Rushed Reactions: #5 Kentucky 95, #13 Buffalo 75

Posted by rtmsf on March 17th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish.

Three Key Takeaways.

Hamidou Diallo Flexes After a Huge Second Half Dunk (USA Today Images)

  1. John Calipari Doesn’t Lose to Mid-Majors. After tonight’s victory, John Calipari’s record against mid-majors at Kentucky is an incredible 83-1 — with the one loss coming as an NIT road game against Robert Morris in 2013. Now, let’s get the obvious out of the way in saying that most of those mid-majors were simply outclassed by Kentucky’s typical overwhelming talent. It’s also true that a sizable portion of those mid-majors were forced to play Kentucky in Rupp Arena, and good luck for any team (mid- or high-major) to come out of there with a win. But ask Virginia about playing mid-majors in the NCAA Tournament. Or Arizona. Or UCLA. Or Tennessee. Or Texas. It’s not easy to consistently beat those very hungry and admittedly talented teams in their own right — time after time after time again. Yet Calipari continues to win those games, and he should be commended for it. It comes down to having your players ready to perform, and as he showed yet again today, he’s proven a masterful coach in that regard.
  2. The Artistry of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Much has been written this season about the ascent of Gilgeous-Alexander from expected role player to perhaps Kentucky’s most important piece. But today was perhaps his best game of the season, peppering a highly efficient shooting performance (10-of-12 FG) along with a masterful floor game. It certainly seems that the Wildcats are going as far as the precocious freshman can take them — in his last nine games, his only mildly inefficient performance came in Kentucky’s only loss — at Florida to end the regular season. Given that he’s a point guard in a wing’s body at this level, the mismatches that he creates are absolute hell for teams to defend against. It will be interesting to see what a physical defensive group like Cincinnati or Texas Tech might be able to do with him.
  3. Buffalo Has Nothing to Be Ashamed Of. With eight minutes remaining in today’s game, Buffalo was within five points. They had worked the Kentucky margin down from a peak of double-figures and the partisan fan base they had picked up in Boise was rocking. For approximately 72 minutes of action in the Taco Bell Arena, the Bulls had proven themselves worthy against two of college basketball’s elite. From that point on, they just wore out. Kentucky started getting to the rim seemingly at will, and everyone knew it was over. Head coach Nate Oats exuded pride in his team’s performance this March after the game, and he certainly has a foundation on which to build going forward.

Player of the Game. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kentucky. The star freshman came up big for his Wildcats today, scoring 27 points and logging six rebounds and six assists in 39 minutes of action. He is the straw that stirs the Wildcats’ drink, and he proved it again today.

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RTC Bracket Prep: South Region

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 13th, 2018

Yesterday and today we will be rolling out our region-by-region analysis for the 2018 NCAA Tournament. Here, Tommy Lemoine (@hoopthink) breaks down the South Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC South Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCSouthRegion).

South Region

Favorite: #1 Virginia (31-2, 17-1 ACC). Oh, how far Virginia has come. After beginning the season outside of both the AP and USA Today/Coaches Poll Top 25, the Cavaliers have won a school-record 31 games en route to the the #1 overall seed on Selection Sunday. In the process, they posted the second-best adjusted defensive efficiency mark in the KenPom era and didn’t allow a single opponent to break 70 points. This is also Tony Bennett’s second-most efficient offensive team since arriving in Charlottesville in 2009, thanks in large part to sharpshooter Kyle Guy (14.1 PPG, 39.5% 3FG). The notion that Virginia would be overwhelmed by Kentucky or Arizona’s athleticism seems particularly far-fetched considering that the Cavaliers beat Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium and handled North Carolina twice this season. The idea that a stout defensive club like Cincinnati or Tennessee would out-grind the ACC champs seems equally questionable. Virginia is the South Region favorite, and there’s no really no argument otherwise.

Kyle Guy and the Cavaliers are the best bet to reach San Antonio. (Photo: Geoff Burke, USA TODAY Sports)

Should They Falter: #2 Cincinnati (30-4, 16-2 AAC). Were it not for Virginia, Cincinnati’s defense would have probably received a lot more national recognition this season. The Bearcats held opponents to just over 0.86 points per possession, a mark which — not adjusting for competition — hasn’t been topped since 2008-09 Memphis. Mick Cronin’s team is tough in every sense of the word, just as willing to pound the offensive glass (third nationally in Offensive Rebounding rate) as it is to grind opponents down on the other end. In senior Gary Clarke (13.0 PPG, 8.5 RPG), Cincinnati has a player who manages to serve as both its star and its “glue guy,” the type of scrappy weapon you want on your team when the game’s on the line in March. The Bearcats don’t have many great wins this season, but fresh off of beating Wichita State on the road and winning the AAC title, Cronin’s team looks primed for a deep March run.

