On Friday night the Buffalo Bulls will host the Bowling Green Falcons in the last regular season game of the year for both teams. The game will go a long way in deciding who wins the Mid-American Conference's east division AND maybe more importantly who gets the quarterfinal and semifinal byes in the upcoming MAC Tournament in Cleveland. Of course Kent State will also have something to say about that as well on Friday.
Hustle Belt: BG has had trouble with teams that pressure and press. Does Buffalo have that game?
Bull Run: Absolutely, though they don't use a full press often as Hurley has stuck with a strict eight-man rotation since the first third of the season. UB's defense is based on generating steals and limiting offensive rebounds. They won't necessarily roll out the most aggressive press you've seen, but their strength is in shrinking the amount of time the offense has to make decisions, both by trapping high and pressuring each and every pass in the halfcourt.
HB: Bulls have beaten MAC contenders BG, Kent and Akron in the last two weeks, are they playing their best basketball right now?
BR: Without a doubt. This is the team we were seeing in nonconference play, when the Bulls led both Kentucky and Wisconsin into the second half and buzz sawed through a road-heavy schedule. I don't have much more than that for this one, just want to remind everyone that UB led Kentucky and Wisconsin at the half on the road.
HB: Bulls lost three straight games in early-February, then suddenly have turned it around. They've won five straight, including three on the road. What's been the difference?
BR: Whatever it took, they found their focus. The knock on this team through 12 MAC games and a 6-6 record was inconsistency. They're the fastest team in the MAC by a notable margin, but they're also very young. For a long stretch we rarely saw 40 good minutes, and the bad 10 minutes was costing us games.
At 6-4 UB had five home games remaining, the most in the MAC, and were still undefeated at Alumni. At 6-6 they had dropped two at home and I think the reality of the #6 seed hit them. We got the woe-is-me doomsday piece from the student paper. We had the commenters who only show up when there's something bad to say.
Since then, an easy road win over EMU has started this run, and it seems like it was simply a question of focus and mental maturity. See this quote from Bobby Hurley after the Ohio win:
"At times this year in the middle part of our conference schedule I didn't always know which team was going to play. But now I've got a great feel for who they are. They're very determined. They're thinking about winning, and that's all they're thinking about."
Shannon Evans has talked about changing his workout routine after shifting it midseason, and that could be something: Over the win streak he's averaging 16.6 points (on 2.8 made 3s), 5.4 assists, 2 turnovers, and 2.4 steals a game
HB: Bulls RPI is 30, the highest of any MAC team by a lot (Toledo 74), with 20-9 record and a SOS at 84. They're not getting much respect from experts even calling them a bubble team right now. Do the Bulls have a chance for an at-large bid if they make deep run in MAC tourney and lose?
BR: I don't think so. As much as I appreciate Jeremy Guy being the hype man, most of the UB buzz isn't coming from those closest to UB. I maintain that UB should be in the conversation, and we're starting to see that, because I want the media attention. But I don't think the Bulls in any circumstance have a real shot. The RPI number is built on road games against UK and Wiscy and 10 road wins, but lacks any quality wins. Any at all. Win against Bonaventure and Ohio and I'm more on board.
Just for fun, the only way I think we really improve our standing is to get a seeding lineup that ensures our many fringe-top-100 opponents get back in there and stay.
On Friday: UB, Akron, and Toledo win. Regardless of CMU-WMU, top 5 seeds are CMU-Toledo-UB-Kent-BG.
A run to the finals for UB means wins over BG (who now has another win to help RPI) and Toledo. The loss to CMU comes after the Chips climb to mid-60's in the RPI.
Even then, who have we beat? The difference between weak bubble team and almost certainly out is the losses against Ohio and Bona, but the difference between either of those and a strong bubble team is a win over UK or Wisco or a 14-4 or better MAC record.
HB: How long before Bobby Hurley gets a technical in this game? I thought Reggie Witherspoon was intense but Hurley seems to match that. I remember Reggie blowing the horn trying to get Dan Dakich's BG team back on the court while the refs were reviewing a final play in 2007 at Buffalo.
