The No. 14-ranked University at Buffalo men’s basketball team hosts Southern Illinois on Saturday afternoon at Alumni Arena, the second time the Bulls face the Salukis this season.
It’s not terribly common to play a home-and-home against a non-conference opponent.
But the series came about because each school had difficulty filling out its schedule, UB coach Nate Oats said. The issue arose late in the summer, when UB attempted to move some games around and couldn’t come to an agreement on a date to play Niagara. The Bulls reached out to Southern Illinois.
“We were having a hard time scheduling,” Oats said. “We just beat Arizona (in the NCAA tournament) and nobody really wanted to play us. (Southern Illinois had) five starters returning with a kid that sat out that had started before that, so they essentially had six starters returning. And teams didn’t want to play them, either. So we were both having a hard time scheduling.”
Both programs were interested in starting a series, but wanted to begin at home, which is typical.
The decision to play twice delivered each program a home game this season.
“I forget who threw it out, but it worked for both of us,” Oats said. “We had to switch some stuff around with our schedule and we were able to get them twice in one year. It may happen more often, especially with some of the high major conferences talking about going to 20-, 22-game conference (schedule). And then they don’t want to play a really good mid-major because they already got 22 really good games on the schedule, so it may get harder and harder for teams like us to schedule and we may have to resort to more of that type of stuff.”
Buffalo and SIU are the second Mid-American Conference and Missouri Valley Conference schools to play a home and home this season. Ball State and Evansville have also played twice, with each team winning at home.
UB (9-0) defeated Southern Illinois 62-53 on Nov. 12 at SIU for its third victory of the season. The Bulls were ranked No. 25 at the time, having just cracked the Associated Press Top 25 earlier that day. They’re looking for their 17th consecutive victory at home, dating to last season.
Buffalo’s 9-0 start is its best since the 1930-31 season, when it went undefeated with a perfect 15-0 record. UB is one of just nine undefeated teams in the country.
Southern Illinois (7-4) had a five-game winning streak snapped on Wednesday night with an 80-52 loss to Murray State. The Salukis have played the last two games without Armon Fletcher, who was suspended for a violation of team rules. Eric McGill had a team-high 19 points against Murray State starting in place of Fletcher.
Last season, the Salukis finished in second place in the MVC, behind eventual Final Four participant Loyola-Chicago.
Playing quality non-conference opponents can help a team’s resume when it comes to selecting teams for the NCAA Tournament, and where those games are played matters more than it previously has.
The NCAA switched last season from using top 50, top 100, top 200 and 201 and above as categories for ranking wins and losses. That was replaced by quadrants one through four that take into account whether the game was at home, on the road or on a neutral court.
After Saturday's game, UB plays at Syracuse on Tuesday and at Marquette on Friday. Syracuse is No. 29 in the new NET rankings that have replaced the RPI and Marquette is No. 22. UB is No. 13.
“It would (help a tournament resume), and that’s why (Jim) Boeheim wants to do it at Syracuse (on Tuesday), because they got a Quad 1 win last year when they beat us at their place,” Oats said. “Even though it was a home game for them, it still was a Quad 1 win. We were that good. He understands if they wouldn’t have played that game, they may not have gotten to the tournament. They were right on the bubble and that extra Quad 1 win may have propelled them over the top. ...
"Some other schools, particularly where the coaches aren’t doing so well, they may just want to get guaranteed wins. We certainly are not a guaranteed win.”