Grossly Overseeded: #8 Creighton (21-11, 10-8 Big East). While the seeding was fairly well done in this region, Creighton’s landing spot at #8 came as quite the surprise. Most bracketologists had pegged the Bluejays as a #9 or #10 seed, with some placing them as low as a #11. Its home win over Villanova notwithstanding, Creighton finished just 1-9 against Quadrant 1 opponents this season and failed to win a single road game against teams that finished above .500. Then again, perhaps the Bluejays actually got a raw deal when you consider that instead of a possible Second Round matchup against #2 Cincinnati, they’ll have to face Virginia.

Criminally Underseeded: #13 Buffalo (26-8, 15-3 MAC). According to BracketMatrix.com, the vast majority of projections had atabbed Buffalo as a #12 seed (average: 12.08). Instead, the 26-win Bulls were given a #13 seed and tasked with handling future #1-overall NBA Draft pick DeAndre Ayton way out in Boise. And if you think seeding at this level doesn’t matter, consider this: Historically, #12 seeds have a 35.6 percent chance of advancing to the Second Round compared with just 19.7 percent for #13 seeds.

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Five O26 Coaches Doing Great Jobs This Season…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 23rd, 2018

From major turnarounds to borderline miracles, let’s take a look at some of this season’s best coaching jobs across the mid-major landscape.

Joe Pasternack is doing a masterful job at UC Santa Barbara. (JC Corliss / Noozhawk photo)

  • Joe Pasternack — UC Santa Barbara. It’s difficult to overstate just how quickly Pasternack has turned things around at UC Santa Barbara. The Gauchos were 6-22 last season — finishing dead last in the Big West — under longtime head coach Bob Williams. Their offense was especially bad, ranking 343rd nationally in efficiency and 350th (second-to-last) in effective field goal percentage. Williams was ousted after a mostly successful 19-year run, and in came Pasternack. In less that one full season, the longtime Arizona assistant — with the help of some key transfers — has completely revamped the Gauchos’ offense. Santa Barbara now ranks 41st nationally in offensive efficiency and boasts an effective field goal percentage (54.1% eFG) that is 12 points better than a year ago, helping Pasternack’s team get off to an incredible 14-5 (3-2 Big West) start. UC Santa Barbara’s KenPom ranking is up to 97th nationally after finishing 331st in 2016-17, while sophomore guard Max Heidegger (21.4 PPG) has turned into a front-runner for Big West Player of the Year. Despite understandably low expectations, the Gauchos are now the team to beat in the Big West.
  • Steve Forbes — East Tennessee State. The Buccaneers lost four of their top five scorers from last season’s NCAA Tournament team, including First Team All-SoCon guard T. J. Cromer (19.1 PPG). No matter. Instead of taking a step back — and despite middle-of-the-pack expectations — all East Tennessee State has done is jump out to a 16-4 (7-0 SoCon) record and rise from 114th nationally in adjusted efficiency margin to 58th. Much like his former boss, Gregg Marshall, Forbes has built a deep, defensive-minded roster seemingly impervious to personnel turnover. He’s also proving to have a keen eye for quality transfers and JuCo prospects, enabling him to reap immediate contributions from players like Texas Southern transplant Jalan McCloud (11.7 PPG). With a lineup that runs 10 deep and one of the 40 stingiest defenses in America, there’s no reason to think Forbes’ group can’t again reach the Big Dance — and maybe even win a game when it gets there.

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Rushed Reactions: #3 Miami 79, #14 Buffalo 72

Posted by Chris Stone on March 17th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion.

