by Bob Gaughan, Buffalo Sports Page
It’s been about two months since Nate Oats left UB basketball for the University of Alabama. It’s been a month and a half since assistant coach Jim Whitesell was promoted to head coach. So let’s catch up with UB hoops and see how the prospects for next season look.
The historic senior class of CJ Massinburg, Dontay Caruthers, Jeremy Harris, Nick Perkins and Montell McRae are gone. That leaves a huge void from a team that was ranked all last year in the top 25. The days of going 32-4 and losing to the eventually runner-up for the National Championship maybe over but that doesn’t mean this team is going to be bad. What’s left still is a very good team.
Point guard Davonta Jordan is back. Jordan is the best perimeter defender in the MAC. He can take a team out of their offense better than anyone in the conference and is one of the better defenders in the nation. Expect him to lead the team in charges taken with over 20 again this year.
Jayvon Graves was the fourth leading scorer on the team after the big 3 of Massinburg, Harris and Perkins. He averaged 10 points per game. Expect that number to increase, as he will be given more opportunities to score.
The Bulls will have Antwain Johnson as a shooting guard this year. Johnson transferred last year from Middle Tennessee State as a senior transfer. He sat out last year but was able to practice with the team. All reports are that Johnson is the real deal. He was very impressive in practice, so much so that I expect him to be the best player on the team this year. The only bad news is that he will be on the team for just one year. He’s really good and could fill some of the void left by CJ Massinburg.
Ronaldo Segu was impressive as a back-up point guard last year in limited time as a true freshman. He will get more time this year to show off his lightning quickness. I expect his minutes to double from 10 to 20 minutes a game.
Some players that played last year need to step up for a larger role this year. The name that comes to mind above all is Jeenthan Williams. Williams was one of the highest recruited players in the history of the program. His talent is obvious to all. He’s going to get more playing time and will need to show why he was so highly recruited coming out of high school.
David Nickelberry was the first key signing for Jim Whitesell and his staff. Nickelberry is a 6’7 JUCO transfer that played his freshman season at Memphis. Nickelberry is the type of player that Jeremy Harris was for the Bulls. He’s a mismatch nightmare for teams. He’s the type of versatile player offensively and defensively that Harris was.
Gabe Grant is a 6’5 small forward that like Johnson is a graduate transfer that practiced with the team but sat out last year. He played at Houston before coming to Buffalo.
The loss of Nick Perkins is tough to replace. Good big men in the MAC are hard to find. One player that will get more playing time is Brock Bertram. The 6’11 center from Minnesota is going to have to give the Bulls a solid 10-15 minutes per game. Bertram hasn’t been needed as much his first couple of years but he will get more time his last two years.
The interesting prospect at Center is freshman recruit David Skogman. Skogman was being recruited by Marquette, Texas Tech and Nebraska when he suffered a heart attack while playing an AAU game last year. Skogman went through a battery of tests at the hospital and nothing was found. He played his senior year of high school in Waukesha, Wisconsin. Skogman could always shoot from the outside but the 6’10 big man has added 40 lbs and has improved his post up game as well. He has the game to be the big man of the future for the Bulls, only question is how quickly he develops and how much playing time does he get in year one.
The bottom line is that the first year under Jim Whitesell the Bulls are still going to be a very good basketball team. They should still be one of the better team in the MAC and will contend again for the NCAA tournament by having a good chance to win the MAC title. They have veteran leadership of Jordan, Graves and the addition of senior Antwain Johnson is huge. This team will win over 20 games again next year. The team should go 8 or 9 deep. The days of 32-4 might be over but the days of still contending for the MAC title and a NCAA berth are alive and well.