Buzzer beater: UB Bulls vs. West Virginia NCAA tournament predictions
The men’s basketball team (23-9, 12-6 Mid-American Conference) faces West Virginia (23-9, 11-7 Big 12) on Friday in Columbus, Ohio, for the program’s first-ever NCAA tournament game. The Mountaineers are currently 4-point favorites over Buffalo but many experts - and even President Barack Obama - have picked the Bulls to pull off the upset.
The Spectrum staff gives their predictions for Friday’s game.
Tom Dinki, senior news editor
West Virginia 72-65
It almost seems like siding against the Bulls is the surprising pick.
I never would have thought Buffalo would be the popular pick in an NCAA tournament game. But there just seems to be something about this Bulls team that has even the ‘experts’ on ESPN throwing out phrases like "dark horse" and "Cinderella."
Maybe it’s because Buffalo played close first halves against tournament No. 1 seeds Kentucky and Wisconsin. Maybe its because the Bulls are on an eight-game winning streak and won a conference that people are starting to respect. Maybe it’s the recent trends of No. 12 seeds upsetting No. 5 seeds.
Maybe it’s just because Bobby Hurley is roaming the Buffalo sideline.
For whatever the reason, everyone’s bracket – including President Barack Obama’s – seems to have the Bulls as the upset pick and advancing to play most likely Maryland on Sunday. And on the surface, it makes sense.
It all adds up that Buffalo is going to pull off the upset and possibly even be the team that shocks the nation this year by going further than they were expected to.
I think that’s what’s scaring me away.
How often is the upset widely predicted? How often do the ‘experts’ pick out the Cinderella team before the tournament starts? I’d say rarely. If this wasn’t being talked about as a potential upset, I may be more inclined to take Buffalo in this game. That may not be the best reason to go with West Virginia, but there are other factors influencing my decision.
I’m still not completely convinced Justin Moss is 100 percent. Ankle injuries are tricky. Remember Jarryn Skeete all last season?
I think Buffalo's games against Kentucky and Wisconsin may actually show why they'll fall in this game. On one hand the Bulls clearly don’t get intimidated by big games, on the other, they are susceptible to being run off the floor in the second half by more superior talent – and the Mountaineers are the more superior team. They wouldn’t be a No. 5 seed if they weren’t. I could see this game going very similarly to those Kentucky and Wisconsin games.
Buffalo’s lack of depth and West Virginia’s full-court press defense - despite Shannon Evans and Lamonte Bearden's creativity - scare me away.
This isn’t to say the Bulls aren’t more than capable of defeating West Virginia on Friday. I think they are. And I expect a close game. And I actually get the sense that Hurley and the players are not content with just making the program’s first-ever NCAA tournament. I think they’re actually motivated to surprise people and do some damage.
But ultimately I think the Bulls are going to go down in a close one to West Virginia. Buffalo has its moment in the spotlight, but they may be a year away from winning a tournament game. I think that speaks to how young and talented this team is.
Jordan Grossman, senior sports editor
If I learned anything about the men’s basketball team this year, it's that you can never count out its playing under the brightest of lights.
The Bulls have been underdogs even from before the season began, when they were projected to finish No. 4 in the MAC East. They’re no strangers to adversity. I didn’t believe in the young squad either. I thought they lost too many components from the team that was supposed win the MAC last season.
But when the young squad held halftime leads over Kentucky and Wisconsin (both No. 1 seeds in the tournament), I began to buy into the team. When Buffalo defeated Kent State 80-55 in a raucous Alumni Arena on Jan. 30, I started to turn into a believer. Now, the team that has been playing for its season for over a month, enters the tournament with eight straight wins, last defeating Central Michigan for the MAC title on national television.
And Friday will pose the brightest of lights for Buffalo in its program history: a 12/5 matchup with West Virginia.
I love the classic 12/5 matchup. It is a great opportunity for a lower seed to upset a high seed. It happened three times out of four last year. This year, I believe Buffalo will take home that honor of pulling the upset.
The Bulls and the Mountaineers are similar teams. Both squads run a guard-heavy offense with undersized big men. West Virginia features Juwan Staten, one of the best guards in the Big 12. Buffalo features one of the best forwards in the MAC in Justin Moss.
Buffalo’s biggest problem will be getting around West Virginia’s full-court press defense, led by legendary head coach Bob Huggins. West Virginia has a plethora of athletes with a particular skill sets that can help them advance.
But March Madness is all about the intangibles. Buffalo has never made the NCAA tournament and are riding an eight-game winning streak heading into the game. Buffalo may not play in a conference like West Virginia, but it proved it could be effective against big-name schools. When the stage is set and the lights are the brightest, the Bulls do not shy away. They embrace it and get people talking.
Buffalo has my nod.
Quentin Haynes, sports editor
West Virginia 75-70
I’m going with West Virginia to pull out the victory.
The Mountaineers are good at two things: forcing turnovers and grabbing offensive rebounds. West Virginia is first in the NCAA in steals per game at 10.9 and second in offensive rebounds per game at 14.4. Both are critical as neither team shoots the ball well – Buffalo shoots 43.5 percent from the field, while West Virginia sits at 41.2 percent. I think this game will be close and West Virginia getting the additional possessions will be the tipping point in their victory.
That said (here is where I hedge my bet), I wouldn’t be shocked if the Bulls won.
