UB men's basketball is hitting the reset button

Men must continue upward trajectory despite less than ideal circumstances

Well, it was a good story while it lasted.

That’s what I can’t help but think while looking at the Buffalo men’s basketball team. The program had its best season ever last year, but followed it up with an off-season of drama, coaching departures, transfers and expulsion.

After all the success and notoriety the Bulls got making the NCAA Tournament – even President Obama picked them to advance – it all went about as bad as it could have with Bobby Hurley’s ugly exit to Arizona State.

Now former assistant coach Nate Oats is at the helms and looking to keep Buffalo as stable and as good as last year’s team as possible. But no matter what he does, this simply isn’t last year’s championship team.

It can’t be.

There’s too many new players. Too many new coaches pulling the strings from the sidelines. Things are just, well, different. If the Bulls are going to get that second MAC title, they’ll do so with different players and in a completely different way than last year’s team.

And that could take some time. Which is why I don’t expect Buffalo to even get close to a second straight MAC title come March.

Trust me, it would be easy to blame Athletic Director Danny White for the current state of the men’s team – devoid of its star head coach and players. White, a former Division-I basketball player, badly wants a successful basketball team and has had no problem putting his hand in to change this team the past three seasons.

White decided to fire 14-year head coach Reggie Witherspoon. Clearly something went wrong in White and Hurley’s negotiations. And White brought in Hurley knowing full well the coach would sacrifice academics and character for flash and talent.

That’s why Jamir Hanner was kicked off the team. That’s why MAC Player of the Year Justin Moss is expelled for robbing a dorm room. That’s why Raheem Johnson and Mory Diane will sit out Friday’s season opener for their role in the theft.

But putting those black eyes aside – and yes, they are black eyes for this program – I can’t say White has done anything wrong with this team. I say that because it had no NCAA Tournament appearances before he shook things up – and now it has one.

A true judgment can’t be made until we see what happens in the post-Hurley era.

If Oats is able to keep Buffalo on its upward trajectory, whether that’s producing winning seasons after a rebuilding year or staying as a MAC contender without any down period, White will have done his job. Despite all the negativity of Hurley and Moss’ exits, he’ll have put the program in a better place than when he found it.

But if this team never gets close to the MAC Championship again and goes through losing seasons, it is a failure on White, regardless if he’s still here or not. One NCAA Tournament appearance is nice, but Mid-Majors have to consistently get there for the appearances to carry any weight.

Obama – or whoever is elected president in 2016 – has to say your name on national TV a few times for it to really stick.

We’ve seen what winning just one conference title does for a team right here on campus: not much. The football team followed its breakthrough MAC Championship in 2008 with four straight losing seasons. The program is still just trying to find its way and isn’t in the same class as MAC powerhouses like Northern Illinois and Bowling Green.

Can you imagine how different things would be for the football team right now if it had sustained that 2008 team’s success? Maybe they’d have a field house by now.

That’s what the men’s basketball team has to avoid.

Buffalo should have been a MAC dynasty for a few years with Hurley, Moss and Shannon Evans – but Oats and White have to find a way to reinvent the program because those guys aren’t coming back. No matter how they chose to reinvent this team to stay competitive, they just have to do exactly that: stay competitive.

Because going backwards won’t help. People will forget very fast – maybe they already have with all the departures – about how great least year was. UB basketball has to gain the Buffalo community’s trust. We’re hesitant to embrace new things as we’ve been hurt before. But win and excite us for even just a few years and trust me, as a Buffalo native, we’ll love you forever.

If the Bulls can do that, then all the negativity this offseason will go away. But judgment can’t be passed until we witness the post-Hurley era.

We’ll start to see that Friday.

Tom Dinki is the Editor in Chief and can be reached at tom.dinki@ubspectrum.com. Follow him on Twitter at @tomdinki