Buffalo Bulls forward Jeenathan Williams (11) moves the ball down the court against Buffalo in an NCAA college basketball game in the NIT, Friday, March 19, 2021, in Denton, Texas. (AP Photo/Richard W. Rodriguez)
The Stephen F Austin Lumberjacks (3-1), led by senior forward Gavin Kensmil, take on the Buffalo Bulls (2-1), who are the preseason favorite to win the MAC, Tuesday at the Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya as part of the Cancun Challenge. Tip of is at 6:00 pm ET and the game is on CBS Sports Network. The winner will face either Saint Louis or Illinois State on Wednesday.
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Stephen F Austin
Ov 153 (-110)
Un 153 (-110)
Odds as of November 22nd, 2021.
SFA senior guard David Kachelries scored a team-high 19 points in the 13-point victory over the Blue Raiders as the on-campus portion of the tourney got underway. Three other Jacks scored in double-figures, including the team’s leading scorer in Kensmil — along with Calvin Solomon and Roti Ware. Meantime, UB caught fire in the second half against the Broncs in the second half in Saturday’s 22-point win — shooting over 50% from distance in the final 20 minutes. Preseason All-MAC First-Team selection Jeenathan Williams led all scorers with 19 points, adding seven rebounds and a pair of assists, while Maceo Jack’s 18 points helped earn him MAC Player of the Week honors.
Head coach Jim Whitesell’s Bulls are favorites Tuesday over the Lumberjacks — who are playing their first season as a member of the WAC after being part of the Southland for the last 35 seasons.
Austin Hoops Limits
Head coach Kyle Keller’s Jacks are the third-highest rated team in the WAC (after New Mexico State and Grand Canyon) by KenPom at No. 148 overall. While that number isn’t particularly impressive from an efficiency standpoint, SFA does rank in the top-40 in several categories. The vertical Keller’s club is really good in is defensive average possession length, rated as the No. 3 Division I program in that area.
Intense on site practice for @SFA_MBB at the @CancunChallenge.
Lumberjacks prepping for a fast tempo game vs Buffalo tomorrow night on @CBSSportsNet. pic.twitter.com/NEC2ASUMRP
— Mike O’Donnell (@MOD4three) November 22, 2021
SFA’s offense runs through Kinsmil, a First-Team All-Southland selection last season and a bona fide WAC Player of the Year candidate this season. He’s leading the club in points (17.8) and rebounds (9.0) per an outing so far and is one the best offensive rebounders in the country.
Kachelries and Ware pace SFA’s uptempo attack, one that looks to take advantage of transition opportunities particularly off turnovers on the other end. Kachelries ranked fourth in the
Southland in assist rate, though he struggled with turnovers at times. Meantime, Ware is wired to score and doubles as SFA’s best perimeter defender on the other end.
A big key to the game will be pace — and if the Bulls can handle the Lumberjacks’ breakneck approach.
Buffalo returns the majority of its roster from last year that finished 16-9, making an appearance in the MAC tourney title game and earning an at-large bid into the NIT. This year’s collection features nine seniors, making it one of the most veteran squads in the nation and a big reason why the Bulls were picked to win the league.
Bulls with a big win 87-65 in the @CancunChallenge opener
Here is how it all went down!#UBhornsUP pic.twitter.com/ooeCliX4sG
— UB Men’s Basketball (@UBmenshoops) November 20, 2021
Williams has been a revelation early on, leading the team in points (21.7 per game) and ranking second in rebounds (7.0 per game) and assists (3.0 per game). After his performance against Rider, he is now just 11 points shy of becoming the 24th player in program history to score 1,000 points. Since joining the MAC prior to the 1998-99 season, his 65 points through the first three games are the most from a UB player.
The Bulls are the 79th-rated team overall by KenPom and are 30th-best in the country in average possession length on offense. That should put them in decent position to withstand the high octane Jack attack. Plus, Buffalo has a potential trump card on the opposite end of the floor.
JOSH MBALLA! SHEEESH 👏 pic.twitter.com/wbO4uiuEMx
— CBS Sports Network (@CBSSportsNet) January 16, 2021
Josh Mballa is the reigning conference Defensive Player of the Year and snagged 50 rebounds over three games at the MAC Tournament, the most ever. Last year, Mballa finished second on the team in scoring at 15.3 points per game and 10.8 rebounds per contest. So far this season, he’s going 12.7 and a team-high 8.3 a contest.
Expect these two elite players to lead the Bulls Tuesday.
Whitesell had Buffalo playing at the 11th-fastest offensive tempo in the country last season and ranked 6th nationally in offensive rebounding percentage Those numbers (30th and 85th so far) are nowhere near those rates last season.
But with last year’s frontcourt intact and playing well, expect those stats to adjust as the 2021-22 campaign wears on. Only one team in the country posted a higher FGA% at the rim last season (per Hoop-Math) and almost 50% of Buffalo’s field goal attempts came near the rim. That kind of dominance in the paint will be too much for the Lumberjacks to overcome.
I’m fading the underdogs in this spot and riding the Bulls.
Pick: Buffalo -6 (-110)