The Buffalo Bulls pulled off the upset that no one was even thinking was a possibility on Thursday night, knocking off 4-seed Arizona and DeAndre Ayton. Not only did Buffalo pick up the huge upset, but they did so in convincing fashion, dominating the floor for the majority of the game. While it may be a relief to Kentucky fans to not have to go up against the talent mismatch that Arizona presented, Buffalo did play very good defense yesterday and they shot the lights out from deep, hitting 15 threes.
Head Coach Nate Oats has led the Bulls to a 27-8 record on the season, including a current seven game winning streak and winning 22 of their last 25 games. Buffalo has been playing extremely well as of late, and this match up is no joke. There’s a reason they were able to take it to Arizona for the entirety of the game, and it is because they are an experienced team that plays well together to their strengths.
Let’s take a look at the potential starting lineup for the Bulls in today’s game, but also keeping in mind that one of Buffalo’s best players, Nick Perkins, comes off the bench. Perkins stands at 6’8″ and 250 pounds, while averaging 16.5 points and 6.1 rebounds, and shooting 33% from three point land. Perkins was the conference sixth man of the year in the MAC.
#5 CJ Massinburg, Junior Guard, 6’3″
CJ Massinburg is hands down the best player on this Buffalo Bulls roster. He was named to the All-MAC First Team this season, to go along with his Honorable Mention from last season, and the All-MAC Freshman Team his freshman season. Massinburg had 19 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 made threes in their first round win over Arizona.
The Dallas, Texas native leads the team in both scoring, at 16.9 points per game, and rebounding at 7.3 per game. He is also giving the team 2.5 assists and 1.5 steals per game. Massinburg is a dynamic playmaker who can score from all over the floor. He has hit 40.2% of his three point attempts on the season, as well as 74.1% of his free throws. Almost 53% of the shots Massinburg has attempted this year have been from behind the arc.
The Bulls start a three guard lineup, with Massinburg leading the pack on both ends of the floor. Typically, the Cats would put Shai Gilgeous-Alexander on a player like this to attempt to slow him down, but Massinburg is more of a two-guard, so he’ll likely match up with Hamidou Diallo. Diallo needs to continue to give efficient minutes to Kentucky for them to be successful. Scoring doesn’t measure Hami’s success, but playing effective minutes on the defensive end and on the boards will define his game.
#2 Jeremy Harris, Junior Forward, 6’7″
Jeremy Harris is in his first season playing for Coach Oats and the Buffalo Bills, and has become one of their best players almost immediately. Harris spent his first two seasons of eligibility at Gulf Coast State College, where he was the second best junior college player nationally by JUCORecuiting.com.
The junior is the third of four Buffalo players scoring 15+ points per game this season. He’s third on the team with 15.6 points per game, to go along with 6 rebounds, 2.2 assists, and one steal per contest. Harris is the best three point shooter on the team at 42.8%, and has hit 80.3% of his free throws on the season. Harris matched up with Ayton for Arizona and dominated the match up, scoring 23 points, grabbing 7 rebounds, and hitting 3 threes.
At 6’7″ and 176 pounds, Harris is the second largest player in the starting lineup for the Bulls. He is a stretch four in the starting lineup, but moves to the three at various times throughout the game. To begin the game, Kentucky will start with PJ Washington on Harris, but a mix of Wenyen Gabriel and Kevin Knox will be used to contain the versatile forward throughout. This is a guy that can cause the UK bigs to pick up cheap fouls, but may not be able to handle strong moves in the post.
#10 Wes Clark, Senior Guard, 6’0″
Wes Clark is in his first season suiting up for the Buffalo Bulls, as he sat out all of last season due to NCAA transfer rules. If Clark looks familiar to you, it is because he played his first three years at Missouri and has actually played against Kentucky three times in his career. He averaged 13.3 points, 3 rebounds, and 1.7 assists in his three losses to Kentucky at Mizzou.
The senior has been on fire in his last two games, combining to hit 20 of his last 29 shots, including 5 of 9 from three. Against Arizona, he finished with 25 points, 7 assists, and 4 rebounds. His averages for the season include 15 points, 3.6 rebounds, a team-leading 5.4 assists, and a team-leading 1.3 steals per game. He shoots 40% from three and 75.3% from the charity stripe on the year.
Clark has already stated that he’s looking for revenge against Kentucky for the beat downs they gave him in his time at Missouri. He’ll match up at the point guard position with Kentucky’s Gilgeous-Alexander to start, with some Quade Green mixed in throughout the game. Clark will be the smallest player on the floor to start, but he certainly won’t be intimidated. He was fearless against the Arizona size, and will likely be the same against Kentucky’s length.
#4 Davonta Jordan, Sophomore Guard, 6’2″
Davonta Jordan started just five games all of last season as a freshman, but has seen that number jump to nearly every game this season. Jordan was a three-star recruit coming out of high school. He played his senior year at highly acclaimed Montverde Academy in Florida, which is where former Cat Dakari Johnson played as well.
After the first big four scorers for the Bulls, the numbers drop off drastically, starting with Davonta Jordan. He’s averaging 6.7 points, 2.9 rebounds, 4.1 assists, and 1.2 steals per game on the year. Like the rest of the starting lineup, Jordan can spray from downtown, hitting over 30% of his threes on the year. A big detriment for Jordan is his inability to hit free throws, only making 48.6% of them this season.
Jordan is the third of three guards in the starting lineup for Coach Oats. He measures in at 6’2″ and 187 pounds. Despite being a shorter guard, I think Kentucky may use Kevin Knox to start defensively on him. Knox’s struggles defensively have been noted, and putting him on a player who doesn’t do a ton usually on offense is probably smart. The problem for the Bulls is attempting to defend Knox, as he will be taller than four of the five starters for Buffalo today.
#34 Ikenna Smart, Junior Forward, 6’10”
Ikenna Smart started every game of his redshirt freshman season at Buffalo, started 16 his sophomore year, and tonight marks his 25th start of this season. A native of Umuahia, Abia, Nigeria, Smart has been a key contributor in the post for the Bulls for three straight seasons. Against Arizona, Smart had 4 points and 4 rebounds in just 13 minutes.
Despite being a full-time starter, Smart plays just 12.5 minutes per game, usually giving way for Nick Perkins to come off the bench and provide an instant spark for the offense. Smart averages 3.6 points and 3.5 rebounds per game this season. Smart is more of a back to the basket player, he has not made a three this season, and shoots just 48.3% from the free throw line.
Smart will be the biggest player that the Bulls throw out at the Cats in today’s game. Smart stands at 6’10 and 241 pounds, in a body that matches up with Kentucky’s Nick Richards. Richards has been struggling to find ways to stay on the floor lately, and I can see Kentucky mimicking Smart’s minutes with Richards today, leaving Washington and Killeya-Jones as the two major players at the five position today.
Go Cats. Beat Bulls.