Basketball season is now starting to take full force after the Buffalo Bulls Football team ended their season on Friday. Recently around the blog, I’ve start to feel a sense of panic about the Buffalo Bulls Men’s basketball team. It’s very easy to slip in to a nihilistic view of how the season will turn out with some early season struggles. It’s even easier coming off a very tough football season which was hard on the fans to stay positive. My message in this post is very clear however, and that’s to remain positive and trust this team.
I know I’m only 19 and have only been following UB sports for about 4 years now. I haven’t had to experience the numerous heart breaks that Buffalo fans are sadly used to. I’m sure every single reader has a story of being let down by a Buffalo team. It’s easy to slip in to the mindset of “This is going to happen again.” But sometimes you need to take a step back and look at the bigger picture than just a few games. I hope this post makes the big picture a little clearer and hopefully eases the mind of anxious Bulls fans.
This team has yet to be full strength this season. Against Daemen, we were without Blake Hamilton. After that scrimmage we regained Hamilton but lost CJ Massinburg. Then we went to Alaska and Quate McKinzie got a concussion. I look at the Nevada game as the best judge of where we are as a team and what that game told me is, we’re missing these two players, but we are the better team. Before his injury McKinzie was the number one rated player on offense in the country. In the minutes he’s been given he has produced and been a force to both ends of the court. We win that game with him on the floor I don’t doubt that for a second.
Now let’s talk about the impact of not having CJ Massinburg. This loss is the biggest reason for our struggles. I know you may feel it is turnovers or fouls but hear me out. Massinburg is the best scorer on the court. His offense and three point capability is enough to stretch out the floor and open up space inside for our bigs. He’s also a ball handler, something I realized Blake Hamilton is not. When watching the Creighton game it occurred to me that Hamilton leads our team in turnovers because he isn’t comfortable running the point. He’s a wonderful catch and shoot player who can drive to the rim, but when put in the position to distribute the ball to start an offensive series, he struggles. When Massinburg returns I promise you will see a quick decline in Hamilton’s and the teams turnovers. Now that we’ve started that discussion let’s dive in to it.
Yes, the turnover situation has been bad for this team. But it’s not the end of the world. Davonta Jordan is going to be a wonderful point guard. He’s a pass first player and I’ve been very happy watching this freshman run the offense. He’s young and still adjusting to his players. He will learn not to drive to the basket, leave his feet, and make too hard of a pass for his big men to catch. His big men will learn when to expect his passes and start catching them more. These things come with chemistry, and once chemistry builds, these sloppy turnovers will decrease.
We’ve already discussed why Hamilton seems to be struggling to hold on to the ball and in the last game Nick Perkins had a tough outing in the turnover department. When I watch him play I see a few things. I see a player with a motor that is always running, and I see a player who is still learning his game. This season he has had a much more active presence in the post up game. Last year I felt I saw him more around the perimeter. He’s learning to use his athletic frame and to play inside. Learning to play inside will result in some turnovers. Forwards struggle when they bring the ball down because they put the ball where guards can attack it. Perkins’ turnover problems will go down as he continues to learn when to put the ball down and when to kick it out. It’ll only get easier when he has Massinburg to kick out to for an open three.
The turnover issues is one that isn’t good now, but will improve. The bigger picture is you some times need to step away from the box score, and look and where the turnovers are coming from. Look at the new roles Nate Oats is asking his players to assume. Growing pains come with these changes, but in the end, it will create a more complete team with more weapons.
The last thing I want to talk about his the fouling situation. All around the NCAA this year it appears refs are getting stingier with foul calls. This may not be true, but I also feel a lot more charges and off ball fouls are being called. My biggest fouling issue is that we’re picking up too many moving screens and off ball fouls on offense. Simple fix that will be addressed, keep your feet still.
As for defensive fouls you saw the adjustments already being made during the Creighton game. Jordan and Caruthers are both new to D1 basketball, and they still have the AAU and high school tendency to hand check. This can be taught to avoid and those fouls when guards drive through the lane should decrease. In the last game our big men seemed committed to staying straight up which was great to see.
As for the excessive amount of charges it’s again an easy fix. This team is smart enough that they’ll learn to start pulling up when a defender is set. Utilize a jump stop and don’t bowl the opposing player over. Even with more than 20 fouls last night, many were good fouls. I’m comfortable with stopping a guard driving to the basket with a foul, especially when not in the bonus. This team is learning still, and they will adjust to how games are called this year.
This pains me to say it (Tim will love it) but Aaron Rodgers said it best, “R-E-L-A-X.” There is no reason to hit the panic button with this team. They’re developing chemistry and have played the 17th hardest schedule according to KenPom. They’ve been on the road for 11 days flying around the country. They’ve played very good Big East teams and have shown that they can be great still.
We have two more tough road games coming up against St. Bonaventure and Pittsburgh. They may not be wins but there will be no reason to panic. The schedule lightens up after this road stretch and we play an easy non conference schedule to finish that part of the season. This team will be fine. They have every bit of the talent they need to compete and win the MAC again. Continue to support the team. Come out to games, cheer them on, remain positive online. The more positives brought to this program the more it will grow. When this team is healthy, they will be a force to be reckoned with. Count on it.