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On UB Athletics, Men's Basketball, and Expectations: A rebuttal to the UB Spectrum

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Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

There are few things that both professional and aspiring journalists look forward to like an "I told you so" comeuppance article. Whether you predicted a bad season back in October or just now realized we lost three star players, there is attention to be had yelling "I told you so, Danny White"

The Spectrum, like me, saw this as a rebuilding year. Some of the other Bull Run editors (Matt: *raises hand*) thought UB was going to compete once again for a top-four spot in the MAC and I saw some other online media say the same thing. I wish that they were right and that I had been wrong, but that is not the way things are shaping up. (Matt: Though there are six games left for the dreamers out there.)

I'll give the student paper their due: they did not hedge their bets when it came to calling this season. They predicted a middling MAC team in a rebuilding year and it's shaping up to be just that. With games remaining against Kent, Akron, and a pair against Bowling Green I am scratching my head coming up with 10 wins. (Matt: You know where I stand. Sunshine and rainbows, baby.)

They put together a piece summarizing the season and aside from a good amount of back patting it was a good read.

Before the men’s basketball season started, a co-worker and I sat down and predicted the Bulls were going to finish a game below .500 and just 9-9 in the Mid-American Conference.

We weren’t being too hard on Buffalo, either.

The Bulls had lost three of their starting five to graduation – including MAC Player of the Year and UB All-time leading scorer Javon McCrea. They were going to feature six newcomers and just five returners.

Everything pointed to a rebuilding year for a young and talented squad.

Then the Kentucky and Wisconsin games happened.

The Bulls rolled through conference play with a 9-3 record – including two games in which they led the No.1 Kentucky and No.6 Wisconsin respectively at halftime. They beat up on inferior competition like Canisius and Niagara and were able to put up comfortable victories together on the road.

Justin Moss looked like a better version of McCrea. Jarryn Skeete looked the 2012-13 Jarryn Skeete. Lamonte Bearden wasn’t playing like a freshman point guard. All the pieces were falling into place.

Instead of talking about the Bulls possibly making it to Cleveland, I was talking with fellow reporters about scenarios in which Buffalo could make the NCAA Tournament without the automatic bid. But in the back of my mind was always the thought: We have to wait until conference play starts.

Up to here Matt and I are 100% with him. This is how I felt as UB rolled through the season. In the back of my mind I kept hearing "depth, depth, depth," and you can trace through Matt's pieces continued attention, if resignation, on that issue. (Matt: Sometimes the horse is dead and you want to talk about other things.)

As the piece goes on, however, Dinki starts to get off the beaten trail.

Yet it’s a bit hard for me to say Buffalo is underachieving - .500 is right where I thought they’d be at this point in the season.

If the team lost the star power they had, and you expected a .500 team, then how are they underachieving? To borrow a phrase from Dennis Green; "They are who they thought they were". Sure I am disappointed after the hot start that they have fallen cold but if you were expecting 9-9 UB then they are achieving just what you expected.

And by the way, you're ignoring your game-under-.500 prediction overall to focus on the middling MAC record. If you were thinking 9-9 in the MAC and sub-.500 overall, then this team has outdone your expectations by six games so far. That's pretty good.

If it stopped there a response would not have been worth our time but what starts as an awkward jab goes full stupid:

So it’d be reasonable to give Buffalo a pass for their current place in the standings and recent troubles. But Buffalo brought these expectations on themselves.

The Bulls showed they’re capable of playing with some of the best teams in the country. They have a potential MAC Player of the Year in Moss. Expectations for a second-year head coach are different when he’s The Bobby Hurley.

Emphasis ours.

Yea, damn Buffalo for playing great games against Kentucky and Wisconsin! And damn Bobby Hurley for being a legendary player! For some reason those two things are "faults" that helped the team shamefully raise your expectations.

And why should expectations be different for Hurley? It's not like every great player has become a great head coach. It's well-established that it's not that simple.

And when you’ve set your goals as an athletic department to be the ‘next big-time college athletics brand,’ it’s hard to explain being 6-6 in a mid-major conference.

Here we go. The mandatory Danny White jab. Someone should let the guys at The Spectrum know that the "next big-time college athletics brand' is a statement of what White wants UB to become. It is not a statement of where UB is.

Furthermore, despite what a Bonaventure fan tried to tell us on Twitter last night, there's more to an athletics department than men's basketball. "Big-time" happens when Women's Soccer wins the MAC. "Big-time" starts to happen when every radio in the state can pull in every UB Football game. Hell, "Big-time" happens when #UBMopKid goes viral and the marketing department capitalizes and makes T-shirts.

(Matt: Trust me, that is big-time, even if you think it was small and/or an obvious move.)

