Defense will be the priority for the University at Buffalo on Saturday when it faces Central Michigan in a rematch of last March’s Mid-American Conference championship game.
Central Michigan boasts one of the most potent three-point shooting teams in the nation. UB was able to outscore the Chippewas last March, 89-84, to earn a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
UB’s offense isn’t as good as last season, but the Bulls’ wing defense looks better. The Bulls are holding foes to 32 percent three-point shooting, second-best in the MAC. Tipoff is 3:30 p.m. at Alumni Arena (Radio 1520 AM).
Central Michigan takes 49.3 percent of its shots from behind the three-point line, the third-highest rate in the nation.
“The way we’re turning it over right now, we have to guard,” said UB coach Nate Oats. “If we do guard, we’re a lot better in getting out in transition.”
The fulcrum of the Chippewas’ offense is senior guard Chris Fowler (15.4 ppg). Central Michigan spreads the floor and lets Fowler drive to the basket for either a layup or a kick-out to a line of three-point shooters.
Wing Josh Kozkinski, guard Braylon Rayson and forward John Simons rank first, second and fourth, respectively, in the MAC in three-pointers.
“If you help in the lane, they’re going to kick out for threes,” Oats said. “Simons, Kozinski and Rayson can all shoot at a high level. It’s not like they’re sprinting off a bunch of screens. They’re sucking help in and kicking out. Or they get their threes in transition.”
UB used power forward Xavier Ford to guard Fowler a bunch at the top of the key in the title game last year.
Central Michigan (9-7, 2-1) played the first seven games of the season without an injured Fowler. But the Chippewas are getting back into form as a MAC favorite. They snapped Akron’s 10-game win streak with a 92-81 decision on Tuesday.
Defense is the Chippewas’ concern. They’re last in the MAC in field-goal percentage allowed (.452) and turnovers forced (10.3 a game).
Elsewhere in the Big 4:
St. Bona men: The Bonnies aim for a fifth straight win when they visit Duquesne in Pittsburgh (6 p.m., WNYO, SNY). The Bonnies (12-3, 4-0) have won six of the last seven against the Dukes, picked for 11th in the Atlantic 10 preseason poll. Duquesne (11-6, 1-3) is 8-1 on its home court this season.
The Dukes are a veteran team, with four starters back from last season. They’re led by senior guard Derrick Colter, averaging 17.1 ppg. Duquesne ranks third in the A-10 in scoring (78.2 ppg) but 12th in points allowed (74.5 ppg). Bona’s top three scorers – Marcus Posley, Jay Adams and Dion Wright – are combining to average 51.3 ppg., second most of any trio in the nation.
St. Bona women: The Bonnies aim for a 15th straight victory when they meet George Mason at 1 p.m. at the Reilly Center. Bona’s winning streak is the fifth longest in the nation. Bona (15-2, 4-0) stands in a three-way tie atop the A-10 with Duquesne and George Washington. George Mason (7-10, 2-2) was picked for 11th in the A-10 preseason poll. The Patriots are allowing 70.5 ppg, most of any team in the conference. St. Bona has committed the fewest fouls (135) of any team in the nation.
UB women: UB looks to rebound from a road loss at Ball State in a 1 p.m. game against Akron at Alumni Arena (Radio 1520 AM). UB (10-5, 2-2) ranks first in the MAC in scoring defense, holding foes to 57.2 points a game. Akron (8-7, 2-2) ranks third on offense, scoring 72.3 ppg. Akron was picked to finish second in the MAC East. UB was picked to finish tied for fifth (last) in the MAC East. Akron forward Anita Brown ranks second in the MAC in scoring at 21.1 ppg. UB’s Joanna Smith is fourth at 17.3 ppg.