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SUNDAY NEWS DROP: THE BASKETBALL PIVOT, COACH MO WEIGHS IN ON DEFENSE & NIU PREVIEW
Men's and women's basketball off to promising starts; gut-check time yet again for football.
The Basketball Pivot: UB Men’s and Women’s Hoops Are Here & Hopes Are High
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It’s that time of year again—college basketball is off and running. Here at UB In 5, we’ll ease into hoops as the football season winds down (fingers crossed that the Bulls win out and catch a bowl game in December).
UB Men’s Basketball Notes
UB’s men’s basketball team is ESPN.com’s consensus pick to win the Mid-American Conference (read the linked article if you’re interested in gushing praise of Little Four rival St. Bonaventure). Athlon Sports has Buffalo pegged as the MAC winner and a #12 seed in the South bracket of the NCAA Tournament. CBSSports.com’s Matt Norlander ranks the Bulls as the 60th program in the country (out of 358, if you’re counting), writing:
This team can be nearly as good as the Nate Oats-coached squad from '17-18 that punked Arizona in the NCAA Tournament. Jeenathan Williams (17.6 ppg, 6.8 rpg), Josh Mballa (15.3 ppg, 10.8 rpg) and Ronaldo Segu (13.3 ppg, 4.3 apg) form by far the best trio in the MAC. Mballa is one of the best rebounders in America and Williams is considered the dude of all dudes in that league. Quiet, determined, takes no BS. Segu does just enough to set up the other two for success while still getting his own. The Bulls are not anticipated to be a deep team, but so long as they're healthy they'll wind up being one of the toughest, most physically challenging opponents for every team they play this season.
The UB men are coached by Jim Whitesell, known—like football head coach Maurice Linguist—as a crack recruiter. Buffalo is 36-21 in the Whitesell era and appeared in the postseason NIT earlier this year after a pandemic-marred 16-9 season.
The Bulls were 20-12 and had just lost to Miami (Ohio) in the MAC tournament in March 2020 when Whitesell’s first season came to an abrupt, COVID-related close.
UB had appeared in four of the previous five NCAA tournaments under coaches Nate Oats (now at #14 Alabama) and Bobby Hurley (Arizona State), reaching the second round three times.
The team is currently 0-1 on the season with a “good” 88-76 loss #6 Michigan, the defending Big Ten champion, in Ann Arbor. Highlights from the game included:
Through the first two days of the season, the 76 points scored by Buffalo were the second most against a Top 10 opponent. The only team higher was #9 Duke, who scored 79 against #10 Kentucky. (@UBmenhoops)
The 32 points by Jeenathan Williams were the most against Michigan by a non-conference opponent since the start of the 2010-11 season. Since 2010-11, only five players have scored at least 32 points against Michigan. (@UBmenshoops)
Trailing by 15 points at the end of the first half, the Bulls outscored the Wolverines, 40-37, in the final 20 minutes—not bad, considering UB only shot 17% from three for the game.
Buffalo plays on Monday night at 8 p.m. against North Texas. The road game will be televised on ESPN+.
UB Women’s Basketball Notes
Image from UBBulls.com
The UB women’s basketball team is 1-0 after demolishing crosstown rival Canisius, 102-42. The 60-point victory is UB's largest in the Division 1 era and the most since a 92-38 win over Youngstown State in 2009, according to UBBulls.com:
The Bulls showed their balance and depth as seven players scored in double figures, led by junior guard Dyaisha Fair who scored 16 points to go along with two assists and four steals. Reshirt fifth year forward Summer Hemphill recorded her first double-double of the season with 11 points and 10 rebounds. Sophomore Cheyenne McEvans scored 13 points and added five rebounds, while Loren Christie and Adebola Adeyeye recorded 12 points each. Freshman Georgia Woolley added 11 points to go along with six rebounds and three steals and senior Jazmine Young rounded out the double-figure scoring effort with 10 points.
Buffalo was ranked third in the MAC Preseason Head Coaches’ Poll behind Ohio and Bowling Green, earning three of 12 first-place votes. Fair was named to the preseason All-MAC team.
