They’re baaaaaaaaack. Buffalo was one of last year’s darlings of March Madness as they ran Deandre Ayton 4 seed Arizona off of the floor before losing to Kentucky in the second round. This year, the Bulls are back for more and are in the midst of one of the most impressive two-year runs by a mid-major in recent memory. They’re slotted in as the 6 seed in the West region and will face the winner of the Arizona State/St. John’s play-in game on Friday.
Let’s get to know the Bulls.
How’d they get here?
Buffalo was one of the few mid-majors in the country that was going to be safely in the tournament regardless of how their conference tournament played out. With a 30-3 record that included wins over Syracuse and West Virginia, the Bulls were squarely in the at-large conversation heading into March. Just for good measure, Buffalo rolled through the MAC Tournament to cap off a 19-2 conference run heading into the Big Dance.
Who’s the coach?
If you’re not familiar with Nate Oats by now, you will be soon. He’s one of the hottest names in all of college basketball, and his star is only growing brighter with each year. Since taking over for Bobby Hurley in 2015, Oats has won almost 70 percent of his games and taken Buffalo to three NCAA Tournaments in a four year span. So yeah, he’s good. He’s going to be a very popular name for a lot of big job openings this offseason. He’s said he’s committed to staying in Buffalo, and even just signed a five year extension last week, but it’s always a different story once the big boys get into thee picture.
Who are the players to know?
Almost the entire gang is back for Buffalo, hence why they’ve been a top 25 team all season. It’s a senior laden roster that has multiple guys that can hurt you on a given night. CJ Massinburg has proven himself time and time again to be one of the most clutch late-game performers in college basketball. As the Bulls go-to guy, he’s averaged 18 points and over six rebounds per game, all while shooting almost 40 percent from three. When Buffalo needs a bucket, he’s the guy to get it.
The No. 2 scorer is Nick Perkins, who’s a forward that actually comes off the bench! The MAC’s Sixth Man of the Year is a stretch big that can score both inside and out. He’s averaged over 14 points per game while also leading the team in rebounding at over seven per game.
If Buffalo is going to make a deep run, the X-factor is probably Jeremy Harris. The senior has struggled to find consistency with his outside shot this year as his three-point percentage dipped from nearly 42 percent last year to 27 percent this year. He’s still found other ways to score though and has still managed to average 14 a game this year. However, he’s averaged 20 per game over the last five, including a 31-point barrage in the MAC Championship. If that continues, Buffalo becomes almost impossible to guard.
Buffalo also has the MAC’s Defensive Player of the Year in Dontay Caruthers and guys like Montell McRae, Jayvon Graves and Davonta Jordan that are capable of hurting you in different aspects of the game. It’ll take a full effort to keep everyone in check.
What makes them dangerous?
The Bulls play fast and they can score like hell. Buffalo plays at the ninth fastest pace in the country according to KenPom, and as a result score nearly 85 points per game. If you’re trying to run with the Bulls, you’re probably in trouble. They’re going to shoot a lot of threes and can put up points in a jiffy. They also have a top 30 defense, per KenPom, that does a great job of defending the arc and forcing turnovers. There’s a reason they’ve won 30 games. The Bulls are damn good through and through.
How far can they go?
Buffalo has had the look of a second weekend team all season. It’s a tough road, as is always the case in the NCAA Tournament, but they’ve shown that they’re capable of hanging with just about anyone. At least one win should be the expectation, and it’s not completely out of the picture for Buffalo do make a run to the Sweet Sixteen or even the Elite Eight. If you want a good dark horse to make a run, the Bulls might be a good pick.