Tomorrow Night at 6:50 PM on TNT, Miami Basketball starts what they hope to be a magical run in the NCAA Tournament.
Their opponent in the first round is the Buffalo Bulls, who will be huge underdogs.
But UM better not take them lightly.
3 Vs 14 seed match-ups have produced a fair share of upsets over the years.
To learn more about Buffalo, we caught up with Matt Gritzmacher from Bull Run, SB Nation's home for Buffalo stuff.
Full Q&A Below:
SOTU: As most Miami fans are not well versed in the Bulls' program, tell us a little more about your school? Any famous alums? What is the history of Buffalo in the NCAA Tourney?
BR: Well, we're the largest public school in New York, technically not the flagship because of state politics, but essentially so as the only school with FBS football and the largest athletic department, endowment, and student body, on par academically with other state flagships like Wisconsin, Illinois, and others. We were once a strong Northeast athletics program, but lost that in the '70s, again to state politics. A hurried and underfunded return to D-I in the 90's meant that we were an embarrassment in football (and in most sports, but people didn't really notice) for a while, but have been on a steady upswing for the last decade-ish, especially the last five years.
Alums... I hesitate to call him the most famous, but the one that comes to mind first is Wolf Blitzer of CNN. Athletically, we've got the NFL's James Starks, Khalil Mack, and Branden Oliver, and one of our baseball alums, Steve Geltz, plays for the Rays if you have any non-Marlins fans in your readership. President Millard Fillmore was the school's first Chancellor.
This is our second time in the Big Dance, after last year we lost to West Virginia as a 12 seed. We were a better team last year under Bobby Hurley, but I think have had more fun this year with a group and a new coach that has responded to tons of adversity in the off season.
SOTU: Who are the key players for Buffalo that Hurricanes fans need to watch for? What kind of team are they tempo wise? Do they run man/zone/any junk defenses?
BR:Tempo is probably the biggest thing of what you've asked here. The Bulls like to play fast, in the neighborhood of 74 possessions per game, and usually take a shot with more than ten second left on the shot clock. They're good in transition but not necessarily constantly looking to score on odd-man breaks.
Personnel wise, it's an extremely balanced group, but two players stand out for their versatility. Sophomore Lamonte Bearden is an old-school, pass first point guard with a great hand who really keeps the offense from getting stagnant, and JUCO junior transfer Blake Hamilton is a 6'6'' wingman who's played everywhere from the point to power forward this year. The team as a whole loves to get the ball to the rim, and Hamilton in particular has great slashing ability for his size. In addition to those two, Willie Conner (another JUCO transfer) and freshman CJ Massinburg also averaged above 10 points a game this year.
It's a pretty athletic team, for a mid-major at least, and they haven't had too much issue switching between man and zone defenses this year. I don't think there's anything incredibly unorthodox going on there, but they have been pretty strong on the glass this year.
SOTU: Jim Kelly is a famous UM alum as well as one of the better known residents of the City of Buffalo. If you had to guess who he is rooting for on Thursday, what would you say?
BR: Almost certainly Miami. UB unfortunately hasn't been embraced by the city as much as anyone would like, especially considering it's the region's largest employer. I don't think Jim has ever had any formal contact with the University at all. He'd - and many in the area - would probably root for Syracuse over us.
SOTU: What needs to happen for the Bulls to pull the upset? What worries you about the match-up with the 'Canes?
BR: To pull the upset, UB needs to continue their hot shooting from three. In three games in Cleveland in the MAC Tournament, Buffalo hit 35 threes after never hitting above ten in a game during the regular season. I actually think to some extent the Bulls can match up adequately (not great, but adequately) with Miami's power-conference size on the perimeter, but Tonye Jekiri is big, and scary, and big.
Against Ohio and Akron Buffalo pulled freshman big man Nick Perkins out to the perimeter to distract their big men and open space down low, but a more athletic power-conference team may be able to switch off and cover that threat with someone other than Jekiri. I don't know what he's like as a shot-blocker, but I have to think UB has to pull him away to have success with their bread and butter offensive based on drives to the hoops and solid offensive rebounding.
SOTU: Last but no least prediction time. Who wins and why?
BR: If Buffalo had been a better three-point shooting team all year, and not just in the last three games, I might see a better chance than 'slim' here, but I lean more to the whole season's resume than the recent showing. UB was able to run with Iowa State into the second half earlier this season but got pasted without too much issue by Duke, and we don't have too much else to go one. I think if nothing else, there's a pure athleticism difference whenever you're punching up a weight class, and I think that comes into play even if the height disparity isn't awful.
Thanks again to Matthew for working with us.
Stay tuned to SOTU for our answers to his Q's later today. And be sure to stop by Bull Run to learn more about Buffalo.