Students have mixed reactions to men's basketball team's season
In his first year as a college basketball head coach, Bobby Hurley is one of 10 finalists for the Joe B. Hall award, given to the top first-year head coach in the country. Chad Cooper, The Spectrum
To some students, mediocrity has become the norm when referring to Buffalo basketball.
The men's basketball team's 19-win season and first-ever outright Mid-American Conference East Championship pleasantly surprised those students.
The Bulls went 19-10 in 2013-14, including a 13-5 MAC record after a 14-20 2012-13 season. Despite three seasons with at least 20 wins in the past five years, students were unsure how this year's squad would fare.
Some students felt the addition of head coach Bobby Hurley and the emergence of players like senior forward Javon McCrea would make fans forget about the previous, 14-win season. Others were uncertain if the changes would be enough to elevate the Bulls.
Senior communication major Bryan Bergstol didn't have high expectations for this year's team. He thought they would have a "slightly above average record" but now believes the team's performance could help when it comes to recruitment.
"[They] never really had a stellar season in the past couple years so [there was] no reason to expect different [this season]," Bergstol said.
Senior international business major Christopher Passarelli expressed a similar sentiment.
"My expectations were honestly not very high this season," Passarelli said. "A new coach, new system and lots of question marks when it came to the rotation of players."
This wasn't only Hurley's first year as Buffalo's head coach, but as a college head coach in general. He previously assisted his brother Dan Hurley at Wagner from 2010-12 and then Rhode Island for the 2012-13 season. Hurley is better known for his college playing career - he holds the NCAA all-time assist record (1,076) and won two national championships with Duke.
Passarelli liked what he saw from the first-year head coach.
"He is most definitely a player's coach, and that was definitely evident throughout the season," Passarelli said. "Although it was disappointing that they had the right cast to make the tournament, Hurley was remarkably confident in his squad and showed knowledge beyond his years as a first-time head coach."
As Passarelli alluded, the Bulls failed to win the MAC Tournament or play in the NCAA or NIT postseason tournaments. No. 3 Buffalo fell to No. 6 Eastern Michigan, 69-64, in the MAC Quarterfinals in Cleveland, Ohio.
Passarelli does not think reaching the postseason tournament is the sole way to define success.
"To consider this season a failure would be wrong because there was a lot of progress made, but at some point progress has to turn into results and an NCAA tournament berth," he said.
Buffalo had three seniors in its starting lineup - none more imposing than MAC Player of the Year McCrea. He set the program record for career points. Senor finance major Ryan Hurley said McCrea and Hurley's presence brought a different attitude to this year's team.
"I think [the season] was a success because there was an expectation to win every game they played in," Ryan Hurley said. "Bobby Hurley and Javon's senior year created those expectations and although we didn't win the MAC, a consistency is starting to develop and I think that is important for building a program and the culture behind it."
Ryan Hurley described the Bulls' early exit from the MAC Tournament as "pathetic."
"To have the confidence that team seemed to have after closing out the regular season with a great showing was really disappointing," Ryan Hurley said. "Especially since this is a reoccurring theme where we have a more than capable team who struggles in Cleveland."
The Bulls are just 3-6 in Cleveland the past six seasons, with only one victory in the past five years. The low win total is due partially to byes the Bulls have received for finishing in the top four of the conference in the regular season.
Senior geographical information systems major Alex Pissi said he expected the Bulls to have a strong 2013-14 season and was happy with their regular season. But the early exit from the MAC Tournament bothered him as well.
"I still think the season was a success but that loss definitely leaves a sour taste in your mouth," Pissi said.
The MAC East Championship and presence of Hurley has changed the attitude and expectations for some students regarding Buffalo basketball. Athletic Director Danny White constantly speaks about creating a championship culture, and it seems some fans are beginning to echo his optimism.
"Their future is bright," Passarelli said. "[Freshman guard] Shannon Evans and [junior forward] Xavier Ford can be stars, and the name appeal of Bobby Hurley will get recruits here to rebuild in a hurry."
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