So that basketball game yesterday was... not... what we hoped to see. I myself missed it other than following on Twitter and in our comments section. So I know that the nine-point final deficit is misleading, even if the second half was better than the first.
I have a feeling that - as long as everyone is healthy for UB - that Robert Morris is going to run into a bit of a buzzsaw on Sunday. UB will not always be the team that led Kentucky for 29 minutes, but they'll also rarely be the team that played the Bonnies today.
With apologies for not being able to contribute anything in the way of Xs and Os, five things we learned from yesterday's game:
Lamonte Bearden is still a freshman. It was hard not to get excited after his 23-point performance against Canisius, but Bearden followed it up with a foul-shortened 21 minutes yesterday that resulted in a season-low five points. It's disappointing to learn that he is mortal, but the numbers themselves aren't too important. He won't score 23 every game, and he won't score 5 every game.
What is a touch concerning is Bearden's offensive fouls and turnovers. Part of what made Saturday so electric was Bearden's awareness to pull up a sink a shot from anywhere before hitting a massive post player. Last night, that didn't happen.
Mory Diane needs to see more time. I know that UB was stuck with a short bench today thanks to concussion and illness to two key players, but Bobby Hurley isn't going to make it through the season running a seven- or eight-man rotation. It worked despite heavy foul trouble against Grand Canyon, and it didn't work today. If Diane isn't ready to play 15 minutes a night, that's fine, but Bonaventure was his first minutes since the opener. It would be great to see him get 5-10 a game, both to spell some guys further and to build him up for the next time Buffalo's stuck with a short bench.
If nothing else, get someone on the floor to eat up fouls. It's borderline nuts that UB had three guys foul out and still only played eight players. And Frasco only got three minutes. Is Diane any more of a liability than players gunshy because they're sitting on 3 or 4 fouls?
It wasn't just a tough day on offense. UB shot in the 20% range in the first half and were able to fight back, but bad shooting days will happen. It's the defensive numbers that stick out to me. Some of the most jaw-dropping highlights from Canisius were UB's nine steals. Bearden, Evans, and Skeete all had two in the win. Last night, the whole team had two, and they both came from Will Regan. Other than 21 points on a remarkable 23 shots from Evans, the Buffalo guards were a nonfactor, and when Bonaventure got past them, they shot nearly 50% from inside the arc. Just rough all-around
Xavier Ford is more important to this team than ever. Ford has really developed over his four years in Amherst, from someone who looked straight-up lost on the court to perhaps UB's best post defender. I am a big fan of Raheem Johnson, who had three blocks in 19 minutes today, but he plays a little wild, is foul prone, and seems to be filling the role of 2013-14 Justin Moss, a high-energy post sub who Hurley uses for around 12 minutes a game. But Ford has turned into an indispensable part of the team, a smooth defender who quietly makes plays. We really need to hope his concussion is not serious, and he returns to the lineup shortly.
I had hoped that UB would be able to counter Youssou Ndoye with quickness in the post, but with Ford and a short bench that didn't happen. UB had a slight margin on the boards, but gave up 14 points in the paint compared to the Bonnies.
While we're on forwards, I think it's very unlikely we see Ikenna Smart this year. He's only playing his third or fourth year of organized basketball. Should we find ourselves short a forward and not without Wigginton, look for Rodell to step up into a forward, swingman role, and Diane to step into the guards, as happened yesterday.
Foul shooting is getting better. UB now has a full six players shooting .750 or better from the line. Of the other two in the usual eight-man rotation, Johnson has hit 4 of 6, and Ford 1-7. Xavier did improve significantly to shoot over 70% from the line last year, so give that some time.
Right now UB is shooting 75.4% from the stripe. The only season ever that compares is 2005-06, when the Bulls set a program record hitting 75.1% of their free shots. Six games is not much and of course, a tenth of a percent is basically a single shot right now, but free-throw shooting isn't something that varies wildly and keep an eye on this.
Two things make this loss sting a little less: I figured coming into the year that Bonaventure was our next-toughest OOC opponent after Kentucky and Wisconsin, and we were without our first two guys off the bench.
But the way UB lost was disconcerting regardless of the mitigating circumstances. They were completely punchless in the first half, and hopefully totally out of character. Look for the Bulls to get back in character Sunday in Pittsburgh. If the team we saw over the first five games is closer to the real UB, we should hit MAC play with only one further loss.