Orange Crushed

UB’s 12-point win means a lot more than 11-0. 

Go ahead and add the Syracuse Orange to the list of powerhouses taken down by Nate Oats’ UB Bulls.  First it was 4th-seeded Arizona Wildcats in the NCAA Tournament, then the thirteenth-ranked West Virginia Mountaineers, and now, I-90 neighbor Syracuse.

Where the Orange did not hold as high of a ranking as Arizona or West Virginia during the Bulls’ win, they make up for it in historical relevance.  Jim Boeheim’s basketball teams have set the standard for basketball in New York State since he stepped in as head coach in 1976.  Yes, the Bulls were favored to win in Syracuse tonight, but there is nothing easy about walking into the illustrious Carrier Dome in front of 18,000 plus fans, and beating a program with the accolades of the Orangemen.

And that’s exactly what the Bulls did.

And that’s exactly why UB belongs on the national stage, and in the national conversation as one of the best teams in college basketball.

The Bulls win tonight is a testimony to the commitment Nate Oats and his players have given to UB and its fans.  In a climate where transfers between teams continue to rise, the Bulls have prided themselves on developing talent.  The five returning seniors, Dontay Caruthers, Jeremy Harris, CJ Massinburg, Montell McRae, and Nick Perkins, are all familiar faces from last year’s tournament team. Not only does this familiarity help team chemistry, it puts fans in the seats.  By now, Buffalo sports fans probably know CJ Massinburg’s name, and almost definitely recognize Nate Oats.

Equally as important as Oats and his players’ commitment is the gradual building that has occurred inside the University at Buffalo Athletics Department over the past decade.  From Ward Manual, to Danny White, to Allen Green, to Kathy Twist, and now Mark Alnutt, UB’s Athletics Directors and their staffs have shown a commitment not only to winning, but engaging the community around their teams.

Sure, winning is important, if not the most important puzzle piece to building a successful athletics department, but, UB cannot build a fanbase on John Calipari’s one-and-done system.  Bulls fans, better yet, Buffalo sports fans, need consistency and commitment from their teams, coaches, players, and administrators.

The few times in the past the Bulls have generated a buzz, familiar faces jumped ship.  Turner Gill took the Bulls to a bowl game but left a year later for greener pastures in the Big 12 at the University of Kansas.  Bobby Hurley didn’t last a month past the Bulls first NCAA Tournament appearance before he took off for Arizona State.  These coaches saw UB as a steppingstone to the bigger conferences, not a landing spot to build a perennial contender.

Hopefully Oats, (along with women’s basketball coach Felisha Legette-Jack and football coach Lance Leipold) chooses to stay . . . and the department gives them reason to, or at least protects itself.  Interim Athletics Director Kathy Twist insulated the basketball program by putting a clause in Oats’ contract extension requiring any school that hires the head coach away to pay UB a large sum of money for breaking the contract.  (Check out the full breakdown of Oats’ contract from our friends at UB Bull Run).  It is time to make this the standard, not the exception.

So, while the Bulls face yet another big test on Friday against a similar perennial March Madness contender, 21st-ranked Marquette, tonight’s win should feel extra sweet for UB fans.  Not only has the basketball team solidified itself in the national rankings, but University at Buffalo Athletics has firmly established itself as a new threat to the old regimes of powerhouse college athletics departments.

Photo Credit: Dennis Nett, Syracuse.com

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