Two wins in 20 games.
It’s certainly not the record that anyone envisioned when George Halcovage III stepped in as men’s basketball head coach for the 2023-24 season, but it’s the reality.
The Bulls (2-18, 1-7 MAC) seemed to have turned a corner with their first win of the season against a D-I opponent on Jan. 4, snapping a nine-game losing streak. Unfortunately, the Bulls weren’t able to capitalize on their momentum, and that’s where things stand: they’re in a slump. UB remains one of six teams in the country who have one win or fewer against D-I opponents. A conference tournament berth feels unlikely — if not impossible — at this point, with the team sitting second-to-last in the Mid-American Conference (MAC) after seven games.
UB fell 91-70 to Ohio (11-10, 5-4 MAC)during their most recent game after they ran out of steam in the second half. The five Bulls who scored in the double digits weren’t enough, after the bench only mustered two points. It was the team’s seventh loss in a row, and the 13th loss of the season by more than 10 points.
Despite a lopsided record in the early part of the season, UB found ways to keep themselves in games and make the final scores look respectable.
That hasn’t been the case recently. During their seven-game slump, the Bulls have lost by an average margin of 16.3 points.
Defense has been the team’s (most) fatal flaw from the beginning. The Bulls have allowed opposing teams to score 80.5 points per game while shooting better than 50% from the field, and they struggle to stop teams in transition. UB gave up 28 fast break points in a Jan. 23 loss to Ball State (11-9, 3-5 MAC), and the Bulls have shown little to no growth on that side of the ball.
Because of their struggles on defense, the Bulls are one of just 11 teams to concede at least one “kill shot” per game, according to EvanMiya. “Kill shots” occur when a team allows their opponent to score 10 straight points, meaning UB’s porous defense has given up a run like that basically every game. The team’s poor defense is largely responsible for that failure, but an equally poor offense bears some of the blame.
The team remains committed to shooting three-pointers, but it’s hurt UB more than it’s helped. The Bulls are shooting 26.8% on 27.3 three-point attempts per game over the losing streak, a tick above their season average of 25.6%. Despite those numbers, UB continues to run plays designed to generate perimeter shot attempts.
That percentage is the second-worst mark in the country, only ahead of UL Monroe (7-12, 3-6 SBC), who convert their shots at a 25.3% clip. The difference is that UL Monroe only shoots 18 three-pointers a game, while UB’s 26.2 attempts rank in the top-30 in the entire country. By that metric, it’s not a stretch to say that the Bulls are the worst volume three-point shooting team in the country.
There’s still time for the Bulls to turn their season around, but it needs to happen quickly. This team is already on the wrong side of UB’s history books: it currently owns the second-worst win percentage in school history at .100.
One way for UB to flip the script would be to turn the offensive focus to the paint. According to TeamRankings, the Bulls shoot 50.9% on two-point attempts, which is an efficient percentage that ranks just inside the top half in the country. In today’s game, offenses are designed to hunt the three-pointer, but taking more shots inside the three-point line would be playing to UB’s strengths.
Another struggle for this UB offense is the inability to get to the free throw line on a consistent basis. With their 15.2 free throw attempts per game ranking in the bottom 40 in the country. Senior forward Sy Chatman is responsible for one third of those attempts, as his pressure on the rim and effectiveness in the paint has been a highlight of the team’s offense. With a new offensive focus on attacking the rim for their leading scorer in Chatman, UB could generate more free throw attempts and chances for easy points.
Putting more pressure on the rim can stretch out the opponents defense, allowing for higher quality outside shots.
Perhaps one of the most glaring areas that’s hurt the Bulls this season is their turnover rate of 17.8% on offensive possessions, which also ranks in the bottom 40 in the country, according to TeamRankings. Avoiding turnovers would lead to higher quality offense and less pressure on UB’s transition defense, which has been responsible for a large chunk of the “kill shots”.
When you look at the numbers, you get a better picture behind the team's struggles. Due to a mix of poor outside shooting, ineffective inside penetration, and the lack of ball movement has left this team stagnant.
It’s been a tough go for UB men’s basketball as of late, and the Bulls have a lot of work to do if they want to salvage their season. The top eight MAC teams make the postseason. The Bulls have 10 conference games remaining to catch up to Ball State (11-10, 3-6 MAC) for the final MAC Tournament berth.
Henry Daley is an assistant sports editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Evan Hilbert is an assistant sports editor and can be reached at email@example.com
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).
Evan Hilbert is an assistant sports editor at The Spectrum. He also is a three-season student-athlete with UB’s DI cross country, indoor track, and outdoor track team. He’s a fan of the Milwaukee Bucks, Newcastle United F.C., and the Buffalo Bills.