The Buffalo Bulls look to run their undefeated record to 3-0 today as they travel to Southern Illinois to face the Salukis. The Bulls are coming in off of what is likely the biggest upset win of the year so far in college basketball as they went into Morgantown and beat the thirteenth ranked Mountaineers of West Virginia in their last game. Southern Illinois will be looking for their first win of the season tonight at home as they were fed to the Wildcats of Kentucky in their first game of the season. The Bulls are -4.5-point road favorites. The game total over-under is set at 154 points. Tipoff is scheduled for 5:00 PM PST from SIU Arena in Carbondale, Illinois.
I wrote a preseason article about the Buffalo Bulls that basically said, don’t sleep on this team as they are loaded with upperclassmen are a legit threat to get the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament despite the fact that they were not in either of the preseason poll’s top twenty-five. Well, it’s one week into the season and the cat is certainly out of the bag on this Bulls team as they picked up a huge upset win against West Virginia in the season’s opening week.
Buffalo won twenty-seven games last year, including blowing out Arizona in the first round of the NCAA tournament. And remember, that was an Arizona team that was loaded with NBA level talent, including DeAndre Ayton who was later taken as the number one overall pick in the NBA draft. The Bulls went on to bow out in the round of thirty-two to Kentucky, but this team showed they can play with anyone in the country.
And this year’s squad returns nearly all of that team’s talent as they start four seniors and a junior. The Bulls are led by Nick Perkins who was an all-conference selection last year and averaged over sixteen points and six rebounds a game for Buffalo. CJ Massinburg and Jeremy Harris are both returning stars from last season squad as well and all told, the Bulls trio of returning senior stars averaged nearly fifty points a game last season.
Massinburg was the star of the upset over West Virginia as he exploded for forty-three points and fourteen rebounds, including nine three-pointers. West Virginia has been known as Press Virginia the last several years under head coach Bob Huggins, as West Virginia has had one of the best defenses in the country. This Bulls team lit them up for 99 points in their house last week. They are that good on the offensive side of the ball.
Southern Illinois has had a brutal schedule to start the season. First, they had to go into Rupp Arena and face the number two team in the country in Kentucky. They actually acquitted themselves well in that game as they lost by just twelve points and covered the spread against a loaded Wildcats team. Now in their second game of the year, they have to host another ranked team, as the Bulls cracked the top twenty-five in the newly released AP poll. Things are going to be much easier the rest of the way out in the non-conference for the Salukis as they have some soft spots coming up after this one, but if they can break through with a big win tonight, it would officially put the rest of the Missouri Valley Conference on notice.
The Salukis return their entire starting five from last season, a team that won twenty games and finished second in the league. However, the Valley was dominated by a team from Chicago named Loyola, you may have heard about them last season as they made a run to the Final Four. This year the Salukis could compete for the league title and a trip to the Madness, but on the surface, the Valley is Loyola-Chicago’s to lose once again this year. The Salukis start four seniors and a junior, all of which come into the season averaging at least nine points a contest. This team is talented, but a bit undersized, but I think when the smoke clears this season, the Salukis are going to find themselves much closer to that March bubble than many people might be expecting.
I hate that Buffalo jumped right into the top twenty-five after the first week of the season. I was hoping I would get another week or two of the Bulls being my dirty little secret. Small conference teams that are loaded with senior talent like this one are always the teams that find ways to win more games than everyone expects, and I was very high on the Bulls coming into the season. But now that people are waking up and seeing their name in the top twenty-five, it is going to shed some national spotlight on this team, which is only going to hurt the betting action to back them.
But, that being said, I still see a lot of value backing the Bulls tonight. Winning on the road, especially a true road game like this one, is the hardest thing to do in college basketball. And this Southern Illinois team is likely a little underrated themselves. But, I think Buffalo is a team that is going to surprise a lot of people this year and hang around the top twenty-five all season long. They have a couple more huge road tests in the non-conference as they have games against Syracuse and Marquette scheduled in December. If they manage to come out of the non-conference unscathed, they could find themselves in the top ten nationally.
This team showed that they aren’t scared to go on the road and win in a tough environment last week in Morgantown, and I think they will find a way to get the job done tonight against the Salukis as well. I don’t expect a blowout, these Salukis are experienced and talented, but I think the Bulls are on another level right now and win this one by double-digits. Give me the Buffalo Bulls as small road favorites tonight, laying -4.5-points!