It’s the first round of the NCAA tournament and the #4 seed Arizona Wildcats (27-7) are matched up against the #13 seed Buffalo Bulls (26-8). The Bulls have won 6 in a row and finished 1st in the Mid-American Conference with a 15-3 conference record.
#10 Wes Clark 6’0″ G (Sr.)
#4 Davonta Jordan 6’2″ G (So.)
#5 C.J. Massinburg 6’3″ G (Jr.)
#2 Jeremy Harris 6’7″ G (Jr.)
#34 Ikenna Smart 6’10” F (Jr.)
Off the bench: #33 Nick Perkins 6’8″ F (Jr.), #22 Dontay Caruthers 6’1″ G (Jr.), #3 Jayvon Graves 6’3″ G (Fr.), #1 Montell McRae 6’10” F (Jr.)
The Bulls have a fairly deep and experienced team that puts up a lot of points. They are 7th in the NCAA averaging just under 85 points per game. They are 22nd in both 3 point shots attempted and 3 point shots made and shoot 37% from 3 as a team. Harris, Massinburg, and Clark all shoot around 40% from 3 and as a team they average 26 attempts per game.
Buffalo doesn’t really have any “good” wins this year. They’ve played–and lost to–Syracuse, Cincinnati, Texas A&M, and St. Bonaventure this year.
The Cats are coming off arguably their 2 best games of the year and one hopes they can carry that momentum into Boise for the 1st weekend of the tournament. This is an interesting 4/13 matchup as Buffalo is certainly no slouch. They basically start 4 guards and are very athletic. They, like most East coast teams, have a toughness and aggressiveness to them that can throw West coast teams off their game a little (ex: St. Bonaventure vs. UCLA in the play in game). The Cats will need to defend on the perimeter and rebound well to limit Buffalo’s scoring opportunities.
An interesting stat is that Buffalo and Arizona are almost identical in 2-point field goal attempts this year. 1318 for the Bulls. 1316 for the Cats. Yet the Bulls have 263 more 3-point field goal attempts this year than Arizona does.
One big advantage for the Cats is that Buffalo is 8th in the NCAA in total personal fouls per game. On average their opponents shoot 25 free throws per game. This puts them near the very bottom statistically. 346th in the NCAA. For comparison, Arizona puts their opponents on the free throw line 18 times per game. The Cats shoot a respectable 76% from the free throw line and playing a team that fouls a lot bodes well for them.
Bobby Hurley coached this team from 2013-2015 and assistant Nate Oats took over for him after he left for Arizona State (bringing Shannon Evans with him). Coach Oats, in his 3rd season now, has a 62% win percentage and has the Bulls in the NCAA Tournament for the 2nd time in his 3 years.
Now for a few predictions and comments in no particular order.
I will cry at least 3 times throughout this tournament–most likely from sadness, joy, and frustration from spotty video/audio streams. By the time anyone reads this, my bracket will already have been busted. There will be more than one shining moment. I’m happy to say there will be no St. Patrick’s Day jinx for me this year since Notre Dame was left out of the tournament. (I usually pick ND to “go deep” or win it all because of the subliminal bias effect of Paddy’s Day coupled with the delusional effects of alcohol). The Alamodome in San Antonio will prove to be an amazing venue for a final four. I woke up at 4 a.m. this morning–Christmas morning never goes away it just changes days. And, finally, though I am rooting for Arizona and Kansas–in that order–I, if those two are to fall, would love to see a program that has never won a title get their 1st this year.
Let’s Go Marching!