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Buffalo Bulls Basketball Nonconference Recap. At 9-3, NCAA at large bid not out of question

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I chose this picture just because Nate Oats.

Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

After yesterday's strong start to 2015, the UB Men's Basketball team joins the women in completing the nonconference half of their schedule. Short of a road game against St. Bonaventure marred by injuries to the team's top two subs, there's nothing on a game-to-game scale to be upset with.

Read on for a look at the season so far.

Team Stats

Record: 9-3

Best win: I certainly will not complain about 9-3, because it doesn't happen much, but UB doesn't exactly have a strong win among those nine. Believe it or not, by KenPom, it's Canisius, who's at 150 in the well-respected ratings, well ahead of any of UB's other wins.

Worst loss: St. Bonaventure. No explanation needed.

Relative to expectations: By wins and losses, they've got to be about right on, yea? Personally speaking, I was expecting three or four losses, with Bonaventure the likely toughest opponent after the big two in a weak slate.

Qualitatively, I think the team has well exceeded expectations. The first two wins of the season were by a combined eight points, and since then it been all double-digits. Even with the 19-point loss to Kentucky, the Bulls are still outscoring opponents by 7 points a game.

Relative to years past: We covered this yesterday, but 9-3 has only happened thrice now in the modern era, and not in nine years. Beyond wins and losses, the Bulls are outperforming opponents in every statistical category. Last year was the first time that happened.

Most positive stat: I can't choose just one:

1) 5 road wins. For the second straight season, UB lost a home game to weather, and the cancellation of that game created a six-game road trip that lasted nearly a full month. Even so, the Bulls have five road wins to their credit. It is the first time in the modern era (since the return to Division 1 in 1992-93) that UB has five road wins before conference play.

The Bulls of 2008-09 and 2009-10 did have five road and neutral site wins, but playing Colorado State in Hawai'i is a little different than a road win.

2) Five different Bulls have notched double-doubles this year. Moss (SDSU, Canisius, RMU, Drexel, Niagara, Wisconsin); Ford (Niagara); Wigginton (Binghamton); Evans (Binghamton*); Bearden (Cornell)

Most negative stat: Projected minutes for the rest of the season from Mory Diane: 0.

Coach Hurley is out and out comfortable with his eight-man rotation, and he doesn't have much of a choice now, with Diane on the sidelines academically ineligible for the rest of the year and fellow freshmen Bobby Frasco and Christian Pino getting a maximum of five combined minutes a night.

Key offensive stat: The Bulls are averaging 72 possessions per game - 35th-best in Division 1, according to BBstate.com.

Key defensive stat: Opposing shooters are hitting just 29% from distance against UB.

Biggest Surprise: Not quite a stats thing, but how smoothly the team has transitioned into the post-McCrea era. I won't call Moss a surprise because, while improved, he played great in limited minutes last year. But the team as a whole has improved despite losing three senior starters and three more from last year's squad.

Random Tidbit: UB is hitting 17.4 FTs/game, their most since 2006-07.

Individual Stats

Leading Scorer: Justin Moss (16.4 ppg)

Leading Rebounder: Moss, again. (9.4 rpg)

Three Key Storylines: 1. The Guards. It's been a great first 12 games to the season for the UB backcourt. Jarryn Skeete has missed a few games with a rolled ankle, but made clear after the Cornell game that he will play against Miami and look to continue his 50% three-point shooting. Lamonte Bearden became the first freshman to start the season opener in a decade and is averaging over 9 points a game, and Shannon Evans just put down one of the most electric two-game stretches in program history.

Together, the three are averaging 36.2 points, 11.6 assists, and 4.4 steals per game.

2. The Short Bench. I'm up and down on how much energy to invest in this, but it's noteworthy that by the Drexel game, Coach Hurley felt he had his eight man rotation settled, and that's what we should expect for the rest of the year. In some games the team has stuck to eight even as fouls pile up.

At this point I'll probably get to work shortly on a post investigating this alone more fully, but last season only seven Bulls averaged 10+ minutes a game, with Moss at 9 and Nuiriankh and Much around 5, so it doesn't seem wildly different. But with UB molded in their coach's high-fitness image and playing at one of the fastest paces in the country, season-long fatigue will be worth paying attention to.

3. The Road Wins. See above. MAC play sees a higher home winning percentage than most other conferences, and often the difference between very good teams and the top of the conference is a squad's ability to win a few in someone else's gym.

Surprising Guard: You want me to say Bearden, but it's Skeete, whose accuracy has shot through the roof playing alongside two playmakers who give him a lot of time and space to set up his shot. The junior is shooting 20% over his career rate in 2014-15 and has doubled his scoring. Last year he made 30 threes on nearly 100 attempts. This season, he's already at 25 made triples in just 50 tries. It takes a *long* time for three-point percentage to stabilize beyond small sample size, but Bearden and Evans are too dangerous for Skeete not to continue to get good looks.

Surprising Forward: Justin Moss. I've said time and time again that if you were paying attention last year, you knew Moss was ready to breakout, but he's been better than I expected even, already with four 20-point performances and six double-doubles.

For comparison, through 11 nonconference games last season, Javon McCrea had three 20-point games and five double-doubles.

Underrated: Will Regan. I still think Regan is a bit of a casualty in Hurley's system, but things have gone better for the senior since I wrote about it early in the year. Will is up to 7.5 points per game and is in the large second tier of rebounders at 4.2 per contest. He's scored 8 or more points in five of the last seven after managing it just twice in the first half-dozen games.

In the MAC Rankings:

UB is middle of the pack in most team stats, though #2 in three-point defense, behind only EMU. You can bet that strength of schedule plays a good part in variance there, and when I do a similar piece halfway through conference play, things will hopefully be different.

Individually, 33 points goes a long way, and Shannon Evans is now #2 in MAC scoring, behind teammate Justin Moss. Moss also leads the conference in rebounding, with Xavier Ford just outside the top 10. Evans is also #2 in assists and #7 in FT%, while he and Jarryn Skeete are 5-6 in steals, and the sophomore leads the conference in minutes/game.


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Go Bulls!