CLEVELAND — Whether it was a win or a loss in the conference title game, the University at Buffalo men’s basketball team was going to make the NCAA Tournament.
The Bulls won the Mid-American Conference tournament championship with an 87-73 win against Bowling Green on Saturday at Quicken Loans Arena. The MAC tournament winner earns an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, and Buffalo makes its fourth tournament appearance since 2015, including its third under coach Nate Oats.
Had the 18th-ranked Bulls lost the championship game, they’d still be in the 68-team field, which will be announced Sunday at 6 p.m. on CBS.
The NCAA Tournament opens Tuesday with the First Four in Dayton, Ohio, and continues with first-round games Thursday and Friday at multiple sites.
UB coach Nate Oats expects no less than a 5 seed for his team in the NCAA Tournament.
"I think we deserve a 4 (seed)," Oats said. "A minimum of a 5. I don't know why not.
"Thirty-one wins, shoot, I'd be pushing for a 4. If we get lower than a 5, I'm going to be really disappointed in that."
Two of the Bulls said after the win Saturday that they expect to earn either a 4 or a 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
"Not only were we ranked all year, but to go and beat teams, and come out with the same consistency every night, that goes for a lot," said UB guard Davonta Jordan, who anticipates the Bulls will receive a 4 seed.
Forward Montell McRae expects the Bulls to earn either a 4 or a 5 seed.
"We worked hard, and we have one of the best records in the country right now," McRae said. "We're just a blue-collar team, and people love us. And we just play hard, harder than everybody."
The Bulls have made the tournament three times, and were a 12 seed in 2015, a 14 seed in 2016 and a 13 seed in 2018.
"We said, coming into the season, that we want to play into the second weekend of the tournament," Oats said. "Most people have us as a 6 right now, and some clown has us as a 7. But I think we're better than that. We said, we want to get this thing moved up into a 5 range. If we can play a 3 or a 4, maybe even a 4 range, I don't know what the committee values, but we have 31 wins and that's the most in college basketball.
"So if we can get our seed up, it gives us a way better shot to play deeper in the tournament."
Multiple NCAA Tournament projections have listed the Bulls as high as a 6 seed in recent days, but two national outlets changed their projected seedings for UB in brackets that were updated Saturday.
ESPN projects the Bulls as a 6 seed in the Midwest region, while CBS Sports projects UB as a 5 seed in the West region. USA Today also projects UB as a No. 6 seed in the South.
BracketMatrix.com, which aggregates more than 120 mock brackets, projected the Bulls as a 6 seed.
Joe Lunardi, ESPN's bracketologist, said before the MAC tournament that if the Bulls were to move from a 6 seed, they would likely move down.
The Bulls were expected to win the conference tournament so doing so would not give them a bump.
“Any loss they would suffer would be seen more as a ‘bad loss,’ ” Lunardi said. “There aren’t really any great teams for them (to face).”
The Bulls won their three tournament games by an average margin of 18 points: an 82-46 win Thursday in a quarterfinal against Akron, an 85-81 win Friday in a semifinal against Central Michigan, then won Saturday against Bowling Green.
Lunardi put the over/under for UB’s seeding at 6 1/2, but also acknowledged that UB has a history that other tournament-bound mid-major teams don’t have.
The Bulls blew out fourth-seeded Arizona, 89-68, in last year's NCAA Tournament before losing to Kentucky, 95-75, two days later.
“Maybe because I’m a little biased to their story, I slot them as a 6,” Lunardi said. “It wouldn’t surprise me if they were a 7.”
The highest seed a MAC team has earned in the 68-team field is a No. 9 seed: Ball State was a 9 seed in 1989, as were Eastern Michigan in 1996 and Kent State in 2008.
Toledo was a 5 seed in a 40-team field in 1979, and Miami (Ohio) was an 8 seed in a 53-team field in 1984.