There's very little in the sports world as reliable as Lance Leipold's career win percentage. In Buffalo, there's even less.
But one place where UB approach that .946 winning percentage is on Senior Day. Only once since 2001 has UB not won Senior Day - a .928 winning percentage.
Whether you like it or not, this year's team has slowly drawn more and more comparisons to the 2004-05 team. The recent jump to 31 in the RPI puts them on a similar level (by that metric)*, and beyond RPI, this team is as good as (I'd argue better than) any UB squad that's played in Alumni since.
*I KNOW RPI IS FLAWED. Save it.
Anyway, in part because of the nice benchmark that that 04-05 team presents, and in part because my memory doesn't extend further (2004-05 14-year-old bandwagon jumper!) and I don't want to rely purely on research, I'm stopping there. With tomorrow's game against Bowling Green hopefully the last in Alumni this season, let's rank the last ten Senior Nights.
My rankings are determined by score, attendance, strength of senior class, quality of game, and final MAC record/implications on MAC seeding. I weighted quality of the game the heaviest, and quality of the senior class also heavily. Games in which seniors played key roles really stuck in my mind.
I've also included each year's MAC Tournament results*, but those did not factor into the rating.
*Spoiler: We never win.
#10: (2013) Ohio 72, Buffalo 69 - THE LOSS
It's the lone loss, so it was going #10 no matter what, but this is one of the weaker senior classes on this list anyway. Richie was a walkon who earned a scholarship in his senior year. Watson had a strong senior season after middling play in his first few years, but wasn't as big a loss as Watt the year before or McCrea the year after.
Game: UB was well on their way to a twelfth straight senior day win, but as you'll see later, a medium-sized lead midway through the second half isn't a great place to be in Alumni's last game of the season. With 3:23 to go UB had a six-point advantage, but never scored again.
UB did enough to win in this one except execute their offense late. Will Regan had 20, Javon McCrea 19, and the senior Watson put together a double double, with 11 points and 11 rebounds.
It wouldn't be #10 if UB has held on, but it wouldn't be particularly high. Not so much because the first 37 minutes of this one were bad, but because everything else on this list was great. UB did nearly enough to win, but only nearly.
MAC Record and Implications: 7-9 - A win would have given us the FIFTH seed instead of eighth. We would have had a single-bye because Toledo was postseason-ineligible. Cheaters.
About average, the fifth-highest number on this list. I was unable to attend this one, so I don't know much about the in-game atmosphere.
MAC Tournament: Actually, UB put together a nice run in this season. Even at 7-9 they earned a home game in the first round, winning in OT over Central Michigan. If I remember correctly, it was one of the Daddy's Princess games with the Ziegler Family, and I'm almost certain I do because we weren't in our usual seats for this one.
After that was the Ball State game when Regan went supernova for 36 points, 25 in the second half. The season ended with a two-point quarterfinal loss to Kent.
FINAL VERDICT: The loss kind of automatically puts it here, but I think it would have been close anyway. Watson wasn't a bigtime name finishing a great career, and played well, but not great. It was a not-so-good season where the highlight came in a category I'm not considering.
#9: (2008) Buffalo 96, Bowling Green 50 - THE 'IF A TREE FALLS IN THE WOODS'
Seniors: Andrew Atman, Christian Schmidt
Game: 96 points is still something. Greg Gamble scored 23 on 8-10 shooting and the defense was no joke, either. Andrew Atman - fittingly - was the lone Bull not to score. The 46-point margin of victory was at the time - and I believe remains - UB's largest-ever over a MAC opponent.
I really just don't have much to say on this game, a strange blip in a terrible season.
MAC Record and Implications: 3-13 - UB was locked into 12th no matter what.
MAC Tournament: Campus round loss
FINAL VERDICT: At least it was a win, right? I think 2007 and this game were when we really started to take the win streak seriously, since UB pulled out big wins in consecutively awful years. Atman and Schmidt are unfortunately the worst crop of seniors on this list, two potential recruits who never panned out. The attendance was awful, too. Maybe there was a snowstorm.
#8: (2011) Buffalo 59, Miami 49 - THE END OF AN ERA
Seniors: Byron Mulkey, Jawaan Alston
Mulkey was legit after walking on, and had one of the most vibrant careers I can remember, busting out as an assists machine as a freshman, enjoying a productive few years, redshirting to help out the scholarships when Turner Battle made everyone on the team an awesome PG, and leading the team in his last year.
Alston never lived up to expectations, but had a good senior year. Comparatively, it's not a great senior class, but it helps push 2011 over 2008.
Game: This was not a good game (even Reggie panned it in the recap), but UB won and got everyone on the scoresheet. Byron scored 9, and the story was the Bulls defense, which in the second half held the RedHawks to 7-28 shooting and just two points in the last nine minutes.
MAC Record and Implications: 8-8 - We were locked into a home game at #8 no matter what
That's not a bad record; there's two losing seasons above this one, but this game was the lone win in the final six regular season opportunities for UB
MAC Tournament: UB got a home game in the tournament and won, before losing to #1 seed Kent State.
FINAL VERDICT: This game has a few things going for it, but just not enough. Perhaps the most notable is Byron Mulkey, who somehow played with an incredible array of UB big men in his career: Idbihi, Fedotov, Boudreau, Watt, and McCrea. Wild that those five are connected by one guy. There is a huge, huge jump between here and the top seven.
#7: (2006) Buffalo 83, Akron 71 - THE TRUE SENIOR SHOWCASE
Seniors: Calvin Cage, Mario Jordan, Rod Middleton
People remember Cage - I hope - but this was a really underrated class as a trio. Jordan and Middleton could step into the Regan/Johnson and Wigginton roles on this year's team and succeed, without a doubt.
Game: This was a true Senior Night, as the trio of honor combined for 53 points. Cage led everyone with 22, and in this season that wasn't that out of the ordinary; Calvin's senior year set a new school record for points scored, and he averaged over 18 a game.
Other than that, it wasn't a particularly amazing game. UB trailed 38 seconds in, and then never again.
MAC Record and Implications: 8-10 - We were locked into the eighth seed.
8-10 isn't particularly bad, but I forget when thinking of all the names that Cage and Idbihi both had losing MAC records in their senior year, and there was another bad year after that.
MAC Tournament: UB got a campus-round game and beat Ball State at home (Cage went for 30, because someone always goes off against Ball State) before losing handily to eventual tournament champ Kent. No shame in that, and though I'm not using the tourney results in my ratings, this pretty much fits with everything else from this game.
FINAL VERDICT: I wanted to put this one higher for Calvin but just couldn't find a real reason other than the relative MAC records. It's a strong senior class, but really only clearly better than one of the top six. Nothing about this game really sticks out, other than it being a good win.
#6: (2007) Buffalo 84, Ohio 65 - THE TRANSATLANTIC
Seniors: Yassin Idbihi, Parnell Smith, Darwin Young, Barnard Onyenucheya
Idbihi and Smith should need no introduction. I barely remember Darwin Young, and feel ashamed even though he was a bit player. Onyenu was a walk-on from the Bronx. What I remember most about him was always being surprised at his major. Electrical Engineering?
Game: There was just so much in this game. The team shot a season-best 52% and won the boards 40-23. Andy Robinson had a career-high 25 points. Byron Mulkey put a cap on his incredible freshman year by dishing out FOURTEEN assists. Yassin and Smith both notched double-doubles. For the Moroccan, his 13th of the season, a number matched in the modern era only by McCrea and now Moss.
But none of that matters because YASSIN'S PARENTS WERE THERE.
OK, fine, you say. Parents are always there on Senior Night.
YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND.
Yassin's parents had never seen him play basketball for UB before. I'm not 100% sure they had seen him play in Germany either, but won't go on the record with that. They had never been to America. All they ever had to follow his UB career was radio broadcasts. But Mr. Idbihi didn't speak English, so at first he just listened for his name without knowing anything else that was going on. In time, he learned more. HE LEARNED ENGLISH LISTENING TO UB ON THE RADIO DURING YASSIN'S GAMES.
PEOPLE MAKE MOVIES OUT OF STUFF LIKE THAT.
No one until Watt, and maybe not even Mitchell, enjoyed the same universal favor that Yassin, and he had a long time with it after his huge role in the conference tournament as a freshman. Everyone in the building knew that Yassin's parents were going to be there, and most everyone know the story of his father.
Nobody actually stopped clapping as Parnell Smith and his family took photos. They just knew Yassin was the only senior left. I'm not sure if it was Brad Riter, a predecessor, or someone else entirely, but the PA was pretty much drowned out; nearly the entire arena on its feet well before the center was introduced by name.
Then we beat Ohio by 19 as Yassin put down 18. What is Ohio Sucks?