In other women’s basketball news:
Lexi McNabb signed a national letter of intent to play for Buffalo. From UBBulls.com:
“McNabb is a 5' 7" guard who comes to Buffalo from Chandler, Arizona where she starred at Seton Catholic High School, averaging 13.4 points, 2.7 rebounds, 2.3 steals and 2.8 assists last season. She also helped Seton Catholic win back-to-back Class 4A championships, scoring 21 points in the championship game. McNabb is playing her senior season at Lincoln Prep in Hamilton, Ontario, the same school as former Bull Hanna Hall.”
She’s the daughter of former NFL QB Donovan McNabb.
Longtime UB women’s basketball head coach Felisha Legette-Jack will have her #33 retired by Syracuse University today when the Orange open their ACC schedule at home against Notre Dame. The game is at noon and televised on the ACC Network.
“When she took off the Orange uniform for the final time in March 1989, Legette-Jack owned the Syracuse women's basketball career records for points, rebounds, field goals made and attempted, and free throws made and attempted,” Cuse.com reports. “More than 30 years later she remains in the top 10 in career points, rebounds, and field goals made and attempted. The mark she made on the program is undeniable.”
The UB women don’t play again until Nov. 20, and it’s a big one: a showdown against #1 South Carolina in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in The Bahamas. Depending on the results of that game, Buffalo will face either #10 Oregon or #38 Oklahoma in the next round.
Coach Mo Presser: No Excuses, Lots of Butts
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Buffalo head coach Maurice Linguist wants you to know the Bulls (4-6 overall, 2-4 in the Mid-American Conference) are working hard.
In a nine and a half minute press conference on Friday, he noted that his team is “competing our butt off,” “continuing to battle our butt to fight for our fifth win,” redshirt fifth year senior TE Jake Molinich “works his butt off,” the coaching staff had to “fight our butts off” to recruit junior DT Daymond Williams, who “has done nothing but work his butt off” since arriving in Buffalo, and that UB is both “straining our butt off” and “fighting our butt off” to beat MAC West-leading Northern Illinois on Wednesday. Careful about the straining, coach!
All butts aside, Linguist shared some takes on the Bulls’ floundering defense, which has been torched for 101 points over the past two games—losses that erased Buffalo’s chance to repeat as MAC East champ and put its bowl hopes in serious jeopardy.
ON THE SECONDARY: Miami (Ohio) QB Brett Gabbert completed 21 of 28 pass attempts for 351 yards and four touchdowns as well as downfield completions of 58 yards (TD), 39 yards (TD), 28 yards, and 27 yards in the RedHawks’ 45-18 win last Wednesday. When asked about adjustments to the secondary, Linguist gave a similar answer to a similar question after Bowling Green befuddled the defensive backfield in a 56-44 thrashing.
”Just fundamentals and being disciplined,” he said. “So much of defensive back is fundamentals, it’s technique, but it’s also that inner competition a player has to deny their man the ball. …So we’re going to continue to coach the details, coach the fundamentals and the technique—all the pre-snap communication and all the post-snap effort and technique that’s involved with the play—and continue to pour that into the guys in the locker room, and to continue to improve and make those guys better.”
ON JIBRAHN CLAUDE: Asked about the emergence of the freshman safety from Loganville, Georgia—who made six total tackles and forced a fumble in his first action as a DB since the season-opening win over Wagner—Linguist credited the young man’s drive.
”He’s a guy that, in practice, that has been consistent with his work ethic,” Linguist said. “He’s caught our attention through practice reps, scout team reps. We said, let’s bring him over to the travel squad, let’s see what he can do, let’s work him into some situational football. And the more that we’ve given him, the more he’s been able to handle, so his role has increased. …It’s been a maturation process throughout the season. We’ll continue to build on that and see how much we can move the needle in the regular season and postseason.”
ON DAYMOND WILLIAMS: Linguist has lauded the big junior defensive tackle from Round Rock, Texas in the past, and hailed his recruitment as one of the first coups of his UB tenure. According to 247 Sports, Williams had offers from 11 other schools—including MAC rivals Kent State and Akron, as well as #15 UTSA—before picking the Bulls. Williams has 31 total tackles, with 7.5 for losses, this season.
When asked about the performance of the 6’3, 283-lb. NJCAA All-American honorable mention, Linguist noted Williams is the future around which his defense will be built.
