March of the Bulls
My expectations for the upcoming men’s basketball season
We are almost three weeks away from the unofficial start of the UB Bulls basketball season (an exhibition against Daemen). And a quick glance at this season’s schedule –– posted earlier this month –– will tell you that Buffalo didn’t schedule any top-tier teams like it did last year and there aren’t a lot of tough teams on the schedule, either.
Last year, if they hadn’t won the MAC, the Bulls were probably in as an at-large. This season, unless they run the table and win every game, it’s highly unlikely that they’ll have this opportunity again. It’s MAC or bust.
The regular season kicks off against Dartmouth on Nov. 8 here at Alumni Arena.
Last year, the Bulls played at a No. 13-ranked West Virginia, Syracuse in the Carrier Dome and home against a Marquette team that earned a five seed last year for the NCAA tournament. But only one of the teams they play this year, St. Bonaventure, made the NCAA tournament last season.
They play Dartmouth –– a team that has not made the NCAA tournament since 1959, before both of my parents were born –– before they head north. Dartmouth hasn’t had a winning season since I was born (1998-99) and the Big Green are coming off an 11-20 season with a 2-12 Ivy League mark. Game over before it starts.
The Toronto trip takes them to play another Ivy League –– Harvard on Nov. 16. The Crimson came off a year where they went 19-12 with a 10-4 record in the Ivy League, good enough to put them in the NIT tournament. They beat Georgetown in the first round, but fell to North Carolina State in the second. Harvard, known more for their smarts than their athletic abilities, can hang with some teams. This game should be closer than the Dartmouth game.
The Bulls then go from Toronto to Charleston for the Charleston Classic Starting on Nov. 21. The Bulls only know their first opponent in the UCONN Huskies. They have gone from winning the NCAA tournament in 2011 and 2014 to going 16-17 last season. Bulls win a close one.
The rest of the Charleston Classic field is Missouri State, Miami, Xavier, Florida, Saint Joesph’s and Towson. The toughest team in the field is Florida, who’s expected to be a two seed for the NCAA tournament by a lot of college basketball analysts. If the Bulls play Miami, Florida or Xavier, I believe they’ll lose. As for Missouri State, St. Joe’s and Towson, the Bulls should be able to handle all three.
On Nov. 30, the Bulls return home to play William & Mary, which is coming off a 14-17 season. They had one big win last year (St. Joe’s) and the rest of their wins were not that impressive.
The Bulls then travel to Nashville to take on Vanderbilt. The Commodores went 9-23 and winless (0-18) in the SEC last season. They lost their last 20 games last season (and still have not won this year) and lost to Kent State last year 77-75 at home. Vandy is looking to rebound under a new coach. Buffalo beats Vandy by more than Kent State did last year.
The Bulls then move from Nashville to Chicago as they visit Depaul for a nationally-televised game on FS1. The Blue Demons come off their best season (19-17) under head coach Dave Leitao as they ended up CBI runners up. This is the Bulls’ toughest matchup in my opinion. The Big East is usually a good basketball conference and this year should be no different.
The Bulls will end their non-conference schedule with four home games starting with Army on Dec. 14. Army ended the last three seasons with 13 wins. Buffalo controls them.
The Bulls then go on a three-game Big 4 stand. Canisius comes across town to Alumni Arena on Dec. 18. Their mark of 15-17 was not good enough to earn them a bid in any postseason tournament and it should be the same this year. Buffalo wins by double digits.
Niagara then comes over for a visit three days later. Niagara won 13 games of its 32 played and has a new head coach in Patrick Beilein, who won’t help, as Buffalo should win.
The final basketball game of 2019 for the Bulls comes against St. Bonaventure –– the closest to Buffalo in terms of basketball talent. They are one season removed from their last NCAA tournament bid and last year they put together an 18-16 record, while going 12-6 in the A-10. The last time the Bonnies came to Alumni, they beat the Bulls, but not this time.
The MAC schedule starts Jan. 4 and runs through March 6. The 18 games for the Bulls lead to home-and-homes (where both teams host their opponent) against Ohio, Kent State, Bowling Green, Central Michigan, Ball State, Akron and Miami (OH). They will also host Northern Illinois and Western Michigan.
The Bulls travel to Eastern Michigan and Toledo as well. This season, the Bulls haven’t been picked to win the MAC by any sports outlet. The media predicts Ball State and Bowling Green. The loss of the five seniors and Nate Oats this season isn’t going to go as well as last year.
Jim Whitesell is at the helm now. The talent is still there, though. Buffalo will probably go 13-5 in the MAC this year and I still expect them to be hoisting the MAC Championship in Cleveland at the Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse on March 14, 2020.
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