For the second year in a row, the Buffalo Bulls will enter the season with an unexpected and crucial player missing.
Guard Lamonte Bearden decided last week to transfer from the program, leaving the Bulls without a player that started 27 games on their the MAC tournament championship team. The Bulls have made the NCAA Tournament two straight seasons out of the MAC, but some offseason bad luck may catch up to them. Just last year, Buffalo lost MAC Player of the Year Justin Moss before the season after the star was dismissed from the program.
Nate Oats is coming into his second season as Buffalo head coach and has again been dealt a tough hand. Oats showed that he is able to deal with adversity, but last year went well due to players like Bearden returning and stepping up their game to help steady the transition.
Bearden has not decided on where he is going to play next, but he will be a transfer with plenty of options. Whichever school Bearden plays with will be getting a talented guard that is experienced and will make an impact as soon as he steps on the floor. There have been reports that Bearden is setting up visits with the Oregon Ducks and Wichita State Shockers among others.
Meanwhile in Buffalo, the Bulls still figure to be a contender in the MAC, provided they can find a guard to replace Bearden.
Enter CJ Massinburg.
Massinburg appeared in all of Buffalo's 35 games, starting seven. He averaged 11.3 points per game during his freshman campaign and will be expected to play a bigger role. Along with Massinburg, the Bulls have freshman guard James Jones who will now be given a shot to play with the depth at guard dwindling.
So with the backcourt seemingly in a good spot, the frontcourt could be ready to shine as well. Buffalo returns Blake Hamilton, Willie Conner and Ikenna Smart, who started in the majority of the team's games last year. Along with these three, Raheem Johnson is like a new recruit after redshirting his senior season with injury.
Losing Bearden hurts and there's no way around it, but the cupboard is far from bare in Buffalo. Expect the Bulls to be a factor all season.