‘Grow and mature’

Jim Whitesell stresses consistency as men’s basketball encroaches on March

basketball-midpoint

UB men’s basketball coach Jim Whitesell is stressing consistency as his team encroaches on the MAC Tournament in March.

The 2020 Bulls have been characterized by a lack of consistency, stemming from inexperience and occasional lapses on defense. UB has excelled against top-50 foes, but has struggled against lesser opponents. The team has shined on offense, but flailed on defense.

“We’ve talked about it over and over about being very consistent about it, and playing that way,” said Whitesell. “If you want to join the elite, you have to play at an elite level.”

The Bulls have inspired comparisons to the “Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” the 1880s novella highlighting the unpredictably dual nature of its protagonist. Whitesell’s team is still positioned to make a run in the MAC tournament, but the team will need to prove that it can operate steadily at both ends of the floor and against all levels of opponents.

“We have to grow and mature,” Whitesell said. “You have to think elite more than play elite. Understanding the scouting report, the assignments, also your effort needs to be at 100% — that’s the thing we’ve talked to our group about: consistency. Not only physically, but mentally.”

The Bulls have fewer than 10 games left before the MAC Tournament in March, so they will have to grow quickly.

To Whitesell, this entails taking it one game at a time. Over the past few months, the Bulls have wowed then-unbeaten DePaul, preseason Ivy League favorite Harvard, and then-MAC leader Akron; they have also dropped games against sub-.500 teams like Vanderbilt and Dartmouth.

“If you look across Division I men’s basketball this year, there’s always a top-10 team losing every day, and No. 1 has changed,” Whitesell said. “I think we’ve had to address the idea that hey, ‘Just because you played at a high level and beat so-and-so the night before, there’s another chapter.’”

Entering Wednesday night, the Bulls rank 28th in the nation in scoring offense, averaging 78.6 points per-game. They rank No. 2 in offensive rebounds per game (14.95) and No. 28 in assists per game (15.8). 

The Bulls have struggled to play with the same intensity on the other side of the court. They rank 308th in defensive scoring, allowing 75.5 points per game. Unlike offense, their defensive rebounding is suspect. Their defensive field goal percentage ranks No. 244.

“We have some weaknesses, we have some strengths,” said senior guard Davonta Jordan. “We’re going to go back to the drawing board and look at our weaknesses, because in the MAC Tournament, anybody can be beaten on any given night.”

The Bulls have been aided by the return of junior center Brock Bertram, who is a capable rebounder and allows Whitesell to roll out a lineup with two big men. Forward Josh Mballa has also been very effective near the basket, and the two have helped the Bulls win five of their last eight games.

But for the Bulls to go on a postseason run and have a chance at the conference tournament in Cleveland, they will need to up the ante in the mental game.

“It seems like every game is hard-fought,” said Whitesell. “It seems like every night is battle royale in our league. There are so many good teams. You have to play your a-game. We’ve had so many of our conference games go down to the wire, so I think you’re going to see a lot of exciting basketball and a lot of teams who are evenly matched.”

Justin Weiss is the senior sports editor and can be reached at justin.weiss@ubspectrum.com

JUSTIN WEISS


Justin Weiss is the senior sports editor for The Spectrum. In his free time, he can be found hiking, playing baseball or doing both at the same time. His words have appeared in Elite Sports New York and the Long Island Herald.