Tuesday, December 16, 2014

State University of New York @ Buffalo - Pregame

On March 16, 2005 one of the best games that most will never see was played at Alumni Arena in Buffalo, New York.  Two up and coming programs, Bruiser Flint's Drexel Dragons and Reggie Witherspoon's Buffalo Bulls squared off in a first round NIT game that night and the seniors on both teams played like that game could be their last.  Many of those seniors names are still regularly mentioned on both campus', from Goss, Brooks and King to Buffalo's supremely talented Turner Battle.  There was so much heart and emotion on that floor that the roof was about to blow off when Buffalo pushed the game to overtime.  Drexel lost that game in OT, and my friends and I left the building, as proud as we had ever been to be supporters of Bruiser Flint's Dragons.  Words can't describe the number of guys whose bodies were sprawled across the floor that night, the fighting for rebounds, the guys playing games of their lives while playing out of position, it was all there.  If I was Bru, or Bobby Hurley, I'd show that tape at team meal before the game tonight.  I'd show that tape and tell my guys that if either team plays with the heart that those guys did, totally buys in to the program, and more importantly to each other, you'll win today.

Jeremiah King had 25 points that day, playing out of position at the point guard.  He had been playing off the ball during his senior year as freshman Bashir Mason was running point, but Mason had been injured in a CAA Tournament game against Hofstra and was unable to go.  That note, just in case anyone thinks that upperclassmen can't play out of position at the point (and still score in Bru's offense) in order to help out a freshman point guard.

Jeremiah isn't walking through that door today though, and neither is Phil or Sean.  And if they did they would be grey and old would still start.  Instead, Bruiser Flint will start a team that is young and exciting and will get better (that's true).  The Bulls are 5-2 despite only having played 1 home game to date and have multiple road wins over respectable teams (UT Arlington, Canisius), and a loss to Kentucky that I think we can all get by.  Last year, Bobby Hurley was off and running and had a really respectable first season at Buffalo, including a road win at the DAC (Drexel shot 7% - no typo - from behind the arc in that game).  Hurley's young, athletic guards will be aggressive in forcing turnovers, so this game could have a similar feel to the La Salle game for the DU guards.  Jarryn Skeete has been shooting above his weight from the outside thus far this year, but for the most part the jumpshot shouldn't be the primary defensive concern, as the Bulls will penetrate and try to get to the line.

Where Buffalo has had trouble this year is in the interior.  They play a lot of 4 guard action (trouble) and while they have been missing Senior big man Xavier Ford with a concussion you can expect him to return for this game (trouble).  The best three point shooter on Buffalo is Senior Virginia transfer Will Regan who is a 6'8" big himself so look for a big man out behind the arc, a spot the Dragons have historically struggled to deal with (trouble).

This is a Drexel team that has just been lit up (publicly) by their coaching staff, is on the road with short rest, is facing an opponent that is playing well and is a very tough matchup for them.  DU will have a rebounding advantage and that's about it, this game just spells trouble all over the place.

Prediction:  Buffalo 75, Drexel 56
Vegas Line:  Buffalo -10

Alan Boston's Notes:  Two years ago, Buffalo U very strangely let go one of the better coaches in the country. Reggie Witherspoon performed magic acts year in and year out. For creating an honest overachieving program, he was let go. He is now an assistant at Alabama. Buffalo felt a bigger name, Bobby Hurley would ultimately lead to greater things, or what truly all that matters, make more money for the school. The Hurley's did great things in their brief stay at Wagner. Brother Dan will likely have URI in the NCAA or at worst NIT this year. But how do you improve on Coach Witherspoon? Bobby Hurley was left a strong team last year, but with much of that talent gone, this figured to be a down year for the Bulls.

They started the year with a riveting win over a good mid major, South Dakota St. Then they played Kentucky close deep into the 2nd half. Two days later, the young team that should have been sapped from monumental Kentucky effort went to Texas Arlington and won 74-68. It has only got better from there. They won in Grand Canyon, crushed their big rival Canisius. After losing to another rival St Bonny, they went to Robert Morris and destroyed what has been a very good program under Andrew Toole 74-59. This team is as good as last years, which was one of the best teams ever fielded at Buffalo.

Good things lie ahead for this program, that is until someone from a power conference shoves a large amount of money Hurley's way. That will happen soon. Presently his young and improving team gets disappointing Drexel. Sad to say, that if Drexel does not show a bit better, it might be time for a change. I love Bruiser, so that is difficult for me to write. yes he has been super unlucky with injuries the last couple of years, but there is something not right with this team. They should not be losing at home to St Josephs, should not be blowing big leads to USC or needing to rally to beat Cornell. Unless he rights the ship and soon, this will be a difficult year for a team I thought was the favorite to win the league. They have a long bus ride ahead and I am afraid it will result in a blow out loss. I hope Bruiser figures things out by conference time. If so, an NCAA bid is not that big a long shot. As for now, this game could get ugly quickly. Buffalo by 16

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