After two straight NCAA tournament appearances, the Buffalo Bulls didn’t make it to the Big Dance last year.
Blame it on the transition at head coach from Bobby Hurley to Nate Oats. Blame it on being a hot stretch for the team combined with a good recruiting haul. Call it whatever you want.
Regardless, the Bulls may have destroyed any reason you may have to doubt them.
This year, after an up and down non-conference schedule, the Bulls have gone 9-1 in Mid-American Conference play. On top of that, only one of their six losses is to an opponent with an RPI over 100.
A complete turnaround is not unusual for a team over a short period of time, especially in a non-basketball powerhouse conference like the MAC. But in a year? That’s a lot less common.
Part of that reason the team likes to shoot the hell out of the ball. Though they rank 151st in field goal attempts in the nation, they 26th in three point attempts.
That has led to the Bulls ranking in the top 25 nationally for points per game with 83.6 per game. They are also 67th in the nation with a 53.3 shooting percentage on 2-pointers, showing they can convert as well.
Four people have 10 or more points per game, including C.J. Massinburg. The guard has 8.1 points per game and 7.5 rebounds per game.
On top of that, the team also takes advantage of turnovers for points. Buffalo opponents had 337 turnovers, 97th in the nation. Combine that with that high amount of shots and they got a perfect storm of scoring.
“They’re one of the best teams I’ve seen to turn turnovers into points,” MAC dean of coaches Steve Hawkins said to the Buffalo News. “When you play them, you have to play almost a perfectly disciplined game. A bad shot against them is an outlet pass. You might as well be throwing them the outlet pass. We had that early and they took advantage of it.”
Oats has the team also learning from their defeats. After allowing a come-from-behind loss to Kent State, the team did not allow Western Michigan to come back in their last game by defending much better in the second half.
“So if it took a loss to get us refocused on what we need to focus on, we need to get better, and we typically have here,” Oats said to the Niagara Gazette. “Hopefully, we can be playing our best basketball at the end of the season.”
Buffalo still has eight games left in their schedule, so they still need to make sure they don’t drop games to opponents that would lower their RPI. Even if they do not win their conference tournament, finishing out the season with several wins in a row would easily put them up for at-large bid consideration.
If they can work on stopping teams late in games and allowing that high-scoring offense to flow and secure a bid to the tournament, Buffalo may be dancing again.