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Replace and reload: A preview of the upcoming men’s basketball season

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UB men’s basketball was the MAC coaches preseason pick to win the Mid-American Conference East Division, but they have to replace three of their top five scorers from last season.

The Bulls only have seven players still on their roster from last season; three of them were selected to all-MAC squads. This includes reigning MAC sixth man of the year, junior forward Nick Perkins, and the current MAC defensive player of the year, junior guard Dontay Caruthers. Perkins and Caruthers join a crop of incoming freshmen and junior college transfers that have this team primed to be more competitive than they were last year.

“All those preseason picks were returners, so I think Jeremy [Harris] is going to come on the scene and surprise a few people,” said Bulls head coach Nate Oats. “I think all of our new guys are going to contribute quite a bit and then we have some pretty talented returners back.”

Harris, a junior guard, comes to the Bulls after playing two seasons at Gulf Coast State College where he averaged 18.7 points and 5.2 rebounds per game in his sophomore year. Harris should factor heavily into the Bulls’ plans early and has already put up double-doubles in both of Buffalo’s exhibition games this season, including 21 points and 10 rebounds against Rhode Island.

After Friday’s exhibition with Daemen College, junior guard CJ Massinburg said Harris is even better than what the Alumni Arena crowd saw in their first exposure to him.

“He’s easy to play with to be honest,” Massinburg said. “He’s a guy that moves the ball; he doesn't try to make the hard plays. He makes the simple play. He plays hard…Tonight he played well but just know he has another gear to him and it can get scary.”

Massinburg will help Harris and the rest of the new players adjust and prepare for the season. Massinburg was selected to the preseason all-MAC squad. He leads all returners in scoring last season with 14.5 points. He will have to increase his scoring output this season to account for the loss of Blake Hamilton from last year. Hamilton, along with former player Willie Conner, were two of the four Bulls to average over 10 points per game.

Perkins will also be a huge part of the offense. He is the only other returner who averaged over 10 points per game last season, with 12.4. His 6.7 rebounds per game also led the Bulls’ last season. He still finished fourth in minutes, but he should see even more minutes this season as a starter.

Oats has high expectations for Perkins this season.

“Nick may be most improved,” Oats said. “I mean he was pretty dang good at sixth man last year, but I think with the mental game he’s got going and then just where he’s improved his right hand…I think he may be one of the most improved guys in our league.”

Perkins said the teams’ quality distance shooters will help him improve this year.

The biggest issue heading into the season is figuring out who will take care of the ball handling duties. Massinburg will take some of that load, but running the point didn’t click with his natural style of play last season.

The two most likely candidates to run the offense this year are Caruthers and sophomore guard Davonta Jordan. They were both secondary ball handlers to Hamilton last year and averaged 2.3 and 2.6 assists per game, respectively.

The Bulls will also have to wait on players to get healthy and fully eligible. Massinburg was limited to 16 minutes against Daemen and didn’t play against Rhode Island as he was recovering from a knee sprain. Junior forward Ikenna Smart is recovering from back surgery.

Smart is out until at least the middle of December and will be back when he is healthy, according to Oats. Clark is out for the first semester unless the team gets a waiver through the NCAA, which would make him eligible after the first 10 games, Oats said.

The team will have to live up to the MAC coaches expectations when they open their season Saturday versus the Canisius Golden Griffins. While he appreciates the respect from the conference, Oats said they will just take it game-by-game.

“My first year we were picked fourth and then we went and won the whole thing, it’s nice that our program is getting recognized,” Oats said. “We’ve got some pretty talented guys and people are noticing that…We gotta keep preaching effort, share the ball, play smart and then with the talent we have, winning takes care of itself, but it is nice to get that recognition.”

Tipoff against the Griffins will be at 1 p.m on Nov. 11.

Daniel Petruccelli is a sports editor and can be reached at dan.petruccelli@ubspectrum.com


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