Nate Oats took over the head coaching duties at Buffalo in 2015, following in the footsteps of Bobby Hurley’s earlier success with this program. The Bulls won the Mid-American Conference last season behind an overall record of 27-9 to earn a No. 13 seed in the NCAA Tournament. They immediately created a stir in their opening game with an 89-68 romp over Arizona as 9-point underdogs before falling to Kentucky 95-75 in the following round as 5.5-point underdogs.
Given this team’s level of success under Oats, Buffalo is no longer one of those Mid-Major teams that is happy just to punch a ticket to the Big Dance. It is looking to expand its dance card much deeper into the night this time around.
This year’s squad took care of business in the nonconference portion of the schedule with 12 straight-up wins in its first 13 games. The lone loss came against the Big East’s Marquette Golden Eagles, a 103-85 setback as a 4-point road underdog on Dec. 21.
The Bulls’ biggest win on the nonconference schedule came early with a 99-94 upset against the Big 12’s West Virginia Mountaineers on Nov. 9 as 11-point underdogs. They also knocked off Syracuse 71-59 in mid-December as 3.5-point underdogs. One of Buffalo’s biggest attributes has been the ability to light up the scoreboard when it has to. However, it can also beat you at the other end of the court with an elevated effort on defense.
The respect this program is finally starting to receive could be the big difference this season come tournament time with a much better seed. The main thing working against the Bulls is a conference that still does not get all that much respect from the NCAA Tournament’s selection committee as a whole.
The Bulls boast a trio of players averaging at least 13 points per game and there is some decent depth into their bench. Senior guard CJ Massinburg provides the veteran leadership while also leading the team in scoring with close to 20 points a game. He also has a strong presence under the boards as one of Buffalo’s top rebounders. One of Massinburg’s biggest strengths is the ability to connect from three-point range on a fairly consistent basis.
The veteran talent on this team runs deep with senior Jeremy Harris at the other guard position and classmate Nick Perkins at forward. Harris is the team’s second-leading scorer and Perkins leads the Bulls in rebounds. Together, they are an excellent complement to what Massinburg already brings to the table.
Also in the mix is sophomore guard Jayvon Graves and junior guard Davonta Jordan. These two help round out Buffalo’s scoring while each providing more than 25 minutes of playing time per game. Add in senior guard Dontay Caruthers and you have the making of a team that can hang with the biggest programs in the nation if the shots are falling its way.
The Bulls are averaging close to 85 points this season and pulling down more than 40 rebounds a game. This is a powerful combination for any Division I program. Buffalo is clearly the class of the MAC this season with Central Michigan and possibly Toledo as its toughest competition for another title in the conference tournament in early March.