Buffalo was climbing steadily in the all-important category of national regard under coach Bobby Hurley, but - as is the plight of many mid-majors - he bolted for more well-compensated pastures before last season. Far be it from me to judge a guy for going out and getting paid.
Despite Hurley's departure, Buffalo put together a 20-win season last year and will come into Cintas for Xavier's second game of the year ready to roll. Xavier's schedule for the 2016-2017 season has been drawing raves, and teams like Buffalo are a reason why. Even X's "buy" games are going to be significant this year.
Nate Oats stepped in for Hurley and took Buffalo to the NCAA tournament as a 14-seed. It's hard to say what his personal coaching style is exactly like after one year, but the fact that saw 2015 MAC POY Justin Moss dismissed from the school and second-leading scorer Shannon Evans leave to follow Hurley before the season began and was still able to cobble together a good year speaks well of his skills.
One thing we do know is that the Bulls played fast; they were 23rd in the nation with an adjusted tempo of just over 73 possessions per game. The offense got to the glass and the free throw line reasonably well, but an above-average rate of threes attempted met with a below-average success rate. They also were miserable in assists per made bucket, which hints at a stagnant ball. Defensively, they don't force many turnovers, but they defend the glass with reasonable success.
Like all the cool kids, Lamonte Bearden is heading to WKU to play for Rick Stansbury. The guard averaged 13.7/2.9/4.2 as a sophomore last year, leading the team in PPG, APG, and steals. That's going to sting. Lost to more traditional means is guard Jarryn Skeete, who ran out of eligibility after posting 7.9/3.2/2.2 on a jarring .316/.333/.702 shooting line. He was 26-90 (.289) from inside the arc, helping him to a 97.6 ORtg.
Also graduating is wing Rodell Wigginton. He played fewer than 20 minutes per game and dropped an ORtg of 90 on his way to 7.o/5.3/0.7. His shooting line of .457/.238/.663 makes him look like Annie Oakley compared to Jarryn Skeete. Aside from unspectacular offensive numbers, Wigginton was a good defender and an excellent rebounder for his size, often dropping to play the four when Buffalo went small.
Blake Hamilton is a 6'6", 205-pound rising senior forward. Aside from Bearden, he was the key cog in Buffalo's machine, going for 13.1/7.1/2.5 on .455/.379/.739 shooting. He led the team in usage rate, EFG%, and DReb% was second on the team and first among returnees in assist rate and steal percentage. Despite his relatively diminutive size, he plays mostly the four. On the wing is 6'5" rising senior Willie Conner. He shot .457/.343/.733 en route to a 11.8/2.3/1.1 game line. He was second on the team with an ORtg of 112.8 thanks to his reasonable shooting and very good ball security.
The team's leader in ORtg was CJ Massinburg with a 113.3. The rising sophomore posted 11.3/4.1/1.7 on a very respectable .447/.389/.752 shooting line. The 6'3" guard scored it well from all three levels and excelled at getting to and converting from the line. Classmate Nick Perkins rounds out the interesting returning guys. He is a 6'8", 225-pound forward who rebounded well on the defensive end and shot .438/.330/.577 on his way to 7.6/4.3/0.3 per game. Sharing the ball wasn't his thing; he had 11 assists all year.
Okay, one more. Keep an eye on rising sophomore big man Ikenna Smart. He was buried on the depth chart last year, but he measures 6'10", 235. Maybe he's still a year away, but he flashed some good things in limited play as a freshman.
Dontay Caruthers is a 6'2" combo guard from the JuCo ranks. He can score and distribute, averaging 10 points and 5 assists per game as a freshman before sitting out last year due to injury. Joining him in the backcourt will be 6'4" shooter James Jones. He was listed by Illinois Prep Hoops as the #11 player in the state and is a good wing defender in addition to being a dead-eye shooter.
Brock Bertram is a 6'11", 250-pound hoss of a center from Minnesota. He has good hands and feet in the post, can score with his back to the basket, and sees the floor well. All of his athletic descriptions are qualified with "for his size," and he needs to get more explosive around the rim to compete at the D1 level. He's joined up front by 6'7", 195-pound power forward Quate McKinzie out of North Carolina. McKinzie is a high-energy, athletic forward who works hard on both ends of the floor.
The class is in many ways capped by late signee Davonta Jordan, a point guard out of Florida. He started for Montverde Academy last year and helped them to a #5 national ranking. He's a fast-paced player who stays in attack mode in the full and half court. His shooting is a work in progress, but he sees the floor well and is a solid defender.
Buffalo is another NCAA tournament contender coming in to challenge Xavier in the early part of the year. They're not a great shooting team, but they play quickly and will challenged Xavier to mind their P's and Q's or risk giving up easy buckets all night. The Muskies have the talent to win this one, and they should be locked in on their last warmup before heading to Orlando for the Puerto Rico Tip-off.