Buffalo pulled a six seed from the selection committee, the highest for a MAC team since the field expanded to 64 teams. The Bulls aren’t the only good team in the MAC but they are far and away the best. Toledo, Central Michigan, and Kent State all accepted bids to the other post season tournaments. I’ve pulled some stats to get a baseline for each team in each first round game plus the other game at the Tulsa region. The general information I pulled is pace of play, shooting percentage, how often a team shoots a three, turnovers, steals, blocks, total rebound percentage, and how each team distributes their scoring. Basically I wanted to know if it’s a one man show or a true team effort.
#6 Buffalo vs #11 Arizona State or #11 St. Johns
Buffalo plays against a team that plays in the first four, either Arizona State or St. Johns. All of the teams have a strength of schedule that is about the same per the NET system. Buffalo has shot the ball better than either team so far this season, relying on the three ball more than both and also shooting the worst from range. Getting in close is how the Bulls make their living and use the three to cause even more headaches.
There isn’t a ton that separates the three teams, besides that Buffalo has performed better against their schedule than the other two. St. Johns sticks out in a couple categories: they use their bench less than the other two, their rebounding is by far the worst, and they go for the ball a lot. They are 17th in steal percentage this season. Arizona State tends to turn the ball over at an average rate which makes them the worst in this group by a wide margin.
It seems to boil down to if Buffalo gets Arizona State, take advantage of turnovers, have an answer for Zylan Cheatham, and take good shots. Not a terribly complicated game plan there. If the draw is St. Johns, push the tempo. Force them to use the bench, only five players average over 30 minutes a game and only three more get more than ten. Take advantage of their below average rebounding, and take care of the ball.
#3 Texas Tech vs #14 Northern Kentucky
This game only matters if Buffalo wins for the purpose of this article. Texas Tech is definitely a half court offense that would cause the tempo to really fluctuate during a game with Buffalo. The Red Raiders shoot the ball really well, hitting on 47.2% of their shots this season. Their defense is pretty solid, blocking the 7th highest percentage of shots and forcing 10.7% of their opponents possessions to end in a steal.
A full quarter of their points came from Jarrett Culver this season who shot 48.5%! That’s good. There are other players that contribute but it seems they use the whole clock to find a good look for a couple of their shooters and play great defense.
Is it possible for the Horizon League champ, Northern Kentucky, to win this game? Sure. They shoot better than 48% from the field and rebound really well. They just haven’t proven it against high level competition like Texas Tech has all season.
#6 Toledo at #3 Xavier
Toledo and Xavier meet in the first round in the NIT. The Rockets were the best team in the MAC West posting a conference record of 13-5. Toledo isn’t shy about shooting the three. The Rockets shot 38% from deep this season. Their defensive strategy isn’t built around getting turnovers from steals, but it does center around rebounding well. Four players average over ten points a game in a very balanced offense.
Xavier is another team that is very deliberate on offense and not reliant on the three point shot. They will be playing in front of a home crowd on Wednesday so that makes Toledo’s job a little harder. Both teams rebound well and will end possessions on missed shots routinely. Toledo will have their work cut out on the road against a good Xavier team but some extra turnovers that Xavier is prone to, and some hot shooting can get Toledo to the next round in the NIT.
Central Michigan at DePaul
In the College Basketball Invitational, Central Michigan travels to DePaul in the first round. Central Michigan likes to push the pace to end in a layup. The Chips take a lot of shots but only 37.5% of their shots are threes. That’s good for 205th in the nation. The interior is pretty deficient for CMU. They don’t block many shots, and they don’t rebound the ball well.
DePaul is faster than average but not quite the pace of CMU. This is going to be a fun game to watch, albeit a little strange. Both teams don’t shoot threes, both run, DePaul rebounds at a top 25 level, and Central takes care of the ball really well and DePaul does not. If CMU can get the easy shot on the breakout and score a couple extra possessions from DePaul turning it over, forced or unforced, they could pull this one out. If they don’t make their shots, they in all likelihood don’t get second chance points and are in trouble. Fouls may come into play since both teams avoid the three and pound the ball in close.
This one should be weirdly fun.
Kent State at UL Monroe
In the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament Kent State travels to UL Monroe for some first round action. The CIT reseeds after each round, so there is no bracket. For how much fun a bracket is, this seems like an odd choice made to be different. UL Monroe shoots the three a lot and they shoot it well. Daishon Smith for the Warhawks is their leading scorer averaging 21 points a game.
Kent State is led by Jaylin Walker who also averages 21 points a game. Look for his teammate Philip Whittington to have a good game. ULM struggles to rebound and block shots. Whittington averages 11 points and 8.2 rebounds a game. He should be able to take advantage. Kent State does struggle to shoot the ball at times so this is far from a easy win for either team.