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UB men know MAC favorite role offers no guarantees

The University at Buffalo men's basketball team knows its No. 1 seed is no guarantee of a championship in the Mid-American Conference Tournament this week in Cleveland.

Depending on how far you want to go back, the No. 1 seed has won two of the last five, just two of the last nine, and seven of the last 20 MAC Tournaments.

"Hopefully we can make it three of the last six if we take care of business," said UB coach Nate Oats.

"The No. 12 seed is Northern Illinois, and we lost to them already this year," Oats said. "We lost to two other teams that played Monday. So if they haven't got the message that if they don't bring their A game you can lose to anybody in this league, I don't know what you can tell them."

UB (23-8) is aiming for its third NCAA berth in the last four years, having won the MAC in 2015 and 2016. The Bulls were eliminated by eventual champion Kent State last year.

The Bulls play a quarterfinal game at noon Thursday against No. 8 seed Central Michigan, which on Monday defeated No. 9 seed Bowling Green, at Cleveland's Quicken Loans Arena.

If UB wins, its semifinal would be at 6:30 p.m. Friday on CBS Sports Network. The title game is 7 p.m. Saturday on ESPN2.

UB is the MAC's top-rated team, at 15-3 in conference and No. 32 in the Ratings Percentage Index. Toledo, the No. 2 seed, is 84 in the RPI. But UB's RPI isn't high enough to put it in at-large consideration for the NCAA Tournament. The MAC will be a one-bid league.

UB is ranked sixth in the nation and first in the MAC in scoring at 85.2 ppg. The Bulls have scored 80 or more points in 24 games, the most in the nation. Villanova is second at 23 games.

UB also is second in defensive efficiency in the MAC. There's no doubt about the clear-cut favorite in Cleveland.

"I feel like throughout the year we started the season so good, teams have been gunning for us from the jump," said UB forward Nick Perkins. "I think it's something we're used to and something we embrace. We dropped three during conference so we know we can be beat. That's something that scares us. We know we've got to bring that full intensity and full focus to win. It's Division I basketball. Anybody can get beat any given night if you don't bring that focus and that effort."

UB won its last three games, all by comfortable margins.

"I feel like we're playing some of our best basketball," Oats said. "We were kind of dominating the league when we were 8-0. We had a few hiccups. It's bound to happen. Human nature kicks in a little bit and you get a little arrogant maybe."

"I think we had a really good effort Friday night," Oats said of a 30-point rout at Bowling Green. "I wanted to have a great game going into this tournament just to have some confidence built up and to be playing our best basketball. So I thought our game at Bowling Green was one of our better games we played all year on both sides of the ball."

No. 3 seed Eastern Michigan (20-11, 11-7) has won six straight. That includes two wins over Toledo in the last 11 days of the regular season.

Eastern Michigan, the No. 1-rated defensive team in the league, would face Toledo in the semifinals if both win on Thursday.

UB's semifinal foe, if the seeds hold, would be No. 4 Ball State. The Bulls won at Ball State, 83-63, on Jan. 6.

"If we give our max effort and don't turn the ball over on offense, mentally focus, I don't see another team beating us," Oats said. "But if we don't give our max effort or play a bad mental game where we make a lot of turnovers, then you give the other team a chance to beat you."

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