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Changing winds: Eyeing UB basketball’s future

Photo courtesy of Don Nieman from UB vs. Ohio game

blog by Ben Tsujimoto  • 

How do you measure the success of the UB Bulls men’s basketball season? Is success determined by 20 wins and a national TV appearance for the ESPN BracketBuster? What about Mitchell Watt’s selection as MAC Player of the Year? Or is the barometer simply one thing: did the Bulls reach the glory land of the NCAA Tournament?

Buffalo fell to Ohio in the MAC Semifinals, 77-74, and the Bobcats are the only mid-major currently in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. The Bulls then fell in the second round of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament to Oakland after beating American in the first round. UB was snubbed for both the NIT and the College Basketball Invitational (CBI).

Regardless of how the Bulls’ season is evaluated—I consider it a success, but then again, I’m also sometimes naively positive—there’s plenty of change on the horizon. Last year, the Bulls’ lost Byron Mulkey and Jawaan Alston to graduation, a total of 18.3 points per game and 54 minutes per game, but UB didn’t skip a beat. This off-season, however, the departures will be felt to a much greater degree.

He’s gone: Mitchell Watt, MAC Player of the Year. 16.3 points per game, 7.5 rebounds and 2.2 blocks. Watt’s quietly courageous comeback from debilitating disease was one of the program’s most inspiring stories, and he was the Bulls’ best player for much of 2012. The lefty will be sorely missed next year.

Next Bull In: Will Regan, center, soon-to-be red-shirt sophomore. The former Nichols School standout had the opportunity to battle against Javon McCrea and Watt in practice daily, and despite the lack of competitive MAC experience, Regan should be ready to step into the starting lineup next season. Breathing down Regan’s neck—not literally, hopefully—is burly big man Cameron Downing, who saw his minutes increase down the stretch last season. This frontcourt fight for a spot next to McCrea bears watching.

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He’s gone: Zach Filzen, starting shooting guard. 12.1 points per game, 40% from three-point range. Although Filzen’s inconsistency was maddening at times last season, he was still one of the Bulls’ most deadly three-point shooters in the school’s history, hitting a UB record 110 in his junior year. Opponents respected Filzen’s range, and the attention Filzen demanded created more space for Watt and McCrea to operate in the low post.

Next Bull In: Corey Raley-Ross, soon-to-be junior or Stan Wier, freshman. Raley-Ross’ development was stunted in 2012, as he averaged a meager five minutes per contest and appeared in only 17 of the team’s 31 games. Head coach Reggie Witherspoon considers Raley-Ross to be the team’s best athlete, however, and he’ll get every chance for more minutes as an upperclassman. Wier, a well-traveled freshman recruit who suited up locally for both Nichols and East Aurora at different points in his high school career, has the scoring ability—and range—to contribute in his first year. It’s possible that Witherspoon will start Jarod Oldham and Tony Watson II in the backcourt next year as well.

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He’s gone: Titus Robinson, power forward. Seven points per game, four rebounds and a 53% shooting percentage. Robinson was praised for accepting and excelling at his sixth man role despite starting the year prior. Demonstrating more passion and aggression in his senior year, Robinson joined Watt as the team’s most improved players.

Next Bull In: Xavier Ford, soon-to-be sophomore forward. Sixteen games played, five minutes per contest. Ford was woefully unprepared to step into the Buffalo rotation as a freshman, but Witherspoon had the luxury of letting his prized recruit watch and learn. The former third team Parade All-American selection looked awkward in limited minutes, and he still needs to bulk up. This is a big summer for Ford, who has a realistic shot at 20 minutes per game as a sophomore.

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He’s gone: Dave Barnett, small forward. 26 minutes per game, six points, five rebounds. The ultimate hustle player, Barnett also hit some big shots in 2012 against Niagara University and Bowling Green. His defense will certainly be missed, but Barnett never developed into an offensive threat in his Bulls’ tenure. The story of a former walk-on turned scholarship player speaks volumes about Barnett’s work ethic. The UB Spectrum’s piece on Barnett’s career is a must read.   

Next Bull In: Auraum Nuiriankh, soon-to-be junior small forward. Nuiriankh wrested the starting job away from Barnett mid-season, but the move served both to balance the rotation and reward Nuiriankh’s solid play. Although Witherspoon wasn’t always pleased with the sophomore’s decision making, Nuiriankh shot a respectable clip from three (34.7%) in relation to his rather putrid overall mark (35%). Nuiriankh has starting potential for next season, but he’ll have to take some steps over the summer.

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Projected 2012/13 starting five:

Point guard: Jarod Oldham
Shooting guard: Tony Watson II
Small forward: Xavier Ford
Power forward: Javon McCrea
Center: Will Regan
Backcourt depth: Raley-Ross, Wier, Jarryn Skeete, Nuiriankh.
Frontcourt depth: Downing, Raphell Thomas-Edwards, a freshman recruit or two.

TAGGED: college basketball, javon mccrea, mac basketball, mitchell watt, reggie witherspoon, ub bulls, university at buffalo

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