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 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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