SYRACUSE – University at Buffalo coach Nate Oats thinks his team has made a big statement to the NCAA Tournament committee during the nonconference college basketball season.
“I don’t want to say guarantee because we’ve got to take care of a lot of things between now and March, but if we do what we’re supposed to between now and March, I think this win will get us an at-large bid,” Oats said after his Bulls beat Syracuse, 71-59, Tuesday night.
The Bulls improved to 11-0. They are the favorites to repeat as Mid-American Conference champions.
The MAC has sent only its conference tournament winner to the NCAA Tournament every year for the last 19 years. The last MAC at-large bid was given to Miami Ohio in 1999.
UB, ranked No. 14, now has marquee victories at West Virginia and Syracuse. The Bulls also have a high-quality win over San Francisco, which ranked No. 41 Tuesday on the Pomeroy analytics site.
If the Bulls don’t win the MAC title, they’re a strong at-large candidate as long as they finish with an excellent conference record.
“Now if we can go get Marquette on Friday, that’s about as close to guaranteeing an at-large bid in the MAC as you can get at this level,” Oats said. “So that’s not going to be easy, either.
“I said coming in, if we can split this, I think we still get an at-large bid,” Oats said, referring to the Syracuse and Marquette games. “I mean, what else? We played at West Virginia, at Syracuse, at Marquette, we play three teams that are either currently ranked in the top 25 or in preseason were ranked in the top 25. If you win two out of three, what else do you want us to do?”
Of course, UB will be the “Super Bowl” game for every MAC team this season. No mid-major team can afford many upsets in bidding for an at-large berth.
“We’ve got to take care of business in conference, and our conference is much better this year than it’s been,” Oats said. “But yeah, I think this win is huge in March.”
This was the second straight year UB has played at the Carrier Dome, and Oats made it a point to acknowledge Orange coach Jim Boeheim after the game.
“I do want to thank Coach Boeheim,” Oats said. “He knew we were going to be really good. We almost beat them here last year. But he still scheduled the game. So he’s not afraid to schedule quality opponents. I appreciate their administration getting this game done for us.”
Oats is confident that Syracuse (7-4) will have another good season, especially because of the way it plays defense.
"That zone will mess with you. They'll get this together in my opinion," he said. "They'll probably make the NCAA Tournament again. It happens almost every year. Then they'll make the Sweet 16 because people don't know how to attack the zone.
"I didn't do a very good job getting (the Bulls) ready for the zone," Oats said. "But I'm not the only guy who doesn't do a very good job getting a team ready for this zone. It's hard."