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Mack on MAC: Buffalo's conference gives Khalil something to prove

By Jay Skurski

Khalil Mack doesn't want to call it a "label," but knows playing in the Mid-American Conference means people look at him differently than if he were doing his thing in the Southeastern Conference.

"No doubt. Everybody wants to know, especially from a scout's standpoint, how did I get to Buffalo?" Mack said this morning following his workout at UB's Pro Day inside the Buffalo Bills' field house. "It's nothing but a blessing, man. I'm glad I got a chance to play here throughout my college career. Seeing guys like James Starks and Naaman Roosevelt, Davonte Shannon, all these guys that instilled that greatness in this program, rubbing off on me."

A quick refresher on how Mack did arrive in Western New York: He was lightly recruited out of Westwood High School in Fort Pierce, Fla., after only playing one season of varsity football. Even though he produced 140 tackles and nine sacks in a 10-2 season, his only FBS scholarship offer came from UB because there wasn't a lot of tape on him.

With the Bulls, Mack chose No. 46 as a reminder of the ranking assigned to him in EA Sports' NCAA football game.

He was asked today whether now -- with it looking like a lock he'll be drafted in the top 10 in May -- he'll find it difficult to find such motivation.

"Not at all. I set goals for myself. I'm going to continue to work hard and get better. I don't feel like this is my final goal, in a sense. I feel like there is a lot more that I have to prove, especially coming out of the MAC conference," he said. "I feel like I've got to go out there and dominate on the next level, and I'm working hard to do that.

"I feel like it's not a label on you, but it's kind of like, 'ok, they taking it for granted.' But until they get to feel what you be coming off the edge with, and hitting them in the mouth ... that's what I'm out to prove."

Khalil Mack lowers 40 time at UB Pro Day

By Jay Skurski

Khalil Mack was too focused to notice that a crowd had formed.

Representatives from all 32 NFL teams gathered this morning inside the Buffalo Bills' field house, with all eyes focused on the former University at Buffalo linebacker.

Although the show lasted only four-and-a-half seconds, nobody left disappointed.

That was the consensus time it took Mack to run the 40-yard dash at the Bulls' Pro day, further solidifying his status as a top-10 candidate for the first round of the NFL Draft in May.

"That's a blessing," Mack said when told that every NFL team was represented. "It felt good being out here, especially on a field I've practiced at a couple times throughout my career. It felt like home."

Mack chose to run the 40-yard dash and go through positional drills today, choosing to stand on his results from the NFL Scouting Combine last month in Indianapolis in other events.

"I knew I wanted to do the 40 coming in after the combine. Based on the time that I had, I knew it was important for me and my confidence to go back out and try to get under 4.6, which I knew I'm capable of doing, said Mack, who ran an official 4.65 in Indianapolis. "I decided to do the drills because you can always get work in, especially if there's 32 teams watching."

One veteran scout reportedly had Mack timed as low as 4.45 seconds today, but most other stopwatches had him anywhere between 4.53 and 4.55.

Oakland Raiders General Manager Reggie McKenzie, Cleveland Browns head coach Mike Pettine and Bills General Manager Doug Whaley were among NFL personnel from teams with top-10 picks who watched Mack work out.

"He' as advertised. He's not just a guy that looks the part," said Pettine, the former Bills' defensive coordinator. "He's an explosive athlete. He's had production -- one of his best games was against Ohio State -- that's something you have to factor into it. This is a rare guy."

"It just perpetuates what most people think about him. He's an explosive player that has range and speed," Whaley said. "You see it on tape, and this just confirms it. I'm happy for the guy. I'm happy for UB."

Mack said he's tried to block out any of the talk about where -- and how high -- he'll be drafted.

"I don't try to notice that, you know what I mean? I try to keep that on the back burner," he said. "I'm still working hard, and that's what it's about with me. I don't focus on the attention toward me, but I'm out here working hard. ... I want to continue to get better."

Big 4 Hoops Scenarios

By Bob DiCesare

Here's where the Big 4 basketball teams stand as of 6 p.m. Saturday:

MAC

Men

UB has clinched at least a tie for the East Division title and it becomes an outright championship if Bowling Green beats Akron tonight. More importantly, the Bulls have clinched a top-four finish within the MAC overall and have earned a bye into no less than the quarterfinals in Cleveland. They can finish top 2 by winning their final two games regardless what happens in tonight's Toledo-WMU game. The Bulls are at Akron Tuesday and home to Bowling Green next Saturday.

