With tipoff slated for 9:40PM tomorrow, our 13th seeded Buffalo Bulls square off as eight and a half-point dogs against the fourth seeded Arizona Wildcats in Boise, Idaho. This marks the third time in four years the Bulls are dancing with previous stops in Providence, Rhode Island (2016) and Columbus, Ohio (2015).
Simply put, Buffalo got a raw deal on Selection Sunday, you didn't have to read MANIAC's Selection Sunday recap or my compilation from Tuesday to know that. Arizona was vastly under-seeded after winning the Pac-12 regular season title and defeating USC in the Pac12 Tournament. Arizona boasts what may be the first overall selection in this year’s NBA Draft, DeAndre Ayton, an absolute man-beast standing 7’1 and weighing 250 pounds. Arizona’s frontcourt also includes another seven-footer in Dusan Ristic and their backcourt is comprised of a five-star high school recruit, Allonzo Trier, along with the extremely athletic Rawle Alkins.
On the flip side, Buffalo also received a lower seed than they earned after coasting to a 15-3 record in conference play and taking down Toledo in the MAC Tournament Championship game. The Bulls finished the year seventh nationally in points per game, received five top-25 votes in the final week, and saw five players get slated to All-MAC teams.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
DeAndre Ayton vs Everybody
Buffalo does not roster a single player that matches up with Ayton. Nick Perkins and Montell McCrae are the ones likely to check Ayton but they’ll need help early and often. Frankly, the Bulls haven’t faced anybody of his size nor caliber the entire season (or ever for that matter). Ayton will certainly get his but it will be up to the Buffalo backcourt to send help in the paint and disrupt his rhythm on the block.
Arizona ranked 202nd in three-point field goals made during the regular season so the Bulls can gamble by leaving shooters open to ensure the ball leaves Ayton’s hands. Forcing turnovers and accelerating the pace of the game will only aid UB’s chances of winning.
CJ Massinburg vs his confidence
Despite finishing on the First Team All-MAC, Massinburg really struggled down the stretch. In three games during the MAC Tournament, he shot 13 of 33 from the field, good for 39.4 percent. He also shot 25 percent from long distance during the same span. His body language rarely wavered but you could tell that he was affected by his poor shooting efforts.
However, it’s what Massinburg does besides score that is most detrimental to his team’s success. Not only is he one of the Bulls’ best scorers, but he impacts the game by making plays for his teammates, defending larger guards, and grabbing rebounds at a high clip. Buffalo will need him to contribute across the board if they have any chance to take down the Wildcats.
Nate Oats vs Sean Miller
With Oats locking into a five-year extension just shy of a week ago, it didn’t take long for his first chance to earn it. After taking over for Bobby Hurley in 2015, Oats has coached the Bulls to two tournament appearances in three years. This is arguably the best Bulls team ever assembled due to their high intensity defensive effort and fast-paced transition offense.
Oats will need the Bulls firing on all cylinders to upset a team many have slated for a lengthy tournament run. Buffalo’s formula for success all season included balanced scoring and a total “team” effort. Oats’ influence was at the forefront of that.
On the contrary, Sean Miller has added another excellent regular season to his resume in Tucson. Since taking over the Wildcats in 2009, Miller has guided Arizona to two Elite Eights and six Sweet Sixteen appearances. Yet to reach the Final Four, this Arizona team has another difficult road ahead of them even with the news of ACC Sixth Man of the Year De’Andre Hunter going down for top-ranked Virginia.
Miller will need to utilize his team’s obvious size advantage to prevent them from coming out flat in the opener against the Bulls. Just two seasons ago, Arizona lost as a six seed to 11th-seeded Wichita State in the opening round, 65-55.
KEYS TO A BULLS VICTORY
3-Point Shooting: This may seem obvious but the Bulls rely so heavily on their three-point shooting that they’ll need to make them at a high percentage to keep pace with Arizona’s offense. Most notably, they’ll need to shoot well coming out of halftime as they are a team that typically starts slow in the second half.
Force Turnovers: Buffalo’s success is dictated by their ability to get out in transition. According to KenPom, their adjusted tempo was 15th in the nation. Compare that to Arizona’s 214th(!) and you have a recipe for an upset. KenPom has Arizona’s offensive efficiency ranked 15th to Buffalo’s 42nd, so while Arizona might utilize more of a half-court offense, they are extremely efficient and the Bulls will need to disrupt their rhythm if they want to advance. UB’s scrappiness has been apparent throughout the season and should only continue against ‘Zona.
“Slow Down” Ayton: Easier said than done. This will be a case where Buffalo will have to pick their poison. They’ll need to decide whether they want to allow Ayton to score at a high rate and trust your offense to outscore him OR double him and make somebody else beat you. I assume it’ll be a combination of both but their best bet is to throw a bunch of different looks at Arizona defensively so they must continually adjust their game plan.
The Bulls’ recipe for success from the regular season will remain true for their tilt with Arizona. Behind the ballhandling of Clark and Massinburg, the Bulls need to force the issue in transition. Active hands from Davonta Jordan and Jayvon Graves should accelerate the Bulls offense and dribble-drives from each of their guards will be necessary for guys like Perkins and Jeremy Harris to get open looks. The higher the final score is, the better I like the Bulls chances.
Defensively, it’ll be difficult to prevent Arizona’s bigs from overpowering them. Perkins and McCrae need to push Ayton and Ristic as far from the rim as possible and force them to either shoot a contested jumper or get the ball in the hands of one of their guards. Gang-rebounding should be at the forefront of #WhitesellsWhiteboard throughout the entire game as getting the ball in guards’ hands earlier will allow UB to beat the Wildcats down the floor.
UB will need each of their four consistent scorers to show up, otherwise, this one could get ugly. The combination of Clark, Harris, Massinburg, and Harris will need to score right around 70 points if they want to win. Trier is an excellent talent but he doesn’t scare me thanks to UB’s athleticism and ability to switch on ball screens.
I am sick and tired of the “happy to be here” mentality. I want the NCAA to take notice of OUR Buffalo Bulls. The Bulls certainly embrace the underdog role so expect them to jump out to an early lead. They’ll keep it close throughout the contest but the Wildcat length will ultimately prove to be too much in the end.
Arizona squeezes out a first-round victory but the Bulls cover.