Three Key Takeaways:

Miami's Sheldon McClellan finishes a dunk in the first half. (Credit: Charles Krupa/AP)

Miami’s Sheldon McClellan finishes a dunk in the first half. (Credit: Charles Krupa/AP)

  1. Buffalo’s Lamonte Bearden should walk away with his head held high. On Wednesday, Bearden talked briefly about his struggles and the disappointment of last year’s NCAA Tournament loss to West Virginia. He tallied just eight points and committed seven turnovers a year ago, but today he delivered a mature performance in defeat, scoring 19 points along with only four turnovers. Bearden is only a sophomore and the Bulls should return four starters from this year’s team, so don’t be surprised if you hear his name again at future NCAA Tournaments down the line.
  2. Miami’s length is a great defensive asset. The Hurricanes rank 25th in the country in effective height (a statistic that measures a team’s size per minute played), which makes them one of the longest rotations on the country. That length can be really effective on the defensive end, as shown by Miami holding the Bulls to 39.4 percent shooting from two-point range (with Kamari Murphy registering four blocks). If they stay engaged, Miami is a very effective defensive team.
  3. A consistent Angel Rodriguez is key to Miami’s success. At his best, Miami’s point guard is a darting slasher who operates the pick-and-roll with precise passing and creative finishes at the rim. At his worst, Rodriguez is an inefficient scorer who turns the ball over too often. He showed flashes of both against Buffalo this evening, finishing with 24 points (many on late free throws) on 6-of-15 shooting and three turnovers. For Miami to make a run to subsequent weekends, it will need Rodriguez at his best to facilitate one of the country’s top offenses. If he’s not, the Hurricanes might have to take their talents back to South Beach a bit earlier than they’d hoped.

Star Of The Game: Sheldon McClellan. Miami’s leading scorer delivered big once again, scoring 20 points to lead the ‘Canes to victory. While McClellan didn’t make any outside shots in this game, he showed off an impressive slashing game that has helped him climb up NBA Draft boards.

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Arizona State’s Future is Bright

Posted by Connor Pelton on March 4th, 2016

Connor Pelton covers Arizona State sports for HouseofSparky.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @ConnorPelton28

When is Bobby Hurley going to call a timeout? That was the thought shared among Arizona State fans during the opening minutes of last Thursday’s game at Utah. Little did they know that no timeout was forthcoming. Not when Brandon Taylor drained a three-pointer to put the Utes up 9-0. Not when Jordan Loveridge dropped in another three to extend the lead to 12-0. Not even when Taylor buried another triple on the next possession to make the score 15-0. The game’s first break didn’t arrive until the under-16 media timeout with the Sun Devils trailing 15-2 and a comeback looking increasingly unlikely. It’s important to remember that Hurley is still learning on the job. After spending the previous two seasons at Buffalo, this is just his third campaign as a head coach. He is young and still evolving, picking up valuable experience every night out.

Hurley's High Energy On The Sidelines Has Gotten Him Into Some Trouble With Officials This Season (Mamta Popat/Arizona Daily Star)

Hurley’s High Energy On The Sidelines Has Gotten Him Into Some Trouble With Officials This Season (Mamta Popat/Arizona Daily Star)

So, why was there no timeout when already trailing by 15 in one of the conference’s toughest venues? First, the end of a long season is winding down – a season that is unlikely to result in a trip to the NCAA Tournament. There isn’t much to lose in this scenario, so why not experiment with letting the players work through their problems without assistance from the sideline? This wasn’t the only learning experience, as this season has been chalk full of them — beginning with a disheartening home opener loss to Sacramento State. Along the way Hurley has suspended three players for multiple team violations, been thrown out of a rivalry game against Arizona, dropped four conference games by seven points or fewer, lost a player to transfer just days removed from a career performance, and watched an assistant coach get arrested on suspicion of DUI. Read the rest of this entry »

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O26 Never-Too-Early Top Five (and More)

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on April 15th, 2015

Don’t look now, but college basketball season is only seven months away! Okay, so that may seem a bit far off, but it’s never too early to gin up a little excitement for the sport we love. Let’s examine a few O26 teams that are sure to make some noise in 2015-16.

