Hurley, Sun Devils shoot to ruin Buffalo's best season
Bobby Hurley coached Buffalo to its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 2015.
He will now be trying to knock off the best team in the school's history when Arizona State matches up with the Bulls on Friday in the first round of the West Region at Tulsa, Okla.
Hurley's 11th-seeded Sun Devils (23-10) defeated St. John's 74-65 on Wednesday in the First Four at Dayton, Ohio, to set up the intriguing matchup.
Hurley brought Nate Oats on staff and now the latter is the highly regarded coach of the sixth-seeded Bulls (31-3), who are tied with Houston for the most victories in college basketball this season.
Oats saw the possibility of coaching against Hurley on Sunday when the bracket was revealed. He had little interest in discussing it.
"The media and everybody can write all about that," Oats told reporters. "I don't need our guys to think about any of that."
Hurley was trying to keep it out of his mind because his team had a game against St. John's to worry about. His players took care of business and the win over the Red Storm was the school's first NCAA Tournament victory since 2009, when a guy named James Harden was the star player.
Hurley said he and Oats speak often and help each other out in their careers.
"But that's probably not going to matter a whole lot on Friday," Hurley said in the postgame press conference following Wednesday's win.
Hurley said he tries to watch as many Buffalo games as he can and admittedly roots hard for the Bulls. He also is well aware his Pac-12 program is the type Buffalo wants to take down to increase its growing reputation.
In fact, Buffalo routed Arizona 89-68 in the first round of last year's NCAA Tournament.
"I just know for sure watching Nate Oats' teams, they take on his character and his personality by how hard-nosed he is and how fiery he is," Hurley said. "And his kids play extremely hard and they have a chip on their shoulder. The whole mid-major thing, I think they're tired of that. So it's going to be a heck of a game."
The Bulls, who have won 12 straight games, are led by senior guard CJ Massinburg, the Mid-American Conference Player of the Year. Massinburg averages 18.3 points and has knocked down 86 3-pointers.
Senior forward Nick Perkins brings energy off the bench and is Buffalo's second-leading scorer at 14.4 points and the team's leading rebounder (7.3).
The Bulls aren't pleased with receiving a No. 6 seed even though it's the highest a MAC program has landed since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985.
"We had the best record in college basketball," Oats told reporters earlier this week. "We're tied with Houston. Nobody has more wins than we do. A six is a little low. It is what it is. You look at the teams that are one through five, those are some pretty good teams."
Arizona State finished second in the Pac-12 and is hopeful of making a run. Wednesday's victory is its seventh in the past nine games.
Freshman guard Luguentz Dort had 21 points against St. John's to raise his team-leading average to 16.2, while senior power forward Zylan Cheatham (11.8 points, 10.4 rebounds) had 14 points and 10 rebounds for his 14th double-double of the season.
"I'm going to say we didn't pack for just one game," Cheatham said in the press conference. "We're really locked in. We're really focused. And obviously this is a big step in the right direction. But we're not content by any means. We're hungry for more. We want to take this season as far as it can go."
Sun Devils sophomore guard Remy Martin (13.1 average) was hindered by a groin injury and scored just six points.
--Field Level Media
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