Buffalo basketball is returning to March Madness after a stellar season that saw its first-ever national ranking.
The Buffalo Bulls mens basketball team won the Mid-American Conference (MAC) Tournament for the fourth time in five years to earn their fourth-ever NCAA Tournament bid. UBs 31-3 record includes notable wins over Syracuse, West Virginia, and St. Bonaventure, finishing the regular season with a No. 18 ranking in the AP top 25 poll.
Buffalo will be a No. 6 seed in the NCAA Tournaments West Region, facing the winner of a First Four game between Arizona State and St. Johns on Friday in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The Buffalo vs. Arizona State/St. Johns game will air nationally on TNT at 4 p.m.
Its the highest seeding ever for Buffalo, who won its first game in tournament history last year as a No. 13 seed, upsetting No. 4 Arizona with a 89-68 blowout in the 2018 NCAA Tournament.
Forde Minutes Big Dance Edition: Everything to know about this college basketball season before filling out your bracket
If Buffalo wins in the first round again, the Bulls will likely next face No. 3-seed Texas Tech. The Buffalo News predicts it will be a slugfest, as Texas Tech is No. 2 in the nation in defensive efficiency while UB is among the top 20 in avoiding turnovers.
Selection Sunday : Buffalo Bulls Are the 6 seed of the West
Overall, The Democrat & Chronicle says Buffalo will be a trendy dark horse pick to make a deep run as the Bulls bracket has the weakest No. 2 seed — Michigan — and wouldnt face No. 1 seed Gonzaga until the Elite Eight. If Gonzaga gets upset, potential opponents could include Syracuse, which Buffalo dispatched in December, 71-59, for the Bulls first win over the Orange since 1963.
UB path to Final 4 could look like this:Arz. State (Bobby Hurley) – 1st rd.Texas Tech – 2nd rd.Michigan (John Beilein HC: WNY native) – Sweet 16Syracuse – Elite 8Odds are probably somewhere around 200 to 1 it could happen but that would be absolutely unreal. #UBhornsUP pic.twitter.com/zhstn5PsmI
No disrespect to (Syracuse) but I think we do have better players, Buffalo coach Nate Oats said after sealing its title as best team in New York state this season. I told the team that. I said going into this game were the better team. I think we play harder. I think they have a couple guys that are borderline pros. … After that, Ill take our guys 1-7. Look at players 3 through 7. I think were better. We have better interior players. I think we play harder. And it matches up well because we have really good perimeter defenders.
March Madness always features bracket busters and Cinderella teams, but for Buffalo the difference could be star guard C.J. Massinburg and lockdown defender Dontay Caruthers. Or the Bulls struggles from three-point range could be their demise.
In addition to the men, the Buffalo womens basketball team won the MAC title and is also a potential contender in the NCAA Tournament. Led by coach Felisha Legette-Jack, a former star player at Nottingham High School and Syracuse University, the UB women won two games in the tourney last year and could go further this year after finishing the season 23-9.
The surprise of getting a No. 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament lasted only a few seconds for the University of Buffalo mens basketball team.
The Bulls anticipated they would be at least a five, and even as high as a four. But once the other matchup in UBs bracket was announced, a potential pairing for the Bulls suddenly became intriguing.
UB (31-3) will open the tournament against 11th-seeded Arizona State (22-10) or St. Johns (21-12) in a first-round game at approximately 4 p.m. Friday (TNT) in Tulsa, Okla. Arizona State and St. Johns will meet in a First Four game at 9:10 p.m. Wednesday (Tru TV) in Dayton, Ohio. Game time is 9:10 p.m.
The first-round matchup in the West region could pit the Bulls against former UB coach Bobby Hurley, who brought current UB coach Nate Oats to Buffalo as an assistant.
Hurley left UB to become the coach at Arizona State in April of 2015, and Oats was promoted to UBs head coach less than a week after Hurleys departure.
Oats, however, wasnt keen on playing up the storyline of any relationships that continue between UB and Hurley.
The only question is what was the committee going to do to Buffalo because the program plays in mid-major conference.
The only one on this team that does know (Hurley) is Nick (Perkins), because I was the assistant and Coach Hurley recruited him, Oats said Sunday at Santoras in Williamsville, where UB learned of its NCAA Tournament destination at a watch party. The media and everybody can write all about that. I dont need our guys to think about any of that.
To be honest, it could be St. Johns. They just need to be prepping for who they play. The good thing is, they have to play and prepare for us. The bad thing is, what do we do in tomorrows practice? We cant practice for Arizona State or St. Johns, exclusively. Weve got to get ready for both.
Perkins, however, had an immediate thought when he realized there was a possibility he could face the coach who recruited him to Buffalo from Milan, Mich.
It was like, Wow, how ironic, Perkins said. Obviously, Bobbys the guy who hired Oats and who built the program before he left, and hes a good guy. The city of the Buffalo, the media, everybody would love to see that. That would be a historic game.
Oats elaborated, however, when discussing the Sun Devils on-court product. Arizona State is playing in the First Four for the second consecutive year after losing to Syracuse last year.
I definitely know Arizona State a lot more than I know about St. Johns, Oats said. Theyve been a little inconsistent shooting the ball, but when theyre on, theyre not an 11 seed, but St. Johns is the same way, though.
After a 87-73 win against Bowling Green in the Mid-American Conference tournament championship game Saturday in Cleveland, Oats and some of his players believed they would earn as high as either a four or a five seed.
When they called six, I was just really wondering who wed play next, UB guard Jayvon Graves said. We can beat anybody they put in front of us, and Im just confident in our team.
When asked Saturday what seed he thought his team should receive, Oats said he thought the Bulls deserved a four seed, and that he would be disappointed with anything less than a five seed.
We had the best record in college basketball, Oats said Sunday. Were tied with Houston. Nobody has more wins than we do. A six is a little low. It is what it is. You look at the teams that are one through five, those are some pretty good teams.
What was Marquette? Are they a five? Marquette beat us pretty decent (103-85) and theyre a five. I was hoping for a five, thinking we wouldnt drop below a six. Yeah, right in there is where I thought wed be.
Duke athletic director Kevin White, a member of the NCAAs mens basketball selection committee, said Sunday on CBS that there was discussion among the committee as to whether UB should be seeded higher.
“I would say yes, to be very honest and pointed,” White said. “But I think we got it about right. Obviously, Im not objective. I have 10 colleagues with me, there are 10 of us on the committee, and we looked really hard. Its just not about your resume, its about the resumes with in your neighborhood, that are kind of in the beltway right around you. And I think we got Buffalo right in the place where they deserve to be.”
With the help of nonconference wins against Syracuse and San Francisco as well as several blowout wins in their MAC schedule, the Bulls have been among the top 50 teams in the NCAAs NET rankings since November, and finished the regular season and the MAC Tournament at No. 15. The NET is a sorting tool the NCAA tournament selection committee used to determine the 68-team field for the first time.
This is Buffalos fourth NCAA Tournament appearance, and the highest seed its earned in the NCAA Tournament. Buffalo was a 12 seed in 2015, a 14 seed in 2016 and a 13 seed in 2018, when it beat Arizona in the first round.
The highest seed a MAC team has earned in the 68-team field prior to this year is a 9 seed: Ball State was a 9 seed in 1989, Eastern Michigan in 1996 and Kent State in 2008.
Toledo was a 5 seed in a 40-team field in 1979, and Miami (Ohio) was an 8 seed in a 53-team field in 1984.