When we first got a look at Syracuse’s 2018 non-conference schedule, a couple of games probably jumped off the page. The 2K Classic games at Madison Square Garden were certainly headliners with the rekindling of an old Big East rivalry against UConn and the opportunity to play against one of the best freshmen in the country in Bol Bol with Oregon. Then of course there’s the Georgetown game and all of the implications that go into that matchup.
One game that probably didn’t strike people as a marquee matchup at first, though? Well, that would be Tuesday’s showdown with Buffalo. Not exactly a perennial powerhouse, the Bulls put up a good fight last year in the Carrier Dome and knocked off Arizona in the NCAA Tournament, but still didn’t inspire much excitement when their names came across the schedule. That’s not the case anymore. Buffalo will enter the Dome on Tuesday undefeated and #14 in the country. They have undoubtedly been the feel-good story of the year so far in college basketball. So what do you need to know about these early-season Cinderellas? Well, we’ve got you covered.
The first thing you need to know about Nate Oats’s team is that they are a run-first, score-first basketball team that wants to make every game a track meet. The Bulls are a top-20 scoring offense in the country at just over 85 points per game. The only thing that SU has seen that is even close to what Buffalo does offensively is UConn who checks in as the #42 scoring team in the nation and the Orange gave up a season-high 83 points in that loss to the Huskies.
Perhaps even more impressive than the team scoring for the Bulls is the versatility and depth with which they do it. Four different players average double-digit scoring for Buffalo (CJ Massinburg, Nick Perkins, Jeremy Harris, Jayvon Graves) and three others score at least 7 per game. For a little comparison, SU has only three double-digit averages (Battle, Brissett, Hughes) and the next closest after that trio is Jalen Carey at 6.4 ppg. This Buffalo offense is potent, so potent that it put up 99 against a perennial powerhouse when it comes to defense in West Virginia. With SU’s scoring problems, the Orange cannot afford to let the Bulls get hot and turn the game into a track meet, but that is clearly easier said than done.
In nearly every game this season, Buffalo’s starting lineup has consisted of Jayvon Graves, CJ Massinburg, Davonta Jordan, Jeremy Harris and Montrell McRae. Of those five guys, four of them are listed as guards, three of them are 6-foot-3 or shorter and only one of them is 6-foot-10 or taller. Needless to say, the Bulls like to play small ball. In reality, at 6-foot-7, Harris is more of a small forward than a guard, so a majority of the time, Buffalo is operating out of a three-guard set. This, of course, will give SU a massive size advantage in Tuesday night’s matchup and that’s something they’re going to have to take advantage of when the Bulls’ starters are on the floor. We need to see the Orange try to take the ball to the bucket and utilize the bigs and Oshae Brissett as much as possible when Buffalo goes to the three-guard look because the Bulls first two off the bench are 6-foot-8 forward Nick Perkins (who scored a game-high 18 points for Buffalo last year in the Dome) and 6-foot-5 Jeenathan Williams. The three-guard set helps Buffalo run and gun on offense, but it presents the Orange with an opportunity to pound the interior when they have the ball, an opportunity SU has to take advantage of.
6th Man Dominance
We mentioned him momentarily before, but let’s dive into Buffalo’s 6th man, Nick Perkins. The 6-foot-8, 250-pounder out of Ypsilanti, MI is the Bulls’ second-leading scorer at 13.8 points per game and is the team’s leading rebounder at 8.2 boards a pop. He shoots 46% from the floor and is also a pretty good three-point shooter at just a tick under 33% from beyond the arc. When he put up those team-high 18 points in the Dome last year, he was nothing short of a revelation. Not only did he bang bodies in the middle of the zone and grab 6 offensive rebounds, he also stretched the floor beautifully and knocked home 8 of his 18 attempts from the field. He’s a matchup nightmare for Syracuse because he’s too big and strong for any of the guards or Marek Dolezaj to handle in the zone, but he’s also too quick and athletic for the likes of Paschal Chukwu or Bourama Sidibe. When he’s in the game, he’ll likely occupy the ACC logo/high post area which, as we’ve heard a million times, is the weakness of the zone. He was a game-changer last year and don’t be surprised if he does the same thing again this time around.