CLEVELAND - If Justin Moss was 100 percent, we think the University at Buffalo would beat Central Michigan in the Mid-American Conference final.
It’s tough to beat a good team three times, and Central is not a bad matchup for UB, despite the Bulls’ two regular-season losses to the Chippewas.
But Moss is not 100 percent. Far from it. UB coach Bobby Hurley put the most wishful spin on Moss’ ankle injury after Friday’s win over Akron, suggesting Moss would be better in the final.
Moss had five points and four rebounds vs. Akron.
We give UB a 40 percent chance tonight, given Moss’ limitations.
CENTRAL STRENGTHS: Central is a borderline great offensive team. The Chippewas rank No. 3 in the nation in three-pointers made per game (10.3). Three-point shots comprise 49.3 percent of their field-goal attempts, also third in the nation. They can fill it up. They’re No. 29 in the nation in offensive efficiency (points per 100 possessions). They don’t make turnovers. They’re No. 7 in the nation in turnover percentage. They’re great on the perimeter, and they have an all-MAC guard in Chris Fowler who penetrates, creates and kicks out to a fleet of deadeyes waiting for the ball behind the arc. Fowler had 22 in the CMU win at UB.
CENTRAL WEAKNESSES: Central is much improved on defense but still not great. It ranked 11th in the MAC in defensive FG percentage. It ranked 11th in the MAC in rebounding margin. UB ranks first in the MAC in offensive rebounding.
THINGS TO WATCH
-MOSS: The MAC POY gave UB 23 minutes vs. Akron. Can UB get enough offense with Moss under speed? It would be nice if Moss could chip in 10 points; 15 would be great. (He averages 18.4 and 9.4.) If Moss gives UB only five points and 23 minutes, Central should win fairly comfortably.
-PERMIETER D: UB did a great job defending Akron’s arc shooters. The challenge is similar vs. CMU. Look to see if Bobby Hurley locks freshman Lamonte Bearden exclusively on Fowler.
-TEMPO: UB plays fast, ranking No. 21 in the nation in tempo (possessions per 40 minutes). Central is more comfortable in the half court, and often dictates tempo because it doesn’t turn the ball over and provide the opponent with fast-break chances. Central ranked No. 228 in tempo. But Central was fairly willing to play up-tempo with UB in both meetings. Can Moss run the floor in an up-tempo game?
-X-MAN/SKEETE/REGAN: UB needs one of these three to play big. Xavier Ford was great vs. Akron. Will Regan was great vs. Bowling Green. Jarryn Skeete was great in the second meeting with Central, which UB shoulda-coulda-woulda won.
-GOING SMALL? UB couldn’t afford to go with a small lineup much against the big Akron front line. But it can get away with a guard heavy rotation vs. Central, which plays into UB’s offensive up-tempo preferences. Watch and see if Hurley decides to go with Bearden-Evans-Skeete-Wigginton-Ford for stretches.
-No. 12: Watch out for CMU 6-4 sophomore Josh Kozinski. He has taken 164 shots this season and only FOUR OF THEM are from inside the arc. He’s a dead-eye.
THE PICK: It’s hard to understand why Las Vegas has UB as the favorite in this game. Was anyone in Vegas watching Moss last night? It would be an epic, gutsy, WNY-win-for-the-ages if UB prevails with a hobbled Moss. Central Michigan 75, UB 67.