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Big 4 Basketball Update: Buffalo vs. Syracuse Preview

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This will be a weekly feature published every Sunday on From the 300 Level and will include recaps, podcasts and any other additional Big 4 Basketball content we can think of. You can follow Mike Bundt on Twitter @Mike_Bundt.

This week, I was joined by Villa Maria College basketball assistant coach, Johnathan Snyder. He’s a former contributor for Queen City Sports, Bull Run and Snyder’s Big 4 Talk. Johnathan is most known for breaking the news of Shannon Evans transferring to Arizona State following Bobby Hurley’s departure in 2015. We spoke in-depth about Canisius, Niagara, St. Bonaventure and Buffalo’s recent run.

It’s finally here, the day UB basketball fans have been waiting for all season long!

No. 14 Buffalo will be taking the court later tonight at the Carrier Dome in front of nearly 20,000 fans, in a rare position, expecting to come out victorious against Syracuse which enters the game unranked.

The Bulls display a perfect 10-0 record with wins over No. 13 West Virginia, San Francisco and Southern Illinois (x2).

The Cuse have been inconsistent once again this season. They’re coming off a non-conference loss against Old Dominion after picking up recent wins over Georgetown and No. 16 Ohio State.

So let’s break down this game:

SYRACUSE, NY – DECEMBER 19: Nick Perkins #33 of the Buffalo Bulls dribbles as Paschal Chukwu #13 of the Syracuse Orange defends at the Carrier Dome on December 19, 2017 in Syracuse, New York. Syracuse defeats Buffalo 81-74. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

Series History: Syracuse leads 28-5

This the second straight year these schools will meet. Syracuse won a hard-fought 81-74 matchup last December.

In that contest, Buffalo had a 68-67 lead with 3:16 remaining before the Orange finished the game on a 14-6 run.

Nick Perkins led the way for UB, posting 18 points and seven rebounds. Both CJ Massinburg and Jeremy Harris struggled against the Syracuse 2-3 zone, combining for 22 points on 5-22 shooting.

The Bulls will need to be much more efficient from the field if they want to win this time around.

Interesting Facts:

  • Syracuse has won their last 18 matchups against Buffalo.
  • UB is looking for their first win over the Orange since January 15, 1963.
  • The Bulls have won 10 straight games for the first time since the 1964-65 season.
  • Buffalo will become the first non-conference ranked team to play in the Carrier Dome since Villanova on Dec. 28, 2013 and they are the first non-conference ranked team to play an unranked Syracuse team at the Dome since Oklahoma on Jan. 7, 1984.
  • Buffalo is one of just nine undefeated teams remaining in the country, joining Kansas, Michigan, Texas Tech, Virginia, Houston, Furman, St. John’s, and Nevada. Of that group, Buffalo and Furman are the only two to win at least three true road games.

Scouting the Orange:

Syracuse enters Tuesday’s matchup against Buffalo with a 7-3 record. 

SYRACUSE, NY – DECEMBER 15: Tyus Battle #25 of the Syracuse Orange sets the play during the second half against the Old Dominion Monarchs (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

They’re led by Tyus Battle who’s leading the Orange in scoring, averaging 18.5 points per game. Oshae Brissett is close behind, nearly averaging a double-double, scoring 14.9 points and pulling down 8.1 rebounds per game.

East Carolina transfer Elijah Hughes has been impressive in his first season with the Cuse, showing a scoring touch while Frank Howard has been a disappointment since returning to the court.

Buffalo is hoping Howard’s struggles continue against them. The senior guard had 18 points and four assists against the Bulls last year. Brissett also had an enormous game that night, scoring 25 points (16-16 from charity stripe) and bringing down eight rebounds. 

Scouting the Bulls:

As a Big 4 Blogger, this part is easy! The Bulls are led by their “Big 3.”

