UB men’s basketball a legitimate threat for third straight MAC Championship

Head coach Nate Oats is primed to have UB basketball trending upward come March

Few college basketball coaches in the entire country could stand up to what Nate Oats did for Buffalo last season.

After years as a high school basketball coach and college assistant, Oats finally got his chance to be the head man last year and against all expectation, he delivered.

There were a lot of reasons to be down on UB Basketball going into last season – Oats was unproven as a head coach and was only given the job after beloved former coach Bobby Hurley left the program. Before the season even started, Buffalo lost its two best players, Justin Moss and Shannon Evans, to expulsion and transfer, respectively.

And, just days before the season started, Oats’ wife Crystal was diagnosed with Lymphoma.

But with a host of newcomers, Buffalo managed to hit it’s stride at the end of the season and carried that wave all the way to a MAC Championship.

This year, Buffalo has been pegged to finish third in the MAC East in the preseason poll. This is partly due to the loss of point guard Lamonte Bearden, who transferred over the summer, among other factors.

However, those writing off UB’s chance of a three-peat this year should do so at their own risk. There are question marks for Buffalo, but the team is well-coached and full of players who will run through walls to keep the whole moving forward.

Buffalo won last year because they played with a selflessness that brought out the best in everybody on the floor, not the stat sheet. That should hold true even more this season.

There a lot of moving parts on this UB team and it will take some major molding from the coaching staff to pull it all together. For the second consecutive year, Oats will have little room for error and will have to push all the right buttons if Buffalo is going to emerge from the very competitive MAC.

Buffalo returns nine players from last year’s championship team, but without Bearden, everyone will have to step up and diversify their game to some extent. Just like last year, a few newcomers will also need an immediate impact for Buffalo to win it all again.

As of right now, Oats still has a lot to figure out and he will experiment in the non-conference schedule to see what works best.

Come March, Buffalo may not have the best record in the conference. They may not have one of the single best players in the conference statistically. They may not look like the most imposing team on paper.

But, just as they have the past two years, they will be hitting their stride at the end of the season. And I presume that every other team in the MAC will be hoping to avoid the two-time defending conference champs when the games matter most.

It will take time before Oats can sort it all out as he combines new pieces with guys returning to different roles. But as UB knows as well as anyone, college basketball is about how you finish, not how you start.

Look for Buffalo to finish strong for the third straight year.

Michael Akelson is the senior sports editor and can be reached at michael.akelson@ubspectrum.com