You may have heard, but the Syracuse Orange are hosting the 14th-ranked Buffalo Bulls tonight at the Carrier Dome. The game has an unconventional tip time of 8 p.m. so plan accordingly. For those not attending the matchup between Western and Central New York, you can view the game on ESPN2.
Given the more high profile nature of tonight’s game and also the existence of SBN sister site UB Bull Run, we decided to bring our friendly snow belt neighbor Robby Johnson to gather intel on Buffalo.
See answers to Q&A below.
Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician: Everyone seems fixated on Buffalo’s upset over Arizona in the 2018 NCAA Tournament so let’s get that one out of the way. How’d that happen?
UB Bull Run: Although Buffalo did an amazing job shooting the three-ball and put up 89 points, their defense did not get enough credit in pulling off that upset. UB used superior on-ball defensive pressure through guards Davonta Jordan and Dontay Caruthers to make it a living nightmare for Arizona to get the ball down low. UB also focused on fronting their big men, which led to DeAndre Ayton scoring just 14 on a night where many thought he’d dominate against a much smaller Buffalo squad. It was the perfect storm for the Bulls.
TNIAAM: So moving on to this season, after beating West Virginia at their place, UB hopped into the rankings and hasn’t lost since. What’s happened to start the year?
UBBR: UB picked up where they left off last year in every facet but three-point shooting. The Bulls have had little problem winning games, even when they are playing poorly. The West Virginia game really showed how focused they are as well. Even if they are down 13 points, they don’t look panicked at all and continue to play their game.
The only thing UB hasn’t figured out is to play a full 40 minutes. We saw it against Dartmouth and that’s about it. Often times every game will be close until the other team looks unfocused for a few minutes and then the Bulls floor the gas pedal and open up a 15-20 point lead. They sure know how to score in a hurry and they’d be nearly unstoppable if they could get the offense flowing like that more consistently.
TNIAAM: Buffalo returns a lot from a year ago and challenged the Orange at home. Do you think we can expect a similar type of game?
UBBR: I think it’s a given. Both teams returned a lot of talent this year and this is the best UB team I’ve seen at keeping games competitive. I don’t think anyone will have an idea of who’s going to win until there’s at least 5 minutes left on the game clock. It’s going to be an ugly, grind-it-out game as two very different styles of basketball clash.
TNIAAM: CJ Massinburg is a walking bucket. How can he be stopped?
UBBR: This is probably the hardest question you can give me. Massinburg has almost everything you want in a guard and I’d go out on a limb and say he’s one of the best rebounding guards in the country as well. I think he has two things that Syracuse can take advantage of. He’s not the best at generating assists despite being really unselfish with the ball. If the Orange disrupts his passing lanes, he’s probably just going to take shots himself, even if they aren’t the best. Second, his release is really slow. If a Syracuse guard is on him for a full 40, CJ is going to struggle to get quality threes to fall. West Virginia struggled with this as Massinburg sunk NBA range threes with ease when he had time.
TNIAAM: Nick Perkins is a lefty at center who can stretch it. Can you talk about what he brings to the table?
UBBR: Perkins is by far the Bulls’ best bruiser down low. That’s a part of his game that we’ve been waiting for to develop over the course of his four years at Buffalo. What makes him especially dangerous is his ability to shoot threes and lately nobody has been able to stop that one-two punch. His biggest weakness, however, is trying to make buckets from the right side of the basket. His right hand just isn’t as good at finishing.
TNIAAM: Jeremy Harris is another bucket. How’s he doing this year?
UBBR: Jeremy was playing through a wrist injury for much of this early season. It really affected his three-point shot but we’ve seen him get buckets at a much better rate the past few games or so. He’s definitely one to step up when Massinburg is having an off-night and his finishing ability down low is getting much better.
TNIAAM: Jayvon Graves has stepped up this year. How has he grown in his sophomore season?
UBBR: He finally seems to understand his role in this offense. He’s great at catch-and-shoot threes and is the go-to guy in transition play, one of the bread-and-butters for Buffalo. We also like to call him the silent assassin because he’ll put up double-digit scoring nights out of seemingly nowhere.
TNIAAM: Davonta Jordan and Dontay Caruthers are two of, if not the best defensive players in the Mid-American. Any idea who will guard Syracuse’s taller guards in Tyus Battle and Frank Howard?
UBBR: Chances are we see Massinburg guard Battle, but there may even be moments with Caruthers and Jordan are on the floor at the same time guarding both. A sizable height disadvantage hasn’t done much in preventing Jordan and especially Caruthers from limiting opposing guards.
UB’s offense gets all the praise for their success, but Buffalo would struggle a lot if it weren’t for that duo on the defensive end. They have energy and ball pressure that rivals the best in college basketball right now.
TNIAAM: Keeping Jeenathan Williams home was big for UB. Was that surprising given he had P5 suitors?
UBBR: It was shocking for UB fans. We’ve talked with the coaching staff before and they say things really changed once Buffalo made the tournament the first time. A recruit like Jeenathan wouldn’t have even given Buffalo the time of day otherwise. The same could be said about Ronaldo Segu and Jeremy Harris, who was being recruited hard by Texas A&M.
UB assistant Bryan Hodgson is one the Bulls can thank for the recent recruiting success. He’s done a great job at connecting with recruits and showing them that Buffalo is on the uptrend. He just puts in an insane amount of effort as well. UB was one of the first schools to offer Jeenathan and regularly stayed in contact. Harris said he was close to his mom and Hodgson, along with Nate Oats, were the only two coaches to visit his mom in North Carolina while Jeremy was at a JUCO in Florida.
TNIAAM: How will UB look to attack the 2-3 zone?
UBBR: Fortunately for the Bulls, they just played against one with Southern Illinois. Their biggest problem was they got too passive the latter parts of each half and only settled for three-pointers. Buffalo is going to use their impressive ball movement to really try and get some stuff inside before they start raining from three. When they were making stuff down low, that’s really when SIU started to struggle on defense and the wheels came off. If Syracuse contains down low, I think this game is theirs.
TNIAAM: Who wins, what’s the final score and why?
UBBR: I’m not impressed with Syracuse as of late. This is one of the worse offenses I’ve seen from Boeheim (I grew up in CNY, so being a ‘Cuse fan was mandatory then). On the other hand, UB wasn’t a world beater when Southern Illinois pulled out their 2-3 zone. The Orange are also going to be playing angry after dropping that rough matchup to ODU. But, in almost every game UB has played so far, there’s been a random spurt of points that the opposing team couldn’t come back from. I’m giving the Bulls a close win.
Buffalo 79, Syracuse 74
Thanks, UBBR gang!
What do you guys think? Drop a comment or two below.