It's time for March Madness, and you're probably not going to win your bracket pool if you don't pick any upsets. So you have two choices: you could randomly pick Random Directional State University, or you could listen to someone who wasted countless hours of their life watching low-level NCAA basketball this year so you wouldn't have to. Last year we told you about North Dakota State and Stephen F. Austin, and if you listened, you reaped the rewards. Here's who we like this year.
We always support teams making the NCAA Tournament for the first time, and after a few decades, the Buffalo Bulls have finally broken through. But we wouldn't just blindly tell you to pick just any first-time tourney team: We're sorry, North Florida, but y'all ain't got a chance at pulling the 16-1 upset.
We're not doing that: We're picking Buffalo because we think they have a legit shot to take down West Virginia. Here's why:
Are they good?
The Bulls had by far the best Kenpom rating of any team in the MAC by quite a bit, slotting in at No. 54 with nobody else better than No. 86. For perspective, that puts them one better than 10-seeded Indiana and two below ninth-seeded Purdue.
They don't have any super-quality wins on the year -- they went 12-6 in the MAC -- their most impressive on-court feat of the year was probably leading Kentucky for a half. The Bulls were up 38-33 and Justin Moss slammed on Willie Cauley-Stein. But Kentucky turned it on in the second half and won 71-52.
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What are they good at?
Offensively, the team gets the ball to post stud Justin Moss, this year's MAC player of the year. (He has an amazing story that we will tell you in a few paragraphs.) A 6'7, 240-pound junior, Moss is a bully inside. He averages 17.7 points per game. He scores decently inside, shooting 52 percent from the field, but what makes him special is his ability to draw contact -- he draws 7.0 fouls per 40 minutes, the 16th-best figure in the nation -- and his ability to grab boards when he misses -- he averages 9.3 boards per game.
The team plays fast -- 21st in tempo out of 351 teams -- and has a top 50 offense and top 100 defense. Moss is the stud, but they're well-rounded outside of him, too.
So what's that story you were going to tell us?
Moss isn't supposed to be playing basketball, as Gary Parrish wrote earlier this year. Before his freshman season at Toledo, he was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, the heart ailment that killed Hank Gathers, Reggie Lewis and other young athletes. It often doesn't show symptoms until a seemingly healthy person playing a sport suddenly collapses and dies within minutes.
As far as Toledo was concerned, Moss' basketball career was over. The Rockets had seen a player, Haris Charlambous, collapse and die in 2006, and they weren't going to let it happen again. They told him he could stay on scholarship and graduate, but sports were out of the question.
But Moss wasn't done. He got a defibrillator planted into his chest -- one that wasn't available when Gathers passed away -- and schools told him he'd be cleared to play with the defibrillator.
Moss spent a year at community college and a year at Buffalo backing up Javon McCrea, last year's MAC player of the year. McCrea graduated, and it was Moss' turn to shine ... and he did, following McCrea's award up with one of his own.
Is West Virginia a good matchup?
WVU's defining characteristic is that they play a merciless full-court press, leading the nation in turnovers, forcing one on 28.1 percent of opposing possessions.
But Buffalo already plays fast. If they can get the ball across halfcourt to Moss, the Mountaineers lead the nation in fouls, and Moss will thrive, getting to the line over and over and over. We're not 100 percent sure the Bulls can handle the press, but they do seem like they might be well equipped.
SB Nation presents: The science behind a college basketball upset
Why should we love Buffalo?
First off, the Never Made The Tourney thing.
Second off, IT'S BUFFALO SPORTS. There are hundreds of thousands of fans who remain sane when the Western New York winter dumps a human's worth of snow on them, only to be driven nuts by the constant failures of the Buffalo Bills, and if you don't feel for these people from the bottom of your heart, then you don't have a human soul. If anything can make the people of Buffalo collectively happy for even a few days, I am all for it 1,000 percent.
We probably should talk about Bobby Hurley
Remember Bobby Hurley? Yes, he went to Duke. Let's get over that. He is no longer representing Duke University and we can't hold that against him.
The son of high school coaching legend Bob Hurley and brother of current Rhode Island coach Dan Hurley, it seemed like coaching wasn't Bobby's thing. After winning titles at Duke, he was a top-10 draft pick, but got into a serious car accident that ended his rookie season. He made it back to the NBA, but his playing career ended after five underwhelming years.
It seemed like he was fine -- he got into horse racing! Only rich dudes do horse racing! -- but in 2009, he had defaulted on a loan used to purchase a horse. And in 2010, he had taken a job as an assistant coach ... to his younger brother, Dan, at Wagner. That must have been so degrading.
Buffalo hired him last season, and he immediately got the Bulls a MAC East title. And now in his second year on the job, they're dancing. An impressive job by Hurley to turn a historically lame program around.
Concrete jungle where dreams are made of
Buffalo is technically SUNY-Buffalo, so their jerseys look like this:
Photo credit: Ken Blaze, USA Today Sports
State university of NEWWW YOOOOOOOOORK buffalo THIS PLACE WILL INSPIIIIRE YOUUUUU MAKE YOU FEEL BRAAAAAND NEWWWWWW
Basically none. The Bulls have been D1 since the 90s, but their best achievement was the 2005 NIT, where they lost in the first round. Their only NBA player is Sam Pellom, who played for the Hawks and Bucks in the late 70s/early 80s.
Wolf Blitzer went to Buffalo, but is apparently too busy tweeting about the Wizards to notice his alma mater killin' it. Harvey Weinstein is a Buffalo grad. Ronnie James Dio went to the school, but dropped out after two years. Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs went to Buffalo, as does the guy who talks about hockey on NBC before games, Liam McHugh.
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