How NCAA Tournament South Region No. 5 seed Kentucky (25-10) and No. 13 seed Buffalo (27-8) match up at each position for their round-of-32 contest Saturday at the Taco Bell Arena on the campus of Boise State University — with a game prediction:
▪ Kevin Knox (15.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg) played the primary role in bailing Kentucky out of a first-round NCAA Tournament scare against Davidson. The 6-foot-9, 215-pound freshman from Tampa hit two clutch jumpers working the baseline and scored 11 of UK’s final 24 points as the Cats pulled away from a 54-54 tie to win 78-73. Knox finished with 25 points and six rebounds in his first NCAA tourney game.
▪ Buffalo’s CJ Massinburg (team-best 16.9 points and 7.3 rebounds, plus 2.5 assists) is one of four guards the Bulls start and is their heart-and-soul. A 6-3, 194-pound junior from Dallas, Massinburg is making 40.2 percent of his three-point attempts and scorched Arizona for 5-of-8 treys while scoring 19 points in Buffalo’s 89-68 shocker. With 1,336 career points, Massinburg is already the 10th all-time leading scorer in Buffalo history.
▪ Kentucky freshman PJ Washington (10.6 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 51.2 percent field-goal shooting) was limited to 25 minutes against Davidson by foul trouble. Before fouling out, Washington had 11 points and three rebounds. Since Buffalo plays four perimeter players most of the time, the 6-7, 236-pound Dallas product may have to defend well out on the floor when UK is in the man-to-man.
▪ Jeremy Harris (15.6 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 42.8 percent three-pointers) came to Buffalo this season from Gulf Coast State College in Florida and was the No. 2-ranked junior-college recruit in the country by jucorecruiting.com. A 6-7, 176-pound product of Greensboro, N.C., Harris hit Arizona with 23 points (10-of-20 shooting) and a team-high seven rebounds.
▪ Kentucky’s Nick Richards (5.3 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 61.8 percent field goals) played only five minutes against Davidson with two points and two rebounds. It was the continuation of a late-season trend for the 6-11, 240-pound freshman from Kingston, Jamaica. Richards has now played 10 minutes or less in eight of the past nine games.
▪ Buffalo’s Ikenna Smart (3.6 ppg, 3.5 rpg) missed the first nine games of the season with a back injury. Since returning, he has started 24 of 26 contests. On the three-point happy Bulls, he is an exception. The 6-10, 241-pound native of Umuahia, Abia, Nigeria, is 0-of-1 on treys this season. He had four points and four rebounds in 13 minutes vs. Arizona.
▪ After a challenging second half of the season, Kentucky’s Hamidou Diallo (9.9 ppg, 3.5 rpg) gave UK a lift against Davidson with defensive energy and athleticism. The 6-5, 198-pound redshirt freshman from Queens, N.Y., blocked three shots in the first half. He finished with eight points and three rebounds in 26 minutes.
▪ Buffalo’s Davonta Jordan (6.7 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 4.1 assists) is essentially a second starting point guard for the Bulls. A 6-2, 187-pound sophomore from Cocoa, Fla., Jordan is, statistically, the least lethal outside shooter (30.2 percent three-pointers) among the primary Buffalo backcourt players. He had two points, two rebounds and two assists in 29 minutes against Arizona.
▪ Kentucky’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (14 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 5.1 assists) shook off a slow start against Davidson to register 19 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and five steals. Statistically, it was the best performance by a John Calipari-era freshman point guard — a list that includes John Wall, Brandon Knight, Marquis Teague, Andrew Harrison and De’Aaron Fox — in his first NCAA Tournament game.
▪ After he was dismissed from the team at Missouri, Wes Clark (15 ppg, 5.4 assists, 40 percent three-point shooting) reunited at Buffalo with Bulls Coach Nate Oats, who had been his high school coach at Romulus (Mich.) High School. The 6-foot Clark torched Arizona, hitting 10 of 14 shots, three of five treys, and scoring 25 points with seven assists. In his Mizzou days, Clark did not have success against UK. While the Tigers went 0-4 vs. the Cats, Clark made 17 of 50 shots, six of 18 three-pointers and averaged 11.8 points.
▪ Sacha Killeya-Jones (3.4 ppg, 3.1 rpg) gave Kentucky an active 24 minutes against Davidson. The 6-10, 221-pound product of Chapel Hill, N.C., had eight points and six rebounds. Quade Green (9.5 ppg, 2.8 assists) had only four points vs. Davidson, but the 6-foot Philadelphia product buried a crucial jumper with 4:26 left that pushed UK ahead by five. After his tour de force in the SEC Tournament, Wenyen Gabriel (6.6 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 39.4 percent three-pointers) returned to earth (one point, five rebounds) against Davidson. Against Buffalo’s perimeter-oriented attack, UK will need the defensive length and agility of the 6-9, 205-pound sophomore.
▪ Buffalo uses a nine-player rotation. Nick Perkins (16.5 ppg, 6.1 rpg) is a starter-caliber player the Bulls choose to bring off the bench. The Ypsilanti, Mich., product is the 14th all-time leading scorer in Buffalo history (1,237 points). He had 13 points and hit three treys vs. Arizona. Dontay Caruthers (6.7 ppg, 2.3 rpg) was Mid-American Conference Defensive Player of the Year last season but the 6-1, 191-pound junior missed 11 games this season with a leg injury. Jayvon Graves (5.2 ppg), a 6-3 freshman, and Montell McRae (3.1 ppg, 2.5 rpg), a 6-10 junior, have each played in all 35 Bulls games.
With No 13-seed Buffalo’s upset of No. 4 Arizona, any motivational edge Kentucky might have derived from John Calipari’s annual “the Selection Committee jobbed us” spiel is gone. Of the four teams playing here in Idaho on Saturday, three — UK, Buffalo and Ohio State — are from the Eastern time zone. So the crowd figures to be mostly Gonzaga fans and neutral locals. If Buffalo can stay in the game, both groups are apt to get behind the underdog.
Kentucky 86, Buffalo 83