Women

UB (9-7) has the tiebreaker advantage over Toledo (8-7) as they battle for the No. 4 seed and bye into the quarterfinals. WMU (8-8) lurks. UB has Akron (18-8, 12-3) and Kent (6-20, 3-12) at home. Toledo plays Central Michigan (18-9, 14-1) Sunday and finishes with Eastern Michigan and Ball State. If UB wins out it's in the quarters. If Toledo loses to CMU the Bulls can take probably still take the No. 4 seed with a 1-1 finish. That presumes CMU beating WMU, never a sure thing in a rivalry game.

MAAC

Men

Canisius finishes with the No. 2 seed if it wins at Manhattan Sunday AND Quinnipiac loses to Marist. The Griffs get the No. 3 seed if they beat the Jaspers AND Quinnipiac beats Marist. A loss gives Canisius the No. 4 seed  and a MAAC Tournament quarterfinal game against Siena on Friday in Springfield.

Niagara will be the No. 11 seed and face the No. 6 (either Rider, Saint Peter's or Marist) at 9 p.m. Thursday in Springfield.

Women

Canisius and Niagara are 8-11 and tied for the No. 6 seed heading into Sunday's finales. Canisius is home to fifth-pace Rider (9-10) and Niagara is home to Fairfield (14-5). If Canisius and Niagara both win there will be a three-way tie for seeds 5-7. Canisius would be 3-1 among the trio, Niagara 2-2 and Rider 1-3. If Canisius wins and Niagara loses the Griffs take the No. 5 seed based on a sweep of Rider and Niagara becomes either the No. 7 or 8 seed depending on the tiebreaker with Manhattan (8-12). If Canisius and Niagara both lose it's a three-way tie for Nos. 6-8 among Canisius, Niagara and Manhattan with Manhattan being 3-1 in the group, Niagara 2-2 and the Griffs 1-3.

ATLANTIC 10

Men

Bona is 6-9 and No. 8 in the conference and can go no higher. They can drop no lower than No. 10. La Salle (5-8) and Duquesne (4-10) also factor in. Bona finishes at VCU. La Salle was playing Fordham Saturday and still has games with George Mason and Saint Joseph's. Duquesne has UMass and George Mason.

Women

The Bonnies are done with the regular season and will be the No. 2 seed behind Dayton in the Atlantic 10 Tournament. They'll play the winner of the 7-10 game in the quarterfinals at 5 p.m. Friday in Richmond.

Schedule Out: UB-Baylor on ESPN

By Bob DiCesare

Five appearances on ESPN channels including a Friday night home game against Baylor on “the big screen” highlight the 2014 UB football schedule released today.

The Bulls will be looking for a more competitive result when they entertain Baylor on Sept. 12 at UB Stadium in a game set for broadcast on ESPN. The Bears walloped UB, 70-13, in Waco, Texas, last season en route to the Big 12 championship and the distinction of being the nation’s highest-scoring offense. A number of key players on that team are NFL-bound however quarterback and NFL prospect Bryce Petty returns.

UB also landed a trio of weekday Mid-American Conference East Division games on either ESPN2 or ESPNU. It will visit Ohio on Wed. Nov. 5 then return home to face Akron on Tues. Nov. 11 and Kent State on Wed. Nov. 19. The season concludes with the traditional Black Friday finish, this time at UMass. That will be aired on either ESPNU or ESPN 3.

The TV appearances are indicative of program perceived as on the rise. UB went 8-5 last season and played in the second bowl game in school history, a 49-24 loss to San Diego State in the Great Idaho Potato Bowl. However, there are major holes to fill with the graduation of five first-team all-MAC performers -- linebacker and MAC Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack, running back Branden Oliver, wideout Alex Neutz, guard Jasen Carlson and defensive back Najja Johnson.

 The schedule contains a couple of oddities. As earlier reported, the Bulls will play seven home games, two of them against FCS teams, and only one of those can count toward the six-win mandate for bowl eligibility. UB opens against Duquesne on Aug. 30 and welcomes Norfolk State to UB Stadium on Sept. 20. Also, because of the season’s late start and early finish UB will experience two bye weekends within a three-week span. The Bulls are off the weekend of Oct. 18, play Central Michigan at home on Oct. 25 and then are off again the weekend of Nov. 1.

