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Friday, June 21, 2024
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UB men’s basketball had a meltdown this year, what happened?

A Swiss cheese defense and poor three-point shooting tanked the 2023-24 UB men’s basketball season

<p>Men's basketball lost a record number of games in 2023-24.</p>

Men's basketball lost a record number of games in 2023-24.

After suffering the most losses in a single season in program history and missing the Mid-American Conference (MAC) playoff tournament, UB men’s basketball (4-27, 2-16 MAC) sits in a difficult position. 

With almost an entire starting lineup that needs to be replaced, due to departures through the transfer portal and graduating seniors, first-year head coach George Halcovage III needs to basically rebuild the program. 

But how did we get to this point?

Coaching changes, a poor defense, and poor three-point shooting doomed the team this season from the beginning. 

Whitesell throws his final “horns up!”

It all began with the firing of the previous men’s basketball coach Jim Whitesell last spring. Whitesell finished with a 70-49 overall record and a 45-27 mark in conference play in four seasons with UB. Despite his winning record, Whitesell was dismissed due to his inability to produce postseason appearances. 

Several key players departed shortly afterward, including then-freshman guard Curtis Jones, who now enters his junior year at Iowa State (29-8, 13-5 BIG 12). Starters such as Zid Powell left for UTEP (18-16, 7-9 C-USA), and LaQuill Hardnett left for Arkansas State (20-17, 11-7 SBC). Center Isaac Jack also said goodbye to the Bulls, leaving for Dayton (25-8, 14-4 A10).

Halcovage — then an associate coach at Villanova — was hired weeks after Whitesell’s firing, marking his first year as a head coach. 

With several key players — namely fifth-year forward Sy Chatman and senior forward Jonnivius Smith — deciding to stick along for the ride, the team seemed to be headed in the right direction. A new roster with additions like sophomore guard Shawn Fulcher from Ellsworth Community College and freshman guard Ryan Sabol seemed to seal the deal. 

But there were early signs of the less-than-ideal season to come. 

In the first exhibition game of the season, Buffalo hosted Daemen University, a Division II program. Despite their strong talent advantage, the Bulls struggled, narrowly walking away with a 71-67 win. 

Victories — even narrow ones — would be rare over the coming months. 

After a narrow victory against D-II opponent Roberts Wesleyan, the team went on a nine-game losing streak, leaving their overall record at 1-11 and 0-11 against D-I opponents. 

UB ended that streak by defeating Central Michigan (18-14, 12-6 MAC) 76-64 in the first conference game of the season, but victory remained elusive. What followed was another nine-game losing streak in MAC play. 

As their chances of a playoff berth grew slimmer, the team seemed to lose hope. The Bulls were the first MAC team to be eliminated from playoff contention, and they finished with one of the worst records in the country at 4-27. 

The numbers behind the madness

UB ranked as the 345th best overall team out of 362, according to EvanMiya. The Bulls had the second worst three-point percentage in the country at 27.5% according to TeamRankings, only ahead of the IUPUI Jaguars (6-26, 2-19 HLC). 

Despite this, they shot 24.6 threes per game, in the top 20% in the country. That was nearly double the 13.4 three-pointers that the Jaguars took per game, the lowest in the country. 

Second, the Bulls’ defense was Swiss cheese. UB gave up 79.6 points per game, meaning that UB lost its games by an average margin of 12.3 points per game, the 13th worst differential in the nation. The Bulls allowed opponents to make nearly 30 shots a game, the 10th worst across the country. 

If that wasn’t enough, UB struggled badly at home. The Bulls only managed to win one game against D-I opponents at Alumni Arena, going 1-13. 

All of it resulted in a season to forget for UB. 

What now? 

It’s an understatement to say that Halcovage will have to rebuild the program. 

The head coach will have to replace his top two scorers, Chatman and senior forward Isaiah Adams. Chatman has no years of eligibility remaining after averaging 18.2 points and 6.4 rebounds per game, while Adams entered the transfer portal with 12.8 points and four rebounds per game. 

Also in the portal are junior guard Kanye Jones and Smith, who both averaged 8 points per game this season. Smith was the team’s top rebounder, grabbing 8.3 a game. That means Halcovage will have to replace four of the team’s top six scorers; those four combined to average 47 points per game.

Halcovage will have to find plenty of high scorers through recruiting and the transfer portal to make up for what he’s losing. Bringing in a center who can rebound will also be crucial. Adding defense can’t hurt either.

Even though Halcovage is facing an uphill battle moving forward, this season should also be a fresh start for the former Villanova coach. He’ll be allowed to freely recruit his own players after coaching a roster mostly recruited under the previous regime. 

The jury is still out on whether the Bulls will be able to rebound from this season, but there’s still hope for UB —  even if things didn’t go according to plan in Halcovage’s debut season. 

Henry Daley is an assistant sports editor and can be reached at henry.daley@ubspectrum.com 

Evan Hilbert is an assistant sports editor at the Spectrum and can be reached at evan.hilbert@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). 


EVAN HILBERT
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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. 

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