SYRACUSE, NY – DECEMBER 19: CJ Massinburg #5 of the Buffalo Bulls moves the ball during the game against the Syracuse Orange at the Carrier Dome on December 19, 2017 (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

CJ Massinburg is an elite mid-major talent. Jeremy Harris is a strong shooter and slasher while Nick Perkins takes care of things down low.

All three are capable of taking over the primary scoring load on any given night but the Bulls success goes much deeper than just them.

Buffalo is a very strong defensive team, led by their strong guards. Davonta Jordan is a solid defender who knows how to get his hand on the ball and take a charge.

Dontay Caruthers and Jayvon Graves are quick and mobile, getting things done on both sides of the court while Montell McRae is becoming a solid contributor who can extend a teams defense.

In addition to them, UB has a pair of talented freshmen in Jeenathan Williams (chose UB over Syracuse) and Rondo Segu who have shown solid flashes in their limited minutes.

Keys to the game:

Pace of play: 

  • This will be a huge factor in this contest. The Bulls like to play FAST while Syracuse prefers to slow down their opponents.
  • Buffalo is 16th in the country in scoring, averaging 85.2 points. Syracuse is 265th, averaging 70.9 points.
  • UB isn’t just fast though, they’re also efficient. They’re ranked 25th in Kenpom’s adjusted offensive efficiency rankings. 
  • On the other side of the spectrum, Syracuse is 16th in Kenpom’s adjusted defensive efficiency rankings.
SYRACUSE, NY – DECEMBER 15: Oshae Brissett #11 of the Syracuse Orange defends against Xavier Green #10 of the Old Dominion Monarchs during the second half at the Carrier Dome on December 15, 2018 in Syracuse, New York. Old Dominion defeats Syracuse 68-62. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

2-3 Zone:

  • The 2-3 zone is a massive reason behind Syracuse’s defensive success. It’s been a staple of the Orange forever under Jim Boeheim.
  • The Cuse are 29th in the country in scoring defense, allowing just 62.8 points per game.
  • Prior to their contest against Old Dominion, Syracuse had forced opponents into shooting roughly half of their shots from deep.
  • The zone is designed to extend teams towards the perimeter, hoping they settle for deeper, more difficult shots.
  • Syracuse’s length is always challenging to go up against. Paschal Chukwu finished with eight blocks in last year’s contest against Buffalo.

Which offensive playmakers will show up:

  • When it really comes down to it, this game is all about which offensive playmakers show up.
  • Last year, it was Oshae Brissett dominating down low while CJ Massinburg and Jeremy Harris struggled for UB. The Bulls couldn’t contain the bigger Syracuse players driving to the hoop.
  • That said, Nick Perkins was solid overall in last year’s contest. He’ll need to avoid getting in early foul trouble. Perkins is vital to the Bulls offense, providing them a strong post presence while also extending opponents with his occasional threes, opening opportunities inside the arc.
  • The biggest question entering this game is which strength will win out? The Bulls quick, efficient offense or the Cuse’s dominating, lengthy 2-3 zone?
SYRACUSE, NY – DECEMBER 19: Oshae Brissett #11 of the Syracuse Orange fouls CJ Massinburg #5 of the Buffalo Bulls on a breakaway during the first half at the Carrier Dome on December 19, 2017 in Syracuse, New York. Syracuse defeats Buffalo 81-74. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

Betting Line: Syracuse (-3.5)

Prediction: Buffalo 81-77

In the end, I think the Bulls explosive offense will be too much for the Cuse to keep up with. Syracuse had an early glimpse of this UB squad last December when the Bulls gave them a run for their money at the Carrier Dome.

Buffalo is much more rounded now than they were one year ago. They’re deeper, more experienced and have added confidence after taking down Arizona and West Virginia.

The Orange are a very good team that should make the NCAA Tournament but I have a hard time believing they’ll be able to go toe-for-toe with the Bulls if this turns into a shootout.

Syracuse’s best chance is to slow the game down, forcing UB into poor shots and winning by playing physical down low.

This game can go either way but I give Buffalo a slight edge.

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