The schedule:

 Sat. Aug. 30   vs. Duquesne

Sat. Sept. 6    at Army

Fri. Sept. 12    vs Baylor

Sat Sept. 20 vs. Norfolk State

Sat Sept. 27  vs Miami

Sat. Oct. 4    at Bowling Green

Sat. Oct. 11  at Eastern Michigan

Sat. Oct. 25  vs. Central Michigan

Wed. Nov. 5  at Ohio, 8 p.m.

Tues. Nov. 11  vs. Akron, 8 p.m.

Wed. Nov. 19   vs Kent State, 8 p.m.

Fri. Nov. 28     at UMass

All other start times are to be determined.

UB-Akron Game Wrap

UB 96, Akron 90

How UB Won: Just don't see how it's possible for the Bulls to play a better offensive game. They shot 63.3 percent from the field against a quality defensive team. They had 21 assists on 38 field goals, including a career-high eight by Javon McCrea. Four players hit double figures and three went for 20 or more. They only turned it over eight times, and two of those came in the opening few minutes. It was reminiscent of when they thrashed Western Michigan, 84-63, at the end of January. When the Bulls get rolling it's a sight to behold.

What it Means: Vital victory that ties UB with Akron atop the East and puts the Bulls back in the top four in the overall standing. A slip in this one with three of the last five on the road would have strained their chances of avoiding the long road to Cleveland. Odds are they'll still need to win at either Kent, Akron or Ohio.

Player of the Game: Javon McCrea is having just a monster second half to his second season. The latest: 20 points, 13 boards, eight assists and three blocks. He's down to 20 points away from becoming the UB's all-time leading scorer. And since he's never been fond of Kent State, doubtless he wouldn't mind doing on Saturday so long as it comes in UB's first-ever road win over the Golden Flashes.

Player of the Game, Losing Effort: Zips forward Demetrius Treadwell must be the best power forward in the conference outside McCrea. He had 21-7-4.

Extenuating Circumstances: The Zips were without forwards Nick Harney (suspended) and Reggie McAdams. Sharpshooter Jake Kretzer suffered a four-stitch cut and a concussion in a second-half collision with Justin Moss's elbow. And the Zips showed UB little of their zone. The rematch March 4 in Akron will be interesting.

Stat Check: UB guards -- Josh Freelove, Jarod Oldham, Jarryn Skeete and Shannon Evans -- combined to go 22 of 31 from the field. That is just sick.

Finishing: UB got lax offensively in the Ohio loss, taking a few shots that probably weren't in their best interests. This time when Akron made its runs, the Bulls attacked the rim. They totaled 54 points in the paint.

Stat Check II: UB's 63.3 percent shooting night ranks fifth in the D-I era.

In the House: Attendance has been picking up. The Bulls went over 5,000 for Ohio Saturday and followed up with 3,579 Wednesday.

-- Bob DiCesare

UB-WMU Game Wrap

UB 84, Western Michigan 63

Why UB Won: If the Bulls have a better offensive game in them, look out. Just about everything clicked, as evidenced by 24 assists on 33 baskets, five players in double figures in scoring and four in double figures in shot attempts. And they didn't settle, scoring 52 points in the paint. Offensively speaking, it was a January masterpiece.

Turning Point: After watching his starters fire away at will early and miss some easy shots Bobby Hurley temporarily benched every one of them. They returned with a renewed focus and pounded it inside to Javon McCrea, who scored 10 of the game's next 12 points.

Player of the Game: The timeliness of his outburst gives McCrea (20 points, six boards) the slightest edge over freshman guard Shannon Evans (17 points, seven assists). But if you want to argue for Evans, I fully understand.

Stat Check: The Bulls made 1 of their first 9 shots and 32 of their next 55, finishing the game at 51.6 percent.

Stat Check II: Point guards Evans and Jarod Oldham combined for 15 assists against just three turnovers.

Stat Check III: Oldham was the primary guard on David Brown and held the MAC scoring leader to 11 points, more than 7 under his average.

Stat Check IV: This was WMU's most lopsided loss since Jan. 9 of last season.

Mending: Guard Jarryn Skeete missed his second straight game (knee).

What It Means: Teams ideally want to finish in the top 2 and bye into the tournament semifinals. Nos. 3 and 4 bye into the quarterfinals. Everyone else has the to win four times to take the title and the NCAA berth (and good luck with that). At 5-2 the Bulls are tied for third with Ohio, a game behind Akron and Toledo.

In the House: Nice student turnout on a frigid night pushed the crowd to 3,052. There's much room for improvement.

