University at Buffalo fans can study the men’s basketball depth chart all offseason and dream about the possibilities. The more you look at it, the better it gets. Look at the size across the board. Look at the depth. It’s good to be defending champions with almost everyone back and prime recruits in the fold.
Of course, success never comes easy. UB overcame big obstacles each of the past two years. To be sure, many challenges await the Bulls, two-time defending champions of the Mid-American Conference.
2015-16 Record: 20-15, 10-8 (3rd MAC).
Players lost: G-Jarryn Skeete (7.9 ppg, 27.8 minutes a game), F-Rodell Wigginton (7.0, 17.8 mpg).
Outlook: UB figures to be the preseason favorite in the MAC, with each of its top four scorers returning. The Bulls were heavily reliant on their athleticism and ability to drive to the rim last season. However, the perimeter shooting, a weakness much of the regular season, came around in a big way down the stretch. Through 27 games, UB ranked 11th in the MAC at 32 percent shooting from three and hit 6.5 treys a game. Over the last six games, UB shot 40 percent from three and made 10.8 a game.
It wasn’t just good fortune. The development of freshmen CJ Massinburg and Nick Perkins was huge, and they are two big reasons for long-term UB optimism. Massinburg averaged 14.3 ppg over the last 15 games and had 18 in the MAC title game vs. Akron. Perkins put up 14 in the MAC semis vs. Ohio and 20 on the Miami Hurricanes in the NCAAs. He averaged 10 ppg over the last eight and 11.6 over the last five. UB coach Nate Oats is optimistic about the potential of Nikola Rakicevic. He could give UB another knock-down perimeter shooter. Point guard Lamonte Bearden showed a glimmer or two of an outside shot. He needs to develop it this offseason.
Perkins now gives UB a low-post scoring presence. The low post looks much better with the return of injured Raheem Johnson. If he can give UB 15 minutes of strong rim protecting a game – hardly a big ask – that would be a very helpful in the MAC, which has good inside players. (Note that the designated starters on the roster are based on the best offensive lineup. Ikenna Smart started 30 games last season and may well start a ton next season.) Seniors Blake Hamilton and Willie Conner are excellent leaders. It would be good if recruit Dontay Carruthers, a combo-guard from Rochester, is a little more of a 1 than a 2. UB needs a backup to Bearden. It went 0-3 without him last season. Massinburg can do it, but he’s more of a 2 than a 1. (On the other hand, Massinburg is such a hard worker, don’t discount his potential to improve his handle this summer.) So that’s something to watch early in the season. The competition for playing time will be intense.
Scouting Carruthers: Carruthers played two seasons ago for UB assistant Brian Hodgson at Midland College in Texas. He sat out last season while recovering from a foot injury, so he has three years of eligibility. Here are comments from Carruthers’ high school coach, Darrell Barley, the former Canisius College star who leads Rochester’s East High:
“He started for me from ninth to 12th grade, He was a four-year starter. I didn’t think he was going to grow to be 6-2 but that took his game to another level. He can play the 1, play the 2, he can score. He’s a great assist guy. He’s a real strong, powerful guard. He’s not going to back down. That’s one thing I liked about him. I think of his defensive ability and how good he can be on the ball. He doesn’t want you to score. That’s his mentality, and if you do score he’s coming back at you with a vengeance. He was never afraid of competition.”
With Bearden on the court, Barley sees Carruthers working his way into playing time at shooting guard. However, Barley is optimistic about Carruthers’ ability to be a viable option at the point.
“He could get in the lane against anyone for us,” Barley said. “He can get in the lane and kick. We teach our guys that penetrate and kick is monumental when you get to the next level. We did a lot of that here at East High School. He played with Torrance Dyck, who played at Daemen. They were teammates. Torrance was a senior when Dontay was a sophomore. We really relied on those guys to share the ball and penetrate and kick for each other.”
Who was pursuing him out of high school? “Murray State, Ohio, Canisius,” Barley said. “He was on St. Bonaventure’s radar, but he had to take care of things academically. So that was the best move. I think the experience humbled him a lot and it also gave him the ability to develop his skills.”