Top Five

Wichita State will be right back at it in 2015-16. (Photo : Getty Images Sport)

Wichita State will be right back at it in 2015-16. (Getty Images Sport)

  1. Wichita State. Fred VanVleet is back. Ron Baker is back. As is Gregg Marshall, much wealthier after a sizable pay raise. With one of the country’s top backcourts and most sought-after coaches rejoining the fold, it almost goes without saying that Wichita State – on the heels of three-straight program-defining seasons – should be very good again next season. Of course, the Shockers will have to adjust to life without guard Tekele Cotton (9.8 PPG) and big man Darius Carter (11.4 PPG), but the late-season development of Evan Wessel (12 points against Kansas in the NCAA Tournament) along with forward Shaq Morris (4.7 PPG) should help mitigate those departures. So too should the addition of Kansas transfer Conner Frankamp and a solid recruiting class. Expect another year of big things from Wichita State next season.
  2. Gonzaga. Gone are WCC Player of the Year Kevin Pangos, guard Gary Bell Jr. and wing Byron Wesley (10.6 PPG). Still, barring an early leap to the NBA, Kyle Wiltjer (16.7 PPG), Domantas Sabonis (9.7 PPG, 7.1 RPG) and center Przemek Karnowski (10.9 PPG) are each returning for what should be one of the top frontcourts in America. Sophomores Josh Perkins and Silas Melson, both former prized recruits, bring plenty of talent (if youth) to the backcourt, where senior Kyle Dranginis will likely help both guys blossom. Throw in very good depth – like 6’8” Angel Nunez, who was granted another year of eligibility – and you quickly see why the Bulldogs could be top-15-worthy next season. Oh, and did I mention that the Zags are in contention for Drexel transfer Damion Lee (21.4 PPG), the nation’s fifth-leading scorer? Read the rest of this entry »
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Rushed Reactions: #5 West Virginia 68, #12 Buffalo 62

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 20th, 2015

rushedreactions

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Devin Williams led West Virginia to victory today. (Tony Dejak/AP)

Devin Williams led West Virginia to victory today. (Tony Dejak/AP)

  1. That was sloppy. The game was close and there was plenty of drama, but let’s not mince words here – this thing was ugly. The teams combined for 29 turnovers, shot well under 70 percent from the free throw line and squandered offensive opportunity after offensive opportunity throughout the afternoon. West Virginia had numerous chances in the second half to put Buffalo away, yet repeatedly took out of control shots or fumbled the ball away. Buffalo missed gimme layups and had trouble keeping the Mountaineers off the glass, especially late. And the fouls… all told, 49 fouls were called, interrupting both squads’ offensive rhythm and leaving everyone in Nationwide Arena mildly perturbed – coaches, fans and players alike.
  2. West Virginia’s pressure left Buffalo with an uphill climb. “It’s hard to simulate what they do,” Buffalo head coach Bobby Hurley said afterwards, referring to West Virginia’s relentless pressure. And it showed, especially early on. The Mountaineers – which lead the country in defensive turnover rate – held Buffalo scoreless for the first three-plus minutes and forced innumerable errant passes, leaving the Bulls with an early 24-11 deficit that was probably the difference. If Bobby Hurley’s club had figured out the press earlier, its late surge may have been enough to in the game. Alas, it did not.
  3. The Mountaineers will rattle you. Trying to break West Virginia’s press and keep them off the glass each time down the court is an exhausting proposition, even if you manage keep pace. Bob Huggins plays upwards of 11 guys each game, sending body after body – even if the fouls add up – in an effort to keep opposing teams agitated. As VCU showed during its 2011 Final Four run, that kind of aggressive, jarring style can work in a tournament setting. Whichever team emerges from Maryland vs. Valparaiso will have its struggles against the Mountaineers on Sunday – whether or not it can mentally (and physically) regroup will dictate who moves on.

Star of the Game: Devin Williams (17 points, nine rebounds). The 6’9” sophomore was too much for Buffalo to handle on the interior today, converting around the rim and securing several clutch, late-game offensive rebounds. Perhaps most importantly, Williams shot 7-of-9 from the free throw line in a game otherwise defined by missed chances.

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NCAA Game Analysis: Second Round, Friday Afternoon

Posted by RTC Staff on March 20th, 2015

RTC_NCAA15

In what was certainly one of the most competitive and jam-packed “opening” days in NCAA Tournament history, Friday’s slate of games will have a hard time following Thursday’s remarkable act. However, today offers a fair share of fascinating matchups as well. Here is a preview of Friday’s afternoon games:

#2 Kansas vs. #15 New Mexico State – Midwest Region (from Omaha, NE) — 12:15 PM EST on CBS.

