Miami Hurricanes Basketball: Getting to Know the Opponent: Buffalo Bulls

Mar 12, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Buffalo Bulls guard Blake Hamilton (facing) celebrates winning the MAC conference tournament championship at Quicken Loans Arena. The Buffalo Bulls won 64-61 over the Akron Zips to advance to the NCAA Tournament. Mandatory Credit: Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 12, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Buffalo Bulls guard Blake Hamilton (facing) celebrates winning the MAC conference tournament championship at Quicken Loans Arena. The Buffalo Bulls won 64-61 over the Akron Zips to advance to the NCAA Tournament. Mandatory Credit: Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports /

March Madness is exhilarating and a roller-coaster ride that you just can’t take your eyes off, but for the teams involved in the greatest three weeks in sports, it also brings the unknown. For the No. 3 seed Miami Hurricanes (25-7, 13-5 ACC), that unknown is the No. 14 seed Buffalo Bulls (20-14, 10-8 MAC).

After a 17-14 regular season with a 10-8 conference record, the New York school went on a thrilling three-game run through the MAC Tournament to punch their ticket to the Big Dance. While the Bulls did upset the No. 2 seed, Ohio, and the No. 1 seed, Akron, they will face a much stiffer test in the Hurricanes come Thursday night.

Before that game, I took an in-depth look at not only Buffalo’s journey to the tourney, but also their roster and the type of playing style that they will throw at the Canes when they meet them in Providence, RI. The NCAA Tournament is always fun, but there are always a few surprises, for Miami fans out there, they just hope that the Buffalo Bulls aren’t one of them.

Head Coach: Nate Oats (1st Year)

There aren’t too many coaches that make the NCAA Tournament in their first year and there are even less that have made the NCAA Tournament with their only previous head coaching experience being at the high school level. Well, Buffalo’s Nate Oats is one of those few.

Before he was an assistant under Bobby Hurley for the last two years at Buffalo, Oats was the head coach at Romulus High School in Detroit. There he made the public school one of the top powers in the region and translated his success into a role as the top assistant and recruiting coordinator with the Bulls.

In his first year at Buffalo, Oats led the Bulls to a 20-14 season and a MAC Tournament title and now one of, if not the least experienced coach in the NCAA Tournament will go up against one of the most experienced coaches in the tournament in Miami’s Jim Larranaga.

Projected Starting Five

6’3’’ guard- Lamonte Bearden (13.6 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 4.0 APG)

  • Good handles, quick, lots of size for a point guard

6’3’’ guard Jarryn Skeete (8.0 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 2.4 RPG)

  • Leader of the team, only returning starter from last year’s NCAA Tournament team

6’5’’ forward Willie Conner (11.5 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 1.0 APG)

  • Tremendous three-point shooter, MAC Tournament MVP, JUCO transfer

6’6’’ forward Blake Hamilton (12.9 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 2.5 APG)

  • Hit game-winning shot in MAC Tournament Final, JUCO transfer

6’10’’ center Ikenna Smart (3.4 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 0.2 APG)

  • Redshirted last season, from Nigeria and has only played basketball for a few years, raw, but plenty of upside

Sixth Man: 6’3” CJ Massinburg (11.3 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 1.7 APG)

  • Dangerous three-point shooter, hit four threes in MAC Tournament final, plays starter minutes

How they got to the Big Dance

  • Buffalo started off the year at 7-6 after multiple losses in a tough non-conference slate. They played games at St. Joe’s, Duke, Iowa State and VCU and hosted St. Bonaventure, all in the first 13 games of the season.
  • Went 7-3 to begin MAC Play, but finished the conference schedule at 3-5 to finish with a 17-14 overall record and a 10-8 record in the MAC. That conference record earned them a No. 3 seed in the MAC Tournament
  • Beat No. 11 seed Miami (OH) 94-81 in the second round of the MAC Tournament. Willie Conner led all scorers with 25 points and the Bulls shot 50.0% from the field in the victory.
  • Next, Buffalo beat the No. 2 seed Ohio 88-74 to return to their second straight MAC Tournament Final. Willie Conner scored 22, Blake Hamilton finished with 20 points on 4-of-7 shooting from three and the team shot 14-of-27 (51.9%) from deep in the victory.
  • In the final, sixth man CJ Massinburg came off the bench to lead all scorers with 18 points and Blake Hamilton hit a three with 1.8 seconds left to beat the No. 1 seed Akron 64-61.

Resume Notes

  • Finished with No. 91 RPI, No. 88 SOS and No. 131 in the KenPom
  • Best wins: Akron and Ohio, both came in last two games
  • Were 1-7 vs. the RPI Top 50 (beat No. 34 Akron 64-61)
  • Lost to KenPom Top 50 teams (St. Joe’s, Duke, Iowa State & VCU) by an average of 21.75 points
  • Had five losses vs. teams ranked in the RPI Top 100-250
  • Have won four straight games and six of their last eight

Scouting Notes

  • Buffalo LOVES the three-point ball
    • The Bulls shot 750 three-pointers this year and shot at a decent 33.7% clip, Miami only attempted 599 three-pointers
    • 35-of-80 (43.75%) in the three games at the MAC Tournament
    • They spread the floor really well and move the ball with efficiency
  • The Bulls want to get up and run
    • Like UNC, they turn defense into offense quickly
  • Against Akron in the MAC Final, Buffalo doubled the Zips’s big man
    • Could employ similar strategy against Jekiri
    • Will be important that Jekiri distributes the ball well if that is the case

Dealing with tragedy

Miami fans will be rooting against Buffalo, but it is hard not to admire their perseverance after all the tragedy they have gone through this season.

Head coach Nate Oats’s wife, Crystal, has been battling lymphoma all season, but was able to make it to the MAC Tournament Final where the team gave her the last piece of the net that they had cut down.

The team also had to deal with the loss of first-year associate head coach Jim Whitesell’s brother, who lost his battle with cancer and the passing of freshman Nikola Rakicevic’s mother.

Buffalo will be Miami’s opponent on Thursday, but there is a lot to root for in this Bulls team.

This is Buffalo’s second straight NCAA Tournament appearance, but this team is nothing like last year’s.

Last year, Buffalo made their first NCAA Tournament appearance under legendary Duke guard Bobby Hurley, but when the Bulls’ former head man took the job at Arizona State that set off a chain reaction of movement on the roster.

Shannon Evans, last year’s 6’1” point guard, went with Hurley to Tempe and last year’s MAC Player of the Year, Justin Moss, was kicked out of school back in August after he was involved with an on-campus robbery.

Oats has done a tremendous job with only three major contributors (Jarryn Skeete, Lamonte Bearden and Rodell Wiggington) returning from that team that earned a No. 12 seed last season and lost to the No. 5 seed West Virginia Mountaineers.

Now after never making the NCAA Tournament in program history, Buffalo is back for a second attempt this year. They opened as 13.5-point underdog against the No. 3 seed Miami Hurricanes and will begin their dream of a Cinderella run Thursday at 6:50 p.m. in Providence, RI.