The MAC Champion Buffalo Bulls are back in action, on March 15th at 9:40 PM in Boise, Idaho! The Bulls received a 13 seed from the NCAA committee meaning that they will square off with the fourth seeded Arizona Wildcats. This match up is one that has many Bulls fans nervous, as they feel that the Wildcats were under seeded. That being said though, the NCAA tournament is all about beating the best, so the Bulls shouldn’t be too worried.
The best part of Arizona’s game are their big men. Led by possible number one overall NBA draft pick Deandre Ayton, the Wildcats are an incredibly strong team inside. Ayton is a strong seven footer, who is also not afraid to shoot the occasional three pointer of mid range jump shot. He’s athletic as a player as the Bulls will face, and that could mean trouble.
However if one seven footer wasn’t enough, Arizona has another big man in Dusan Ristic, who clears the seven foot mark as well. Ristic will shoot the occasional three pointer, but he prefers to stay inside, and use his height in the paint. This could mean that in order to counter the Wildcats size, UB would consider playing more of Ikenna Smart or Montell McCrae.
As for the Arizona guards, they’re led by Allonzo Trier, who is currently playing under an appeal after testing positive for PEDs. Trier is a dangerous guard, who isn’t afraid to drive and finish at the rim. Just a little under a 40% three point shooter, he will be a tough match up for anyone on the Bulls defense.
As for the Buffalo side of things, the Bulls are led in scoring by CJ Massinburg, who had a few tough games in Cleveland. Most notably in the MAC Championship game, Massinburg seemed just a little bit off with his three point shot. If the Bulls want to compete in this game, Massinburg will need to be on from deep, as well as showing his leadership value, being that he is one of just 3 players on this UB team to have played in the NCAA tournament.
Two other players who will need to play at their top level are Jeremy Harris and Wes Clark. Clark, the MAC tournament MVP with lethal against the Toledo Rockets, as he seemed to not be able to miss when the Bulls needed baskets. His mid range jumper is as on point as possible, and he seems to be finding his stride when he needs it most. He also has big game experience having previously played in the SEC, which will be a key for the Bulls. As for Harris, his three point shooting wow’d the people of Cleveland and he showed that he may be the best player in the league. At 6’7, his length and athleticism was on display as he seemed to hit a big shot every time the Bulls’ opponents made a run. In order for Buffalo to win this game, Harris will need to be on.
Finally for the Buffalo big men, it all comes down to Nick Perkins. Two years ago, Perkins was lethal against the Miami Hurricanes, seeming to hit every three he took early in the game. At just 6’8 however, he will have his hands full with the Arizona bigs. In the paint, he will have to front the Wildcats’ bigs, and rely on guard help to cover the weak side. More likely than not, he will be beat on plays, but it will be vital that he does not let it effect his play. When Perkins stays focused, he is as tough a match up as a team can have. The pump fake will be his best friend, and it is on him to try and get Ayton in foul trouble early. It’s a large task, but the junior is up for it. Let’s take a look at what to watch for in this round of 64 game.
What to Watch For
Montell McCrae and Ikenna Smart
The two bigs for the Bulls have been role players primarily this season, although on Thursday they will have to be more than that. McCrae, who is not the heaviest player in the world, will need to rely on his quickness and length to deny the ball from both of the Arizona bigs. Smart, who is the stronger of the pair will need to hold tough, and make sure that he stays out of foul trouble. These two will need to play their best game possible if the Bulls want to win this game.
While I don’t know much about Boise, I do know that it is far from Buffalo. I don’t know how many Bulls fans will be able to travel, so UB will have to rely on neutral fans to bring the energy. People often love rooting for the underdogs, and many experts have the Wildcats as a possible final four team, so the Bulls will need to put on a show and get the crowd on their side early. If they can get some energy going, they can hopefully facilitate runs that lead to success.
How the bench is used
At this point in the season, we have a pretty good idea of how Nate Oats uses his bench. Occasionally he will sprinkle in players like Brock Bertram and James Reese, but he mainly sticks to his core group. People have been wondering if Bertram may see some playing time just because of the need for size, which will be an interesting debate. Either way, look to see when Oats brings in Perkins, or if he chooses to play two big men a majority of the time.
This match up is not the most favorable to the Bulls, surely because their strengths are our weaknesses. That being said, you would be a fool for counting this Buffalo team out of any game. Their offense is quick and lethal, and can put up points on any team in the nation. Yes, Arizona is a very good team, but that doesn’t mean the Bulls athleticism can’t win them the game. Look back on FGCU beating Georgetown, sometimes athleticism prevails.
Nate Oats is going to have his team ready to play, and they are looking to make a statement and ruin everyone's bracket. I think the team will come out fighting, and play for 40 minutes, something they occasionally struggled to do. Look for it to be a fun game, and overall just enjoy it. We’ve been spoiled recently, but making the NCAA tournament is a big deal, and Bulls fans should enjoy the moment while it’s here. Let’s hope to be this years Cinderella, and as always, go Bulls!