By Rob Santander
Twenty three short years ago, The University at Buffalo Men’s Basketball team made the jump from Division II Basketball to the notoriously more competitive Division I level.
In all fairness to the Bulls, one must understand the club’s not so distant past to project where they will end up this post season. For all intents and purposes, the ascension of Buffalo basketball began in 2013 when former athletic director Danny White made the strategic move of hiring Bobby Hurley. Hurley comes from a family that lives and breathes basketball. Bobby Hurley is the son of Robert Hurley Sr, a nationally renowned High School Basketball coach with twenty six state championships, four national championships, and three “USA Today National Coach of the Year” awards to his name. With a Hurley running the show, the team was bound for success right?
The Hurley hiring had a ripple effect on the program, the hire brought instant buzz and made Buffalo a more attractive spot to recruits than ever before.
Buffalo appeared in the NCAA tournament for the first time in Hurley’s second season, but following the loss against West Virginia, bigger programs were vying for Hurley’s services. This left a young assistant by the name of Nate Oats at the helm of the Buffalo program, tasked with picking up where Hurley had left off. Oats himself was no slouch, winning a state title at Romulus High School in Detroit, Michigan in 2013.
Coach Oats’ State Championship is noteworthy because it cemented his reputation as a leader and motivator of men even on the High School level. This is something Bobby Hurley took note of when he decided to hire Oats onto his staff following the 2013 season.
Oat’s first class of freshman have served as the heartbeat of this year’s team. He has five seniors in his regular rotation, including a pair of four-year contributors who double as his leaders and most productive players. Guards CJ Massinburg (18.4 PPG), Jeremy Harris (13.8 PPG), forwards Nick Perkins (13.7 PPG) and, Dontay Caruthers (9.6 PPG) headline a group of gritty, dependable leaders once courted by Oats’, now in their senior season.
Coach Oats and his players have done a superb job at improving year by year, capturing national attention in the process. In March 2018, the program completed another milestone by way of blowing out fourth seeded Arizona by the score 89-68 in the first round of the NCAA tournament; the program’s first NCAA tournament win ever. In that contest, the Bulls matched up against at least two current NBA players, including the first overall pick of the 2018 NBA draft, Deandre Ayton.
There’s little debate that this has been a historic season for the Bulls, who embarked on a ten game winning streak to open the year. This, coupled with resume building marquee road wins at West Virginia and Syracuse have propelled UB into the AP Top 25 poll; where they have been ranked for fourteen straight weeks, a new Mid-American conference record.
Could they win an NCAA tournament game for the second straight year?
Last season, it was the upstart Loyola-Chicago Ramblers of the seldom mentioned Ohio-Valley Conference that won over the hearts and minds of college basketball fans nationwide on their way to the Final Four. In 2018-2019, Buffalo has been showing its loyal fans repeatedly that it can be a Final Four team.
What do you think? #HornsUp