What's Next: UB heads to Bowling Green Sunday for a pre-Super Bowl matchup with the Falcons (9-11, 3-4).

Bob DiCesare

Morris Returns to UB

By Bob DiCesare

Buddy Morris once told an ESPN writer he didn't care for the title of strength and conditioning coach. He'd prefer to be known as someone who oversees physical preparation.

"What we do emcompasses more than conditioning and strength," he said.

No matter what his title, Morris is eager to get back on the football field and work with young athletes. After three years away from the sport, Morris has been hired to oversee "physical preparation" for University at Buffalo football. He replaces Zach Duval, who left to take a similar job at Wyoming.

The job offer came out of nowhere. Morris was working out at the family's New York Sports Center when he was contacted by UB coach Jeff Quinn. The two met on Blizzard Tuesday and Morris, who worked at UB under Turner Gill in 2006, was sold. 

"I did not even apply for it," Morris said Sunday night. "Coach Quinn asked me if I'd be interested. I told him yes because I admire the work that he has done over there the past couple years.  I think they really have a sense of urgency.

"Coach Quinn and Danny White have that place headed in the right direction. There's a sense of urgency that I didn't feel was there before. Now don't get me wrong. I love Warde Manual and his regime and what he was trying to do. But I think coach Quinn and Danny White, there's just a renewed sense of urgency and a different attitude over there now."

Morris, 56, has an extensive football background. He began at Pitt, his alma mater, under coach Jackie Sherrill from 1980-90, then left to enter private practice. He returned to Pitt from '97 to 2001, then worked for Butch Davis with the Cleveland Browns. Soured on the NFL, Morris joined Gill at UB in 2006 but left six months later for another tour at Pitt under Dave Wannstedt. That ended when Wannstedt and his staff were dismissed after the 2010 season. Morris has been aching for football ever since.

"You know what, I've been miserable for three years," he said. "Not coaching, my wife has tolerated me. My kids, my step kids, my two daughters, have tolerated my mood swings. Come August I get a little loony because I'm not in camp and I'm not on the sideline. This is what I do. This is what I've done my whole life. This is my passion and at my age I haven't lost that."

Morris said he was at UB's training facility (the Morris Sports Performance Center) Sunday pondering what to add and subtract. He's scheduled to meet the team Jan. 26 and begin workouts the following day. As far as he's concerned, everyone starts with a clean slate.

"I don't look at what they did in the past," he said. "I look at what they did today. I don't worry about the past I only worry about the future and what happens from January 26 on. I've been doing this long enough. This is my 34th year. It's not my first rodeo. I don't know what I have until I get in there and start working. Then I'll assess. I'll assess people on an individual basis. I'll assess people by position.

"I truly, truly understand that training is a long-term process. I have no quick fixes. We're going to take our time. I'm a fanatic on technique. I'm a fanatic on the little things. The game's still a game of discipline and it starts in the weight room."

Morris, a bodybuilding champion, maintains a rigorous workout schedule himself.

"I'm still a spring chicken," he said. "I still train four days a week religiously. I have to because you have to see how beautiful my wife is."

 

Quinn to ND Intriguing but . . .

By Bob DiCesare

UB coach Jeff Quinn is working awfully hard on retooling his coaching staff for someone rumored as a candidate to reunite with Brian Kelly at Notre Dame.

The Bulls have hired esteemed strength and conditioning coach Buddy Morris to replace Zach Duval, who left for the same job at Wyoming. Morris, UB's S&C coach in 2006 before leaving for Pitt, starts on Jan. 27. He worked for the Panthers through 2010, returned to Buffalo, and told me tonight he has been aching to get back in football ever since.

Sources say two other departures from Quinn's staff likely will be absorbed from within. Notably, the intent is to have offensive coordinator/receivers coach Alex Wood drops receivers for quarterbacks after Don Patterson departed to become associate head coach/QB coach at UConn. Most recently, defensive line coach Jappy Oliver departed, reportedly for Virginia.

Would Quinn be actively reorganizing and hiring if he was looking to reunite with Kelly and become offensive coordinator at Notre Dame? Perhaps. Nothing's outside the realm of possibility in college coaching, and neither Quinn nor AD Danny White responded to messages left concerning the Notre Dame talk. A source close to Notre Dame football said it's not happening.

But there is an intriguing angle to the Notre Dame thing in that Quinn's at a crossroads as a head coach. To maintain a glow he has to sustain success comparable the eight-win season of 2013, and he has to do it with heavy graduation losses that include five first-team All-MAC players. Were the program to backtrack over the next couple of years his star dulls. J.D. Brookhart won the East and the MAC at Akron in 2005 and was fired after the 2009 season for failing to sustain. Coaching' can be a cruel world.