”He chose Buffalo, and he’s done nothing but work his butt off every single week,” Linguist said. “We’re going to continue to build upon him as a guy who can really anchor a d-line for us and play well and play at a high level. He’s just scratching the surface of who he is and what he can become, because we haven’t been with him very long. Four months to be with a player isn’t very long. So we’re excited about his future.”
UP NEXT: Northern Illinois
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The Bulls finish their home schedule against MAC West-leading Northern Illinois (7-3, 5-1). NIU is actually ranked below UB in ESPN’s Football Power Index despite winning six of its last seven games.
The game is slated for Wednesday at 7 p.m. and will be televised on ESPN2.
The Huskies, despite their record, are not trouncing their opponents. Five of those six wins are over MAC teams, and the Huskies’ average margin of victory in those games has been a slim 3.8 points. A few bounces differently, and this could be a very different season for NIU.
The Huskies’ junior kicker John Richardson knocked home a 29-yard field goal—his fifth of the game—with 26 seconds to play in a 22-20 win at Toledo on Oct. 9.
Northern Illinois came back from an 18-point road deficit to beat Central Michigan, 39-38, on Oct. 23 on freshman kicker Kanon Woodhill’s 26-yard FG with 54 seconds left in the game.
NIU took the coveted Bronze Stalk trophy home to DeKalb, Illinois with a 30-29 win over Ball State on Nov. 10 courtesy of a 32-yard Richardson FG as time expired. Richardson, on a personal level, promptly lost it.
The Huskies also won a heart-stopping 22-21 decision over Georgia Tech in the season opener when redshirt senior WR Tyrice Richie caught a two-point conversion pass following a Rocky Lombardi-to-Clint Ratkovich TD with 38 seconds to play.
Still, it’s a pretty impressive turnaround for head coach Thomas Hammock’s bunch, who went winless in 2020.
“I think it says a lot about the players in that locker room and the job that the coaching staff has done over there,” Linguist said. “They play really physical up front, they have a really strong running game, and their quarterback (Lombardi, a Michigan State transfer) is efficient. We were watching the game when they were playing Ball State the other night, and you just saw their offense make plays over and over again. You saw their defensive line set the edge, their linebackers plug and fill, and the DBs played competitive as heck. And they were clean on special teams. So they have our attention.”
NIU On Offense: Threats Everywhere
Players to watch on NIU’s offense include:
Lombardi, a former three-star prospect who showed flashes of greatness in an otherwise disappointing three-year career with the Spartans.
Freshman WR Trayvon Rudolph, who rung up 309 receiving yards and three TDs on 14 receptions in the Huskies’ 52-47 loss to Kent State
Freshman RB Jay Ducker, who stepped in after fellow frosh RB Harrison Waylee (574 rushing yards and four TDs in five games) was injured in early October, and has posted 699 rushing yards and three TDs in relief.
Northern Illinois averages 220.5 rushing yards per game, second in the MAC behind Kent State.
NIU On Defense: Less Threatening
If the NIU offense—which includes impact players like WRs Ritchie and Cole Tucker, a tough, versatile back in Ratkovich, and cold-blooded kicker in Richardson—looks terrifying in light of the Bulls defensive woes, there’s a silver lining in the sense that UB can put points on the board, too.
Defensively, NIU is susceptible to the ground game, allowing 208.9 rushing yards per contest, the second-worst number in the conference. Ball State hung 246 rushing yards on the Huskies last week. Northern Illinois also allows 33.3 points per game, third-worst in the MAC.
Freshman safety (lot of impact freshmen on this team!) C.J. Brown leads NIU with 67 total tackles. Freshman LB Jaden Dolphin has the Huskies’ only interception this season—Northern Illinois is one of the few FBS teams who take the ball away less than Buffalo. Freshman DT Devonte O’Malley leads the team with 2.5 sacks.
We’ll see what happens. Once again, it’s gut-check time for a team that’s been behind the eight-ball since May. A win means postseason hopes survive. A loss means hopes for a bowl game, and the sweet infusion of cash and publicity that comes with it, are gone.
“There’s been a sense of urgency since day one,” Linguist said. “We have a sense of urgency every single day that we walk into the building. Our expectations remain extremely high. That sense of urgency has remained there, and it’s been there since we were hired back in May.”