Time to dream big — Bulls get fa­vor­able draw

The Buffalo News - - SPORTS - Mark Gaughan

Univer­sity at Buf­falo fans can spend the next five days star­ing at the NCAA Tour­na­ment bracket and dream­ing.Go ahead, dream big. Dream of a deep run. The Bulls have noth­ing to com­plain about as a re­sult of the pair­ings re­vealed Sun­day from the NCAA Tour­na­ment com­mit­tee.

Could the Bulls have been a

No. 5 seed in­stead of a No. 6? Sure. UB was No. 15 in the NET rat­ings and No. 18 in the “Strength of Record” met­ric, two of the an­a­lyt­ics the com­mit­tee con­sid­ers while mak­ing the brack­ets.

But that’s quib­bling. The im­por­tant thing is UB won its last 12 games and avoided a No. 7 seed. That would have been ter­ri­ble, be­cause the 7s play the

2s in the sec­ond round. The No. 2s this year are beasts, es­pe­cially Ten­nessee and Ken­tucky.

In­stead, UB gets to play the win­ner of Ari­zona State vs. St. John’s, which will have to stay on the road to travel from Tues­day’s game in Day­ton, Ohio, to Tulsa,

Okla., for Fri­day’s tipoff. Re­mem­ber how St. Bon­aven­ture ran out of gas last year after win­ning in Day­ton on Tues­day?

If UB sur­vives that, it likely gets No. 3 seed Texas Tech, which ranks No. 2 in the na­tion in de­fen­sive ef­fi­ciency. The Red Raiders’ de­fense is suf­fo­cat­ing. But Texas Tech is not as elite as Ten­nessee. The Red Raiders are good but not ex­plo­sive of­fen­sively. They don’t shoot a ton of 3-point­ers. They aren’t mon­sters on the of­fen­sive glass. UB-Texas Tech would be a slugfest. UB is 19th in the na­tion in avoid­ing turnovers. Texas Tech’s of­fense isn’t run­ning away and hid­ing from UB. It would be a game in the sec­ond half.

Fur­ther­more, UB has the weak­est No. 2 seed — Michi­gan — in its bracket if it were to get to the Sweet 16. That’s an­other ad­van­tage of be­ing a sixth seed. You get to avoid the No. 1 seed un­til the Elite Eight.

Hey, I said we’re dream­ing big, right?

Ob­vi­ously, Nate Oats’ squad could lose in the first round. Let’s face it, ev­ery­body who’s a reg­u­lar NCAA par­tic­i­pant gets up­set even­tu­ally.

Ari­zona State has wins over fourth-seeded Kansas and fifth­seeded Mis­sis­sippi State. But Bobby Hur­ley’s Sun Devils don’t shoot threes or free throws par­tic­u­larly well. St. John’s has a po­ten­tial NBA draft pick in point guard Shar­monie Ponds. But the John­nies are not a good re­bound­ing team, aren’t as good on de­fense as UB and have lost five of their last seven.It’s prob­a­bly go­ing to be UB-Ari­zona State.

Since 1985, No. 6 seeds reach the sec­ond round 63 per­cent of the time and ad­vance to the Sweet 16 31 per­cent of the time.

The Bulls al­ready seemed to be get­ting their game face on Sun­day night.

Asked if UB should have been at least a five seed, Bulls se­nior guard Don­tay Caruthers, said:

“I do, but I don’t. I’m just thank­ful to be in the tour­na­ment . ... We’re just gonna have to show ’em again.”

The Bulls’ de­fen­sive Tas­ma­nian Devil has a chip on his shoul­der.

Dream big, Bulls fans. It doesn’t get much bet­ter than this.

Oats’ se­cret weapon

Here’s an un­der­rated key to the Bulls’ post-sea­son suc­cess the past five years: Su­perb game plans.

UB as­so­ciate head coach Jim White­sell han­dles the team’s de­fen­sive scout­ing re­ports.

White­sell, 59, spent six years as head coach at Loy­ola Chicago and went a re­spectable 109-106. He was a head coach for 17 years at lower col­lege lev­els be­fore that. White­sell spent two years as an aide at Saint Louis, where he worked un­der le­gend Rick Ma­jerus. Then he spent two years at St. John’s be­fore com­ing to UB.

“He’s re­ally, re­ally good, the best I’ve been around,” Oats said. “He does a great job with the scout team get­ting our guys ready.”

“Jamie is in charge of the other team’s de­fense and our of­fense,”

Oats said, re­fer­ring to as­sis­tant coach Jamie Quar­les. “Me and Jamie do it to­gether a lit­tle bit.”

UB as­sis­tant Bryan Hodg­son, mean­while, pro­vides the scout­ing re­port on per­son­nel — in­di­vid­ual strengths and weak­nesses of the op­po­nent. Oats re­sisted the temp­ta­tion to hire any of his long-time friends as an as­sis­tant coach when he got the UB job. A lot of first-time head coaches get them­selves into trou­ble by do­ing that. You see it in many sports, even the NFL. He hired the best, ex­pe­ri­enced aide (White­sell) he could find. He hired the best re­cruiter he could find (Hodg­son).The Bulls will be well pre­pared Fri­day, who­ever they play.

James P. McCoy/Buf­falo News

UB coach Nate Oats could lead the Bulls to the Sweet 16 this sea­son. Buf­falo is a No. 6 seed and will play either Ari­zona State or St. John’s.

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