vs Wheeling Jesuit
vs South Dakota State
vs Montana State
at Grand Canyon
at St. Bonaventure
at Robert Morris
at Miami (OH) *^
at Western Michigan *
vs Northern Illinois *
vs Miami (OH) *^
at Central Michigan *
at Ohio *^
vs Western Michigan *
vs Kent State *^
at Ball State *
at Akron * ^
vs Toledo *
vs Central Michigan *
at Eastern Michigan *
at Bowling Green *^
vs Akron * ^
at Kent State *^
vs Ohio *^
vs Bowling Green *^
Editor's note: This season preview runs as part of Hustle Belt's preview of every team in the MAC. Bulls fans reading on Bull Run will likely have seen all this information in preview pieces over the last two weeks.
It's hard right now to get a feel for the season-long prospects of the UB Men's Basketball team, but one thing is clear: Second-year head coach Bobby Hurley stepped into a perfect situation for early success. Last year's team, boasting MAC Player of the Year and UB all-time leading scorer Javon McCrea, improved by five wins over its predecessor and then immediately shed a large, five-man senior class, providing Hurley both early goodwill and early flexibility to build his team to fit his style.
On one hand, we can expect the Bulls to fall off this season based on the turnover alone: in addition to McCrea Buffalo loses fifth-year senior transfer Josh Freelove and point guard Jarod Oldham. On the other, Hurley has done well to balance out the scholarship situation and bring in talent that will contribute right away: Of the seven new faces in 2014-15, four will likely see significant minutes, including stud Milwaukee-area point guard Lamonte Bearden.
We got a glimpse of the new-look Bulls in an exhibition game against Wheeling Jesuit last Thursday and stylistically saw what we all expected: It would have been ludicrous for Hurley to ignore McCrea's talent last year, but now that he's gone Buffalo can run out more guards, spread the floor to open more room for getting slashers to the rim, and press the pace with greater ease.
Junior forward Justin Moss, who was impressive in a reserve role last year and looks to be a key contributor, if not starter, this year, missed the exhibition. Depending on who you ask it was either due to a facial injury or an issue with team rules. Marshall transfer and junior-to-be Jamir Hanner was dismissed from the team less than two weeks before the season, but he was unlikely to get more than a few minutes per night, and Moss' issue appears to be less significant.
Noting the absence of Moss, we can still read into Hurley's lineup decisions from the exhibition:
- Freshmen Lamonte Bearden (Germantown (WI) HS) and Mory Diane (Detroit Pershing) are going to get a good amount of minutes as first-year players. Bearden may start at times, providing a complimentary slasher to sophomore Shannon Evans, and Diane will provide three-point touch off the bench, especially if junior Jarryn Skeete spends another year not getting anymore accurate from the arc.
- Senior Xavier Ford, who took a few years to gain his footing in Amherst, may well have beaten out Moss as the other starting forward. He's not as strong as McCrea, but more mobile while still big enough to hold down the fort while Will Regan does his hustle thing.
- On that note, the four-man forward rotation of Regan, Ford, Moss, and Raheem Johnson will be strong offensively, but may struggle to put up adequate rebounding numbers simply due to Hurley's scheme. Moss is the team's best pure rebounder, and everyone was loose against Wheeling, and who really cares, it's an exhibition, but the Cardinals outrebounded the Bulls by 11.
- Hurley showed a clear eight-man rotation against Wheeling. I think it's more likely that that swells to nine with Moss' return than bumps Johnson out of the picture, because Raheem looked awesome and I want to see more of him, but regardless UB is going to run at a higher tempo than last year.
I am not sure what to think of the nonconference schedule, especially after last year when you just had to acknowledge that it might take some time for the team in a new system to gel and an at-large bid wasn't happening anyway, so whatever happens happens. The Bulls will spend a ton of time on the road, playing at Alumni Arena just four times before the new year, though their late-November game against Canisius is technically a road game but will be played in the semi-neutral First Niagara Centre.
Without a doubt the highlight of the nonconference schedule is two games against 2014 Final Four opponents: After opening the season against South Dakota State on Friday, UB will play Kentucky as part of the Cawood Ledford Classis, and will also play at Wisconsin in late December. Interspersed around those challenging matchups are many winnable games against local rivals Niagara, Canisius, and St. Bonaventure, as well as semi-local or semi-rivals Binghamton, Robert Morris and Cornell.
It's quite possible that the Bulls adjust to the turnover fast, take another step forward in 2014-15, and come into MAC play at 10-3. Against their Western New York rivals Buffalo should take a big step past Niagara and Canisius this year, though St. Bonaventure is reemerging in the A-10. And after Kentucky and Wisconsin, the third- and fourth-most challenging opponents on the schedule may be South Dakota State and Drexel. Between those two and Bonaventure, however, I think someone catches the Bulls on a tough day, and UB is most likely to hit their MAC opener against Miami at eight or nine wins.
For the stats-minded, Regan and Evans are the clear leaders of the team, though neither can win games on his own - unless Regan gets real hot from three - and will need the four newcomers in the rotation to figure out their roles fast.
If everything goes right for the Bulls this year, they could hold steady from 2013-14 and once again claim a top-four seed in Cleveland. If things just don't click after the departure of three senior starters, the Bulls still have the talent and the nonconference schedule to pull a .500 record and a home game in the first round of the MAC tournament. The safe guess for now is the fifth or sixth seed in the conference.
For a player-by-player look at the team, follow the links below to Bull Run's previews: