Buffalo confident heading into NCAA tourney

Buffalo head coach Bobby Hurley has had his fair share of experience in the NCAA tournament, dating back to his time as a player at Duke where he won two national championships and went to another Final Four.

Because of that, he knows how special the experience of going to the Big Dance for the first time is for a player. That's why as Buffalo prepares for Friday's game against West Virginia in the Round of 64 in Columbus, he's making sure his team is ready to play - but will also be able to enjoy themselves as the Bulls make their first trip to the NCAA tournament in program history.

"I'm excited for my players. I know what they sacrificed and what they go through and how hard they've worked to get here and have had some peaks and valleys this year and had some difficult times that we've overcome," Hurley said. "And I know what it feels like, the excitement, the memories that you take from playing in this tournament and I'm glad that my players get to enjoy that and experience it."

In the two years since Hurley took over at Buffalo, the Bulls have made great strides. After years of being close to breaking through and getting the MAC's bid - winning an average of nearly 19 games per season in the five years before he came to the school - the Bulls have won 23 games this season and have been able to do so by adopting the personality of their head coach.

As they transitioned from their first to second year, the players could tell a big difference as they kept working with their coach. Even if that difference just came primarily by having a consistent approach day in and day out.

"Coach Hurley is very intense. He comes from winning. His father's a winner, Coach K is a winner and he holds us accountable for winning," said Buffalo forward Xavier Ford. "It's a standard that's been set, and we always emphasize the value of the little things, the fundamentals - taking care of the ball and being unselfish. He's just brought a winning attitude and unselfishness that we've all bought into and he also has a great coaching staff and they also do a great job preparing us for this type for this type of moment, so we're all happy to be playing for a guy like Coach Hurley."

Battle-tested Bulls prepared for test of NCAA tourney

More than a lot of other mid-major programs across the country, Buffalo heads into the NCAA tournament knowing without much of a doubt that whoever they get matched up with in the tournament would likely not be the toughest (or even second-toughest) challenge they have faced this season.

During non-conference play the Bulls played No. 1 Kentucky, as well as another top seed in the tournament in Wisconsin. Those games, both of which Buffalo led at the half before going on to lose, have prepared them for whatever they're going to face the rest of the way in the postseason.

"We feel like we played the best of the best, so going to this tournament we know that we can hang with the best," said Buffalo point guard Shannon Evans. "Now, with us trying not to be content just winning the MAC championship and come out here and make a run at it."

The Bulls know that playing West Virginia will present some different challenges than they might usually be used to with the Mountaineers' relentless full-court pressure that they bring at opponents for 40 minutes. And Hurley has a ton of respect for Huggins and what WVU does because of that non-stop effort.

"I enjoy watching his teams play because I respect teams that play defense and that are tough and (Huggins') teams reflect that," Hurley said. "They're a team this year, and I don't know if there's a team that gets after it any harder on the defensive end with their pressure and how physical they are and how they rebound. That's a great formula for winning a lot of basketball games. And they don't stop, they keep coming at you for 40 minutes."

MAC POY Moss should be good to go vs. WVU

After injuring his ankle prior to the MAC semifinals, Buffalo big man Justin Moss appears to be getting closer to 100 percent and is expected to be ready to go when the Bulls take on WVU Friday.

"We've been fortunate this week. Last week we were under the gun with Justin, and he was somewhat limited in our semifinal game, and he made a big improvement in the final and we were able to play him more minutes," Hurley said. "We monitored him very carefully this year. We managed his repetitions carefully. He's getting close to 100 percent. And he'll obviously be out on the floor today and in our open practice. And I would think by tomorrow that he's going to be very close to being himself."

Moss was the MAC Player of the Year this season, averaging more than 17 points and nine boards per game and had 15 double-doubles for the season. Getting him back in time to take on the Mountaineers would be a big boost for Buffalo, which would get the catalyst to what it likes to do on offense back at full strength.

"We have pretty good balance on offense. And things usually start with Justin Moss and his physicality inside and his versatility to score inside and out," Hurley said.

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