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Arizona readying for ‘confident’ Buffalo Bulls and their high-powered offense

The Bulls can put up points in a hurry

Mataro All-Stars v Arizona Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images

It’s been three years since Bobby Hurley left Buffalo to coach Arizona State, but the Bulls’ style of play hasn’t changed much since his departure.

So the Arizona Wildcats, who face Hurley at least twice a year, know what to expect Thursday in Boise when they take on the Buffalo Bulls in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

“They play predominantly man-to-man, they love to push the ball in transition, they utilize the 3-point shot, they sub in a similar manner but they really have the ability to strike in transition and strike quickly,” said Arizona coach Sean Miller.

“They have a lot of different players who can score and they have an excellent low post player as well.”

Buffalo might be a 13-seed, but Miller cautioned that it is not a team to overlook. The Bulls have reached the NCAA Tournament — and won 20 or more games — three times in the last four years.

Yet, this is probably Buffalo’s best team. The Bulls have won a program-record 26 games this season, and posted a 15-3 record in the Mid-Atlantic Conference.

Buffalo also won its conference tournament in resounding fashion, tallying three double-digit wins to punch its ticket into the NCAA Tournament.

“So we’re dealing with a confident team,” Miller said. “A team that is able to beat anybody on their schedule including us, and we have to be ready to go.”

The Bulls are known for their high-octane offense. They play at the 15th-quickest pace in college basketball, and average 84.8 points per game.

With efficiency, too.

Buffalo has the No. 42 offense in the country, per KenPom’s efficiency numbers. The Bulls shoot 37 percent from 3, and rely heavily on the long ball, which accounts for 40 percent of their shot attempts.

Led by CJ Massinburg (16.9), a member of the All-MAC First Team, Buffalo boasts four players who average double figures in scoring. All four are shooting 46 percent from the field or better, and three of those four are guards who shoot above 39 percent from 3.

6-foot-8 forward Nick Perkins (16.6 ppg), another member of the All-MAC First Team, holds things down in the paint.

“They have outstanding guards,” Miller said. “A lot like the teams in our conference, they do a really, really good job of almost having a wing player at the 4 — (Jeremy) Harris, No. 2, who’s an excellent offensive player. It’s not just a point guard or a two. They play three or four guards at a time. They have very good depth. Some of the guys off the bench do the same thing. So I think between their depth and versatility of their guards ... that’s been their advantage all year.”

Arizona’s style of play is a stark dichotomy. The Wildcats start two talented 7-footers in Dusan Ristic and Deandre Ayton, rank 215th in the country in pace, and only one-third of their shots are 3s.

“They play a style that’s difficult to defend,” Miller said of Buffalo.

Buffalo surely feels the same way about Arizona. The Bulls struggle on defense, ranking 136th in efficiency, per KenPom.

Arizona hasn’t been all that great on that side of the floor either, but it showed drastic improvement when it won the Pac-12 Tournament, holding all three opponents under 70 points.

Thus, the Wildcats’ defensive efficiency jumped from the high 90s in KenPom’s team rankings to 70 in just three days.

“Our defense was one of the best of the year so far,” Ristic said. “So this is an example of how we should play from this point on. I think if our defense is clicking we’re going to be unbeatable.”

After playing three games in three days in Las Vegas, Arizona took Sunday off before returning to practice Monday. Pretty soon the Wildcats will be back on a plane headed for Boise for Thursday’s tournament opener.

It is a quick turnaround, to be sure, but not much different from a Pac-12 road trip, Miller noted.

“You gotta be really careful because of the workload on our players both in practice and in the games,” he said. “With that, we have to be smart in our preparation. I think the last thing we want to do on Thursday night playing against Buffalo is (having) our tank on empty. We want to make sure we give our guys enough time to recuperate and make sure that we’re sharp and ready to go.”

KenPom gives the Wildcats a 72-percent chance of beating Buffalo. If they do, they will likely face a supremely-talented Kentucky team in the Round of 32 on Saturday (assuming UK avoids an upset to Davidson).

The possibility of an Arizona-Kentucky matchup is drawing a lot of buzz around the country, but Miller isn’t willing to look ahead just yet.

“We’re entering a four-team tournament,” he said. “That second (game) won’t come if you don’t advance.”

Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire