Day & Time: Tuesday, Dec 18 at 8 p.m.
Location: Carrier Dome, Syracuse, N.Y.
Line: Syracuse opened as a three-point favorite, and the line moved up to a full four for the Orange. ESPN BPI gives Syracuse an 64.5-percent chance of winning
Radio: Syracuse IMG Network, WAER 88.3, Sirius XM 381
Buffalo blog: Bull Run
Rivalry: 28-5, Syracuse
Current Streak: 18, Syracuse
First Meeting: Eventual (Helms Foundation) national champions (and you thought 2003 was the only big year) Syracuse went on the on the road against Buffalo in early January of 1918, grabbing a convincing 30-17 victory. Given transportation options at the time, it’s likely that wasn’t the easy trip as it is today. Joe Schwarzer led the way for Ed Dollard’s 16-1 SU team, scoring 14 points in the win that day.
Last Meeting: If you’re looking for a quote to sum up the meeting between the two in the Dome last December, then check out coach Nate Oats’ reaction. The Bulls coach said afterward, “Those three players on Syracuse (Tyus battle, Oshae Brissett and Frank Howard) are really good. After that, we’ve got some really good players at the front end, too., but we’re deeper and our bench in better.”
Syracuse was able to hold off Buffalo, 81-74, with Brissett leading the way with 25 points and eight boards. Howard added 18, Battle 13, and center Pachal Chukwu contributed eight blocks in the victory.
Still, despite the fact that the Orange led at the half by nine, the Bulls as a team felt they were flat out the better team.
Nick Perkins, a forward who scored 18 points off the bench for Buffalo, said afterward, “in my eyes, I felt we were the better team.” Perkins was key in a few second-half spurts that allowed the Bulls to not only get back in the game, they were able to actually capture the lead several times.
In fact, Buffalo was up 68-67 with about three minutes to play. That’s when Howard hit a clutch three-pointer for Syracuse. Battle followed that up with some free-throws and Howard then had a layup to all but ice the game. The Orange did just enough to beat an experienced team that would eventually go on to blow out Arizona in the NCAA Tournament.
Head Coaches: SU: Jim Boeheim (43rd year, 1,034-373); Buffalo: Nate Oats (4th year, 74–39)
Coach Bio: Oats played for Marantha Baptist (DII) in the mid 90s, then jumped right into being an assistant coach there. After four years, he was off to Wisconsin-Whitewater (DIII), then grabbed his first head coaching gig at Romulus High School in Michigan. Bobby Hurley liked what he saw after a successful 11-year stint at Romulus, bringing him on as an assistant at Buffalo in 2013. Oats took over when Hurley left for Arizona State in 2015. He made the NCAA Tournament in his first season at Buffalo, and then last year, his Bulls stunned No. 4 seed Arizona, 89-68 before bowing out to Kentucky, 95-75.
Last Year: The State University of New York at Buffalo ripped through quite a remarkable season. The Bulls went 27-9 and 15-3 in the MAC, and even upset those four-seeded Wildcats of Arizona in the first round in the South Region of the Big Dance. A magical run ended two days later when John Calipari’s Wildcats (so many big cats!) sent the Bulls back to reality and back to western New York.
Junior guard C.J. Massinburg was the star for Buffalo, averaging 17 points, 7.3 boards and nearly 2.5 assists per game. The six-foot-three Massinburg shot 54 percent from the field, sinking almost 41 percent of his three-point attempts. Massingburg alone led the Bulls in scoring in 10 games last season.
Against Syracuse, the then junior struggled, making just two of his 13 attempts last December. However, Massinburg was 9 for 9 from the free-throw line and did manage to score 14 points.
With a plenty of experience at key positions, Oats’ club lost just three games in conference play, all three defeats coming by three points or less. And given that, Buffalo was the exact opposite opponent Arizona wanted to see last March. The Wildcats were reeling from a “recruiting controversy” (one that never really materialized) and had a future top-draft-pick to deal with. In other words, a distracted favorite waiting to be Buster Douglas’d. It was a knockout victory the Bulls’ season.
Last Game: piggybacking off of the “Last Meeting” section from earlier in this post. Coach Oats had a quote that sums up Buffalo’s mindset: “it’s the biggest week of our nonconference season. If we take care of business this week, we pretty much guarantee ourselves an at-large bid.”
Oats made the bold statement after his Bulls got past Southern Illinois, 73-65 Saturday. Perkins recorded a double-double of 20 points and 11 rebounds in the home victory. Buffalo got out to an early 25-8 lead and then, after the Salukis switched to a 2-3 zone, was able to coast to its 10th win of the year.
And while it’s interesting that SIU went the zone to try and shock the Bulls (and inadvertently help them prepare for tonight), the contest was probably closer than it should have been because of its upcoming two games. Buffalo has a chance to claim the moniker “best team in New York” by taking down the Orange this evening on national television, and then it faces top-25 Marquette on Friday. There’s a roadmap for the Bulls to potentially be a top-10 team come this time next week.
”Fear Me, I’ve Killed Hundreds of Timelords”: Massinburg is back at it and he’s just as good as he was last year. The senior is averaging 17.5 points, 7.4 assists and close to three assists per game. He’s also making about 48-percent of his shots this season, 46 percent from deep. In just over three years on campus, Massinburg has scored over 1,500 points. So, yeah, he’s one to watch out for tonight, and every night. Dude is a star and would be at basically any school.
Nick Perkins, the forward who had 18 against SU last year, and who thought his team was better than Jim Boeheim’s, is averaging 13 and about eight rebounds so far in 2018-19. Also, Montell McRae has made 11 of his 20 three-point attempts. The senior could be a perfect candidate for the “kind of random guy who hits like eight threes against the Orange’s zone.”
If Syracuse Wins: For as bad as Saturday’s loss to Old Dominion was, a win tonight would be pretty much the exact opposite for Syracuse.
Should the Orange win, it gives SU another victory over a top-15 opponent. That alone boosts the ole NCAA tourney resume and all but rights the ship back on course for whatever
totally unrealistic expectations you may be harboring. This game is most certainly not a “must win,” but it does present one hell of an opportunity for the Orange.
If Syracuse Loses: Welp, to paraphrase Yogi Berra, it might start getting late a little early around here. A defeat tonight at the Dome would run the losing streak to two games and would give Syracuse four losses in its first 12 games.
While there are reasons to believe that Syracuse can shake off that inexplicable loss to Old Dominion, it’s clear that Buffalo is legitimately good. The Bulls are experienced and just missed out on beating the Orange in the Dome last season. They won 27 games in 2017-18 and return key players at key positions. Sure, it might grate on your nerves if Syracuse loses, but it shouldn’t make anyone run for the hills. This evening will be an absolute challenge.
Fun Fact No. 1: As a division one program, Buffalo has earned 579 wins all time. Meanwhile...
Fun Fact No. 2: Prior to beating Arizona last March, Buffalo had never won a game in the NCAA tourney (0-2). Prior to jumping up to the D1 level, the Bulls earned six invites to the DII tourney between 1957 and 1965.