BR: Reggie... intense? Huh. He threw the jacket every game but still. The buzzer game is the best, and weirdest, thing I've ever seen. Only 1,200 of us were even in the building that night, and most people left before the delay because the weather was a disaster.
Anyway. Hurley. It is important for me to emphasize that Bobby's really tuned it down this year, but no one believes me anyway. I'm comforted by the fact that I see more people around the MAC complaining about refs than normal.
Last year, I had a problem with it. This year, I don't. Buffalo's 3-1 when he gets a tech this year, and in two of those instances it spurred the guys out of a bad stretch. One of the others, well, short of something really bad I don't believe there's anything you can do to merit a tech in 55 seconds unless the ref has his mind made up already.
And there's no doubt in my mind UB gets more calls because he's a pain. If higher-ups want to change that, they will.
To actually answer your question, let's say... 16:14 remaining in the second.
HB: Bulls are relatively new to the MAC (1998 for 17 years), do they have a rival game? Who don't the Bulls like in the MAC?
BR: The subject of UB rivalries is a somewhat sore one for us. The team we most like to beat is Ohio, in part because of a multi-day sequence of events during the 2005 MAC Tournament that ended with the Bobcats beating us in the championship. But right now Ohio fans are apparently denying they even have a rivalry with Miami, so I won't bother there.
We've had good student-section battles with the AK-Rowdies, and Akron's year over year success puts a bullseye on their back. Otherwise, meh. We hated Martin Samarco. I think lately we've adopted the hell turn for the entire league, for a number of reasons.
HB: How important do you think quarterfinal and semifinal byes are in the MAC tournament? Seems to me, playing your first game on that court in the semi-finals against a team that already has, isn't exactly an advantage?
BR: Well, UB in 2012 is the only team since this format shift to get a top-two seed and NOT advance to the final, thanks to ... Ohio. They just had our number that year. But DJ Cooper has enjoyed a successful career as a bikini model so it evens out. And last year they were a 3/ 4 seed team that didn't make the semi after getting bit by a supposedly tired EMU team in the 3/6 game, the only time that's ever happened since the format shift.
So I think the evidence is strongly in favor of the importance of a bye, but you're certainly asking the right fanbase the question if you want an affirmative answer. I think in theory there's room for a waiting team to get bit by a team that's loose, but in practice five of six finalists in this format have been top two and 11 of 12 semifinalists have been top four. I can't ignore that.
HB: How many Bulls fans can we expect at the game on Friday night? Will the Bulls be represented again in Cleveland at the MAC tourney by great student turnout?
BR: If you had asked me this before last night, I would have said 5,000+. I won't go on and on about the new energy in the athletic department, but interest from casual fans is up for all sports. In games against Kent and Akron this year the students have shown up in force and Alumni's as hard to play in as it's been in ten years.
The difference between a very good crowd in the low-mid 4000's and a great crowd pushing 5,000 is the students, though, who barely came at all against Ohio. Apparently it's the t-shirts, not the free basketball and food, they're interested int.
We will see a great crowd from the townies, just because the local media has decided they're interested now, and because it's Senior Night for Will Regan, who's from the area. Last year, 5,400 came for McCrea. More seeding drama is at risk than last year, but no McCrea.
UB is tweeting that accounting for "average" student attendance they're already at 4,750, so 5,000 is a pretty good bet regardless. I'll amend it to 5,200 and not change it again.
HB: Bulls starting guards dominated BG starting guards in the first game, outscoring them 34-8. Will that be a key in this one?
BR: Yes. I didn't think our guards played particularly well against BG, to be honest. Though that Falcons just had an off day. And while I hesitate to use 93-66 for any real takeaways (because Ohio seriously gave up about 15 minutes in), we've seen lately UB win on the strength of their guards, instead of Evans, Moss, and a third option, who was sometimes Ford, sometimes Skeete. That's all I have. Yes, it will be a big factor, especially with Holmes down low. UB has shown with Hall, Ndour, and the collective Akron frontcourt that they're willing to let forwards get theirs if it's happening because the opposing offense is limited in where they can even go.