For the second straight season, Buffalo will turn the keys over to a sophomore point guard after a spring and summer of significant losses. This time, it's fresh-faced Milwaukeean Lamonte Bearden, a multiple-time Wisconsin state champion who played immediately as a freshman, starting in 31 games, scoring eight points, upwards of four assists, and a steal per game.
Buffalo ran only an eight-man rotation for the season, and isn't the reigning conference champion without Bearden, the most well-rounded freshman in the conference and only member of the MAC All-Freshman team to finish top-15 in the conference in assists, steals, or assist-turnover ratio, let alone all three.
Buffalo got some nice guards Evans and beard I think— Jeff Teague (@Teague0) March 20, 2015
Outside of a single game against Canisius, Bearden never brought the house down scoring, but he did match Shannon Evans' freshman numbers with a consistent eight points and averaged double digits over UB's final six games. In fact, other than matching Evans evenly in points, Bearden had a stronger freshman season in every other stat, most notably playing 30 minutes a night while generating three or more assists in 25 games. An adroit ballhander and superior passer to Evans, it's not preposterous to think Bearden could average close to six assists a game this season.
Those freshman numbers match up with some of the best in the conference in their respective first seasons, and there's no doubt of the sophomore's role. He'll lead the charge of the Bulls offense, playing upwards of 30 minutes a night. Much like Jarryn Skeete, I think his production tops double digits simply of necessity, but for Buffalo to succeed it must come with increased efficiency, as well. Bearden's freshman season among a talented, but narrow, roster last year is promising, but this year brings a greater challenge to the man in charge of the offence.
It will be interesting to watch Bearden's reaction to the role change from last season; instead of a 1A situation, he's the undisputed point man for the team. There's always a chance that a little bit of increased attention from defenses throws him off. It's also reasonable to expect Skeete or Rodell Wigginton to take on a leadership mantle for the group - it seems like Skeete has been a quiet leader over the offseason and fall - but don't be surprised to see Bearden lead the charge. He may never bring the emotive flash that Evans did, but he can - and already has - impress just as much between the whistles.
Half an hour after publish, Bearden was named Preseason All-MAC East in the conference preseason poll. He's the only sophomore in either division to earn that honor.