Oh, and the mid-major conference thing. The MAC is now a top-ten conference by RPI. That hasn't happened in over ten years. Doesn't change the national perception, but this team is better than 6-6 most years in recent MAC history.

And even *if* UB was there, already at the big-time, bad seasons happen. Look at Syracuse this year. The hoops power was well on their way to the NIT before "volunteering" to sit out a year for violations.

I’m now convinced Buffalo has enough talent and experience to win this year. The problem seems to be mental. Too many times Saturday did I think to myself: Why would you take that shot? The ball isn’t being facilitated. Everyone seems to eager to shoot first and pass later. There are also too many unnecessary fouls.

Here is where we differ from Tom. We think UB has some players who are talented enough to win the MAC but the do not have enough of them. The 6-3 early MAC record was built on wins from teams now lower than UB in the standings. An eight-man rotation just is not going to get it done and Coach Hurley lost two guys this season.

Tired players take sloppy shots and dumb fouls. Tired players make poor decisions on defense.

That’s not a matter of not being talented enough and being too inexperienced; that’s a matter of not playing team basketball

On November 13th Mr. Thomas Dinki wrote this.

"Buffalo’s roster includes five freshmen and three other players who have never logged a Division I minute. They have talent, but it’s clearly ‘raw’ talent at this point."

And in the article we are responding to today he points out that Bearden is a true freshman, Evans a sophomore, and that Moss is only in his second season at the D1 level.

Now all of the sudden this team has all the experience it needs to win the MAC?

But Buffalo deserves to be criticized for this recent skid. The Bulls – and this athletic department – raised the expectations for themselves.

Now they have to try to meet them.

First, we would be willing to say they are indeed "trying to meet them." But putting that aside, what did UB to to raise your expectations? Did they promise you personally a MAC championship? Did they brainwash you into thinking that your own initial assessment of this team was off?

No.

They played their hearts out through the nonconference portion of the schedule and have struggled in the MAC. They won a lot of games out of conference, many against squads you now call "inferior competition," but preseason thought would hand UB more losses than wins, as you admit in this very piece.

***

This is an especially interesting read given The Spectrum's recent history of basketball- and athletic department-aimed criticism. Last season, after a disappointing early exit from the MAC Tournament, we were treated to a scathing critique of the situation that included this gem on its way to a larger, Danny White-centric fit:

The team would have all but certainly performed better if not for a foolish decision by White to fire longtime coach Reggie Witherspoon last March.

Emphasis again ours.

Now, obviously the perspective has changed, but 11 months later the party line is "damn Bobby Hurley for raising our expectations." Sorry guys, but with Reggie and his reticence to play freshman, this team would be wildly different right now, and not in a living-up-to-expectations way.

Imagine in the wake of McCrea and Oldham leaving a starting five of Regan, Witherspoon-era Ford, Evans, Skeete, and whoever else Reggie would have grabbed in Evans' class. Imagine that following a season in which UB does not win the MAC East, because there's no Josh Freelove to shoot or Justin Moss to spell McCrea in foul trouble.

But how awful that they raised expectations on us by rebuilding faster than you expected! What a shameful thing to do! Maybe - gasp - your expectations were raised because there is indeed progress in UB Athletics.

We're often accused of being stooges, and sure, we're fans who look for positives and not strictly neutral journalists, but it's amusing to us how regularly other outlets bust out the change in culture around UB Athletics as one more negative to pile on when they're already taking their best shot, whether it's related to their thesis or not. You may think it's low-hanging fruit, but it just looks lazy.

***
We made this point last year: at this point it is true and will always be true barring some serious turnover that we at Bull Run have been covering UB longer than anyone at The Spectrum.

This doesn't negate anything the student paper has to say, but whinging about a .500 MAC season that's right in line with your expectations, a season that saw UB go 9-3 in OOC play - three or four games above your expectations - and is going to finish with a winning record the season after graduating the program's best player in the modern era just reeks of a lack of perspective.

The last time UB graduated a MAC Player of the Year, they finished six games below .500 the next season despite the best junior year in school history from Javon McCrea. Only the current UB seniors saw Watt and McCrea play together.

That's how limited the perspective is and always will be with the student media. Within this season, sure we're disappointed, and it REALLY sucks that it looks like we'll be waiting at least another year even as we get more and more talented.

But within the larger context, following the loss of McCrea with a winning season is pretty damn good. It's a sign of the bar being raised within the basketball program - and even the whole athletic department you look to for easy jabs - and that, yes, things in Amherst are indeed getting better.

For now, we've still got seven games minimum left in the season. That's nearly a quarter of the full year! Let's not crucify anyone yet, and let's certainly have some perspective.

Go Bulls.