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Tuesday, February 27, 2024
The independent student publication of The University at Buffalo, since 1950

A breakdown of UB men’s basketball’s historically bad start

The team is ranked as one of the worst programs in the country as losses continue to pile up

<p>UB fans cheer on the Bulls in Alumni Arena.</p>

UB fans cheer on the Bulls in Alumni Arena.

UB men’s basketball is off to its worst start in 45 years.

The Bulls (1-8, 0-0 MAC) remain winless against Division-I opponents and are off to their second-worst start in program history. UB is ranked as the seventh-worst program (out of 362) in the country in the NCAA NET rankings, which measures how strong a team is overall.

Bulls’ first-year head coach George Halcovage III spoke about his team’s struggles after their fifth straight loss, a disappointing 65-80 result against St. Bonaventure (5-2, 0-0 A10) at Alumni Arena. 

“I think we’re still learning how to come out of the gates and just set the tone as a team,” Halcovage said in the Dec. 2 postgame presser. “I think offensively sometimes in the first half the ball stops a little bit too much, and then once we get down a little bit the ball moves better, and we start sharing it and get better shots.” 

The Bulls have trailed by more than 10 points at halftime in six of their nine matchups and have lost five of those games by 14 or more points. The next game against Butler (7-2, 0-0 Big East) extended the losing streak to six as UB fell 59-72.

 The last time the Bulls started this poorly was 20 years before they joined the Mid-American Conference (MAC) in 1998. UB opened the 1978-79 season 0-9. At that time, UB played in the D-III State University of New York Athletic Conference  (SUNYAC). If the season ended today, UB would end with the second-worst winning percentage in school history: a measly .111.

Part of the problem may be the roster turnover that UB has endured over the last couple of years. The Bulls only returned one-fourth of their scoring total from last season and a little over one-fourth of the minutes. Combine that with the five freshmen on this year’s roster, and it’s easy to see why UB would endure some growing pains. 

In his introductory press conference, Halcovage acknowledged that his team might look different from his predecessors’.

“My immediate priorities are making sure we have a team that can go out and compete with the current team,” Halcovage said. “There’s a lot of great players that I would love to retain and be a part of this, and [we’re] going out and looking for other guys to bring in.”

While the team may have succeeded in recruiting transfers like senior forward Sy Chatman (from Illinois State) to the team, the on-court product hasn’t quite gelled yet. 

UB’s defensive rating sits at 115.2, the 10th-worst mark among all D-I schools in the country. The team has allowed 81.9 points per game, good for 15th-worst. In school history, only five UB teams have finished with worse defensive stats, and all but one ended with less than five wins. 

The offense has also looked stagnant, resulting in wasted possessions. The Bulls are averaging just 11.4 assists per game, leading to heavy isolation and early shot attempts. The passes that have happened are poor and put more pressure on an already shaky transition defense. The Bulls are averaging 17.6 turnovers a game, the second-worst mark in the country.

Despite noted struggles on both sides of the ball, there have been bright spots. Chatman, leading the team in scoring, has averaged nearly 16 points and six rebounds a game on an efficient 50% from the field. 

Senior center Jonnivius Smith has also contributed, averaging a near double-double with 9.8 points and nine rebounds a game. Smith’s offensive rebounding has been crucial on offense, and his total rebounds per game rank inside the top 50 in the country. 

Halcovage has done his best to make adjustments, as he’s rolled out five different starting lineups in nine games. He has also dealt with the loss of senior forward Isaiah Adams, who scored 28 points in the team’s season opener against Fairleigh Dickinson University (FDU) (5-5, 0-0 NEC). Adams has been out since Nov. 21 with an ankle injury.

It won’t be easy for the Bulls to right the ship. KenPom projects the team to finish 6-24. In that projection, the only team UB is favored against is the Niagara Purple Eagles (1-5, 0-2 MAAC) on Dec. 29. With how things currently stand, a win there could provide a much-needed boost ahead of the first MAC game Jan. 2, 2024. 

The sports desk can be reached at sports@ubspectrum.com


HENRY DALEY
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Henry Daley is an assistant sports editor at The Spectrum. His work has featured on other platforms such as Medium and Last Word on Sports. Outside of the newspaper, he enjoys running and watching sports (when he’s not writing about them). 

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