The University at Buffalo holds a surprisingly special place in my soul. A long, long time ago when Bruiser Flint enjoyed the universal support of his fanbase, the Dragons played an NIT game in Buffalo. This was Bashir Mason's freshman season, and he had uprooted senior combo guard and Dan Crain classmate Jeremiah King of his point guard role for the season. Mason had gotten hurt in Richmond and was unavailable for the NIT game so King got his job back and played all 45 minutes in an overtime loss which ended the collegiate careers of the prolific senior group of Phil Goss, Jeremiah King and Sean Brooks. That group left it all on the floor that night combining for 48 points on just 32 shots led by King's 25.
I left that game the proudest I ever have after a DU loss, and yes that includes the Arizona game this year. Me and the guys who had made the day trip to the 7pm game that went to OT then went out, got wings, and hopped in the car for the drive back to Philly. I woke up twice with the car in the shoulder of the road on that trip back, the first when there were strobe's coming in thru the back window (the second time that happened on that trip; it also happened with the Davidson game this year, watch your speed ladies and gents) and the second when the driver was running laps around the car on the side of the NY Thruway in an effort to wake himself up. It was the most collegey college of college experience of my life. If you're reading this while in school now, my only advice to you is to follow the team on the road. If you look at the links page here on the blog, I can promise you that the vast majority of the people who write at those links and weren't travelling on the team bus when they were in school were still traveling to the games on their own. It's a great way to enjoy your time, get some memories and fall in love with this game and your school.
The last part of the Buffalo trip that pops in my head whenever I think of The University Formerly Known As SUNY Buffalo was discovering this while I was out there. Buffalo turned down their first ever Football Bowl invite in 1958 which was a story that I hadn't previously heard. It's a fantastic story about why sports matter and what rallying around the team can do and is worth a read if you have some down time.
And with that, enough love for the University at Buffalo. The Bulls roll into the DAC on Sunday with a 4-4 record against D1 teams. This will sound familiar but outside of one questionable loss to Niagara they've shown alright this year, including a nice win against St. Bonnie's earlier this month. Bobby Hurley's squad is led by three seniors each with a specific skillset. The ball is in the hands of pass first point guard Jarod Oldham who should be all but invited to shoot by the Drexel guards. Playing a two guard Devon Saddler is Josh Freelove, he'll drive, he'll shoot jumpers, he'll turn it over but he sure ain't gonna pass, and given how well he's shooting this year, he shouldn't. He'll be the guy to circle and step out on at the perimeter and to help out on when he drives. The forwards need to stay aware of which side of the floor he is on and given the obscene charge rules this year they need to know to be in position about 15 minutes before he starts his drive.
The best guy on the team isn't Freelove though, just as Saddler has never been the best guy at Delaware (see: Hagins, Jamelle and Carter, Jawan). The third Buffalo senior is Javon McCrea a big man that has never shot less than 50% for the season. He took less than 10 shots in only 5 games last year and while it's wishful thinking I'd love to see him fronted by Rodney Williams at times in this contest. Since that won't happen there will be a ton of pressure on Dartaye Ruffin both to defend him and then turn around and box him out. McCrea has also been a top 65 offensive rebounder for all 4 years of his career, he's a load and a shotblocker as well. The best defense here might be a good offense and going at him, but only if the Dragon guards stop playing like 6th grade girls when they go at the paint (I fully believe that girls can play basketball and do so very well, I just don't think 11 year old girls should be playing D1 basketball). If the guards go at him and then pull up, fade away or float at the last second, it's just going to result in poor shooting and blocked shots. If they go for the contact, they'll be in business. And if they go for the contact, it will be damned near the first time they have all season.
So it's on the Drexel bigs. They won't be physically dominant like they were against Saint Francis, but I believe at this point in the year it's clear that there's a track record here. Give them the ball and good things happen. Give them the ball in this game and maybe they can draw some calls on McCrea. At the very least if he guards the shooter he should have a harder time grabbing the defensive boards and Drexel's off forward can compete with 6'8" Will Regan for the offensive board, a much more even contest.
After the last few games, the thing to look for in this one is just being physical. No more and 1's. No more diving away from contact on offense. The bigs have done their thing with this and it's high time to see it from the guards. If they can show that, and Fouch can continue to find his shot at the DAC then they will be in good shape for much more than just this game, but the new year to come.
I have Drexel winning the turnover battle decisively yet again, keeping level or better on the boards and continuing their slow warmup from the perimeter. It's time to show a reason to believe prior to the Southern Miss trip.
Prediction: Drexel 75 - Buffalo 60
Vegas line: Drexel -8