After defeating Alaska Anchorage two nights ago, the Buffalo Bulls are back in action tonight as they take on the Nevada Wolf Pack. The Bulls are coming off an 85-79 victory over the hosts while the Wolf Pack defeated Oakland 82-78. The Bulls, lead by 36 points from senior Blake Hamilton, struggled once again with foul trouble in their first round game but they managed to survive. The team has shown their youth at moments this season but it isn’t time to panic just yet.
First off, the Bulls are without star guard CJ Massinburg who has missed the start of the season due to illness. Secondly, the young players have shown that they can be great and impact games when they avoid bad fouls. All together I see no reason to be stressing too much about this Bulls squad heading in to their second round game against Nevada.
So what should Bulls’ fans be expecting from this match up with Nevada? Both teams play at a similar pace so look for them to take their shots pushing the ball in transition but don’t be shocked to see them set up in the half court offense. Nevada controls the ball much better than the Bulls so the turnover battle will be key to keep close. This will not be an easy game for Buffalo but a win will look great on the resume. Let’s look at some more factors that should become story lines during the game.
What to Watch For
Can Blake Hamilton stay hot early?
Blake Hamilton and his 36 points were the obvious game 1 story. Will the senior come back with another strong game? The first 10 minutes will be key for Hamilton to handle himself. I expect much more attention brought his way. Hamilton will need to not try and force shots early and pass the ball if need be. You can be hot without scoring and as long as Hamilton keeps his finger prints on this game the Bulls will compete.
How do Jordan and McKinzie rebound after tough performances?
These two young players both struggled against UAA. McKinzie was held without points and fouled out and Jordan struggled with the ball. This next game will be a good test of their maturity as they need to move past a bad game quick. Jordan is this teams best facilitator so remaining calm and not forcing passes will be his big task to accomplish. McKinzie will need to forget about his tough offensive night and not be timid to attack the rim and contest at the rim. He can’t be afraid of getting fouls contesting shots in the paint. If he plays with confidence and a short memory I see a productive game coming for the freshman.
Can our big men finally get going?
Ikenna Smart, Raheem Johnson, and David Kadiri have all gotten off to slow starts this season. The inside defense has been lost multiple times and nobody has seemed to want to step up. Smart has seen the most time on the floor and has shown small flashes. Who wants to step up in this group and help Nick Perkins?
The three ball on both sides
At times UB’s 3 point defense has struggled. The Bulls are allowing teams to shoot 44% from deep. Nevada is the number 87 team in the country shooting the 3 ball at 35.7%. Buffalo will need to pressure the perimeter and force the Wolf Pack to come inside. As for Buffalo, we’ve shot an even better 38.3% from deep. With that being said Nevada is a top team in the nation when it comes to guarding the perimeter. Opponents are shooting just 24.2% which is 16th best in the nation. The Bulls will need to look for the extra pass to find an open shooter otherwise it could be a long day from deep.
The bottom line is pretty simple. The Bulls need this win to start to build a respectable non conference schedule. It will be a hard fought battle and if the Bulls stay out of foul trouble I believe they can get to the championship. I’d like to see Buffalo start to push the tempo but not if it means getting out of control. I expect a big game from Willie Conner and look for him to be wearing the moose head after the Buffalo win. This game is being aired on CBSSports network on tape delay at midnight. Follow @UBAthletics for live updates starting around the 9:30 ET tip.