New Mexico State has not lost since January 17 and will enter Friday’s action looking to pull a stunner against the second-seeded Jayhawks. The Aggies are led by their freshman big man Pascal Siakam, who caused problems for WAC big men throughout the season. Siakam carries averages of 13 points and 7.7 rebounds per game and he will look to mix it up against the Kansas frontline. New Mexico State, as a team, has been a very formidable defensive unit throughout the season, as it is 18th in the country in points per game allowed. Unfortunately for Kansas, its frontline depth took a bit of a hit earlier this week when it became known that freshman forward Cliff Alexander would definitely miss the NCAA Tournament due to a pending NCAA investigation. Sans Alexander, the Jayhawks still have some talent in the post with the strong play of junior forward Perry Ellis and the late season emergence of redshirt sophomore Landen Lucas. While Siakam’s play in the post could keep things close for a little while, expect Kansas’ perimeter play, led by point guard Frank Mason and swingman Kelly Oubre, to be the key as the Jayhawks will comfortably advance to the Round of 32.

The RTC Certified Pick: Kansas

#7 Michigan State vs. #10 Georgia — East Region First Round (at Charlotte, NC) — 12:20 pm ET on truTV.

Michigan State will battle Georgia in Charlotte. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Michigan State will battle Georgia in Charlotte. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Michigan State comes in hot after rolling to the Big Ten Tournament championship game and nearly edging Wisconsin. The Spartans are ranked 17th overall by KenPom and have become a substantially better offensive team over the course of the season, especially with a healthy Branden Dawson (12 PPG, 9.1 RPG) in the lineup. The senior forward looked like his old self in the Big Ten Tournament, averaging nearly 16 points, eight rebounds per game and locking down on the defensive end. The Spartans are at their best in transition and should push the tempo against the defensively stingy Bulldogs, a lengthy team which held opponents to the nation’s 15th-lowest effective field goal percentage this season. Although Tom Izzo’s bunch has become less-reliant on three-pointers as the year’s progressed, it wouldn’t hurt for Denzel Valentine (41.8% 3PT), Bryn Forbes (42.4% 3PT) and Travis Trice (36.6% 3PT) to knock down some perimeter shots, considering Georgia’s especially-stout interior defense (43% 2PT). On the other end, the Bulldogs do one thing especially well – attack the basket – which should keep them afloat against a Michigan State team that sent teams to the free throw line at the Big Ten’s third-highest rate. Junior guard Charles Mann (highest free-throw rate in the SEC) and his backcourt mates will get to the stripe. The Spartans are more well-rounded and should win this one, but count on a slimmer margin than some have suggested.

The RTC Certified Pick: Michigan State Read the rest of this entry »

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Bracket Prep: Midwest Region Analysis

Posted by Walker Carey on March 17th, 2015

RTC_NCAA15

Throughout Tuesday, we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: East (10:00 AM), South (11:00 AM), Midwest (1:00 PM), West (2:00 PM). Here, Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) breaks down the Midwest Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC Midwest Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCMWregion).

Midwest Region

Favorite: #1 Kentucky (34-0, 18-0 SEC). The unbeaten Wildcats enter the NCAA Tournament as not only the favorites in the Midwest Region but also for the entire tournament. John Calipari’s squad has been able to reach 34-0 due to its star power combined with its ability to play tremendously well as a unit. It will be utterly shocking if Kentucky is tripped up before reaching the Final Four. The reason why the Wildcats are such a lethal team is that they possess top-flight talent at each position. Their backcourt is loaded with sophomores Aaron Harrison and Andrew Harrison and freshmen Devin Booker and Tyler Ulis. The insanely long and athletic front line is led by junior Willie Cauley-Stein, sophomores Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee, and freshmen Trey Lyles and Karl-Anthony Towns. Toss in the fact that Kentucky’s veteran players have Final Four experience from a season ago and you will understand why the Wildcats are the overwhelming favorite to advance to Indianapolis.

Will John Calipari Be Smiling This Time Next Week? (AP)

John Calipari and the Wildcats have had a lot to smile about this season. (AP)

Should They Falter: #3 Notre Dame (29-5, 14-4 ACC). The ACC Tournament champion Fighting Irish enter the NCAA Tournament fresh off playing some of their best basketball of the year. Notre Dame possesses an elite offensive attack with multiple options that makes it a very tough team to defend. That attack is led by senior star guard Jerian Grant, an All-American senior who has the ability to take over a game each night out. Grant is the alpha dog star of Mike Brey’s team, but senior Pat Connaughton and sophomores Demetrius Jackson and Steve Vasturia all strongly contribute to the Irish’s success. It will be a stunner if Kentucky loses at any point in this region, but if it does, look for Notre Dame to take home the Midwest Region trophy and advance to the Final Four.

