No. 18 Buffalo on honor roll entering MAC tourney

Not that No. 18 Buffalo needed any more inspiration the day before starting its run in the Mid-American Conference Tournament.

Even so, the spark arrived Wednesday with the announcement that senior guard CJ Massinburg was named conference player of the year and Nate Oats was named top coach.

Neither award was a surprise.

Also not shocking: the Bulls (28-3) are a heavy favorite when they face Akron (17-15) in the MAC quarterfinals Thursday afternoon at Cleveland. The top four teams in the conference earned a bye into the quarterfinals.

Akron started its tournament run with an 80-51 victory at home Thursday over Miami (Ohio) in the first round, but that matchup against the RedHawks won't quite resemble what the Zips will face against a Buffalo team that enters on a nine-game winning streak.

Buffalo has a chance at advancing to the NCAA Tournament even if they lose in the MAC Tournament. The Bulls have been nationally ranked much of the year and they just avenged a defeat to Bowling Green when they defeated the Falcons 84-73 in the regular-season finale.

But the Bulls have inspiration to extend the season as many games as possible, including all three MAC Tournament games and at least two more in the NCAAs.

Massinburg just moved into second place on Buffalo's all-time scoring list when his 15 points against Bowling Green gave him 1,910 in his career. Javon McRae holds the school's all-time record at 2,004 points.

Assuming Massinburg reaches his average of 18.7 points per game in every game he plays, he will need the three MAC Tournament games and at least two NCAA Tournament games to get the school record.

Winning the conference tournament likely would give the Bulls a higher seed than getting in as an at-large team. It would conceivable give UB a more beatable team to face in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

"The next couple weeks is the things that we'll remember for the rest of our life," Massinburg said, according to the Buffalo News. "It's the most important part. It's what we've been training for the whole season, the whole offseason.

"We're gonna be ready. We know what time it is."

That is an ominous sign for Akron, who at least had a chance to get their feet wet in the MAC Tournament on Wednesday and will have a little momentum heading into the matchup with the Bulls.

Akron made a season-best 17 3-pointers in Wednesday's victory and will try to pair that kind of sharpshooting with its trademark solid defense in order to have a chance at the upset. Loren Cristian Jackson scored 25 points for the Zips, while Daniel Utomi had 20.

"I thought our guys were able to accomplish their goal, but that's round one," Akron head coach John Groce said. "Thursday is a totally different game (against Buffalo) and obviously we are playing a great, great team, well coached, older players, good players and very good offensively and defensively."

Buffalo won both meetings against Akron during the MAC schedule. The Bulls won 76-70 at Akron on Feb. 12 and repeated the same result two weeks later with a 77-64 victory at home.

--Field Level Media