The UB Bulls took care of St. Francis in the season opener this past Tuesday and we can now focus on the game everyone circled when the schedule came out, the showdown with West Virginia.
It is only the second game of the season and isn't a conference matchup but don't think for a moment this is a "feel good" game for the Bulls, it has implications. Implications internally, implications on postseason aspirations, and implications on the national perspective.
What does this game mean internally?
This is game is an evaluation. An evaluation for the players on the court, the coaches on the bench, and the program in its entirety. Mark Alnutt, Nate Oats, and everyone else involved in Bulls basketball are out to build something much more than MAC Championships and early round tournament wins. They want to build something similar to West Virginia.
A program with a history, an identity, and respected, accomplished leader. Bob Huggins has been with the Mountaineers for 11 seasons and has amassed 255 wins, averaging just above 23 per year. He has been to the tournament in nine of those seasons with a final four appearance in 2010. They are expected to be contenders year in and year out. This is what UB wants to be and tonight is a great matchup to see where the program is in this journey.
What does this game mean for postseason aspirations?
This is a resume builder. This is the summer internship you got during high school while your friends were out getting drunk and chasing tail. The MAC has NEVER had an at large bid to the big dance in March, want to know why? It is because everyone is getting drunk and chasing tail during the summer (non-conference) season, they aren't putting anything notable on their resume.
Nate Oats highlighted this in an interview with Rob Lucas on Star 102.5 ahead of their tournament game against Arizona last season. He said something along lines of the MAC needing to do a better job out of conference to get them on the map, get them chances to take down major schools, and get valuable content on that resume. This idea seemed to resonate within the conference as you see schools like Duke and Virginia Tech on the schedule of other MAC members.
You can't expect to get a job without any valuable experience. Just like you can't expect to get into the tournament without any valuable wins. A win against the 13th ranked team in the country will go a long way if by some chance the Bulls don't win the conference tournament.
What does this game mean for the national perspective of the Bulls?
This is a put the country on notice game, a coming out a party, a validation of the hype this team has received coming into the season. Analysts, media members, and college basketball "experts" know about UB and their potential. They are a quiet top 35 team in the country and are picked to be a possible mid-major noise maker come tournament time.
A win solidifies the hype, shows they can compete with anyone, and propels them closer to a little number next to their name as a nationally ranked team. A huge step in the journey of getting into the broader national spotlight and staying there.
I am excited, I won't be able to concentrate at work, and I can't wait until 9 o'clock tonight. This an incredible opportunity for Coach Oats and the squad. The Bulls are 10 point underdogs on the road against a ranked team and have a legitimate chance to walk away with a win. It won't be easy but it is a challenge that I know coach has the team ready for.
If you can't watch the game for whatever reason, make sure to follow Trainwreck Sports on Twitter and Instagram as Dengerate Al and Maniac will be in attendance giving you live coverage because you know, this train never stops.