Despite coaching inexperience, fans should expect a title

Men’s basketball team should finish atop the MAC this season

On November 3, 2013

It has been nearly eight months since several coworkers and I were driving back to Buffalo from the Mid-American Conference Tournament in Cleveland and one blurted out, "Oh my God. Reggie Witherspoon has been fired."

We couldn't believe it. Sure, the men's basketball team finished 14-20 last season, but it was riddled with unfortunate circumstances - rebuilding after graduating the most successful group of seniors in program history, losing its point guard for the season in early December (and replacing him with a true freshman), nursing its second-leading scorer back into basketball form after he had sat out a whole year due to transfer rules.

And still, after all that, the Bulls contended in the MAC Tournament. It seemed to be one of Witherspoon's finest coaching jobs. But first-year Athletic Director Danny White was not content with a season of mediocrity - no matter the circumstances - and fired Witherspoon, promising to conduct an expansive national search to find his replacement.

Two weeks later, he hired Bobby Hurley. The timing made it clear White knew who he wanted to lead this program, and he planned to go get his guy to lead the #NYBI movement for men's basketball and make UB hoops a national presence.

And that's where we are now: Hurley is the men's basketball team's head coach, and the new season is upon us. We are four days from the season tipping off at Texas A&M. Regardless of how you feel about Witherspoon's firing, there's nothing anyone can change about it. What's done is done, and the beloved local figure isn't coming back to coach this team. What's important is what happens next.

The problem is Hurley has said several times this offseason that people need to lower their expectations for this season - that perhaps a MAC title is unrealistic. That would probably be fair to Hurley. He has never been a head coach before and has only three years of coaching experience, and now he's inheriting a Division I program. Expecting him to cut down the nets in Cleveland his first year? That's a lot to ask.

But it's right to expect it. There was a sense around the team - even Witherspoon had said it - that 2013-14 was the year.

This is the year people have expected the team to finally win the title since senior forward Javon McCrea, one of the finest players in program history, arrived as a freshman in 2010. It was 2013-14 or bust, and it still is.

It's not fair to Hurley, sure, but that's the predicament he walked into when he accepted the job. It's the predicament White put him in.

White has made some polarizing moves in the past - I'm just glad he can't fire me - and he knows it's his responsibility to account for them. That means, if the team was expected to win it all with Reggie Witherspoon as its head coach, it's only fair to expect the same result from Bobby Hurley.

The pieces are in place.

McCrea, the former MAC Freshman of the Year, has finished first-team All-MAC the past two years and should contend for conference player of the year. He's essentially a guaranteed 17 and 8 per game.

Jarod Oldham, the senior point guard who broke his wrist last year, is back. When he's at his best, he's a lockdown defender and the ultimate distributor - as we saw his sophomore year, when he started and led the conference in assists per game (5.9) and assist-to-turnover ratio (2.3).

Will Regan, the former transfer from Virginia who got exponentially better as last season went along, dropped 36 on Ball State in the conference tournament. When the Big Fundamental gets hot from downtown, he's virtually unstoppable. And when he and McCrea complement each other in the post, they form easily the most feared post tandem in the MAC.

I could delve into some of the other crucial parts - Jarryn Skeete, Josh Freelove, Justin Moss, Shannon Evans - but the point is, this team is loaded with talent. People shouldn't have to damper their expectations because of the coaching.

Danny White's decision insinuated that he believes Bobby Hurley gives the Bulls a better chance to win than Reggie Witherspoon. People expected this to be the year under 'Spoon - anything less than a title would be a failure. That means, fair to Hurley or not, they should expect the same from him.

This is still the year. Anything less than a MAC title will be a failure.



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