Buzzer Beater: contenders or pretenders for the MAC Tournament
Sports editors weigh in on whether the Bulls can leave Cleveland as champions
The Bulls (21-9, 12-6 Mid-American Conference) are heading off to Cleveland for MAC tournament. After the Bull’s victory over Bowling Green on Friday, the Bulls will have a triple bye, meaning they automatically advance to the conference semifinals Friday and will have to win just two games to be crowned MAC champions. Buffalo would receive its first Division I NCAA tournament bid with a MAC Championship game victory.
The Spectrum sports desk discusses whether the Bulls are legitimate contenders to win the tournament, or is there a team or two that we see knocking them off beforehand?
Jordan Grossman, senior sports editor
This situation is far too familiar, and I don’t feel comfortable about it at all.
Last season, the Bulls were defeated in their first game of the tournament to Eastern Michigan in what should have been the team’s year to take the conference. The team featured multiple star-studded seniors, including MAC Player of the Year Javon McCrea.
This year’s team approaches the tournament differently. The team was predicted to finish No. 4 team in the MAC East. But the emergence of last year’s role players helped the team to a No. 2 seed in this year’s tournament.
What concerns me is the road to get there. When Friday’s MAC semifinal game comes, Buffalo will have not played in a week, while the team it will play this Friday will have played at least one game in the stretch. The Bulls are very versatile, but it will be a question of whether they will be able to turn it on when game-time approaches.
I’m also concerned with the depth of the team. Hurley has advocated an eight-man rotation during most of the season. It is a useful system when they are playing two games per week, but not two games in two days.
I believe the Bulls will defeat their first-round opponent, but they will struggle in the championship matchup. Unless the team can find a groove and find energy for the second game, I see another disappointing end of the Buffalo season.
Quentin Haynes, sports editor
I said it before, I’ll say it again: I believe the Bulls are winning the conference tournament.
The Bulls have one of the best offenses in the conference and everything seems to be working at the right time. Sophomore guard Shannon Evans is running this team to a ‘T’ – limiting turnovers and creating shot attempts for both junior forward Justin Moss and senior forward Xavier Ford. He’s also been lights out from beyond the arc in the current six-game winning streak.
In their last game against Bowling Green, senior forward Will Regan found his shot from beyond the arc and that will be huge as they head to Cleveland. The one weakness the Bulls had was that their offense needed someone to stretch the floor outside of junior guard Jarryn Skeete. If Regan’s performance against Bowling Green was more than just getting hot for one night, the Bulls offense could be unstoppable.
On the defensive end, the Bulls have shown the ability as of late to shut teams down. The combination of Ford and Moss in the paint gives them two athletic, active forwards capable of affecting the opponents game at the basket and accumulating steals. Evans, Skeete and freshman guard Lamonte Bearden close out the starting lineup with three solid guards while junior guard Rodell Wigginton gives them additional energy off the bench.
There’s no team that truly scares me for the Bulls.
James Battle, assistant sports editor
I believe the Bulls have a realistic chance at winning the Mid-American Conference.
If last season’s post-season display is any indication of how Bobby Hurley’s Bulls will play in the tournament, they need to limit the amount of games they play because the team doesn’t seem to do very well the more games it has to play.
A big concern with the team is the weeklong stretch of no basketball, which might hinder their stunning run in the past month. Last Friday’s nail-biting win over Bowling Green was the Bulls’ sixth straight win.
On the flip side, the Bulls only have to win two games in Cleveland, something only the Bulls and Central Michigan (22-7, 12-6 MAC) have the luxury of doing. I predict that we will play Kent State (21-10, 12-6 MAC) in the semi-finals, a team that we have beaten by a good margin multiple times this season, and then either Toledo (19-12, 11-7 MAC) or No. 1 seed Central Michigan in the finals.
If my predictions are correct, the semis will be the definition of light work, but the finals will be a tough game. The Bulls lost to Toledo back in the beginning of February and played Central Michigan twice, losing both games. With that said, it is still possible for the Bulls to emerge as champions.
The Bulls have played Toledo only once, losing by four. In that game, Toledo was automatic from the three-point range, shooting 85.7 percent. That’s an impressive and somewhat lucky percentage. I find it highly unlikely that Toledo will shoot that well again. It should also be worth noting that 36 of Toledo’s points came from beyond the arc and Buffalo still only lost by four points. If Toledo shoots a less impressive game by the slightest bit, the Bulls are sending the Rockets home.
The first time the Bulls faced Central Michigan, the Chippewas won by 11. When they met again, the Bulls put up a much more spirited effort, losing by one. The key to their victory: junior guard Chris Fowler. Fowler dropped 22 against the Bulls that game, but the rest of their starting five didn’t come close to scoring that many points. It’s safe to say that Fowler carried the Chippewas that day and I don’t see that happening again.
In the case of “contender or pretender,” the Bulls are definitely the former.
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