Cinderella? Nope. These are the Buffalo Bulls, and they are a good basketball team. The Bulls just won a program defining game beating the Arizona Wildcats 89-68 to win their first ever NCAA tournament game and shock America. Many analysts had the Wildcats making the final four, if not winning the entire thing. The Bulls game planned and executed that plan so well, that probable number one overall pick Deandre Ayton was neutralized. The Bulls don’t want to stop here though, so the attention has already turned towards the Kentucky Wildcats.
Kentucky is coming in to this game as the SEC Champions, who boast a 25-10 record. They defeated the Davidson Wildcats (I know, a lot of Wildcats) in their first round game 78-73 without hitting a three point shot. Their guards were able to get to the rim and take advantage of the slower Davidson team.
The big thing about Kentucky is that they’re all freshman. That is not an exaggeration either, every player that is a major contributor for the Wildcats is a freshman, which could mean inexperience in a close game, especially against a team like Buffalo who has experienced players. The pace of the game will be one to watch as well, as Kentucky plays fast, but not nearly as fast the Bulls.
For the Wildcats, their best offensive player according to KenPom is Shai Gilgeous-Alexander who boasts a 113.1 offensive rating. The Bulls offense features three players who are higher ranked in this stat, between Wes Clark, Jeremy Harris and CJ Massinburg, all of whom had big games in beating Arizona. They will need to be tough once again because Kentucky is another tall team, who features a few 6’6 guards. Both teams have efficient offenses, which means this could be another fun game. Let’s take a look at some of the more detailed things to look for.
What to Watch For
The first five minutes
The Bulls are officially Boise’s team after completing the huge upset, and that means they will have the crowd on their side. How they utilize the early part of the game will be huge, as they could make the Kentucky freshman begin to feel the pressure. If Wes Clark and Jeremy Harris are able to attack the rim early and get the scoring rolling, the Bulls will be in a good spot to continue their run.
Smart played really well against Arizona, and it won’t show up in the box score. He played hard defense, attacked the boards on loose balls, and did a lot of the little things well. Smart will be matching up with some more athletic forwards. They won’t have the size of Ayton, but they will be athletic and will have to be forced to feel uncomfortable. If Smart plays solid, it will also take a lot of the pressure off of Nick Perkins.
Jordan is not the best offensive player, but that’s okay when you play defense like he does. Jordan is in your face every second he is on the court, and that showed against Arizona. Kentucky has very young guards, and they may not be used to being mauled as soon as they tough the ball. Between Jordan and Caruthers, the Bulls will need to keep the Wildcat guards shaky if UB wants to win. Like Nate Oats said, it’s like blitzing the quarterback, and the Bulls have an incredible pass rush.
I had a very weird confidence about me yesterday, that grew as the week went on. I saw the interviews and the Bulls looked relaxed, confident, and that they knew they belonged. We all knew that UB deserved to be in the big dance, and they took care of step one. They will now need to focus up, and play another strong game to beat Kentucky. No game will be easy as the season continues, but fans should start believing that this team could make a run. They have a good combination of young guys as well as veterans, and that may be what you need to find success. Enjoy the men’s and the women’s game today, and as always, go Bulls!