Sophomore guard Shannon Evans is playing at a high level, running the team while limiting his turnovers and hitting over 50 percent of his shots from beyond the arc in the winning streak. Senior forwards Xavier Ford and Will Regan are playing great – Ford on the defensive end, Regan providing another shooter off the bench.
The X-factor is junior forward Justin Moss. Hobbled the last two games, the hope is that after a couple days of rest he’ll be 100 percent for Friday. There were moments in the MAC championship game against Central Michigan where you saw that original burst offensively. If he’s good to go, it wouldn’t shock me if the Bulls walked away with their first-ever NCAA tournament victory.
James Battle, asst. sports editor
Statistically, the 12/5 matchup has the highest probability of an upset. And while we’re on the topic of statistics, ESPN’s Stats & Info Twitter handle pointed out that the Bulls are 13-0 against teams who shoot below 30 percent from three. The Mountaineers shoot 31.8 percent.
Things are looking good for the Bulls, but this game will be a nail-biter.
While the Mountaineers are poor shooters, they’re good at getting to the basket. After watching the Bulls allow easy inside baskets throughout the season, this worries me. On the other hand, the Bulls force a lot of turnovers, and a team that will most likely run a lot of play to get inside will not be safe at all.
West Virginia senior guard Juwan Staten will be a player to look out for on Friday. Staten leads the Mountaineers with 14.5 points per game, and will definitely be a thorn in the side of the Bulls. Friday’s game will be Staten’s first game back after missing four games due to a knee injury.
Junior forward Justin Moss is the Bulls’ best player, but I think other players will stand out more than him over the course of the tournament.
Senior forward Xavier Ford turned up the intensity in the MAC Tournament, scoring 17 points and grabbing 11 rebounds against Akron in the semi-finals and scoring 18 and had four rebounds against Central Michigan in the finals.
I think Ford will be the Bulls’ dark horse in the tournament.
Another player who will really make a name for himself in the tournament is sophomore guard Shannon Evans. Evans plays his heart out every game, but something about the spotlight makes him step it up even more. People will see why his nickname is “Hollywood” on Friday.
The Bulls have to give the Mountaineers a run for their money early on and keep it up. The Bulls averaged 75 points per game this season – West Virginia averaged 73.9. Contrary to the seeding, I think the Bulls have a slight advantage in this matchup. This will be a close one.
Owen O’Brien, special to The Spectrum
Everything seems to be coming together perfectly for the Bulls. Some people may say too perfectly. I don’t believe in such a thing as “too perfect.”
Buffalo players and coaches couldn’t have asked for a better draw after Selection Sunday. The Bulls will be playing in a 12/5 match-up on a Friday in Ohio. If you’ve watched ESPN since the brackets were released, you probably noticed 12/5 upsets are on the rise and Buffalo’s a popular pick amongst the “experts.” The Bulls are used to playing in Ohio and the Friday date opposed to Thursday gives Justin Moss, the MAC Player of the Year, an extra day to rest his injured ankle.
Everything lines up. Maybe I’m walking into a trap, but I’m taking the Bulls in a 67-64 upset victory over the West Virginia on Friday in the NCAA Tournament Round of 64.
West Virginia finished 23-7, 11-7 in Big-12 competition and lost to Baylor in the conference tournament. West Virginia is no joke, and worthy of its No. 5 seed. But the Mountaineers are far from unbeatable.
West Virginia finished the season 5-6 over its final 11 games. Yes, 10 of these 11 games have come against Big-12 teams that made the NCAA Tournament. So the Mountaineers will see the Bulls as their easiest competition in the past 10 weeks.
That could be a mistake.
The Bulls have (almost) everything I look for in a team that can pull off postseason upsets. First off, Buffalo enters on an eight-game winning streak and has to be among the most confident teams in the country. Second, Buffalo has tremendous guard play as of late.
Sophomore guard Shannon Evans has taken over the offense during this winning streak. Evans is averaging 16.1 points, 5.5 assists, 3.3 rebounds and is shooting 57.5 percent from beyond the arc in his last eight games. Guard play leads to upsets – just look at what Shabazz Napier did at UConn as a No. 6 and Stephen Curry’s run at Davidson as a No. 10. I’m not saying Evans is one of these players, but he can be for one game.
The Mountaineers’ pressure defense has to be a concern for Buffalo. Luckily for head coach Bobby Hurley, he has a week to reflect on his playing days with Coach K to draw up a few press-breaking schemes.
West Virginia’s injury concerns in the back court (both senior guards are currently banged up), shaky finish to the season and the inevitability that West Virginia will overlook Buffalo to Maryland will lead to this season’s 12/5 upset.
But Maryland – the team the Bulls would likely play if they defeat West Virginia – is a much tougher challenge than West Virginia. Maryland won 27 games, including 14 in the Big-10, plays with a 10-man rotation and starts two seniors and utilizes another in the sixth man role.
Senior guard Dez Wells was a First-Team All-Big 10 selection and freshman guard Melo Trimble led the Terrapins in scoring (16.1 points per game), assists (3.1 assists per game), steals (1.2 per game), was named Second-Team All-Big 10 and was a unanimous selection for the All-Freshman team. Maryland won its final eight games of the season before losing the conference tournament against Michigan State. During the season, Maryland won at Michigan State, Oklahoma State and Purdue – all NCAA tournament teams – and defeated Wisconsin – a No. 1 seed.
The Bulls won’t return to Buffalo with a Sweet 16 berth, but there’s no reason to believe they can’t squeak out their first NCAA tournament victory in program history.
The Spectrum sports staff can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org