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Buffalo vs. Arizona NCAA breakdown and prediction

4-Arizona vs. 13-Buffalo
Approx. 9:45 p.m. Thursday at Taco Bell Arena, Boise, Idaho (CBS)

The University at Buffalo felt it deserved better than a 13-seed. Drawing Arizona feels like a double-whammy.

The Wildcats went 27-7 overall and 14-4 in the Pac-12, winning both regular-season and tournament titles. They are a highly regarded team that was ranked third in the Associated Press preseason poll and perhaps should’ve been seeded even higher than fourth. UB will certainly be an underdog.

Nate Oats' Bulls rank fifth nationally in scoring offense at 84.7 points per game and play a very fast pace. They will need to overcome Arizona’s massive interior defenders, either by shooting over them, finding ways through them or beating them in transition. Arizona plays a slower pace but runs a highly efficient offense, ranking 215th in Kenpom’s adjusted tempo but still 33rd in scoring offense (80.9 ppg).

The Bulls have had trouble this season when they’ve played down to an opponent’s pace. Their depth is one of their few advantages on paper, so it will serve them well to push the tempo. But if UB can’t figure out Arizona’s size, running down the floor and coming up with quick, empty possessions is a great way to dig itself into a hole.

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The Wildcats

Do yourself a favor and Google Deandre Ayton this week.

The 7-foot-1, 250-pound freshman phenom is extremely athletic and has a knack for throwing down massive dunks and could be the top pick in this year’s NBA draft. He averages 20.3 points and 11.5 rebounds per game.

Guard Allonzo Trier offers a 1-2 punch with Ayton on offense, scoring 18.8 points per game, while 7-foot center Dusan Ristic helps guard the rim and control the boards. Arizona’s rebounding percentage of 55.8 ranks sixth nationally while its 50.5 field-goal percentage ranks third.

If Arizona has a weakness, it’s depth. Coach Sean Miller likes to roll his starters, who all average at least 27 minutes per game, so keeping up with UB’s pace could be an issue, as could foul trouble. Arizona is not great at defending the three, either, with opponents hitting 35.2 percent (182nd).

This will be the 11th NCAA Tournament appearance for Miller, who is reportedly paid more than $4 million a year. He put the program in hot water with an FBI investigation, but so far the Wildcats have kept the off-the-court issue off the court.

The Bulls

This is UB’s third NCAA appearance, and coach Nate Oats thinks this year’s team is the best of the bunch.

Opponents seem to be hanging with UB until the Bulls pull away in a blink, breaking the game open with big runs. Guard CJ Massinburg leads the team with 16.9 points per game, but Nick Perkins (16.6), Jeremy Harris (15.4) and Wes Clark (14.6) are all capable of going off.

UB is fun to watch, but most of its strengths also seem to be shared by an Arizona team that does them even better. UB’s offense is all about high-percentage shots and effective field-goal percentage, but Arizona ranks higher in all shooting categories.

UB’s shooting defense has performed slightly better than Arizona’s this year, but UB does have trouble with fouling. The Bulls put opponents on the line 24.4 times per game, which ranks 333rd nationally, and they don’t draw fouls at a comparable rate. Arizona’s 76.1 free-throw percentage ranks 38th.

Numbers game

Arizona
Kenpom rating: 21st.
Scoring margin: +9.7 (23rd).
Effective field-goal percentage: 56.6 (16th).
Assists-to-turnovers: 1.242 (64th).

Buffalo
Kenpom rating: 77th.
Scoring margin: +8.2 (42nd).
Effective field-goal percentage: 54.8 (30th).
Assists-to-turnovers: 1.352 (28th).

Outlook

UB is a legitimately good team and may have been a popular upset pick with a better matchup. But Arizona is a national powerhouse. It has missed only two NCAA Tournaments since 1985. On paper, it’s a big favorite.

Prediction

UB makes a threatening run midway through the first half but Arizona is eventually able to weather the storm. The Bulls are within single digits in the second half but can’t complete the comeback. Arizona 88, Buffalo 79.

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