Buffalo made waves last season by improving its record from 12-18 to 17-12. But that's not the scariest thing for the rest of the Mid-American Conference.
The bad news for Buffalo is the secret is out. The Bulls, who won 11 league games and averaged 75 points, no longer can expect opponents to take them lightly. How will MAC Coach of the Year Reggie Witherspoon keep Buffalo's momentum going?
"I've talked to them about the magnifying glass and being aware of different things around campus because we're really at a point that's never been on this campus," Witherspoon told the Buffalo News. "The only thing we talked about was continuing to get better every day."
Battle, Idbihi and senior F Mark Bortz will have to shoulder the load early on as several players recover from off-season injuries. Junior G/F Mario Jordan should be ready for the start of the season after tearing ligaments in his thumb. F Parnell Smith broke his nose and starting G Roderick Middleton underwent back surgery.
After winning nine of 11 to finish the year Buffalo is now considered a favorite in the MAC East. The Bulls shot 53.5 percent from the floor (45.7 percent from 3-point range) in their final six games.
With a renewed enthusiasm on campus Buffalo could be in store for another special season.
Buffalo is diverse and dangerous on offense with post men Yassin Idbihi, Mario Jordan and Mark Bortz complementing perimeter threats Turner Battle, Jason Bird and Calvin Cage. The Bulls were the only MAC East team to rank among the league's top 5 in rebounding offense and rebounding defense last year. Buffalo is one of few MAC teams to post a winning road record (8-6) and went 15-5 when scoring 70 or more points.
Defense was a sore spot last year for Buffalo, which ranked 12th out of 13 teams in field goal percentage defense and 3-point percentage defense. Though the Bulls ranked second in the league in steals (8 spg), they too often found themselves in high-scoring shootouts. Buffalo is largely untested in close games. Of the Bulls' final eight games, only one was decided by single digits.
17-12 overall, 11-7 in the MAC; lost to Toledo in the MAC tournament quarterfinals
Reggie Witherspoon (career 85-120); 6th year at Buffalo (41-97).
QUOTE TO NOTE
"I am delighted to see those guys get the recognition, although I know their goals aren't focused on individual awards." -- Buffalo coach Reggie Witherspoon, on the selections of G Turner Battle and C Yassin Idbihi to the preseason all-conference squad
SCOUTING THE NEWCOMERS
The success of C Yassin Idbihi prompted Buffalo to pillage the overseas market for F Christian Schmidt, a high school teammate of Idbihi's. Schmidt averaged 12.5 points in high school and shot 44 percent from beyond the international 3-point line. The 21-year-old will bring maturity to a veteran Bulls squad. Buffalo also added combo G Wallace Hall, who averaged 16 points, eight rebounds and five assists in high school. Hall chose Buffalo over MAC rivals Kent State and Eastern Michigan.
KEY EARLY-SEASON GAMES
Buffalo opens the year at defending national champion Connecticut, but a more important test comes Dec. 4 against Western Michigan. The Broncos handed Buffalo its worst loss of the 2003-04 season, an 84-54 thrashing in Kalamazoo. The Bulls need a much better showing against the defending MAC champs if they want to contend for a title this year.
Aside from several off-season injuries Buffalo has all the cards in its favor going into the 2004-05 campaign. The Bulls have strong leadership with four seniors and boast several promising young stars. Buffalo's greatest challenge will be handling the loftier expectations and its new role as a division favorite.
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUP
Point guard Turner Battle, shooting guard Jason Bird or Roderick Middleton, center Yassin Idbihi, power forward Mario Jordan, small forward Daniel Gilbert.
G Roderick Middleton (back), swingman Mario Jordan (thumb), F Parnell Smith (nose) and C Brian Andre (hand) likely will miss some portions of preseason practice. All are expected to be ready for the season opener. ... PG Turner Battle earned preseason all-conference honors for the second consecutive year. Battle led Buffalo in points (14.1 ppg), assists (4.1 apg) and steals (1.8 spg) last year. ... F Daniel Gilbert bolstered the Bulls' scrappy defense with 50 steals last year. Gilbert had a total of 38 steals in first two seasons at Buffalo.
Buffalo signed three recruits during the fall National Letter of Intent signing period: Greg Gamble, a 6-4, 195 pound guard from Niagara Falls, N.Y.; Eric Moore, a 6-1, 185 pound point guard from New Jersey's St. Benedict's Prep; and, Sean Smiley, a 6-2, 165 pound guard from Erie, Pa.