Buffalo grabbed headlines for taking down Arizona in last year’s NCAA Tournament, then going on the road to hand a ranked West Virginia team its first loss in a home opener in 15 years.
The 25th-ranked Bulls won’t surprise anyone now, not with the program’s first appearance in the AP Top 25 .
Buffalo’s win against the Mountaineers was enough to lift the Mid-American Conference program into the final spot in Monday’s latest poll. Hours later, the Bulls (3-0) won their second road game this season by beating Southern Illinois 62-53 .
“I told (the players) congrats, and I just said, listen, if you’re going to sit on your phones all day and search your name and Buffalo basketball, it’s a negative,'” fourth-year coach Nate Oats told The Associated Press after Monday night’s win. “We can use it for a positive and it should motivate you to play even harder to prove these voters right, that they know what they’re talking about, that now more people are going to be watching us.
“So let’s make sure that all these accolades we get this year, we use them as positives and they don’t turn into negatives for us.”
Unlike teams that fly largely unnoticed until the wins pile up in February, Buffalo needed only a week of the regular season to make its move.
Part of that carries over from one of the biggest March moments in last year’s NCAA first round: a blowout win against an Arizona team that featured No. 1 overall NBA draft pick Deandre Ayton. The Bulls lost to Kentucky in the second round to close a 27-win season, which sustained momentum from the program making its first NCAA trip in 2015 — under current Arizona State coach Bobby Hurley — and then going twice more in Oats’ first three seasons.
Then, on Friday , Buffalo beat then-No. 13 West Virginia behind 43 points and 14 rebounds from CJ Massinburg.
Buffalo has a couple of notable nonconference games on the schedule in December, including consecutive road games at No. 15 Syracuse and No. 24 Marquette.
In the meantime, the Bulls don’t play again until Nov. 21 against Dartmouth, though Oats figures his team can use the break. The Bulls are unbeaten despite shooting less than 40 percent through the first three games, including 26 percent from 3-point range.
Fix that, and Buffalo could be staying in the AP Top 25 a while.
“The way our shooting’s gone, it may not be the worst to have nine days off,” Oats said. “We can regroup. … We can kind of concentrate on making ourselves better.”
STARTING THE WEEK
Buffalo was among four ranked teams to start the week’s schedule Monday night. Second-ranked Kansas beat Vermont , No. 7 North Carolina beat Stanford and No. 12 Kansas State beat Denver .
THE TOP MATCHUP
The headliner this week is No. 8 Villanova hosting No. 18 Michigan on Wednesday in a matchup of last year’s national championship game. That one turned out to be the final stop in the Wildcats’ romp through the postseason, ending with a second NCAA title in three seasons.
DUKE ON TOP
Duke’s blowout of then-No. 2 Kentucky vaulted the Blue Devils from No. 4 in the preseason to No. 1 on Monday, giving them a record number of appearances atop the AP Top 25.
Duke made the move by claiming the top spot for all 19 voters who had Kentucky as preseason No. 1 while also causing 23 voters to switch from Kansas in the preseason to Duke this week.
The Blue Devils play as the No. 1-ranked team Wednesday at home against Eastern Michigan.
The Atlantic Coast Conference has a national-best seven ranked teams with Duke, fourth-ranked Virginia, UNC, No. 14 Florida State, Syracuse, No. 16 Virginia Tech and No. 19 Clemson. The Southeastern Conference is next with five ranked teams, led by fifth-ranked Tennessee, ninth-ranked Auburn and 10th-ranked Kentucky.
West Virginia leads the list of teams receiving votes after falling out of the poll following the Buffalo loss, so the Mountaineers could play their way back in with a good showing in the eight-team Myrtle Beach Invitational in Conway, South Carolina.
Indiana has a game that could help its chances with Wednesday’s visit from Marquette, which is ranked for the first time in five years. Archie Miller’s Hoosiers also go on the road to play at Arkansas on Sunday.
Source: The Associated Press