn't have much success as a point guard for the Bulls. The 3 years Mulkey saw significant playing time the Bulls record was 42-53. His leadership, nice shooting stroke, and vision sometimes overshadowed his untimely free throw misses, bad turnovers, lack of size, and average defense. I know he had a lot of steals, but he was not nearly as great a defender and offensive player that his numbers may indicate. Yes, I think he was a big part in the teams success last season, but I dont think it will set the Bulls back too much. First off let me say that Oldham is the best defender on this team, hands down. He probably is even a little better than fan favorite Andy Robinson was. I know his offensive skills do lack a little bit, but from watching the games last year if seemed like it was more of an issue with passing up the ball to older players, not lack of offensive ability. Yes, he is a below average outside shooter (and outside shooting is what this team needs this year) but I think his amazing defensive skills and above average rebounding is enough to outweigh below average shooting. His progression from last year to this may have the biggest impact on this teams success....24 minutes/game
SG. Zach Filzen- I don't think I need to spend too much time here, but I'll just point out the main bullet points. Teams leading scorer, best outside shooter the team has, a little streaky at times, defense that may be worse than Jimmer Fredettes, a 5th year player who knows this is his last shot. I myself do not like players who are purely jump shooters, but the Bulls wins seemed to come when Filzen was scoring. So regardless of how bad his defense is (hopefully somewhat improved this year) him shooting the rock as much as possible is what this team needs....33 minutes/game
SF/G. Dave Barnett- Last year looked like a break out year for Dave last year, and in a way it kind of was. He started the season off strong. Average 12 points and 5.4 rebounds in the first 5 games last year, but kind of leveled off a little stats wise as the season went on. More importantly, he did all of the small things throughout the games that help a team win. Rebound, defend the oppositions best player, scoring in a variety of ways, attack the rack, etc. No he wont be an elite player on this team, but talk to anyone who coaches basketball (actually talk to anyone who coaches period) and they'll tell you that Barnett is a big part of this Bulls team....23 minutes/game
F. Mitchell Watt- I myself am not as big a Watt fan as most people are, but I do recognize his value to this Bulls team. His lack of a diverse offensive game, his man on man defense, poor attitude on the court, and lack of bulk in his frame are all things that bother me about his game. However his height, athleticism, help defense, and ability to have huge games are all things that make him an attractive player. My frustration with him is that he has so much talent, but hasn't developed as good an all around game as he has the ability to. He did make big steps last year, but hopefully he can make another big step forward in his final year with the team. In my opinion Watt will have a big year this year on both ends of the floor, I just hope he doesn't get double teamed in the post too much, because his vision to pass out of them is as bad as the vision of the refs in the MAC....25 minutes/game
F Titus Robinson- Go ahead, scream at the computer screen, and tell me I have no idea what I'm talking about, I expect it. Last years stats...4.9 points, 2.3 rebounds, .9 assists, .4 blocks. These are clearly awful stats for someone who has started since midway through his freshman year and has been the most talented recruit UB has seen in the past 5 years (not including McCrea), but he is a huge talent still. His game has not come around nearly as much as everyone has hoped, including myself, but the man is so gifted that he's going to player whether we think he deserves it or not. Being the basketball nerd I am, when I was a student I would sit in on the Bulls practices and pick-up games in Alumni. Since his freshman year and throughout his time with UB he has clearly been the most talented person in practice. Ive seen him make plays athletically and with his vision that only big time school recruits can do. In case you haven't seen the season preview yet, go to about 1:32 into it and watch it a few times. That is why Titus sees significant playing time (and will get significant playing time). As for having him starting, I dont have a problem with it so much. For anyone who knows how Reggie rotates his bigs, he usually rotates them in 2's, especially early in the year. So T-bob is gonna play a good amount with Mitch like they've been doing for the past 3 years, so that also means starting....14 minutes/game