MAC Record and Implications: 4-12 - With a loss, we would have been 11th or 12th in a tie with BG instead of 10th.
This is pretty much the reason this one's not higher; the 2005 sheen was pretty much gone. More in the FINAL VERDICT
MAC Tournament: Lost in first round, which I think was weirdly not on campus sites this year.
FINAL VERDICT: I wanted so badly to move this one higher. There are some really great things about this one, starting with the quality/atmosphere of the game and the class itself. Sure Yassin is an all-timer, but Parnell Smith is one of the ten best players in this post. But it was a bad year, and that's what kept it from being one spot higher.
#5: (2009) Buffalo 70, Miami 67 (OT) - THE TERRA NOVA
Seniors: Greg Gamble, Andy Robinson, Vadim Fedotov
Could you imagine what either of Gamble or A-Rob could do in Hurley's system? Gamble is the perfect swingman for HCBH, and Robinson was a steals machine who while not dynamic could score at times, seemingly stifled by Reggie's offense.
Vadim was really hurt by injuries in his career. I don't think he would have done well in Hurley's system, anyway.
Game: If I had to order these just on quality of the game, this one would be higher. It's the first of three to feature notable second-half comebacks. In my memory I had mixed this game with #3 on the list, but that's just how many comebacks there are here.
With bigtime seeding implications (sound familiar?) on the line, UB was down 13 at half and still down 4 with 6:07 to play. After coming back, one of the better Witherspoon teams forced OT on defensive stand and won a tight game when then-freshman, pre-Guillan-Barre Mitchell Watt pulled down an offensive rebound on a missed foul shot to ice the game. Watt finished with 14, then a career-high.
MAC Record and Implications: 11-5 - Three teams were tied at 10-6, and the #2 seed still went to the (weak-ass) MAC West "champion". With a loss, UB likely isn't seeded top-four, and definitely doesn't get the cushy semi-final matchup against Ball State.
This win brought UB to new ground. For the first time, the Bulls were regular season co-champions, and even claimed a MAC Tournament bye for the first time. Big things.
MAC Tournament: Back then, the four seeds in the MAC Tournament all received byes to the quarterfinals. None of this semifinal stuff (a coming post). After narrowly beating Kent State, UB surged into the final thanks to Max Boudreau absolutely taking over against Ball State*, but lost to Akron in the championship, failing to secure the football-basketball double.
*Whenever we want to play Ball State in the postseason, I'm ok with that. Cage went for 30, Boudreau 26, Regan 36 in our three MAC Championship matches against them.
FINAL VERDICT: This one is in front of Yassin because it's getting top-tier points in my head from both the game - a dramatic comeback - and the implications on MAC standing. At the same time, it itself is not higher because of the small senior class and attendance compared to next on my list.
#4: (2005) Buffalo 72, Akron 56 - THE HOUSE THAT TURNER BUILT
Seniors: Turner Battle, Jason Bird, Mark Bortz, Danny Gilbert
If you only recognize one or two names on this list, bummer. Bortz was second on the team in scoring and even perfect from 3 this season. Gilbert was an every-game starter who led the team in steals and Bird played 15 minutes a night.
Game: Unlike most of the games on this list, this was close for a big chunk. Junior Rod Middleton, playing against his brother on senior day for the first of two consecutive years, sparked a 14-4 run in second half as the team pulled down 55 boards while holding Akron to just 27% shooting. Gilbert had 17 points and 9 boards, while Battle set a career-high with 9 assists. Sophomore Yassin Idbihi had a double-double, because of course he did.
MAC Record and Implications: 11-7 - The win secured UB the 7th seed. Prior to tip, the Bulls could have finished anywhere from 5th to 10th, but a few teams at 10-7 won. Seventh was the best they could do once that happened.
This was only good for SEVENTH in the MAC, as six teams tied at 11-7. As we know, it didn't stop the Bulls any.
At the time, the third-largest ever. Pretty sure it still is. This team was real good, and people knew it.
MAC Tournament: Leon Williams. I don't want to talk about it.
FINAL VERDICT: Surprised to see this one fourth? I know. I might be looking at the final score and easy second half as a fait accompli, but maybe Alumni was rocking for those Middleton threes. Here's my reasoning: You've got the best or second-best player in this post, buttressed by three big contributors on a team that brought in a huge crowd. But 11-7 hurts a bit, and from here out, every year has an elite player, and the last three games are three of the best I've ever seen. That's where this one falls short. Turner and Co. were just too good for their own Senior Day-Ranking good.
