Last Updated: 2019-03-21
One of the best underdog stories in college basketball this season has been the emergence of the No. 6 seed Buffalo Bulls. Buffalo put itself on the map early on with an overtime win over a ranked West Virginia, before anyone knew that the Mountaineers weren’t that good, and went on to go 31-3 with multiple Quad 1 wins. They are one of the most exciting teams in the country to watch with their run and gun style and their West Region First Round game against the No. 11 Arizona State Sun Devils could be one of the highest scoring games of the NCAA Tournament.
Oddsmakers are believers in Buffalo. The #6 Bulls are a five-point favorite over Arizona State in this West Region First Round tilt on Friday, March 22 at the BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Points are expected to be plentiful with an over/under of 156. Tip-off is slated for around 4 p.m. ET, and the game will be broadcast on TNT. The winner of this game will face the winner of Texas Tech and Northern Kentucky on Sunday.
It’s been 10 years since Arizona State has won a first round game in March Madness, and James Harden had to lead them there. The Sun Devils made it to the Elite Eight in 1961, 1963, and 1975, but they have only made it to the second round of the tournament three times since that point. For the second straight season, they were one of the last four at-large teams selected in the field, but while Arizona State lost to Syracuse last year, they beat St. John’s this time to get into the tournament proper.
Buffalo has made a name for itself over the past half-decade, making it to the NCAA Tournament in four of the last five seasons. The Bulls failed to get out of the first round in 2015 and 2016, losing to West Virginia and Miami by single digits, but they broke through with a 21-point victory over DeAndre Ayton and Arizona last year to win their first tournament game. This will be the first time they are favored in an NCAA Tournament game.
How They Got Here
Arizona State was considered square on the bubble for the last month of the season, and some thought that they would be on the wrong side of it after Oregon won the PAC 12 Conference Tournament. However, the Sun Devils were able to sneak in and grab a spot as wins over Mississippi State, Utah State, and Kansas in non-conference play were too good to overlook. On Wednesday, a big first half performance got them a win over St. John’s and a spot in Tulsa on Friday.
Even if Buffalo didn’t win the MAC Conference Tournament, the Bulls would have received an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, and that’s high praise. Buffalo beat San Francisco and Syracuse in non-conference play and only lost two conference games all year in the MAC. They received a lower seed than any mid-major conference other than Gonzaga, and they are out to keep running and gunning to another tournament win.
Both of these teams like to run. Buffalo’s tempo ranks among the top ten teams in the country, and Arizona State’s pace is in the top 50.
One of the few things Buffalo can’t do very well on offense is shoot the three. The Bulls are sinking just 33.5 percent of their threes on the season, but a lot of that is because Jeremy Harris keeps jacking them up. Harris is hitting just 25.4 percent of his threes, yet he has taken more than 200 attempts. The other three Bulls with more than 100 attempts are all hitting 38 percent or better.
Arizona State is the inverse of that. The Sun Devils have five players that have taken more than 100 threes, and of those four are hitting under 35 percent and three are hitting under 32 percent. The only reliable three-point shooter has been Rob Edwards, and he is sinking 39.2 percent of his threes.
The interior battle between Buffalo’s Nick Perkins and Arizona State’s Zylan Cheatham and Romello White is worth watching too. Perkins is the only player on the Bulls with some muscle, while both Cheatham and White can score down low for Arizona State and grab rebounds.
Pick: Buffalo -5
The Sun Devils are the worst at-large team in the NCAA Tournament per Ken Pomeroy now that Temple and St. John’s have both been knocked out. They just didn’t look too sharp down the stretch, and I think Buffalo smokes them.
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