PROVIDENCE - Count on the University at Buffalo to be loose Thursday night when it faces the ninth-ranked University of Miami. None of the Bulls' young players have been intimidated in pressure situations this season.
Freshman guard CJ Massinburg scored 17 points at Duke and had 15 in the first half of the Mid-American Conference title game against Akron. Freshman forward Nick Perkins was sensational against Akron.
Miami's size and athleticism are the big worries for UB in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
UB coach Nate Oats on the Bulls' mental outlook: "I think with a game like this, we're not predicted to win, we're definitely underdogs. If you come into a game like this tight, that doesn't help anything. Kind of playing with house money right now, you know. Like the way you pull an upset off is you come in loose, you hit a lot of shots. You play defense. We're going to play hard. There's no point in stressing about anything else. We're going to give it our best effort. If we hit some shots like we did in the MAC tournament, we're going to have a shot at it. I think it's easier to shoot when you're a little bit looser than it is when you're a lot more tight. Hopefully Miami is the one that gets a little tight. They're supposed to win. If you guys didn't tell them that, let them know they're supposed to win. They have to make every shot. We don't have to make every shot. We'll play a little looser than them hopefully."
A bunch of Miami's plays are similar to those run by Bowling Green. BG coach Michael Huger served as an aide to Miami coach Jim Larranaga. But Oats acknowledged it's an apples-to-oranges athletic comparison.
Said Oats: "They do run similar stuff. It's just Bowling Green on steroids. They've got the pro version of Bowling Green, I might say. These guys are pretty freaky athletic. I mean, Coach Larranaga does an unbelievable job. I don't think they'll take us lightly, seeing that he took George Mason to the Final Four. He knows what a mid-major program can do in the tournament since he did it himself. They're going to be hard to score on inside. If our guards get to the lane, they're going to have to deal with an athletic 7-footer at the rim, where obviously Bowling Green didn't have that."
Oats on playing his team's preferred fast pace: "We're not going to slow it down because that's not the way we play. We're going to wait and see if we win that way with them. We're not going to win a slow-down game. I don't have Justin Moss to punch the ball into every time down the floor, so we're going to have to figure it out. Now, we don't want to get in run, run, run, dunk, dunk, dunk, because we can't win that, but we're going to push it and take good shots. If it's not there initially, we're going to run a half-court offense and we're going to get back. I'm not going to be stupid and send five guys to the offensive boards and give them dunks on the other end all the time. We're going to get back and guard them and try to make them score on us in the half court. But we're not going to slow it down because that's not the way I coach. Our guys haven't played like that all year, and I don't think now is the time to try to change the way we're going to play."
Oats on Miami's size, starting with center Tonye Jekiri: "They're a lot bigger at every position. If Jekiri is able to sit in the middle of the lane and just block shots all night -- and not that he's even an big-time shot blocker but he affects everything in there, so even if he doesn't block it, he affects it -- then we're going to be in trouble. So we've got to find ways to draw him out of the lane, whether it's ball screens, Perkins plays 4 and 5 both, if he plays the 5 some. Perkins has been shooting the ball really well, too. So now at the other end, he's going to have to guard him and we give up some size. Even with that, a lot of times during the year, we've been able to put Willie Conner on a point guard and put a lot of size on some of the smaller point guards in our league, then that means Bearden has got to guard one of those wings. Well, McClellan -- it's a tough match-up. We're going to play with the match-ups a little bit. You're going to see some different ones during the course of the game. How we start may not be how it stays through the course of the game. But no, their size -- and they're not just big, they're athletic. You watch some of the personnel highlights, it looks like an NBA highlight film on some of these guys. They're long. They're athletic. But we've been shooting the ball well. If we can continue to shoot the ball well, I think we've got a shot at this thing."