F. Javon McCrea- I had to mention him first since he's the best player on the team. Ever since I saw the high school videos of him I had a feeling that we had a potential mid-major force. He needs to improve his free throw shooting, and just continue to work on his overall game and he'll be a mid-major star. His foot work is better than Ive ever seen a mid-major player have, and he was only a freshman last year!! I know people want him to have as many minutes as possible, but 33+ minutes is reserved for guards who are in great cardio-vascular shape. Javon is a power guy who plays forward, he doesn't have the body type to play that often. Regardless I suspect a big year for him....27 minutes/game
G. Tony Watson- Do I think he's the second best reserve on the team? No. Do I think he has a huge role on the team this year? Absolutely. Dave Barnett has the second most 3 pointers made on this team, did you ever see his shooting stroke? Its really not a good one. Watson has to come in and be a really good shooter from the outside, and since Oldham doesn't have a complete package at PG yet Watson is going to have to play good/effective minutes at PG. You were an all-state player in a highly populated state, and this is your 3rd year with the team. Its officially time to step your game up....16 minutes/game
F/G. Auraum Nuiriankh- Possibly the biggest sleeper on the team last year. Didn't see a lot of action last year, but he has all the tools to be a very good player. Good athleticism, length, shooting stoke, and defensive ability. I see big/important minutes for him this year (and will probably be asked to shoot a lot of 3 pointers for this year since the team is going to struggle in that department)....17 minutes/game
F. Xavier Ford- Parade Magazine All-American, athletic high scoring forward in high school, has his head on straight.. looks like an immediate impact player. People are probably worried since his height and weight is the same as Titus' is, but that doesn't mean anything. The best player on most basketball teams usually fall within those measurables, and with fairly easy non-conference home games Xavier Ford should have a good opportunity to show he can be an immediate impact player for the rest of the year. Reggie loves to play around 11 players consistently in the non-conference portion of the schedule, and as a coach who started Titus, Watt, and Alston as freshman, Reggie is the guy who'll give a player with such high accolades a decent amount of minutes....8 minutes/game
G. Corey Raley-Ross- Didn't see significant minutes last year, and no minutes late in the season, but has shown moments where he can score in a hurry in many different ways. He clearly is the most athletic guard on this team, and has a nice shooting stroke that can provide some range. His limited sample size indicates that he didn't pick up the offense as well as other freshman did last year, but I see him as a major contributor in the future, but not this year when Filzen's a senior....5 minutes/game
F. Cameron Downing- Just like Raley-Ross, Downing didn't see any meaningful time on the court last year, partially due to his conditioning. He is in better shape this year, and is a big player who has good skills and touch around the rim. From what I saw last year he has a good understanding of Reggies offense, and an ability to pass out of the post fairly well. Depending upon his improvement from last year I suspect Downing gets more playing time than we all expect. The Bulls have decent size, but our tallest forward is skinny like a twig, and our heaviest forward to see significant playing time is barely 6'7". Downing is gonna be the the defender down low when the Bulls face large forwards/centers as long as he takes steps forward in his game and conditioning. Expect him to get a chance in the non-conference schedule to show his value to this team. Remember, he was a bit of a steal as a recruit himself....6 minutes/game
G/F. Rapheal Thomas-Edwards- Unfortunately I do not know much about him, but I know he has good size and athleticism. Expect him to have a Calvin Betts like game in years to come...1 minute/game
G. Richie Sebuharara- Small in stature, but walked onto a team whose last 2 starting point guards were both walk-ons at one point themselves. I dont expect him to really play this year, but with inconsistencies and questions marks still in progress at the PG position, dont be surprised if he has the type of game that can impress Reggie...1 minute/game
F. Will Regan- Red-shirting this year, but boy do we have a steal here. Dominant high school player, smart kid on and off the court, saw playing time in the ACC last year. Not an athletic specimen but be excited about how much he'll help the Bulls in future years.....0 minutes/game
As always, all comments and questions are encouraged (good or bad). Stay tuned for a lot more Bulls basketball as we slowly get closer to what might be the most exciting year in recent Bulls memory.