Sunday, February 01, 2009


Between the Turner Gill saga, not one but two recent Before and After appearances, and even a road trip that took me through the Western New York area, it feels like I've spent way too much time thinking about Buffalo recently. I really wish ESPN2 had picked a different mid-major spotlight game for yesterday afternoon than the Bulls hosting woeful Toledo. But they didn't, and I'm not not going to watch a Saturday afternoon mid-major spotlight game on ESPN2, so you're getting some Buffalothoughts. Enjoy?

Yep, this kind of game.

Yeeeeeeeesh. Make no mistake: they may have won, 56-43, but for a team supposed to be the front-runner for a decent conference's league title and maybe even on the fringe of bubble discussion, Buffalo played a giant howling dog of a game. If they'd offered up that kind of dead fish-performance against a team that wasn't No. 283 in the most recent Pomeroy ratings--or even offered it up against the same team, but on the road--they'd have lost, and lost badly.

To wit: 30 percent shooting. 6-of-22 from beyond the arc against a team not particularly interested in defending the 3. A 2-for-12 stinker from leading scorer Rodney Pierce. A second-half scoring drought that went three seconds shy of seven minutes. Several "Bad D'antoni Suns" possessions where the correct instinct to push the ball in transition led to an incorrect decision to launch a quick jumper with a heel on the three-point line. And all this came at home against one of the worst defensive teams in the league! Sorry, Bulls, but if we take yesterday's performance at face value, you don't belong anywhere near an NCAA bracket.

There's a few reasons to think this was an anomaly, though. After a whole string of stellar outings--winning five straight against the entire rest of the top half of the league, three of them coming on the road, is no mean feat--the Bulls were likely due for an off-night. And to be fair, the shooting was about the only thing that was really off. Buffalo played some really energetic defense, obliterated the Rockets on the boards--18 offensive rebounds to 8--and only turned the ball over 8 times.

To boot, what you can't tell from the box score is that the Bulls did mostly play intelligent offensive basketball--particularly in the second-half drought, the Bulls attacked the Toledo zone exactly the way they should have. Dribble past the first defender, smart interior pass, kick-out when the defense converged to a wide-open three-point shooter. Too bad the Bulls couldn't have hit the broad side of a barn floating in the ocean. Or something. Combine the Bulls' rebounding and defensive tenacity and caution with the ball--rare is the game when a team takes 17 more shots and 10 more free throws than their opponent--with a shooting performance as abnormal from a positive perspective as this one was from the negative, and maybe the Bulls could hang with the right power-conference team.

That's a vigorous maybe though. Here's the stunner--the Bulls, bricks and all, aren't just tied for the MAC lead in defensive points-per-possession: they're tied with Miami for the league lead in offensive PPP as well. If the team we saw yesterday--better than they showed, but whose offensive ceiling is only going to be so high--really is the best the MAC has to offer, that five-year NCAA-victory drought is almost certainly going to extend by another year.

Anything to add about particular players? Not really. Big man Vadim Fedotov came off the bench and had some nice plays, but he had the benefit of playing against Toledo. Pierce was supposed to be the main individual attraction, and frankly he was terrible--wide-open bricked threes, bad decisions in transition, a 1-to-2 assist-to-turnover ratio. Ugh.

Do I have to say anything about Toledo? I hope not. They're a bottom-of-the-barrel team who played like it.

Recap of the weekend in Auburn news first thing tomorrow.

No comments: