Coach Reggie Witherspoon pulled several rabbits out of his hat in 2003-04 by winning 17 games despite a 9-11 start. Winning 17 shouldn't be as hard this time around. With five returning starters and a disruptive homecourt that virtually assures a win, the Bulls loom as a distinct threat to win their first league championship.
Buffalo learned the art of good shot selection, and with a renewed interest in pressure defense, the Bulls rebounded from their rocky beginning. Now, after recording the program's highest win total since the '96-97 season, the Bulls are primed and ready to take the next step.
Leading the way is MAC Player of the Year candidate Turner Battle, a savvy senior point guard. The starting five consists of seniors Battle and swingman Daniel Gilbert, juniors Roderick Middleton and Mario Jordan and sophomore Yassin Idbihi, who was named to the MAC's All-Freshman team.
Buffalo brings experience off the bench with junior Calvin Cage and seniors Mark Bortz and Jason Bird. Cage improved over the course of his sophomore season and developed into a reliable 3-point threat.
"We have to keep making strides and develop the players that we have and do the best job we can to recruit the best people and the best prospects to the university," said Witherspoon, the reigning MAC Coach of the Year. "It's going to take time developing them."
Buffalo is not without blemishes. If the conference tournament proved anything, it's that they need another low-post player who can defend and score. The staff was developing sophomore B.J. Walker for that role, but the enigmatic forward left the team in the middle of the season. Sophomore Brian Andre could grow into that player, but he played sparingly last season and is somewhat soft. Redshirt freshman Andrew Atman is a 7-footer and capable 3-point shooter, but he weighs 200 pounds.
The Bulls didn't sign a true center, but 6-foot-8, 200-pound Christian Schmidt will be one of the team's tallest players. Yet Schmidt probably won't play as much as freshman guard Wallace Hall, a Detroit native, who was considered a steal for Buffalo by many scouting services. He'll come off the bench to provide defense and depth in the backcourt.
The schedule, while not soft -- it includes a season-opening matchup against defending national champion Connecticut -- is free of too many sure losses. In all, it's a good prognosis for the Bulls, who potentially have their best team in school history.