Men's Basketball Opener Preview
Published: Thursday, November 10, 2011
Updated: Monday, November 5, 2012 20:11
The start of basketball season is the most unsettling time for a head coach. Some players have graduated and moved on, and the remaining ones are trying to figure out what their new role is and how that role meshes with the rest of the team.
Even with the level of excitement surrounding the Bulls and the hopes most have for this season, head coach Reggie Witherspoon is patiently waiting to see how this year's squad comes together.
"We've had good days and bad days [preparing for the season]," Witherspoon said. "We're trying to kind of gather ourselves to a point where guys can establish a pattern of pretty high play. But it's hard to do that early on."
The Bulls' first chance to demonstrate the fruits of their offseason labors comes Friday night when they host the reigning Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Champions, St. Peter's.
The season opener will be the first time fans see the Bulls without graduated guard Byron Mulkey. The question surrounding the team all offseason was whether or not sophomore guard Jarod Oldham is ready for the challenge of replacing the savvy leader.
Witherspoon didn't say what his starting lineup will be, but fans can expect to see a similar lineup to last year, with Oldham in at the point.
The most important thing for Witherspoon is not who starts the game, but that there is a sustained effort from everyone who gets a chance to play.
"We need to have some firepower and leadership off the bench," Witherspoon said. "That's more important to us than who starts because I don't think the other team is going to go away no matter how good or bad we start the game."
The Peacocks earned an NCAA tournament bid last season, but lost their top five scorers. Those five players were responsible for 78 percent of the team's scoring and 67 percent of minutes played.
St. Peter's returns one starter in junior forward Darius Conley who was named to the third team of the preseason All-MAAC team. The Virginia native averaged 6.2 points per game and five rebounds per game last season.
For the Bulls, look for senior guard Zach Filzen to get things going early on in his final season. The three-point dynamo loves playing at home and thrives off of the home crowd.
Filzen is coming off a historic season. He drained 110 3-pointers in 2010-11 becoming only the fifth player in MAC history to make more than 100 in a season. He also broke the school record (94) set by Mike Martinho back in 1996.
Witherspoon is looking to players like Filzen to help fill the leadership void left by Mulkey and graduated forward Jawaan Alston.
"There will have to be a number of guys [that step up into leadership roles]," Witherspoon said. "Tony [Watson], Dave [Barnett], and Titus [Robinson] are captains, but we have five upper-classmen and we need all those guys to collectively raise their level of leadership."
Buffalo has never lost to the Peacocks, winning both previous meetings.
Last season, the Bulls averaged 70.6 points per game as opposed to only 60.9 for St. Peter's. The tempo of the game will be something to keep an eye on in the first game and throughout the season.
Witherspoon likes to let his players dictate the tempo of the game, to a certain extent.
"Right now we have to figure out at what speed is the driver comfortable," Witherspoon said. "We got guys that can go real fast but we got to get them to gain control of the steering wheel and know when to pull back."
Sophomore forward Javon McCrea is coming off a very successful summer. Look for the second-year stud to make his presence felt early against the Peacocks. Most teams can't really prepare for McCrea's skill set and are often mystified after dealing with the Newark, N.Y. native for an entire ball game. He averaged 11.8 points and 6.5 rebounds per game last season and he'll surely be looking to improve on those numbers in his second season.
Tipoff at Alumni Arena is scheduled for 7 p.m.