Q&A with Bulls Head Coach Oats

The Spectrum speaks with Nate Oats about the new season

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The Buffalo Bulls (2-0) are two games into a young season. Expectations are high for Buffalo and the Mid-American Conference coaches selected them to win the MAC East Division. They were also selected to finish as runner-ups in the MAC tournament.

Buffalo lost their leader in points and assists, Blake Hamilton. They retained two preseason all-MAC selections­­: junior guard CJ Massinburg and junior forward Nick Perkins. With only seven returning players, the team will be relying mostly on their new players to help them reach those projected results.

The Spectrum spoke with Bulls Head Coach Nate Oats about his thoughts on the season.

Q: What are your expectations for this season?

A: I think they’re high. Everybody picked us to win the MAC East, so I’m not going to under pick it. I’m expecting us to perform well. The one thing I’d like to see is better non-conference play. I don’t want to wait until January to get stuff figured out. Obviously, we’ll get a boost with Wes [Clark], but I want to win some tough games and win some good games in non-conference or at least play well. It’s going to be hard to beat some of those teams on our schedule, but we need to play well. So that’s the big thing I want to see this year. I think our mindset is right and I think guys want to do well, but we just have to put action on the floor to the mental aspect of the game.

Q: What was the mindset behind organizing a tough non-conference schedule?

A: I’ve got a high school background and in high school, everyone in the state makes the state playoffs, so whether you’re 0-20 or 20-0, you are making the state playoffs. So I would schedule as hard as I possibly could because I think if you’re beating up on the weak teams, I don't think it exposes your weaknesses; you maybe get a little over-confident, get a false sense of confidence in your game. So that's the way I did it there, and then when I came here with Coach Hurley, we went to Kentucky and Wisconsin. He wanted to play against the best and I was 100 percent on board with our scheduling then and we just kept it up.

So in the MAC, honestly some teams will play four non-Division I teams. They’ll come in every year 10-3, 11-2, 9-4 or whatever and we may come in at 7-6 or 6-7. But I firmly believe that playing the better teams and not loading up on a bunch of soft confidence builders prepares you better. You’ve exposed your weaknesses. You’ve got your guys attentions and then you hit conference. Everybody is 0-0 when you hit conference play. So the one thing the non-conference can do is help make you better and get ready for conference play. If you get some quality wins and make the NCAA tournament, it helps your seeding. That’s the one thing we’ve got to do a better job of: getting quality wins in the non-conference. The two years we’ve been there, we’ve been a 12 seed and a 14 seed. It’s hard to win those 14 seed games. The closer you can climb into that single digit seeding range the better. But I still think at the end of the day, the biggest thing with the non-conference schedule is to get us ready for conference.

Q: Can you tell your thoughts on some of the players’ performances this season?

A: I think Davonta Jordan showed in the first game that he’s put a lot of time in; his mindset is right, he’s ready to play well and we expect to see great things out of him. Nick Perkins has been unbelievable in his mentality and his work ethic and his preparation. I think you’re going to see big things out of him. CJ [Massinburg] is going to get there, he has to get comfortable with his knee, but it’s getting a lot closer every day. Jeremy [Harris] is still trying to figure out exactly what we want and how aggressive to be. We just keep telling him to be more aggressive and he has to figure the defensive side out still, but I think you’ll see a lot out of those three. Montell [Mcrae] is going to give us great minutes. He has to get used to the physicality of Division I, but he’s definitely athletic and skilled enough, so those are some of the key ones. Both the freshman have been coming along, they’ve both got great attitudes. … They can both score and shoot it and they are getting a lot better on defense, so I think we’ll see a lot more out of [James] Reese and [Jayvon] Graves too.

Q: What do you think of the other MAC teams this season?

A: I think it’s going to be a lot deeper and better than people think. Central Michigan was picked towards the bottom, but I watched their game last night and they were up on Michigan in the second half, so I think it’s going to be a deep –– like it usually is –– real competitive league. Western Michigan, I saw them play against South Carolina and they gave them a tough game for most of the game last night. … Ball State should have beaten Dayton as their place to start the year, so I think as you see different teams play. Kent State went down and pounded Youngstown to open it up. Teams are playing tough teams and playing well. I think it’s going to be deep. It’s going to be a hard conference schedule. If you’re not on top of your game, whether it’s home or on the road, it’s hard to get wins in conference play.

Daniel Petruccelli is the sports editor and can be reached at daniel.petruccelli@ubspectrum.com