What's intrigued me about several nationwide previews is when they discuss top players in the country, the same names pop up: Trey Zeigler of CMU, D.J. Cooper of OHIO, and Javon McCrea. You'd think those are "best player on best team" names? Not so. None of those teams are really favored to contend, but imagine any of them winning the MAC tournament. Not too much of a shock.
Except maybe Buffalo, because they've never done it before. If you're looking for a dark horse team who has enough size and skill to pull something off like this, here's your team.
Buffalo Bulls Basketball Roster
|Tony Watson II||1||G||-||185||6-2||junior|
Well, the big loss is Byron Mulkey, their super senior guard who famously redshirted his fourth season for depth reasons, and it paid off big time. Also graduated is Jawaan Alston, who I can only best describe as "foul specialist." I'm not sure what happened to Derek Wolfley, but he's not listed anymore. Mike Clifford transferred to Division II Merrimack, a closer-to-home move.
Other than that, it's a very sophomore-heavy team, and plenty of experience elsewhere.
While all the focus is on McCrea, we sometimes forget that Mitchell Watt is rather dangerous as a shot-blocker. He did foul out eight times last year, but his 2.2 blocks was third in the MAC. Between him, McCrea and associates, they led the MAC in blocks with 5.38/game. Most of the better players in the league are guards, so UB might have the advantage around the rim. Also factoring into the rotation will be Titus Robinson, the proverbial fifth man last year who rebounded well, especially on the offensive side, but while he added size, he didn't score much. Cameron Downing might get some more playing time, backing up Watt. It's not clear how the freshmen forwards will factor in: Xavier Ford hails all the way from Colorado, and Raphell Thomas-Edwards is a British import.
We'll throw in Dave Barnett and Auraum Niurankh as swing men, both who are known more for their defense. This team is loaded with 3-spots.
But who will replace Mulkey? His experience, leadership, ball distribution and guard defense won't be brought back into the fold by just one man. Shooting guard Zach Filzen will remain (hopefully) a 41 percent 3-point shooter. The most like Mulkey is probably junior Tony Watson. Jarod Oldham will also get some playing time, and the X-factor guards are former UB field athlete Richie Sebuharara (I think triple jumping is a traveling violation in this game) and the playmaking Corey Raley-Ross.
Having said all this, the team should ebb and flow depending on how much McCrea grows as a complete player, coupled with if Filzen is getting open. What I've noticed about UB in the last few years is they aren't necessarily getting pushed around, yet they're only occasionally a dangerous team to those who enter the game half-asleep. Look, they won more than their fair share of games last year and put up a decent fight against the BYU Jimmers. They reached the CIT quarterfinals (hilariously beating WMU in the second round).
They're good enough. Not good enough to even be one of six teams who are expected to win the MAC, but good enough to not be shocked if they make a deep March run. What can save them — and ultimately coach Reggie Witherspoon — is if they indeed finish fourth or fifth in the MAC East, that everyone else is playing better; i.e., Akrons are beating Mississippi States.
In terms of their win-loss record — hey, what's with just 10 nonconference games? That seems low. They have a couple hard ones at BYU and Temple but after they're done lightly barnstorming with other New England teams, they oughta settle down and claim maybe a 5 seed in the MAC tournament, get into the CIT or reasonable facsimile, and do it all again until the end of time.