#3: (2010) Buffalo 72, Ohio 69 - THE ISOLATIONIST
Seniors: Rodney Pierce, John Boyer, Calvin Betts, Sean Smiley, Max Boudreau, Adekambi Laleye
How about this for a class? No 2005, but a great case for number 2. Boudreau, Smiley, and Betts were all serious players who won games on their own at times. Betts is actually top-five in UB's modern era for rebounds. I have never uttered the name "Adekambi", but UB never calls him "Kambi" like we all did at the time, so, yea.
Rodney Pierce. What the hell did he have on Reggie Witherspoon to get to play the way he did? The former local star transferred to UB after a season at Rider, was a key contributor as a sophomore, and then went nuts on the MAC for two seasons, playing a brand of slashing, individual ball that Reggie had never employed before.
As a senior he averaged 18.4 ppg, nearly matching Cage's senior year, including an incredible eight-game run of 20+ points.
Game: If you haven't picked up yet, this one is all about Pierce, and it's another comeback. Down 63-53 with just 7:48 to go, the Bulls roared back. It took five minutes for Pierce to tie the game with a three. Then he one-upped himself.
UB got the ball down two with 40 seconds to go. After a timeout the UB star, holding the ball at the top of the key, simply cleared everyone out, dribbled thrice, and swished a three as his defender sagged to guard the drive. Place went bonkers. Except for the people behind my dad and I, who got annoyed at us for standing up. Sorry guys, dude just hit a game-winning shot in the final minute on his own senior night. We're going to stand.
Oh yea, then Pierce stripped DJ Cooper, one of five steals on the night, to ice the game. He finished with 26 points and four assists. John Boyer, who, I could write a frickin' book about John Boyer, was 4-6 from 3.
MAC Record and Implications: 9-7 MAC - With the win, UB still lost out on a three-way tie to just miss a bye and sit fifth, but a loss would have dropped them to seventh or eighth thanks to some bad MAC West regular season results.
MAC Tournament: Lost to Miami in quarterfinals after campus round win.
FINAL VERDICT: If you've been checking off mental boxes of great UB players while reading, maybe you forgot about Pierce. But his junior and senior years were both scintillating, and featured big second-half comebacks in senior night. Pierce was unlike anyone else who ever played for Reggie at Buffalo, individual to the extreme and great at attacking the rim, but it worked. Not until Hurley, Evans, and Freelove did we get anything like him.
This one passes Battle on the strength of the game itself and by being not far behind 2005 in the quality of the seniors. The attendance was a letdown. Nearly 4,000 more people could have seen this one.
#2: (2014) Buffalo 88, Bowling Green 65 - THE MEAT HOOKS
Seniors: Javon McCrea, Auraum Nuiriankh, Josh Freelove, Corey Raley-Ross, Jarod Oldlham
It's a big class, but I only have it as #4 among the listed years despite the monster leading the charge. Auraum was a bad shooter in a poor-mans-Betts role even before Hurley pushed him out, CR2 barely saw the floor, and while Freelove was great, he was only a Bull for one year. Oldham of course, was excellent.
The Game: It was all about Javon. I feel bad for Bowling Green (no I don't). UB lead by 10 at the half, on 6-10 shooting from McCrea, and the only question was whether the senior could get to 37 to hit 2,000 career points in his senior day.
He got real close, scoring 17 more in the second half for a career-high 34. Nine of those points came in the last 5:22 as Javon just took over, including the prettiest damn step-back three I've ever seen. With 1:12 to play he had scored nine points in four minutes and was just three away.
Hurley pulled him.
As long as I live I will never forgive Coach for this one. There was not a chance in hell Javon wasn't getting three more points in 70 seconds. Bowling Green was gassed. Javon was gassed too, but he was making it work.
As a team, UB committed only five turnovers while scoring 25 points off Falcon miscues. McCrea aside, it was a wonderful game.
MAC record and Implications: 13-5 - the 3-4 bye was already secured, but this meant UB would miss Ohio.
UB's first outright MAC East title, in an era where there's no benefit to winning the East if you're not top-two anyway.
MAC tournament: Karrington Ward. Don't ask.
FINAL VERDICT: Of all the great individual performances on this list, just. This one. I don't think I have to explain more. 5,452 in the house is simply icing on the cake. But it's not top in my head, by a hair. A hair.
