Last night, the Buffalo Bulls took home a win and created the first two game winning streak of the Nate Oats era. It was a game highlighted increased ball movement and teamwork throughout play. After a close dogfight, UB pulled away and took home a nice trophy for winning the Naismith Hall of Fame Tipoff Springfield bracket. So far, the team has met all expectations and has won the games it has needed to and lost the ones that were a stretch.
1. Ikenna is improving
We've been harping about his bad fouls and weak offensive game but I've seen slight improvements in Smart's game. Today he made a nice hook shot and there were times that he was great defensively, including a blocked shot. Smart definitely has a ways to go but he's looking better with every game that he logs in and that's a positive to take out of this.
2. Rebounding needs to get better
Vermont outperformed us in the rebounding category and it shouldn't have been a thing. Our bigs had a distinct height advantage and were more athletic. I think it goes back to us not having a solid post presence like we did last year (to be fair, we did have Justin Moss then as well). We do have two freshmen (technically speaking) playing the 5 regularly so I guess it's just something that needs time.
3. Team chemistry is improving, slowly but surely
Every game, this Bulls team has been chipping away at establishing great teamwork. ODU was non existent, St. Joe's saw a slight second half improvement, NC A&T saw a large second half push, and last night was a good game all around. It didn't show in the assist total but it looked much better. Obviously things need to be worked still. We're still making some really dumb Lone Wolf shots.
4. Lamonte finally gained ground
Lamonte Bearden this season has been awful. Today we finally saw improvement. Throughout this season the usual patented shot Lamonte took was when he drove to the rim to about eight feet out, gave up, and took a weak shot. Almost every time this was a waste of a possession. Things were different this time however as Lamonte took some smarter shots and when he didn't have one, he dumped the ball off onto someone in the perimeter and they restarted their play. I'm not saying this happened every time as the terrible shots still existed, but they were less frequent.
5. This team might be okay by MAC play
The ultimate goal here is to not get embarrassed during conference play. I honestly could care less about out of conference play as long as we were competitive for the MAC by the end of it. It would be a really good season if UB received a top-4 seed for the MAC tournament. Taking down one of the better America East teams is a good step towards that. With the amount of progress that the team is showing, it's possible that this team is playing good enough to be competitive with the upper half of the MAC come January. Key words: It's possible
Player of the Game: Lamonte Bearden
He carried this team on a lot of levels today. I didn't think I'd call him player of the game given his recent efforts but his 20 points and 7-8 free throw shooting says a lot. Nights like these are what we want to see from the highly regarded sophomore.
The Bottom Line
Coming out 3-2 after five games in nine days isn't the end of the world. Especially since two the games were against respected mid-major opponents. Let's see how much better this team is after one week of rest and sleeping in the same bed every night.