Football's got you down?
For one, I don't think you should have been too surprised. For two, pay more attention to other sports and they'll cheer you up. But most importantly, it's basketball season. UB's men's team lost all-time leading scorer Javon McCrea in the offseason among a graduating class of five seniors and sees more than 50% turnover in the lineup top to bottom, but also now has another year of coaching and roster-building under Bobby Hurley.
However much we can learn from tonight's game against the Cardinals, it's something. Below are your first instant reactions of the 2014-15 season:
Starting Lineup: Justin Moss did not play in this game, so keep that in mind as I talk about lineups here, but Hurley's starting five was Lamonte Bearden, Will Regan, Jarryn Skeete, Shannon Evans and Xavier Ford. I have a personal preference of a healthy Moss over Ford in the first five, but I could see that being a regular starting five for the full season.
Clear Eight-Man Rotation: Once again, you have to figure that Justin Moss is going to play a big role onthe Alumni hardwood this year, but it's clear even in this exhibition game who Hurley's main rotation is. Transfers Rodell Wigginton and Raheem Johnson were the first off the bench for the second-year coach, and Mory Diane came in later in the backcourt. Through the first half, it's Bearden, Skeete, Diane, Evans, and Wigginton in the backcourt and Regan, Ford, and Johnson in the front.
One concern I have with this rotation - that may be alleviated with the return of Moss - is that is seems designed to give up lots of offense rebounds and let opponents extend possessions. Will Regan is not a true under-the-basket defender, but there were times in the first half he was out defending on the arc, and UB's guards were the first to get inside. Midway through the first Wheeling had the advantage on the boards 9-7.
Slow Start?: You weren't the only one thinking that things started a little sluggish against the D-II Cardinals, but it's an exhibition. At just eight minutes in, Shannon Evans was the only Bull not subbed in or out - and he already had nine points by then - so you've got a question of how much chemistry everyone was able to develop there.
#NateOatsPipeline: As I said on Twitter, it is real, and it is significant. Lamonte Bearden scored the first points of the game on a pretty follow-your-own shot play, and did not look out of place at all on the team. Other newcomers were similarly impressive: Mory Diane hit his first two shots, both three-pointers, after confidently calling for them from the elbow, and Raheem Johnson is going to excite a lot of Bulls fans this year with his energy and size on both ends of the court.
Tempo: With six minutes to play in the half, you could tell the Bulls flipped a switch and started pressing the pace more. Quickly the Bulls turned a three-ish point lead into a ten-ish point lead that was 42-33 at the break. We knew that Hurley was going to dial the tempo up more this year without having to cater to the Kraken's talent down low, and it was good to see it effective this evening.
At the half UB was shooting 48% from the floor and 60% from three - numbers that would win a lot of basketball games.
Fast Start: Wheeling's first points in the second half didn't come until three possessions before the media timeout. In that time UB had extended its lead to 49-33, and led 55-38 at the actual timeout. From there, it was just a matter of time.
Sloppy with the lead: The middle ten-minute stretch of the half was... not that fun to watch. UB was imprecise in passing and shooting, and had the look of a young team looking for highlight-reel plays. I don't think it's much reason for concern right now, but something to pay attention to when the regular season begins.
Strong Three-Point Shooting: For all the sloppiness, the final margin of victory was bolstered by some strong three-point shooting. UB hit 12 of 23 from distance today, led by four from Diane.
UB coasted the rest of the way to a 79-60 win. The shooting slowed down in the second half, but still finished at a respectable 42% from the floor and 52% from beyond the arc. On the statsheet, Will Regan and Shannon Evans featured heavily as expected, with 16 and 14 points, though as a team the Bulls were outrebounded 44-33. Mory Diane and Xavier Ford also hit double-digit scoring.
All in all, I think we saw a lot of what we expected from this team: strong contributions from newcomers including a strong shooting day, an aggressive, high tempo style on both offense and defense, and a bit of disconnect on offense from a team that is more than half-new from last season.