In 2012-2013, junior Auraum Nuiriankh started all 34 games for the Bulls in a 14-20 season. The Bulls were thrown for a loop after eleven games when Jarod Oldham was lost for the season with a wrist injury, but Nuiriankh was a key part of whatever rotation Coach Witherspoon used. He took 3 pointers (didn't hit them) at the same rate as Will Regan, was second on the team in rebounds, and generally filled up the stat sheet.
Under new coach Bobby Hurley, Nuiriankh's playing time dropping. Auraum was a hustle player that Reggie used in a similar role to onetime Bull Calvin Betts, but his style didn't fit with Hurley's up-tempo, guard-oriented offense that asked the backcourt to move the ball off the dribble rather than Witherspoon's perimeter passing.
Add in the fact that Oldham returned from injury and transfer Josh Freelove merited nearly 30 minutes a game, and Nuiriankh became a complete nonfactor, playing just 5.5 minutes a night in only 21 games and only starting on senior night. The eye test alone showed that Freelove, Oldham, and Shannon Evans had passed the senior, but Nuiriankh was well down the pecking order beyond those three.
Given the strong season from UB and Nuiriankh's failure to impress when he did get more time, no one spent much time belaboring the point.
In preseason articles I pointed out that Hurley's team would undergo another step forward in the guard-oriented offense last year, as the roster now only has three players recruited by the second-year coach's predecessor, and the coach no longer had to cater his style to the strengths of one of the best players to ever wear the Blue and White. Through seven games, I think that prediction has born true.
Unfortunately, as the Bulls take another step down that axis, I think another Reggie-Era player is getting smushed out of his past role with the team.
Before the season, senior Will Regan was named to the Preseason MAC-East team, and we noted his status as a bellwether for the team's success:
Consider this: Will Regan hit double-digit scoring 16 times last season. In those games, Buffalo was 13-3. Under ten for the Buffalo native and the Bulls were just 6-7. With UB losing 57% of its 2013-14 scoring to graduation, Regan's scoring role becomes even more critical than last year.
What's actually happened, though?
|off/def rbd split
|Regan, 2013-14 (30 games)
|Regan, 2014-15 (7 games)
Before I get too far, this is not a criticism of Regan. He's started every game, will likely start all the rest, and is putting together a solid stat line. I highly doubt he's dissatisfied. Rather, it's a look at the changing dynamic of the team from last March to now.
If there's any value judgement to be made, I think it's one that shines a positive light on Bobby Hurley; As he moves his team even further from its Reggie-era identity, it's clear that 2013-14 was not 100% his style of team, but he worked with what he had and engineered a nine-game turnaround from the previous season. This year he's been able to do more to get the team to look like his own.
That style, though, is edging out Regan as a key productive member of the Bulls. That Regan-in-double-digits stat? At least so far, it doesn't seem to have any bearing on the 2014-15 team: UB is 3-1 when Will hits double digits and 2-1 when he doesn't.
That tidbit is likely the most volatile due to small sample size. Those in the table above are I think more stable and paint a clear picture that will hold, especially given the senior is getting 30 minutes per game: On both offense and defense Regan has much less of a role close to the net than before, and has less of a role in the offense in general compared to past years. Across the board, his stats are diminished by 10-40%, while steals, which occur more away from the rim, and blocks, which occur more often in close, are flipped from last year.
I really wish I had data not just on individual player minutes, but on total minutes for each combination of forwards. And I suppose I do have that data if I dig into the play-by-play, but I don't feel like doing it right now. That would show more significant information.
Anyway, hat tip to JeffScreen, who pointed it out in the comments of yesterday's postgame piece. It's not just the stats and it's not just the eyetest: Will Regan isn't getting as many opportunities to do anything in the same amount of minutes as last year, and his statline is less critical to team success as it has ever been.
Is it a bad thing? I don't think so. If Regan were getting completely shutout of the lineup like Auraum did despite his career production I'd be concerned, but this just a factor of - as I called it above - the team's changing dynamic.
Given that we've seen a schedule with similar-quality teams as to what we'll see in the MAC, I don't think any we'll see drastic change over the last 75% of the season, but if we do it's worth paying even more attention to.