The No. 14-seed Buffalo Bulls will meet the No. 3-seed Miami Florida Hurricanes in Providence, R.I. on Thursday night in the first round of the 2016 NCAA Tournament. The teams are part of the South Region. It is the second consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance for Buffalo, while Miami is back in the tournament for the first time since 2013 season.
The Bulls begin their tournament trek with a 20-14 record following a 10-8 regular season in the Mid-American Conference and a MAC Tournament championship. They were 7-6 in the non-conference season, and four of those losses came to teams in the NCAA Tournament field (Duke, Iowa State, VCU and Saint Joseph's). In conference play, they were a roller coaster team. The Bulls won seven of their first ten but then lost five out of seven, including an embarrassing eight-point loss at home to the Miami RedHawks.
Buffalo closed the regular season with a nail-biter win at Bowling Green, then began the MAC Tournament as the No. 3 seed. In their first game, the Bulls earned revenge with a 94-81 victory over the RedHawks and followed that with a 14-point win over Ohio. In the championship game, they used a last-second trey to beat the top-seeded Akron Zips 64-61 for the MAC's automatic NCAA Tournament bid.
Buffalo is the MAC's first repeat champions since Kent State in 2001 and 2002, and they'll try to win their first NCAA Tournament game after losing to West Virginia 68-62 in 2015.
Nate Oats' squad is led by 6-foot-3 sophomore guard Lamonte Bearden. Bearden leads the Bulls in points per game (13.6), steals (46), assists (122) and free throw percentage (.711). His steals total places him third in the MAC, and he's also top-ten in the league in assists and assist-to-turnover ratio.
Bearden's running mate is 6-foot-6 junior wing Blake Hamilton. Hamilton is one of the MAC's best rebounders at seven boards per game, Hamilton averages a steady 13.1 points per game and is tied with Bearden at 46 steals. He's also solid from the free throw line (.750) and makes a fair share of three-pointers (50).
The Bulls also have effective role players. Jarryn Skeete leads the team with 60 three-pointers, while Rodell Wigginton has effectively used his 6-foot-5 frame to post 17 blocks and rank second on the team with 5.4 rebounds per game.
Buffalo freshmen have also contributed. C.J. Massinburg has 44 treys and makes them at a team-leading 40 percent clip while acting as one of the team's leading rebounders. Ikenna Smart has 20 blocks and averages 4.4 boards per game despite playing just 16 minutes per game.
Miami finished the 2015-16 season tied for second in the Atlantic Coast Conference with a 13-5 record and were 25-7 overall. In conference play, they beat Duke, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Virginia and swept Notre Dame. The Hurricanes were the No. 3 seed in the ACC Tournament and defeated Virginia Tech in the quarterfinals before falling to 73-68 to Virginia in the semifinals.
Hurricanes' coach Jim Larranaga is in his 30th season as an NCAA Division I basketball coach and his fifth at Miami. He spent 11 years as head coach of the Bowling Green Falcons and led them to 170 wins before moving on to George Mason, where he spent 14 seasons. While with GMU, he took them to the NCAA Tournament five times, including a trip the 2006 Final Four.
This is his second NCAA Tournament trip with MIami. In 2013, he led them to the Sweet Sixteen. Last season, Miami was the runner-up in the NIT.
Miami's leading scorer is 6-foot-5 senior guard Sheldon McClellan. McClellan averages 15.8 points per game and is a beast if you put him at the free throw line, where he makes 84.8 percent of his shots. From the floor, he's a 50 percent shooter.
Senior guard Angel Rodriguez averages 11.7 points per game but is the team's field general on the floor and their biggest havoc-creator on defense. He is top-ten in the ACC in both assists (4.4/game) and steals (49).
However, perhaps (literally) the biggest problem Buffalo will have to deal with is 7-foot senior center Tonye Jekiri. Jekiri gets nearly a double-double per game with eight points and 8.9 rebounds. He also leads the team with 35 blocks. The Bulls will have to deal with him effectively if they're to have any inside presence at all.
To win, Buffalo will have to be much better on the defensive end than they have generally been this season, when they ranked last in the MAC in points allowed per game. This is particularly true given that Miami's defense (66.8/game) is one of the best in the ACC. The Bulls also need to get Miami's bigs in foul trouble, particularly Jekiri. The Hurricanes' only go nine-deep, so Buffalo could turn around the game if they can shorten Miami's bench further.
If Buffalo is victorious, they will have to play either the Arizona Wildcats or Wichita State Shockers in the second round on Sunday. Advancing to the Sweet Sixteen would mean a game against Iowa, Temple, Villanova or UNC-Asheville.
There is precedent for a No. 14 seed from the MAC to pull off a big first round upset. Six years ago, the Ohio Bobcats took down the Georgetown Hoyas 97-83. Two years later, those same Bobcats advanced to the Sweet Sixteen as a No. 13 seed.
Buffalo is 1-2 all-time against the Hurricanes. They hosted Miami during a 63-57 loss in the 1993-94 season, then lost at Miami 78-61 in the 1996-97 season. The Bulls finally defeated Miami 60-57 on Nov. 18, 2006 in Evansville, Ind. at the America's Youth Classic.
How To Watch
Game Information: NCAA Tournament South Region, First Round: No. 3 Miami Florida Hurricanes vs. No. 14 Buffalo Bulls
Game Time: Thursday Mar. 17, 2016 at 6:50 p.m.
Game Location: Dunkin Donuts Center in Providence, R.I.
Broadcast Information: The game will be carried live on TNT with the broadcast team of Ian Eagle and Chris Webber.
Digital Streaming: Fans can stream all NCAA Tournament games through March Madness Live on a variety of applications. Visit here to read about the variety of ways fans can stream tournament games.
Radio: The radio rights to the 2016 NCAA Tournament are carried by Westwood One. Games can be accessed via over 500 stations nationwide and through SiriusXM satellite radio. Fans can also listen to Buffalo and Miami specific broadcasts, accessible through their individual team websites.