Non conference play is done and despite a veritable fecal storm of off season change the UB Bulls managed to slip into conference play with a winning record. In his first season as an NCAA head coach Nate Oats pulled together the few remaining pieces of last year's championship team, a ton of new talent, and together the team posted a record of seven wins and six losses.
Buffalo's RPI ranking would put them at 4th in the MAC East and 6th overall in the conference.
If three months ago you had told me that UB ends up in this position heading into MAC play I would not have believed you. I really thought UB was heading for a 2007-esque 10 win season. I mean let's look at the facts:
Right after their trip to the NCAA Tournament.
- Regan and Ford graduate - ouch
- Hurley takes a new job - double ouch
- Evans goes with Hurley - frick
- Several commits decommit - double frick
- Moss kicked out of school - kill it with fire
Oats restocked with a lot of new recruits and JUCO's. This is not an exceptionally "young" team but it is most certainly a new team. So many new faces this season. Blake Hamilton, Willie Conner, and CJ Massinburg are all new faces and the trio are among UB's top five scorers this season.
UB graduates two key players including the MAC Championship MVP. Then their coach and arguably best young player in the spring. Finally the MAC Player of the Year gets kicked off the team.
I was really afraid we could have been in for a total collapse. I have faith in Oats' basketball knowledge but it was his first time running a D1 program. And for his first run at D1 he inherited a program that had a ton of off season drama.
He also has far more important things going on than college basketball. Please consider donating.
But Oats and his team have taken what could have been a disaster and scratched together a respectable 7-6 out of conference record. Losses have come to Duke, Iowa State, VCU, Saint Bonaventure, ODU, and Saint Joseph's.
Of those losses, to me, only the Bonnies contest stings. UB had that game in the waning seconds but could not get another bucket nor hold on for overtime. Still Saint Bonaventure is not a bad team and better than everyone UB has beaten so I don't see a really ugly loss on the schedule.
The team has won the games they were supposed to win and have, on balance, gotten better every week.
Lone wolf basketball is mostly gone and because of that shooting has gotten a bit better. More importantly in the game against Delaware the team almost always seemed to slow down and work for the shot when something did not open up quickly. That kind of patience will be needed for the challenge ahead.
The next challenge will be opening up conference play against Akron and CMU. The two teams are favored by many to win the MAC East and West respectively, though the Chippewas have struggled this season. An upset against either would bode very well for conference play and the Bulls chances of a bye into Cleveland, which, by the way, is back to four byes to the quarterfinals instead of the ladder approach that sent UB right into the semis last year.
I'm sure Matt, John, or Drew will be along soon with a much more technical piece about non conference play. For me, adjusting to baby number four, it's all I can do to watch the games and be present on the game threads. I just wanted to have myself counted among those quite happy with the music being made by "Ball and Oats"