It's crazy, but we're already a third of the way through the 2015-16 basketball season and that means it's a great time to review where Buffalo is at. Coming into the season, the storyline was the traumatic offseason since the departure of Bobby Hurley (who most of you are sick of hearing in every TV broadcast) and UB's top two scorers. Add in the fact that we lost two seniors who contributed heavily to last year's MAC Championship team and it looks even more bleak. Because of all of this, we didn't expect much but first year head coach Nate Oats took it as a challenge and things have gone much better than many have expected.
Has The Team Met Expectations?
At the beginning of this season, my expectation was to win the seven easy games and lose in the six harder games in out of conference play. The six harder games are all top 100 opponents and a team that experienced this much change in the offseason shouldn't expect to win those games. I'd say it's fair to think that we've actually played above my expectations considering we played a #4 Iowa State really tough and a #7 Duke tough for a half. It's a good sign that when this team is clicking, they are a threat to some of the top teams in the nation.
Letter Grades Based On Expectations
Below are some letter grades on each player that's receiving significant minutes so far and how they've played to our expectations:
Lamonte Bearden- C+
Bearden is currently leading the team in PPG and APG but that doesn't mean he's played particularly well. His decision making has been better in recent games but at the beginning of the season it seemed like he was a completely different player. I'm going to attribute this to him trying to figure out his role as the leader of this team.
Blake Hamilton- B+
Blake is definitely our all around guy on this team. He can shoot the ball, get a rebound, and even help move the ball around. His shooting percentage is one of the best on the team right now (41%) and his defense is pretty good. Overall, I'm very happy with how Blake has played.
Rodell Wigginton- A-
If somebody told me that Wigginton would be shooting more than 50% from the field, I wouldn't have believed it. Rodell has played much better this season and his defense is looking even better. His ball handling is still tough to watch when he tries to drive to the rim but overall, Wigginton is one of the most valuable players on this team.
CJ Massinburg- A
I had no expectations for CJ. The two star recruit that came out of Texas wasn't expected to be this good. Keep it up CJB.
Willie Conner- C+
Coming into the season I expected Conner to have a larger scoring output in the game but he seems to be in a slight funk as of late. Hopefully Conner gets better.
Jarryn Skeete- B
His defense is his highlight. If it wasn't for the strong perimeter defense, we wouldn't have stayed in the Iowa State game for as long as we did. If he fixes the streaky shooting and is a little more consistent, Skeete will be a very dangerous player on the court.
Nick Perkins- B
I'm very happy with Perkins overall but there are some things that need to be fixed. His biggest problem is free throw shooting. Nick is only shooting 46% from the free throw line and as a big man who will draw a lot of fouls, it would be nice if that gets worked on. He also needs to work on getting around screens as he gets hung up on them a little too much.
Ikenna Smart- A
I didn't think Smart was going to be good enough to get a lot of minutes but he has impressed. His defense is good and only seems to lose on that front against experienced players. His developing hook shot will be very lethal when it gets better. I see a lot of promise in him.
David Kadiri- C
I honestly haven't been impressed with Kadiri. He definitely seemed like a boom or bust guy when he committed. His defense is lacking and he can't seem to put back the offensive rebound as well as I had hoped. There's a lot of improvement needed here.
The Big Picture
There's still many problems that this team needs to address. The biggest one is the offense. Ball movement is there, now it's time for the team to take good shots and know when to take a shot. Chucking up threes seven seconds into the possession is not necessarily the way to go here. The offense also needs to capitalize on offensive rebounds. Our team has been doing very well at getting them but in the end coming up empty handed when the possession ends. Also, there's been a ton of easy defensive rebounds that turn into offensive rebounds for the opposing team. If this stuff can get cleaned up, we'll be on our way to making sure there's more wins than losses.
The Bottom Line
Overall, I think that this team is doing well considering a lot of people were ready to end the basketball season before it started. This team shows a ton of potential that needs to be utilized as they learn to play with each other better. If the Bulls finish OOC play as expected, I'll be very happy. If they can snatch a win against VCU by bringing their best play for a full 40 minutes, I'll feel very good about upcoming MAC play. There's still a lot of work to do but there's a lot of good things to be happy about here.