Tip-off: Noon Thursday, Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland.
TV: ESPN Plus.
Radio: ESPN 1520, WHTK 1280.
Records: No. 1 Buffalo 28-3, No. 8 Akron 17-15.
Last time out: Buffalo closed the regular season Friday with a 84-73 win against Bowling Green at Alumni Arena. Nick Perkins scored 22 points and had six rebounds against the Falcons, and CJ Massinburg scored 15 points and had six rebounds.
Akron defeated Miami (Ohio) 80-51 in a MAC Tournament first-round game Monday at James A. Rhodes Arena in Akron. Loren Cristian Jackson scored a game-high 25 points, and Daniel Utomi added 20 points for the Zips.
History: Akron is 34-29 all-time against the Bulls, and Zips coach John Groce is 5-8 overall and 0-4 at Akron against UB.
The Bulls face the Zips for the third time this season; the Bulls swept the regular-season series with a 76-70 win Feb. 12 at Akron, and a 77-64 win Feb. 26 at Alumni Arena. Massinburg scored 21 points Feb. 12 in the win against the Zips, and Perkins scored 25 points Feb. 26 against the Zips.
This is the fourth time the Bulls have faced Akron in the MAC Tournament. UB is 2-1 against the Zips in the MAC playoffs, and this is the first time the two teams have met in the tournament quarterfinals. UB defeated Akron for the 2016 tournament championship, lost to Akron in the 2009 tournament championship game and defeated the Zips in the 2015 semifinals.
Offense vs. defense: UB leads the MAC in scoring (85 points per game), but the Bulls face the MAC’s top defense in Akron (63.3 points per game). Massinburg, the MAC’s player of the year, is fourth in the conference in scoring, averaging 18.5 points per game. Utomi, Akron’s leading scorer, averages 14.3 points per game.
Bracketology: The Bulls are in good shape to earn an NCAA Tournament as an at-large candidate, but can solidify their spot in the 68-team field if they win the MAC Tournament championship.
In three mock brackets updated Wednesday, ESPN has the Bulls as a 6 seed in the Midwest region, while CBS Sports has the Bulls as a 6 seed in the West region and USA Today has the Bulls as a 6 seed in the East region.
“I hope we’re locked in as a NCAA team, a minimum of an at-large, and I think we’ve done enough for that,” UB coach Nate Oats said. “I don’t think we’re locked into our seed right now. Based on what we do this weekend, our seed can go up or down. If we come in and lay an egg, now we have to hope we get in and I think we’d get in, but, obviously, our seed would drop, in my opinion. But if we come in and play three great games, we could move up. There might be some other teams that are projected higher that don’t do well. It’d be great to jump over a few of them, so I do think there’s a lot yet to be determined, in these next four days.”
On a run: UB plays for its fourth MAC Tournament championship in five years. The Bulls won the 2015, 2017 and 2018 tournament championship. If the Bulls win the tournament this year, they will be the first MAC men’s basketball team to win four titles in a span of five years.
The Bulls are also the first MAC team that is nationally ranked to play in the conference tournament in 30 years. Ball State was No. 19 when it played in the 1989 tournament.
On neutral ground: When UB faces Akron on Thursday, it will play its first neutral-court game since Dec. 1. The Bulls are 2-0 in neutral-court games this season, a 96-77 win against Milwaukee on Nov. 30 in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and an 85-81 win against San Francisco the next day in Belfast.
Next: The winner of the Buffalo-Akron quarterfinal will face No. 4 Kent State or No. 5 Central Michigan in a MAC men’s semifinal at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Quicken Loans Arena.