UB set to take on Arizona State in first round of the NCAA Tournament

The Bulls' postseason starts with a showdown against former head coach Bobby Hurley and the Sun Devils

Jon Simon
March 21, 2019 - 3:37 pm

Photo: Mark J. Rebilas - USA TODAY Sports

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The six-seed University at Buffalo Bulls were the last team in the 2019 NCAA Tournament to discover who their first-round opponent would be. Late Wednesday night, the 11-seed Arizona State Sun Devils defeated fellow 11-seed St. John’s in the final First Four play-in game to earn the opportunity to face the 2019 Mid-American Conference regular season and tournament champions.

The big storyline going in is obvious. UB will be facing off against former Bulls head coach Bobby Hurley, who left Buffalo after just two seasons to take over at Arizona State. Nate Oats, the Bulls current head coach, was hired by Hurley to be an assistant coach when he first came to UB. Since Hurley’s departure, Oats has elevated the program to a new level.

The Bulls are five-point favorites heading into Friday’s showdown with the Sun Devils and that doesn’t come as much of a surprise. The Bulls were tied with the Houston Cougars for the most wins in college basketball this season with 31, and a number of experts and media members thought they could’ve gotten better than a six-seed.

Arizona State (23-10) placed second in a fairly weak PAC 12 conference in the regular season and lost to Oregon in the conference tournament finals. Along with Arizona State and Oregon, the regular season champion-Washington Huskies are the only other PAC 12 team to in this year’s tournament.

The biggest player to watch from Arizona State is guard Luguentz Dort, a 6’ 4” and 215-pound freshman from Montreal, Quebec. Dort led the Sun Devils with 21 points in the win over St. John’s and averaged a team-high 16.2 points per-game this season. Sophomore guard Remy Martin finished second on the team with 13.1 points per-game.

UB guards Davonta Jordan and Dontay Caruthers were both named to the All-MAC defensive team, if they can keep Dort and Martin in-check, UB should be able to handle Arizona State and advance to the Round of 32.

One of the best things about this year’s UB team is that they found so many ways to win games. Some games they would blow teams out by 30 and score 100-plus points. Other games they would be in a 40-minute grudge match or have to come back from a double-digit deficit to earn a victory.

Arizona State doesn’t pop off the charts offensively or defensively. If the Bulls put in a good to above-average shooting performance, that along with their normal solid defensive play should be enough to top the Sun Devils.

UB from top-to-bottom is simply a better team than Arizona State. Despite being the team not from a power-five conference, UB is a clear favorite. The Bulls were in the AP Top-25 all year and finished the regular season ranked as the 15th-best team in the country. The Bulls were fifth highest scoring team in the country, averaging 84.9 points per-game and tied for fourth in rebounding with 41.1 boards per-game. UB wasn’t one of the best three-point shooting teams in the country, but there have been games this season where if they get hot, they can shoot teams out of the building.

CJ Massinburg is the type of player who can carry UB to the Sweet 16 or further. The 2019 MAC Player of the Year has NBA potential, and some considered him a possible All-American. Even if Massinburg isn’t on, fellow seniors Nick Perkins and Jeremy Harris can shoulder the offensive load. Jayvon Graves has come on as a fourth offensive threat in the second half of the season and could have another breakout game on Friday. If Massinburg, Perkins, Harris and Graves are all on their game, it could be curtains rather quickly for Arizona State.

The Bulls and Sun Devils tip-off at 4 p.m. on Friday from the Bank of Oklahoma Center in Tulsa; the game will be televised on TNT. You can also listen to the game on ESPN 1520 with pre-game coverage starting at 3:30 p.m..

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