Now let's say Quinn became OC at Notre Dame -- he had the job for a week before being hired by UB -- and produced. His body of work at UB showing continual improvement would make him an OC with a successful head coaching stint, giving him a leg up on much of the competition if he pursued another head coaching vacancy at a higher level.

Just something to consider even though the winds appear to be blowing in the other direction.

Meanwhile, I'll be filing another blog on Morris's return to the Bulls in a short while.

 

UB-NIU Game Wrap

UB 67, Northern Illinois 46

How UB Won: By recruiting better players. This shouldn't have been much of a game and it wasn't. But the Huskies are tougher at home and the Bulls pay DeKalb a visit on Jan. 25.

Turning Point: No one figured a secondary turning point would be forthcoming once UB jumped out to a 16-0 lead through six minutes. But who would have figured that Northern Illinois, a team that's won all of 16 games since the beginning of the 2011-12 season, would draw within four by halftime? When the Huskies did just that the onus was on UB to reestablish command. The Bulls answered with a 16-7 burst to start the second half. Josh Freelove and Javon McCrea keyed it.

Player of the Game: Consider it a positive for the Bulls that there are too many to chose from. Will Regan scored the night's first six points and finished with a game-high 15. Freelove made two big threes early in the second half to settle down the offense. McCrea attempted just five field goals but scored 14 points and set a career high with eight blocks. They all played integral roles.

What It Means: Mark Bobby Hurley down as a winner in his first conference game as a head coach. The Bulls are in a four-way tie for first in the East, improved to 7-4 overall and have won three straight.

Stat Check: Shannon Evans went on a tear during the game-opening run and totaled 11 points. He also had seven of UB's 16 turnovers in 23 minutes. The freshman will come to appreciate that it's not a negative  reflection on his ability to make the simple play. And that there's much better guard play in the MAC than what NIU brings to the floor.

Stat Check II: NIU hammered UB for 17 offensive rebounds and managed 14 more field goal attempts. UB has to clean that up. Like by Saturday.

Tech-nicalities: McCrea and Hurley both were hit with T's late in the first half. McCrea was booked for a dead-ball push. It was legit. Officials are cracking down on that kind of gamesmanship, subtle as it was.  Hurley was nailed for vehement argument after both coaches were previously warned to zip it. Yes, Hurley had a real beef or two. Evans it appeared was fouled launching a three but instead shot one-and-one because the foul was curiously deemed after the play. But Hurley will catch on that, for a MAC game, the crew did a pretty solid job. 

In the House: With students on break and tipoff pushed back to 9 p.m., a crowd of 1,520 on a Wednesday night isn't all that bad, relatively speaking. NIU left home Tuesday, over-nighted in Cleveland and then came into Buffalo. They asked to have the game moved to Thursday. UB resisted. So the game was moved to 9 p.m. for the Huskies even though they had a 6:45 a.m. flight home.

Next Up: Eastern Michigan (9-5) took its trademark zone to Bowling Green Wednesday night and knocked off the Falcons, 56-51. BG shot just 30 percent from the field and 18 percent from three. The Eagles visit Alumni at 2 Saturday and they're anything but an easy out. Four of their five losses are to ranked teams. The other was to Purdue. And EMU has size.

-- Bob DiCesare

UB-NIU Hoops Moved to 9 p.m.

By Bob DiCesare

Tonight's Mid-American Conference opener between UB and Northern Illinois at Alumni Arena has been moved back two hours to 9 p.m. The change was made by the conference in part as a concession to the Huskies, who left via bus yesterday from their campus west of Chicago, spent Tuesday night in the Cleveland area and were to arrive here today.

 

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About Campus Watch

Bob Dicesare

Bob DiCesare

Western New York native Bob DiCesare covers UB football, Big 4 basketball and writes an occasional column. He still holds a grudge against Chris Ford who, he's convinced, cost St. Bonaventure the 1970 NCAA basketball championship.

@TBNDicesare | bdicesare@buffnews.com


Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz, a native of Lockport, has covered colleges for The Buffalo News since 1999. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism/mass communication from St. Bonaventure University and a master’s degree in humanities from the University at Buffalo. An endurance athlete, she has completed several triathlons, half marathons and marathons.

@amymoritz | amoritz@buffnews.com

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