If you’re all about big-time scoring guards in the NCAA Tournament, look no further than the Texas Tech-Buffalo matchup in the West Region on Sunday.
Tech sophomore Jarrett Culver, the Big 12 Player of the Year, averages 18.8 points. Buffalo senior CJ Massinburg, the Mid-American Conference Player of the Year, averages 18.3 points. Third-seeded Tech and sixth-seeded Buffalo will meet with a spot in the Sweet 16 on the line.
Massinburg respects Culver, having known him since they played for the same Dallas-based AAU program.
“He’s a really good athlete,” Massinburg said. “If you don’t put a body on him, he’s susceptible to dunk the ball on you and stuff like that. I’ll just try to fight him, play him tough.”
Culver went under the radar before he left high school and was solid as a freshman before blossoming this season. He scored 29 points in the Red Raiders’ first-round win over Western Kentucky on Friday.
“I’ve seen an overall growth, obviously physically, weight room, mentally embracing competition, one possession at a time, valuing possessions,” Texas Tech coach Chris Beard said. “He’s worked on his game. He’s gone from a top, non-top 100 recruit to one of the best players in college basketball.”
Beard expects the 6-foot-6 Culver to leave for the NBA after this season. Culver also averages 6.4 rebounds and 3.8 assists, versatility that would be valued at the next level.
“As much as myself and everyone in Lubbock would love to have him in Lubbock next year, there’s a real possibility that won’t happen,” Beard said. “We said we would give him two lockers next year and three sets of practice gear and whatever he needs.”
Massinburg is 6-3 and isn’t as explosive as Culver, but he’s been effective. He set Buffalo’s single-season school record for points during Friday’s win against Arizona State and needs 28 to tie Javon McRea as the school’s career scoring leader.
“He’s a great player on both sides of the ball,” Culver said. “He can score at all three levels. He plays with a lot of heart from what we’ve seen.”
Massinburg got Beard’s attention when he scored 43 in a win over West Virginia on Nov. 9.
“He’s fearless,” Beard said. “Looks to me like a guy that, you know, thinks he’s the best player on the floor. That’s how all the great ones do. … Looks to me like he’s got a little bit of chip on his shoulder.”
Buffalo averages 85.1 points while Tech allows just 59.2. The Red Raiders say it’s important to slow the pace and make the Bulls uncomfortable.
“We want to play March basketball,” Texas Tech guard Matt Mooney said. “So it’s taking good shots, having good possessions, taking care of the ball, and trying to limit them running. Definitely they’re really, really good at it. But we want to try to limit that as much as possible.”
Buffalo’s Nick Perkins and Texas Tech’s Norense Odiase should match up at times and it ought to be entertaining.
Both are listed at 6-8 and 250 pounds. Perkins, the three-time MAC sixth man of the year, averages 14.6 points and 7.3 rebounds. Odiase, a senior who started every game this season, is a defensive stopper who averages 1.1 blocks.
Buffalo has plenty of other scorers besides Massinburg. There’s Perkins, the team’s No. 2 scorer. Then, there’s Jeremy Harris (14.2 points per game), Jayvon Graves (9.9), Dontay Caruthers (8.8) and Davonta Jordan (7.2) and Montell McRae (5.7).
“These are some of the best players in college basketball,” Beard said. “These are guys that would not only play in the Big 12 but would succeed. A really good team. One of the top teams in the country.”
HE SAID IT
Buffalo coach Nate Oats on how his team views being in the NCAA Tournament: “Last year, we were really excited to get the first win in school history in the NCAA Tournament. This year — we’ve already won last year, we’re expected to win, we’re the favorite team. I think our guys are a little bit more locked in, which we’re going to need to be because Texas Tech is unbelievably good. We’ve got our hands full.”