Fast-Paced Buffalo in Perfect Position to Play Spoiler in 2019 NCAA Tournament

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistMarch 22, 2019

You don't know their faces, but the Bulls don't care. They keep winning.
You don't know their faces, but the Bulls don't care. They keep winning.Harry How/Getty Images

TULSA, Okla. If you're looking for a Cinderella story, Buffalo isn't it.

Although the program is a mid-major conference champion on the sport's biggest stagethe 2019 men's NCAA basketball tournamentthere wasn't any doubt it would be here. The Bulls received a "save the date" card for the Big Dance months ago.

When the official invitation arrived, it featured Buffalo as a No. 6 seed. Nate Oats' team backed up the billing in its 2019 tourney debut with a 91-74 triumph over 11th-seeded Arizona State.

That, however, doesn't mean the Bulls are about to be considered a favorite. According to B/R Betting, the only top-six seed with lower odds to win the national championship before the tournament started was Mississippi State. And since March Madness has been relatively thin on upsets so far, Buffalo isn't moving from its place as an underdog.

Last year, the Bulls reveled in ruining Barack Obama's bracket. This March, they're built to wreck even moreand are doing it without a bunch of highly recruited talent.

Of their seven players with at least 500 minutes played this season, none was a 4-star recruit out of high school in the 247Sports composite rankings. The core of this Buffalo team is comprised of overlooked recruits.

CJ Massinburg, the MAC Player of the Year, netted 18 points in Friday's win. Nick Perkins and Jeremy Harris both scored 21, while Jayvon Graves added 13 points and Davonta Jordan had seven assists.

The Bulls are especially difficult to contain because of their superb efficiency at a blistering pace.

According to KenPom.com, they own the nation's 10th-fastest tempo. Buffalo takes 36.4 percent of its initial shots in transitionthe fourth-highest rate, per Hoop-Math.comand boasts a 61.0 effective field-goal percentage, which ranks 31st.

If the Bulls can run, they're dangerous. The rapid pacewhich conflicts with third-seeded Texas Tech's methodical tempo and is the polar opposite of No. 2 Michigan's slow stylestresses defenses and creates open shots thanks to terrific ball movement.

And that is what's most important: Buffalo sees.

Led by Jordan at 3.6 per game, five players average at least 1.9 assists. Friday, their ball movement was clinical. Buffalo regularly passed up contested drives for wide-open looks.

Showcasing that collective vision will be pivotal in Buffalo's hopes of spoiling March for Texas Tech in the second round and potentially Michigan in the Sweet 16. Those programs are first and second nationally in defensive efficiency, per KenPom.

But as TNT broadcaster Steve Lavin noted, the Bulls' cooperative approach translates to the other end of the court.

They entered Friday with the nation's 21st-ranked three-point defense and held Arizona State to a 3-of-22 clip from the perimeter. Only nine Division I teams have surrendered a three-point clip of 40 percent in a game fewer times than Buffalo's five, per Sports Reference.

And even if Texas Tech and/or Michigan play slow and don't shoot threes, the Bulls can succeed in a defensive battle. 

In non-transition possessions, per Hoop-Math, Buffalo has ceded an effective field-goal percentage of just 47.2. Plus, the Bulls are 21st in transition defense and 64th in opponent turnover rate.

Buffalo is built to contend with the nation's best teams.

The clock has struck midnight on many of 2019's potential Cinderella stories, but that's of no concern to the Bulls. This spoiler is ready to take its rightful place in the spotlight.

          

Recruiting information via 247Sports. Statistics courtesy of KenPom.com or Sports-Reference.com, unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.

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