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2015 NCAA Tournament: Previewing the Buffalo Bulls

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Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Through the season, I and our regular readers get to know the team pretty well. This week, between West Virginia supporters and newer Bulls fans, there's a lot of people who could use a broader look at the team as a whole, rather than my usual game recap writing that assumes a certain level of familiarity with the team.

I also plan on having at least one Q&A post with The Smoking Musket this week. For now, here's some big-picture questions on the Bulls. If you have more, feel free to use this thread, and we'll answer in the comments.

What do they like to do on offense?

For the Bulls, the ideal offense gets the ball into space and in the air. They're best when they're not necessarily rushing shots, but taking open shots that appear before the defense is set up. UB loves to play fast and in transition - by possessions/game they in fact run faster than WVU - and just about anyone is capable of dishing out a few assists if the opportunity is there.

As you might expect given their head coach, the Bulls take care of and distribute the ball well. Sophomore Shannon Evans and freshman Lamonte Bearden share point guard duties, though both are usually on the floor at the same time. Combined they average 9.0 assists to 4.7 turnovers per game.

Their most frequent beneficiaries are junior Jarryn Skeete on the outside, and MAC Player of the Year Justin Moss on the inside. Skeete shot 39% from distance this season, while Moss averaged 19 points per game in MAC play and a near double-double on the season. Moss has recently been hampered with an ankle injury, but still managed to earn a double-double in the MAC Championship game against Central Michigan.

As a team, UB will crash the offensive boards, The Bulls averaged nearly 13 offensive rebounds per game this season and dominated that area in their conference tournament. Get to know the name Xavier Ford, who has blossomed as a role-less energy man. Ford's sole objective is to get to the ball and put back in the hoop, and sometimes take a few threes. Buffalo almost never runs a play for him, but he was good for nine points and six rebounds a game this year.

You could do worse to get to know the UB offense by watching their most recent game against Central Michigan, but that game was a touch atypical, as the ball spent less time in Moss' hands and Buffalo found more shots from outside than normal.

What do they like to do on defense?

This one's a little tougher for me to answer, as I'm not a great X's and O's guy, so if I'm wrong, someone correct me in the comments.

UB's defense is at its best when it's strong on the perimeter. Against CMU, who lit up the MAC from beyond the arc this season, Buffalo was nearly-perfect in switching off and not worrying if a hobbled Moss ended up guarding the Chippewas' dynamic point guard Chris Fowler.

In the backcourt, UB is looking for steals, and seeks to generate points off turnovers. Evans, Bearden, Skeete and bench swingman Rodell Wigginton are all ballhawks. In the frontcourt, UB's strength - led by senior forward and Buffalo native Will Regan - is defensive positioning. The Bulls have sometimes struggled one on one down low, but usually defend well enough elsewhere to bring help in.

In general, I would say UB most aims for a high-energy man-to-man defense, but I can't be sure. Philosophically, it boils down to two key points: (1) they're ok with letting one option run wild if it means shutting down everything else; Fowler scored 27 in the Championship game, and (2) they don't necessarily aggressively press, but force everything into a quick decision and benefit from shortening the 'thinking time' in their opponents' possessions. That's likely less of a strength against a more experienced, higher-level team like WVU, but it's benefited the Blue and White all year.

What's the deal with that RPI?

It's pretty simple: UB played both Wisconsin and Kentucky on the road this season, along with seven other road games. This season has seen a program record in road wins, and two games against the nation's very best help, too.

We just learned today in the New York Post that the success against Kentucky - Buffalo led the Wildcats nearly to the under-12 timeout of the second half before fading - forced Bobby Hurley to reevaluate his goals for the season. it was a great game for 28 minutes.

UB also led the Badgers at the half, even without Skeete and much of an outside threat. Obviously that alone doesn't help the RPI, but West Virginia is the first team UB will face that's between the (relative) extremes of "National Championship Contender" and "NIT Team." The snippets of success in Lexington and Madison give us hope.

What intangibles are in play right now?

Important things to know:

This isn't necessarily a 'dream season' for UB, in which everything has gone right from start to finish. Buffalo had a bit of a swoon in conference play, falling to both 3-3 and 6-6 on a couple of close losses and a few where the team just didn't show any focus, but from 6-6 in the MAC the Bulls have now rattled off eight straight wins, finding victory in every possible way: gutting out close wins and defensive battles, erasing big early deficits, blowing teams out, winning on the road, overcoming an ankle injury to their best player.

This is the first time UB's ever been to the (Division I) NCAA Tournament. The closest they've ever been was ten years ago, when they lost the conference championship on an overtime buzzer-beating tip in and were eventually widely regarded as one of the first teams left out of the at-large picture.

Buzz around the team locally is at an all-time high. Two of the largest home crowds ever to fill Alumni Arena came this year, and for the first time any of us can remember, UB is getting billing alongside the area's pro teams.

Bobby Hurley? I remember him

Yep, same guy. I didn't know much about him prior to his hiring, but by all accounts, he's brought the energy of his playing career to this team. They only run eight deep, but are all in top fitness (injuries aside) and capable of going 100% for the full game. They push the pace, are aggressive on defense, and are at their best when they play loose and have fun. Regardless of the score or how things are going for the Bulls, we're likely going to see a big alley-oop or putback slam. They like to play with flash, and they'll find a way to do it:

I think right now we're on a five-game run of plays making the SportsCenter Top Ten. That alone doesn't win basketball games, but it does make them fun to watch.

The flip side of Hurley is Hurley himself. Let's start with this: He wins. He's the fastest coach in school history to 40 wins, and he's a bulldog for his players, who love him.

Let's follow with this: He's widely reviled. It's a long read, but we recently put together a piece on the timeline of anti-Hurley sentiment around the MAC. Basically, Hurley works the refs, Hurley makes his opinions known, and Hurley generally demands a Hurley-cam during games. He's toned it far down, but now has a reputation among the conference for his technical fouls.

And I love it. UB only has one loss this season when Hurley gets a tech, there's no doubt in my mind that Buffalo gets more than their fair share of calls because of it, and it takes heat off the student-athletes. Anyone who listens to Hurley outside of the coach's box realizes quickly that for him, coaching is all about the players on his team, but most people don't do that and just see the histrionics. It's a fun time.

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Feel free to ask more questions in the comments, and I and the collective Bull Runners will do our best to answer.