West Region: Arizona State vs Buffalo Prediction
Arizona State vs Buffalo Preview
Bobby Hurley was beloved by the Buffalo fan base when he took the Bulls to the Big Dance in 2015–after committing to UB, he spurned the school to take the job at Arizona State. Fast forward a few years later and the teams square off in the Tournament for the first time.
Buffalo fans still have a salty taste in their mouth for Hurley, but most are very thankful he left. The main reason? Nate Oats.
The current UB coach has not missed a beat since Hurley bolted, and some would argue he’s done a better job in every aspect–including connecting with the blue collar fan base of the Bulls.
Hurley’s 11th-seeded Sun Devils (23-10) defeated St. John’s 74-65 on Wednesday in the First Four at Dayton, Ohio, to set up the intriguing matchup.
Hurley was the one who brought Nate Oats on his staff at UB and now as the coach of the sixth-seeded Bulls (31-3), the team is tied with Houston for the most victories in college basketball this season.
Oats saw the possibility of coaching against Hurley on Sunday when the bracket was revealed. He had little interest in discussing it.
“The media and everybody can write all about that,” Oats told reporters. “I don’t need our guys to think about any of that.”
Hurley was trying to keep it out of his mind because his team had a game against St. John’s to worry about. His players took care of business and the win over the Red Storm was the school’s first NCAA Tournament victory since 2009, when a guy named James Harden was the star player.
Hurley said he tries to watch as many Buffalo games as he can and admittedly roots hard for the Bulls. He also is well aware his Pac-12 program is the type Buffalo wants to take down to increase its growing reputation.
In fact, Buffalo routed Arizona 89-68 in the first round of last year’s NCAA Tournament.
“I just know for sure watching Nate Oats’ teams, they take on his character and his personality by how hard-nosed he is and how fiery he is,” Hurley said. “And his kids play extremely hard and they have a chip on their shoulder. The whole mid-major thing, I think they’re tired of that. So it’s going to be a heck of a game.”
The Bulls, who have won 12 straight games, are led by senior guard CJ Massinburg, the Mid-American Conference Player of the Year. Massinburg averages 18.3 points and has knocked down 86 3-pointers.
Senior forward Nick Perkins brings energy off the bench and is Buffalo’s second-leading scorer at 14.4 points and the team’s leading rebounder (7.3).
The Bulls aren’t pleased with receiving a No. 6 seed even though it’s the highest a MAC program has landed since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985.
“We had the best record in college basketball,” Oats told reporters earlier this week. “We’re tied with Houston. Nobody has more wins than we do. A six is a little low. It is what it is. You look at the teams that are one through five, those are some pretty good teams.”
For ASU, their star players stepped up when they needed them to against SJU. Freshman guard Luguentz Dort had 21 points in the First Four game to raise his team-leading average to 16.2, while senior power forward Zylan Cheatham (11.8 points, 10.4 rebounds) had 14 points and 10 rebounds for his 14th double-double of the season.
LINE: -5 Buffalo
Dan’s Bet: -5 Buffalo
Bracket Pick: Buffalo
Score Prediction: Buffalo 85 Arizona State 75