Opening night jitters? Youth at point guard? First test on the road?
For UB, it's probably a combination of all three, as the Bulls struggled for much of the first 30 minutes, before a pulling away behind at dominant final four minutes over Niagara.
Here's five things we learned from opening night:
1. Neither team is in March form, but that's okay.
...because November in college basketball only really matters for teams playing for an at-large bid. The two teams combined for 35 turnovers in what can only be described as a "sloppy" opener, but it seemed especially so in the opening 12 minutes for the Bulls.
Buffalo committed nine turnovers in that opening stanza, and at one point turned the ball over on three straight possessions, struggling often to get the ball into the frontcourt. From there, the Bulls really steadied the offensive ship -- they were able to use their size advantage to win points in the paint by a 42-24 margin.
Niagara had turnover struggles of their own, but it's the paltry five assist total that a bit more troubling. The Purple Eagles couldn't get the ball inside for much of the second half, and were too reliant on jump shooting for their offense, which as we all know can rarely be sustained for 20 minutes.
Both teams should take some positives: Buffalo struggled for much of the game, gave up an eight point second-half lead, but found a way to rally in the final four minutes. For Niagara, they led the Bulls the entire first half, and only lost the rebounding battle by two to a much larger Buffalo team.
2. Related: the new "emphasis" on traveling calls should be burned with fire.
Because this is who we ALL come to see...
I don't have an exact count -- but there were no fewer than four traveling calls in this game. (I think there were either five or six. But I remember four vividly.) The first call, of course, came with the ball handler 40-feet from the basket, and one of the calls came on a crucial Niagara possession in the final three minutes.
If it's blatant, I have no issues calling traveling. But if a guy's pivot foot shuffles an inch, is this really necessary? For a league that's trying to boost offense, this a funny way to do that.
3. Niagara is much better than the seven-win team from last season
Last season, the Purple Eagles were one of the worst teams in the nation at shooting the three. Tonight, they were a solid 6-16. (and 3-7 in the opening 20 minutes) The offense got to the free-throw line, the defense forced turnovers. Losing like this at home is always tough. But there's little doubt this team has a far improved product on the court than a season ago.
It wasn't a perfect night, but I was impressed with the play of Matt Scott. He led all scores with 21 points, but it was his ability to get to the free-throw line when the Purple Eagles offense was stalled in the second half that really stood out to me. He also had three of Niagara five assists, without a single turnover.
4. A case of mono will hurt the Bulls depth in the short term.
Buffalo guard CJ Massinburg missed tonight's game with Mono, and he's out indefinitely. Massinburg was one of four players last season to average double-figure scoring, and the Bulls could use a bit more depth in the backcourt.
That being said, the Bulls got a big night from freshman Quate McKinzie. The 6'8 forward hit 6-7 from the field and pulled down four rebounds in the win. Another first-year player, Dontay Cruthers, had quality minutes in the backcourt for UB.
5. Willie Conner will a huge say on the Bulls prospects of winning a third MAC title
There's no question Conner was a big part of Buffalo's success last season, but tonight he hit big shots from deep that really sparked the Bulls down the stretch. At 6'5, he's a versatile player that can play tough on the interior, but also take guys on the perimeter. Just a 34% three-point shooter a season ago, he hit 4-6 from deep in the opener. If that's a sign of his range truly expanding this season, the Bulls could be due another March run in the MAC.
More numbers than you really need to know, but are fun to know none-the-less:
2nd Chance Pts
Points off TO
Pts in the Paint
Tempo Tracker (Possessions per team)