After Justin Moss dismissal, Bulls should look toward future in 2015-16
At some point, I’m hoping for some good news from the men’s basketball program.
First former Bulls head coach Bobby Hurley left for Arizona State, and former guard Shannon Evans and recruits Maurice O’Field and Torian Graham went with him. Then forward and reigning Mid-American Conference Player of the Year Justin Moss was expelled from UB, ending his stint with the Bulls to cap off a roller coaster offseason.
And there went my “The Bulls could still make the NCAA Tournament” column.
It was the biggest blow to the program, as the departure took Buffalo to a team teetering on another NCAA Tournament appearance to a team on the outside looking in. New head coach Nate Oats now has to configure a rotation that’s without three starters from last season’s championship roster.
Coming off the graduations, the departures and the dismissals, the Bulls are entering the 2015-16 season with just two starters from last season and four rotation players from last year – including four of their top six in terms of minutes played.
It’s a bad thing in terms of NCAA aspirations, as even the elite teams can struggle to replace those minutes, but it’s not a terrible thing for a team in the midst of a transition.
The Bulls are bringing back just four players who played over 350 minutes last season, with one being senior forward Raheem Johnson who was involved in the Moss fiasco. The positive part is that the other three are all guards, including now up-and-coming sophomore guard Lamonte Bearden, who may take the reigns as the best player on the team.
Bearden had moments as a freshman, highlighted by that game-winner against Bowling Green to win the MAC East. Still, I’m curious about the transition from one of the primary ball-handlers to, well, the premier ball-handler.
As for seniors Jarryn Skeete and Rodell Wigginton, both will be valuable in different ways – Skeete as a floor spacer and Wigginton as a defender and slasher. Wigginton should get even more playing time, as he could be a key defensive cog and even dabble at the power forward spot, thanks to his size.
The frontcourt is where the Bulls can benefit the most from in attempting to get as many players incorporated as they can this season. Johnson aside, the Bulls have junior David Kadiri and freshmen Nick Perkins and Ikenna Smart shuffling between two open positions for the foreseeable future.
Along with Smart and Perkins, the Bulls brought in an assortment of players after watching Hurley leave with some of their recruits. Willie Conner and Blake Hamilton are both juniors, but both are tall guards who can provide versatility off the bench. CJ Massinburg is a freshman, but with an available position open at backup point guard, Massinburg could see some time on the floor when Bearden is off the floor.
While all the changes on the roster turns them into an unknown at this point, the Bulls have the components of a starting lineup – Bearden, Skeete, Wigginton, Kadiri and Johnson returns – that could be “perfectly cromulent” if Bearden takes a step forward.
The bench? It remains to be seen who steps up.
The one thing I do know is that most Mid-Major teams that make the NCAA Tournament rely on juniors and seniors who get experience during their freshman and sophomore seasons. Look at last year’s team, as Skeete and former forwards Will Regan and Xavier Ford were all indispensible last season.
The Bulls have guys who fit that description and with several open rotation spots and copious amounts of minutes available next season, the Bulls can make a run toward a postseason tournament while getting underclassmen playing time and creating the chance for success past the 2015-16 season.
It seems like just yesterday when I was ready to proclaim this season as a season where the Bulls could win 30 games.