The Buffalo Bulls shocked everyone when they defeated Arizona on Thursday night. That is, everyone who hasn’t watched them.
The University at Buffalo didn’t just upset one of the top teams in the country on Thursday night. The Buffalo Bulls absolutely dominated them.
Under Nate Oats, with six excellent scoring pieces, guys who are high-quality teammates, excellent competitors and knock-down shooters, the Bulls defeated the Wildcats of Arizona and shocked the entire basketball world, busting thousands and maybe even millions of brackets in the process.
The future is very bright for the University at Buffalo. Oats, who has done magical things for this program, recently signed a five-year deal. Four highly valuable starters will return next year, and the school recently announced that its 2018 recruiting class is the best in program history, ranked 56th in the country by Rivals.com, which is ahead of a number of major programs.
Oats, who took over for Arizona State head coach Bobby Hurley, is 64-38 in his head coaching career. He’s only 43. Since arriving in Buffalo on Apr. 11, 2015, he has proven time and time again to be a top head coach. He’s won two Mid-American Conference (MAC) titles, was named the MAC Coach of the Year for 2018, and has hauled in major recruiting classes.
He wouldn’t be in Western New York if not for a recruiting trip. In 2013, Bobby Hurley was recruiting E.C. Matthews at Romulus High School in Michigan on behalf of the University of Rhode Island. Oats was the head coach of Romulus at the time, and he impressed Hurley so much that he was offered a job on his staff at Buffalo.
Oats was able to bring in Justin Moss, the 2014-15 MAC Player of the Year, as well as Christian Pino and Raheem Johnson, both former Romulus guys. He was an effective recruiter from the get-go. But he was also much more than that.
In his first year as head coach, after Hurley left to fill the Arizona State vacancy, Oats was at a disadvantage. Yes, Buffalo was coming off its first-ever NCAA tournament appearance, but Oats was without Moss, who was dismissed for theft, and Shannon Evans II, who transferred to ASU with Hurley.
Still, Oats’ guys competed like they always do, winning the MAC tournament for the second consecutive season and making a name for themselves.
Last year, Buffalo fell in the conference playoffs, ending an exciting two-year run. But in 2018, the Bulls began the season 8-0, finished MAC play at 15-3, won the MAC regular season outright for the first time in program history as well as finally beating Toledo to advance to March Madness for the third time in four years, establishing themselves as a sort of mid-major powerhouse.
But facing the fourth-ranked Wildcats on Thursday, the Bulls were the heavy underdogs. After all, Arizona had the presumptive top pick in the draft, DeAndre Ayton, two 7-footers, an über-talented frontcourt and four potential lottery picks. They were the much more talented team.
That didn’t matter. Oats’ team was in it to win it, and that’s exactly what they did. Oats’ recruiting philosophy — high-quality teammates, excellent competitors and knock-down shooters — paid off for Buffalo. Again.
The Buffalo Bulls (13) keep their #MarchMadness dreams alive and pull off the upset in Boise! pic.twitter.com/Rph0xu4a63
— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) March 16, 2018
The Bulls were physical, aggressive and unrelenting. They dove for loose balls, laid out their bodies and jumped for every rebound. They even hit their shots — Wes Clark, Jeremy Harris and CJ Massinburg were all draining from beyond the three-point arc.
They were exciting to watch, playing with a sort of swagger that has not been seen in the past from Buffalo squads. They were playing with fire, and the fun they were having on the court was contagious.
Buffalo played an up-tempo, high-octane offense that ranked in the top 10 in the country in scoring this season. They were really impressive in transition, but the thing that set them apart was the confidence — not just in their overall game, but in their shooting.
Nate Oats’ team was not afraid to shoot from behind the arc, and it was justified.
On Thursday, three guys — Clark, Massinburg and Harris — scored 19 or more points. That, along with Nick Perkins’ outstanding play — Arizona head coach Sean Miller thinks the two-time MAC sixth man of the year could play for any program in the country — helped Buffalo pull off the improbable upset.
The completeness of the roster is an Oats speciality, something that shouldn’t change in the coming years. Next season, Buffalo has four returning starters (with the exception of Wes Clark, who transferred from Missouri to Buffalo because Oats was his coach at Romulus).
More than just the returning players, Buffalo will have an exciting group of newbies for the 2019 season. The highest-rated recruiting class in program history has yielded two four-star recruits and one of the top Junior College players in the country.
Jeenathan Williams, a four-star recruit from Rochester, NY, is an “athletic, versatile and skilled wing player,” Oats said. Williams dropped 22 points a game, and had over 30 Division I offers from schools like Syracuse, Maryland, NC State and Virginia.
Ronaldo Segu, a 6-foot point guard from Orlando, FL, was the 14th best prospect in the Sunshine State. He is “tenacious on defense, has an exceptional basketball IQ and has a natural feel for the game,” Oats said.
Javion Hamlet, a 6-3 point guard from Memphis, TN, led all Junior College players with 8.4 assists per game with Motlow State College. He’s an “experienced combo guard who could score and handle the ball well,” said Oats.
All of these players are Nate Oats specialities — high-quality teammates, excellent competitors and knock-down shooters. “All of these guys are high character individuals that we have spent time building relationships with,” the head coach said.
“They are big-time gym rats that all want to be a part of this program. I know they will complement the pieces that we currently have to take this program to new heights and I can’t wait for them to get on campus.”
The future is bright in Buffalo. That future starts on Saturday, when the Bulls take on the Kentucky Wildcats. Once an afterthought, UB is now a prominent mid-major program, destined to give an SEC powerhouse a run for its money.
That is a Nate Oats team. That is a Buffalo team. The future is bright in the Nickel City.