In December 2015, Buffalo Bulls Men’s Basketball stood at a crossroads. One can argue that it’s in that month that the Bulls put together the pieces to contend for their second consecutive MAC Championship. After a month of sluggish basketball that didn’t show a lot of signs in improving, the Bulls started to stray away from iso plays and gelled as a team.
This year, the Bulls stand in a familiar place. Buffalo currently sits at a .500 record just days into the month of December as they struggle to fix some problems that are severely damaging the team’s hopes to pull out wins. What’s different this time around is that the Bulls are playing like a team, but they’re making costly mistakes—almost the exact opposite from a year ago.
Turnovers are the name of the game this year. Buffalo is 346th in the nation for turnover percentage—turning the ball over on 25% of their possessions. What’s worse is that Buffalo is now on a streak of three consecutive games of 20 or more turnovers for the first time of Nate Oats’ tenure.
It is worth noting that the Bulls have been without one of their star guards CJ Massinburg for all of non-conference play and key freshman Quate McKinzie for several games now. But, I will argue that they alone will not solve Buffalo’s problem here. Massinburg was involved in UB’s exhibition with Daemen that saw 20 turnovers and McKinzie played in both outings with Niagara and Xavier.
With that being said, the re-addition of Massinburg and McKinzie to the lineup in the coming games won’t solve this turnover problem by itself. Although the turnovers are constantly keeping Buffalo out of games against strong competition there is hope for Bulls fans because of a simple argument.
The Bulls are a walking contradiction because they’re playing really good basketball.
A year ago Buffalo showed a three minute flash of exceptional offense and stingy defense against St. Joseph’s—a team that eventually made it to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen. In that time, they cut a blowout in the Hawks’ favor into a mere 10 point lead. Buffalo eventually lost that game by more than 20 points but the point here is that like last year, the Bulls are showing the same spurts of strong play.
Compared to last year, Buffalo is shooting the ball better not only in general, but from the three point line as well. In their most recent loss to St. Bonaventure, the Bulls shot 49% from the field and 44% from beyond the arc. Those are numbers that Buffalo teams in the past would dream of.
Shooting isn’t the only thing going for Buffalo as they bring an array of skills to the table. The Bulls are also playing their best defense since Bobby Hurley left with threats like Willie Conner and Dontay Caruthers on the perimeter. Those two are forcing opponents to take it down low where if Nick Perkins is having a good night it’s no easy task.
I could spend a lot of time listing off what this team is able to do and how good it is despite having a starting freshman point guard. Imagine if the Bulls weren’t giving the ball up as much and how strong this team would look. You could argue that without the turnovers, the Bulls could’ve had Creighton on the ropes.
But let’s leave the blind optimism for a second and tell the cold truth: Buffalo is not going to win their third consecutive MAC Championship turning the ball over 20 times a game. In their current state, this problem — coupled with some foul trouble here and there — keeps Buffalo from even being able to say that they’re a top-four team in the MAC right now. Ohio, Akron, Eastern Michigan, and Central Michigan are all playing better basketball right now.
As December rolls on, Buffalo will face a lot of mediocre opponents that they should rack up wins against. When they return to Alumni after this week’s matchup with Pitt, they’ll be facing a winless Coppin State team. This is a golden opportunity for Buffalo to clean up their game and continue to execute on the things that they’re doing well. Anything worse than a 4-1 record in the remaining non-conference slate should bring up red flags.
It wasn’t until UB’s final non-conference game versus Delaware last season that fans were persuaded that the Bulls could be a top-four team in the MAC. That may happen again this year when they play Maine.