#1 (2012) Buffalo 68, Bowling Green 64 - THE LEGEND OF SWATT
Seniors: Titus Robinson, Zach Filzen, Dave Barnett, Mitchell Watt
Not the biggest group in this list, but certainly in the top-four. Everyone was a big contributor, especially senior year. Between Filzen, Big Shot Dave, and sWatt, perhaps the most beloved class, certainly the most since Turner.
The Game: What a game. This one will feel familiar to 2014-2015 fans. UB started slow and couldn't get a lead in the first half, before falling down by nine in the first 11 minutes of the second against a Bowling Green team that was good and had a couple of UB killers, but that Buffalo at 12-3 should have been able to handle at home.
Of all the comebacks on this list, this is my favorite. Like I said, down nine with nine to play. For a few minutes the Bulls clawed back, doing that thing where they get close, but can't get over the hump.
Go time for Watt. Heading to the line with UB down one and 4:47 to play, Mitch sank both free throws and took over, scoring nine of UB's next 11 points to give the Bulls a 66-64 lead with 30 seconds left as Buffalo went on to win. The last four erased a 64-61 deficit with just 1:34 to go. In the middle of that run he hit 1,000 career points, too.
Watt finished with 20, but all the seniors were big players in this one. Filzen had nine (all from beyond the arc), and UB enjoyed a 21-4 advantage in bench points thanks to contributions from Barnett and Titus as well.
MAC Record and Implications: 12-4 - Ohio would have taken the #2 with a UB loss.
12 and 4! That's so many wins. In the new MAC Tourney format, holding on to the #2 seed was a huge reason Titus and Barnett stayed on the bench, and it worked. UB's never been in better position to win the MAC Tourney chances than they were at the end of this night.
If there are only 4,000 in Alumni tomorrow, I'll be disappointed. That's a sign of the times. This is still the third-largest Senior Day crowd in the last decade.
MAC Tournament: Not quite as bad as the others, but still, D.J. Cooper. Don't ask. Of course, OF COURSE the "MAC Record and Implications" line turned out to be inconsequential.
FINAL VERDICT: Is anything here the clear number one in its category? Probably only the significance of the win in the MAC record. But by any one of my measurements, this one is consistently up there. 2014 topped 2010 because of the singular performance of Javon McCrea, but this one top to bottom was a better game (i.e. not a blowout) and one in which every senior came up big to bring home the W. Those two were my preferences among the categories, as I told you above.
Just for fun (Isn't this all for fun?), here's my top five of each of the categories. Obviously attendance is objective.
|Attendance||Quality of Senior Class||Game Quality||MAC Record/Implications|
|1||2005 (6345)||2005 (Battle, Bortz, Bird, Gilbert)||2010 (Down 10, Pierce Iso Three)||2012 (#2, Get tired Ohio)|
|2||2014 (5452)||2010 (Pierce, Boyer, Betts, Smiley, Boudreau, Laleye)||2007 (Idbihi Parents)||2009 (Co-Champs, first bye)|
|3||2012 (4015)||2012 (Watt, Filzen, Barnett, T. Robinson)||2012 (Watt Comeback)||2014 (win East outright)|
|4||2007 (3571)||2014 (McCrea, Oldham, Raley-Ross, Freelove, Nuiriankh)||2014 (McCrea for 37)||2005 (#7, clinch home campus round)|
|5||2013 (3132)||2007 (Idbihi, Smith, Young, Onyenucheya)||2009 (13 point comeback)||2010 (#5, avoided 7th or 8th)|
As for the names, and a bit of visualization as to how I see the tiers:
THE LOSS - Self-explanatory
THE 'IF A TREE FALLS IN THE WOODS' - By margin of victory, UB's biggest MAC win ever, but in front of barely 1,000 people
THE END OF AN ERA - An homage to Byron Mulkey's career, from Idbihi to McCrea
THE TRUE SENIOR SHOWCASE - Three seniors combined for 53. Too bad nothing else was particularly notable.
THE TRANSATLANTIC - Another homage, to the Idbihis coming to America for the first time.
THE TERRA NOVA - Co-champs, and even a bye, were new ground for the program.
THE HOUSE THAT TURNER BUILT - Duh.
THE ISOLATIONIST - In praise of Rodney Pierce, so different from the Reggie style but so successful.
THE MEAT HOOKS - Josh Whetzel or Reggie once referred to Javon McCrea's strength with the ball as "having big old meat hooks on his arms." It's weird. I know.
THE LEGEND OF SWATT - The People's Center.