Grossly Overseeded: #8 Cincinnati (22-10, 13-5 AAC). The Bearcats enjoyed a solid season but their résumé suggests that they should have been a double-digit seed. While Cincinnati had good victories over SMU (twice), San Diego State and NC State, it also had head-scratching losses to Nebraska, East Carolina and Tulane. The Bearcats finished the AAC season tied for third in the conference standings. Temple — the team they were tied with, and Tulsa, the team that finished one spot ahead of them — did not even earn bids to the NCAA Tournament. That’s not to suggest that Cincinnati didn’t deserve inclusion in the NCAA Tournament, but a #8 seed is very generous.

Grossly Underseeded: #7 Wichita State (28-4, 17-1 MVC). The Missouri Valley Conference does not provide many opportunities to pick up marquee victories, but Wichita State was able to pick up one on February 28 though when Gregg Marshall’s team got revenge from an early-season loss by topping Northern Iowa. The rest of the Shockers’ résumé was not very exciting, but they managed to win 28 games overall and only stumbled once in conference play prior to the MVC Tournament. Wichita State’s core is essentially the same (minus Cleanthony Early) as the one that started 34-0 last season. Gregg Marshall’s team is too talented and experienced to be a #7 seed and it would not be surprising at all to see it make a run to the second weekend.

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Bracket Prep: Buffalo, Stephen F. Austin & Eastern Washington

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 16th, 2015

Let’s finish off the Bracket Prep series with our reviews of each of the weekend mid-major automatic qualifiers to help you fill out your bracket. Here’s a primer on each of the most recent bid winners. The entire series can be found here.

Buffalo

Buffalo is going dancing for the first time in school history. (Ken Blaze, Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports)

Buffalo is going dancing for the first time in school history. (Ken Blaze, Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports)

  • MAC Champion (23-9, 12-6)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #28/#54/#59
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +8.4
  • NCAA Seed: #12

Strength: Buffalo has some serious offensive weapons and tends to set them free. The Bulls were the most uptempo offense in the MAC this season, using just 17.4 seconds per possession and attacking the basket at every turn; 76 percent of their points came from inside the arc or at the free throw line. Part of that emphasis can be attributed to the presence of Justin Moss (17.9 PPG, 9.2 RPG), the 6’7” forward who won MAC Player of the Year. His ability to both run the floor and dominate on the low-block – along with a stable of talented, attacking guards like Shannon Evans (15.3 PPG, 4.7 APG) and Lamonte Bearden (8.2 PPG) – makes Bobby Hurley’s group tough to stop on that end of the court. The MAC champs are pretty solid on the other end, too, holding opponents to under a point per possession on the season. Keep an eye on Moss, though – the junior was limited during the league tournament because of an ankle injury.

Weakness: Outside of its so-so perimeter shooting (34% 3FG), Buffalo does not have too many glaring weaknesses – at least not by the numbers. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t concerns. There was a three-game stretch during February in which the Bulls were bludgeoned on the defensive end, including a home loss to Toledo where the Rockets shot 86 percent from behind the arc and scored 1.3 points per possession. And for a team that shoots a healthy 72.2 percent from the stripe, Buffalo’s late-game free throw shooting in both MAC Tournament victories over the weekend was not very good. Whether these inconsistencies have to do with their youthful backcourt, lulls in energy, or something else, I’m not sure. But they can’t afford similar lapses this week.

Key player: Xavier Ford (9.2 PPG, 6.4 RPG). Moss is absolutely crucial and his health should be closely monitored as the week progresses, but assuming he’s good to go, another guy to keep your eye on is Ford. The 6’7” senior’s length and athleticism gives Hurley an added dimension on the offensive end – a slasher able to get to the rim (and rebound effectively) – as well as a defender who can guard the type of athletic scorers his team will probably see next week.

Outlook: Buffalo led both Kentucky and Wisconsin at halftime this season, which says a thing or two about its overall ability. As long as Moss is healthy and able to go, the Bulls are more than capable of keeping pace with West Virginia, especially considering their #12 seed line. Hurley’s bunch is talented, fiery and could end up playing on the back-half of the weekend.

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