Men's basketball team looks to best phenomenal 2011
Published: Friday, June 22, 2012
Updated: Monday, November 5, 2012 20:11
The 2011-12 men’s basketball team’s historic run will be embroidered in the memories of every Bulls fan that played witness to their Cinderella story. But often times in sports the clock strikes at midnight – your heart is left empty and the promise of your team making it all the way eventually reaches a common, sensible conclusion:
Last year’s team was one of the best the program has ever seen. The squad finished the season with a 20-11 record. Alumni Arena was shaking all season, and they dominated on their home floor going 12-3.
Their in-conference play is what turned heads into viewing them achieve their highest seed ever in the Mid-American Conference. They dominated MAC play, going 12-4, which included the first-ever sweep of the MAC West division and beating Akron twice for only the second time in program history. That record-setting conference year earned them the No. 2 seed in the MAC Tournament.
With all that momentum headed into postseason play, Buffalo’s promising season was cut short in the tournament. The Bulls fell to Ohio in a crushing semifinals loss by a three-point margin. Ohio later went on to display a Cinderella story of their own, as they reached the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament before losing to the region’s top seed, perennial powerhouse North Carolina.
Statistics wise, this last group could arguably have been one of the best team-rebounding squads this program has ever seen, as they finished fourth in the country in rebounding with 40.4 per game. They also were one of the elite passing teams in the country, finishing ninth in the nation with a 16.4 assists per game average.
The past is the past, and the 2012-13 Bulls squad looks to avenge their defeat of the previous year. But the road for the team this season may not be as glorious, as they face major changes in their rotation.
Four seniors, whom recorded the highest winning total of any class in school history, have graduated, including MAC Player of the Year Mitchell Watt. Watt led the team in points, rebounds, and blocks during his stretch of conference dominance. Zach Filzen, the team’s third-leading scorer and three-point leader, along with Dave Barnett and Titus Robinson are also gone. Replacing them could be a tough task for the Bulls.
“It’s going to be a big time challenge for us, they meant a lot to us as people, and also were obviously very well accomplished,” said head coach Reggie Witherspoon.
The rotation is only left partially depleted. The return of junior Javon McCrea will be vital to the 2012-13 team’s success. McCrea’s 2012 season was what most expected. He finished second on the team in points and rebounds and would have been considered the team’s top player by far had it not been for Watt’s surprising senior year. Like Watt, he was rewarded for his efforts last season with a first team All-MAC selection, the first time that two Bulls players were on the MAC’s first team. The 6-foot-7-inch forward has the potential to win a MAC Player of the Year award, and ultimately reach the NBA, if he can shine like he is anticipated to in his final two seasons at Buffalo.
Starting point guard Jarod Oldham is also returning for his junior year. Oldham led the team in assists last season and contributed on the glass grabbing 4.3 boards per game, above average numbers for a guard.
Senior guard Tony Watson and junior forward Auraum Nuiriankh are also coming back. Last season the two were key bench contributors, willing to lock down on the top scorers in the MAC, as well as hit critical three-point shots.
Witherspoon’s recruiting class will look to make a buzz as well. Canadian guard Jarryn Skeete heads the class as the 51st-ranked point guard in the country by ESPN. Local native Stan Wier has also signed his letter of intent. Wier is a graduate of local high school, East Aurora.
“Certainly we hope to develop the [players] that we have now and were with us last year,” Witherspoon said. “It’s our hope that if we develop them and they are guys that defer less and we defer to more, and that’s our goal. As far as the guys coming in, we really just have to get them in, and just take it day by day.”
The player that most could argue has the highest upside as a new Bull is transfer Will Regan. Also a Buffalo native, Regan played in 20 games his freshman season with Virginia before transferring to Buffalo in 2011. After sitting out last season, Regan is now eligible to hit the floor for the Bulls. Coming out of high school Regan was ranked the 17th-best center in the country.
It could be a challenge to mesh all the new parts that Witherspoon has at hand.
“We just have to take it day by day to develop the piece,” Witherspoon said. “What we’re doing with our guys to get them individually better, and once the fall starts we’work on what we have collectively.”Witherspoon and his squad are taking full advantage of a new NCAA rule that allows players to work out with the team over summer. Over an eight-week period, players are allowed to work out with coaches at the school’s facilities for a total of two hours per week.
The team has suffered a lot of losses, but they certainly have some tools left on the table to make a run at the MAC Championship once again.