A year ago head coach Nate Oats held an open scrimmage before his first college basketball game as a head coach. For the first time we saw the team that went on to win the program’s second consecutive MAC Championship in action. That scrimmage brought many concerns to the forefront of the conversation because it simply looked awful. There wasn’t a lot of offense and the team chemistry was lacking for a Bulls squad that was a mere shell compared to the one that had won a MAC title months before.
The giant learning curve as a team doesn’t seem to be the case this year. In fact, the look of this year’s squad in its open scrimmage is the exact opposite. The team chemistry is strong and there’s plenty of offense to come by in this year’s edition of the men’s basketball team.
For starters, UB played a full 40 minutes with two teams. The blue team consisted of Nick Perkins, James Jones, Davonta Jordan, Quate McKinzie, Brock Betram, and Dontay Caruthers. The white team featured a more experienced lineup of CJ Massinburg, Ikenna Smart, David Kadiri, Willie Conner, Nikola Rakicevic, Christian Pino, and Graham Dolan. Blake Hamilton was on an exercise bike the entire time because of his injury and Raheem Johnson was MIA. Team White eventually took down Team Blue 82-80. CJ Massinburg lead everyone with 30 points on the night and Nick Perkins lead his team with 23.
One of the biggest takeaways with the development of this team so far is that they’re shooting the ball so much better. CJ Massinburg’s confidence is radiating at an even higher level than last year and he rarely missed from beyond the arc. But, CJ isn’t the only one shooting the ball well. James Jones, Willie Conner, Nick Perkins, and Quate McKinzie (yes, you’re reading that right) are all showing strong abilities to shoot the three. Willie’s shooting is particularly better than last year as he has a much better arc to his shot.
Another big picture observation I noticed while watching is the use of the point guard in the offense. Both Davonta Jordan and Dontay Caruthers showed throughout the scrimmage that they can score, but that didn’t seem to be their primary concern. This year looks as if the point guards are going to take more of a back seat role and distribute the ball more. I support this decision because it helped the scoring of the two and three spots tremendously.
Speaking of distributing the ball, Buffalo’s ball movement was superb. Compared to early last season, this year’s squad is already miles ahead in that department as the players are looking very unselfish and are just trying to find ways to score. The only problem that needs to be worked on at this moment is keeping control of the ball when moving it around at such a fast pace, as turnovers were too common.
Nick Perkins continues to show how much he’s improved over the summer. The sophomore has no problem shooting the three ball and strength in the post is much better compared to last year thanks to his off-season conditioning. Mark my words, the 6-9 forward is going to give Xavier and their 1-3-1 zone an incredibly tough time early in non-conference play. He’s going to be a gigantic matchup problem for the Musketeers.
Want another player who has improved by a large margin? Look no further than Ikenna Smart. His defense has vastly improved and the awful fouls he committed last season are long gone. Smart finally looks comfortable at playing his position.
David Kadiri’s defense is just as good if not better as last year and it looks like his knee is no longer limiting him from making an impact. I definitely saw a lot more offense from him as well. Another player who is excelling on defense is Nikola Rakicevic—who is expected to play some more minutes this year.
Unsurprisingly, there are some kinks that still need to be worked out. First of all, UB seriously needs to work on their free throws. The only two people who looked solid when shooting free throws during the scrimmage were Rakicevic and Massinburg. Nick Perkins is getting better but players like Brock Bertram are struggling from the line. This is such a crucial place for UB to improve because one of this team’s biggest strengths is the ability to draw fouls.
Bertram is also another small concern. His basketball IQ is no doubt one of the strongest on the team. He has a strong ability of putting himself in the right places at the right times but his physical fitness doesn’t look to be up to snuff with the expectations of the high tempo offense that Oats and staff runs. I still say that Bertram should be red-shirted, but uncertainty is starting to rise in Raheem Johnson.
Finally, the last problem is Davonta Jordan’s attitude. At one point in the scrimmage, Jordan tripped and shouted some expletives towards Nikola Rakicevic. This in turn caused the point guard to receive a technical foul. His offensive game however is definitely coming along. Expect to see more three point shots from the point compared to the last two seasons.
Overall, I’m impressed with this year’s squad. Despite losing Lamonte Bearden, Buffalo still brings back its best roster in history. Expect the Bulls to be much better out of the gate this year and I would not be surprised to see them knock down an opponent from a better conference. This team’s future certainly is bright.