Ranked and rolling

The UB men's basketball team makes a two-game statement in the MAC

Howard Simon
January 10, 2019 - 4:03 pm

Photo: Timothy T. Ludwig - USA TODAY Sports

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Impressive or wow. Either one works to describe the first two conference games of the season for the University at Buffalo basketball team.

The Bulls rolled into the Mid-American Conference portion of their schedule with a 12-1 record and a spot in the Associated Press Top-25 poll. Then they proceeded to crush Eastern Michigan, the preseason pick to win the West division, and they destroyed Toledo, who also went 12-1 in non-conference play.

Now there’s a long way to go in the MAC season, 16 games to be precise, but UB sent a message to the rest of the league with these victories. You know how impressed I was with those two wins? It actually made me stop and wonder if the Bulls could run the MAC table. It's never been done in the 18-game format. The best conference record came back in the 2000-01 season when Kent State went 17-1. UB went 15-3 last season, and you can make the argument this team is better. The Bulls are a complete squad and can beat you in different ways with a variety of weapons.

There’s definitely a big-three in seniors CJ Massinburg, Nick Perkins and Jeremy Harris. They are the top-three scorers, averaging 17, 15 and 13 points per-game respectively, but if any or all of them have an off night, there are other answers on Nate Oats deep roster. In the win at Eastern Michigan, fellow senior Montell McRae played the key role with a combination of three-point shots and slam dunks. McRae scored 10 straight points during a 12-0 Bulls run in the first half. UB led by 10 at the break, and expanded the lead to as many as 21 points in the second half while cruising to the win.

Jayvon Graves has been asked to take on a full-time starter role on this season’s squad and Graves has stepped his game up. He’s averaging just under 10 points per-game, and is third in three-point field goals made.

Backcourt mates Davonta Jordan and Dontay Caruthers have both grown their games over their careers in Amherst. The pair came into the program as defensive stoppers and both still excel in that area, but they’ve improved offensively. Caruthers is averaging just under eight points per-game and shooting 55-percent from the field. Jordan, who leads the team in assists, is averaging just under seven points per-game and has become very effective at slashing to the basket. Freshmen Jeenathan Williams and Ronaldo Segu are contributing as they adjust to the college level of talent.  

The Bulls are an extremely entertaining team to watch, and you can credit Oats for that. Oats preaches an up-tempo, attacking style of offense. The Bulls don’t waste any time getting the ball up the court and getting a shot off. What high school player wouldn’t want to hear that during a recruiting visit? UB averages 85 points per-game and they attempt an average of 28 three-point field goals per-game. 

UB doesn’t get enough credit for their defense, probably because the offensive numbers are so impressive, but this team can dig in and defend. It starts with the guards like Jordan, Caruthers and Massinburg, but it extends throughout the team. In the win at Eastern Michigan, Perkins did an outstanding job in his matchup with 6' 10” James Thompson, who is getting looks from NBA scouts. His defense and the help defense was so good, Thompson only attempted six shots. UB gives up an average of 69 points per-game and has held opponents to 40-percent from the field in their 15 games.

Did I mention how unselfish the Bulls are? You can add sharing the ball to the list of things they do well. Guys are always looking and willing to make that extra pass that leads to a higher percentage shot inside the arc or an open three. 

The main man in all of this is Oats, who has a pair of 20-win seasons, two NCAA tournament berths and that historical win over Arizona in last year’s tournament in his first three years as head coach. When he was promoted to the top job after Bobby Hurley left, I had my doubts since his head coaching experience was limited to high school. However, Oats has taken this program to a never before seen to level as evidenced by the Bulls' national ranking. He and his staff are masterful recruiters, whether it's bringing in players from high school like Massinburg or Perkins or using the junior college route for key players like Jeremy Harris and, before him, Blake Hamilton and Willie Conner.

Just when you thought I might have run out of accolades, the Bulls don’t lose any home games. UB will carry an 18-game home court win streak (sixth longest in the country) into Saturday’s contest against Miami (OH) at Alumni Arena. It's a 12 p.m. tip-off.

Take a trip over to UB and check this team out and see things for yourself.

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