Buffalo is 26-8 this season, and won the Mid-American Conference East with an impressive 15-3 record.
The Bulls then won the MAC tournament to clinch their NCAA Tournament bid — their third in the last four years. KenPom rates Buffalo as the No. 76 team in the country, with the No. 42 offense and No. 136 defense.
We wanted to learn more about the Bulls, so we asked our friends at UBBullRun.com, SB Nation’s Buffalo Bulls website, for some insight on them.
Here is what editor Kevin McCormick had to say.
Ryan Kelapire: Buffalo has a program-record 26 wins this season. Were the Bulls projected to be this good this year?
Kevin McCormick: The Bulls were projected to win the MAC East and finish second in the MAC tournament behind the Western Michigan Broncos. With the incoming recruits of Ohio High School Player of the Year Jayvon Graves, South Carolina High School Player of the Year James Reese, and No. 2 overall JUCO recruit Jeremy Harris, the Bulls were supposed to be a top team.
Missouri transfer Wes Clark rounded out the new crop of Bulls this season that helped to raise the expectations even further.
RK: What are Buffalo’s strengths and weaknesses?
KC: The Bulls’ biggest strength is their athleticism and speed. According to KenPom, the Bulls have the fifth-fastest average possession on offense. After a made basket, the Bulls will pass up to just shy of half court and immediately be running. They’re conditioned to run for 40 minutes and have often tired out teams in the first 10 minutes of a game. Their depth allows them to not tire out themselves.
The Bulls biggest weakness is their big men, with Nick Perkins being the biggest standout. Perkins is dominant inside, however he is only 6’8. The other two big men are Montell McCrae, who, despite being 6’11, is extremely skinny, and Ikenna Smart who is 6’10 but hasn’t been playing basketball for that long. The Bulls struggle in one-on-one matchups with big teams.
RK: Buffalo is known for playing small and fast. Arizona starts two 7-footers. How do you think the Bulls will handle that clash of styles?
KC: I think the Bulls will look to front the two Arizona big men, and use the speed of their guards to try and disrupt lob passes. Against 7-footers in the MAC like Adonis De La Rosa, Buffalo employed this strategy and made him frustrated when he couldn’t catch the ball clean. Players like Davonta Jordan and Dontay Caruthers have quick feet and quick hands and will jump from the perimeter to the paint to disrupt slow passes.
RK: The Bulls have four players that score in double figures. Can you tell me a little about each one of them and what they bring to the table?
KC: CJ Massinburg — Massinburg is a 6’3 junior who has been making an impact since his freshman year. Massinburg is the leading scorer and rebounder on the team despite being a guard. He is the leader of this team who will often times hit a big 3 when the game seems to be slipping away from UB. He has experience in the NCAA Tournament and is someone who will do it all.
Wes Clark — Clark is the only true senior on this team, and has only been playing for the Bulls for one semester. But he did play for Coach Nate Oats in high school where they won a state championship together. Clark brings the veteran leadership at the point guard position. He has a soft mid-range jumper and will often times blow by opposing point guards on isolation plays. He has big game experience having played in the SEC and was the MAC tournament MVP after taking control of the championship game.
Jeremy Harris — Harris is in his first year with the Bulls after playing JUCO ball for two years. Harris was recruited as a long-armed guard who could get to the rim and hit 3s. While Harris had a slow start in the out-of-conference portion of the schedule, he has come alive since MAC play. He’s shooting nearly 50 percent from deep and if he catches the ball clean, Bulls fans expect it to go in. He started to attack the rim more in the MAC tournament and seems to be evolving in to a better player each game. Look for him to be a MAC POTY candidate next season.
Nick Perkins — Perkins is the best big man on the Bulls. In his freshman year, he had 12 quick points in the NCAA Tournament, hitting four 3s. He has a mean streak that, when contained, can be deadly, as he does whatever it takes to finish inside. He can hit the 3 with a low shot from his chest, but he is best when he works off the bounce inside. He has a soft touch off the glass that can be tough to stop.
RK: Aside from those four, who should Arizona fans be wary of?
KC: Dontay Caruthers was the MAC Defensive Player of the Year last year, and would’ve had a realistic shot this season if he did not break his leg during the season. Caruthers is only six feet tall, however he plays like a 7 footer with his aggressive bulldog style. He’s finally starting to find his stride again where he will take the ball to the rim and challenge anyone in his way. He’s a quick player who has fast hands that can cause any guard a problem and helps to get the Bulls in transition.
Also keep an eye on freshman Jayvon Graves, who is extremely athletic and likes to attack the rim from the corner of the court. He struggled early as well but is going to be a force to reckoned with in the MAC for the upcoming years.
RK: Like Arizona, Buffalo won its conference tournament handily. Is it safe to say the Bulls are playing their best basketball right now?
KC: I would say that Buffalo is playing its best basketball defensively now, but not on offense. Early in MAC play, the Bulls were beating teams by almost 20 points per game. The Bulls seemed to be just a little off during the MAC tournament, which is surprising considering they still almost averaged 80 a game. Massinburg only had 4 points in the MAC Championship game, so look for him to get going before you consider the Bulls playing their best basketball.
RK: What is your impression of Deandre Ayton, Allonzo Trier, and the rest of this Arizona team?
KC: Ayton seems like the real deal when I’ve watched his highlight tapes. I expect that he will find success at the rim and at least have four or five dunks in this game. Trier seems to be as athletic of a guard as the Bulls have faced this season and that may be a tough challenge for Caruthers and Davonta Jordan to cover. As for the rest of this Arizona team, I think that they are talented enough to not be a four seed and could make a deep run in the tournament.
RK: Are Buffalo fans optimistic about a possible upset?
KC: The feeling around the Buffalo community is one of frustration. Bulls fans believed that this was the team to possibly make a run to the Sweet 16 and thought we would have a 12-seed. Then when the matchup against Arizona was revealed, it seemed to take the wind out of our sails because it is the worst possible matchup for us. Because of the Wildcats size, the Buffalo community is not that optimistic about this game.
KC: I predict the Bulls will keep the game close a lot longer than the experts and Arizona fans expect. Against anyone else in this tournament, the team would be on major upset alert. This is a very talented Buffalo team that felt underlooked most of the season. That being said, the final 10 minutes will most likely end up with the Wildcats pulling away after forcing the ball in to the paint for most of the game.
It will be fun, but the Bulls just don’t have the size to compete.