Michigan Basketball: Preview and a prediction against Buffalo

Syndication: Detroit Free Press
Syndication: Detroit Free Press /

Michigan basketball will open the season against Buffalo on Wednesday and here’s a preview as well as a score prediction.

We are finally less than 24 hours away from opening tip-off for the start of the Michigan basketball season. Jon Rothstein sums up what every Michigan basketball fan is thinking:

While the official start of college basketball is today, Tuesday, November 9th, Michigan doesn’t play until tomorrow. They tip-off tomorrow, Wednesday, November 10th at 6:30 pm against Buffalo on Big Ten Network.

Unlike college football, the MAC conference in college basketball is a little bit more unknown in terms of what teams are good or even on the radar of other higher-rated college basketball teams. So, what can Michigan fans gather from a MAC team like Buffalo?

Buffalo is definitely not a slouch

While obviously not being the highest-rated opponent Michigan will face this season, Buffalo is still not a team that Michigan can take lightly.

This is not an Oakland or a Wayne State type of basketball team.  After the debacle with Oakland last season Michigan can’t afford to take any opponent lightly.

Buffalo is steered by their two senior forwards, Jeenathan Williams and Josh Mballa, and both were picked to their preseason all-conference teams. They were both actually picked preseason first-team All-MAC, so, even though they are in the MAC, they are still some of the best players in the conference.

Last season, Williams led Buffalo in scoring, averaging 17.6 points, collecting 6.8 rebounds, and dishing 2.4 assists per game. Not bad for an All-MAC level player. As Mike Smith showed last season (after coming from a smaller school and conference and playing in a higher conference) players can adjust and play fine against better competition.

Just because Williams averaged 18 points a game in the MAC doesn’t mean that he can’t go off on a better opponent in a better conference like Michigan. Against Syracuse last season, he scored 19 points. As most fans know, Syracuse is known for their tricky 2-3 zone defense, which is hard to score on, so the fact that he scored almost 20 points against Syracuse should tell you something.

Against Ohio (who had some upsets in the tournament last year), he had 14 points, and against 1-seed Colorado State (in the NIT, Buffalo’s final game of their season because they lost) Williams scored 21 points.

Next is Mballa. Mballa was a double-double machine last season for the Bulls. He briefly tried testing the NBA waters, but eventually backed back out after receiving feedback from NBA scouts and front-office executives. He is known for collecting rebounds and attacking the basketball, even showing the ability to execute a one-man fast break in the open court.

Against Syracuse last season he tied for the most points scored in the game with 27 and seven rebounds. Against Ohio last year, he scored 14 points but had 12 rebounds. Lastly, in the NIT tournament last year against Colorado State, he scored 10 points and had 9 rebounds.

What Michigan basketball has to do to win the game

First of all, Michigan will come into the game probably favored by 15+ points. I’d be very surprised if the line was any less than that. If Michigan basketball looks sluggish like it did against Wayne State for a little while, then Buffalo might be able to hang around.

Michigan needs to start fast and try to put its foot on the gas early.

As we all saw last year with Oakland, all it takes is a bad shooting performance for Michigan to be in trouble against an inferior opponent.

Limiting offensive rebounds and second-chance points will be key as well for Michigan to win this game comfortably.

If there was one thing that was surprising about Michigan’s win over Wayne State last week, it was all of the rebounds that the Wolverines were giving up. Mballa can really rebound the basketball down low, so it will be imperative for Dickinson to box Mballa out at all times.

Depending on how effective Dickinson is at limiting offensive rebounds, we might see more of Diabate in the game than usual. Occasionally, Dickinson goes through stretches where he gets lazy and doesn’t give his entire effort on the offensive glass.

Williams is the better player, so that may be something to watch. I could see a really realistic scenario where Williams scores 20+ points, but the rest of Buffalo struggles to score the ball. If scoring gets tough, Buffalo is going to go to Williams to provide some scoring punch. Limiting Williams from getting hot is another key to the game.

Final Thoughts

Overall, this game shouldn’t even be particularly close by the time the game is over. It might be relatively close for a half (just because Buffalo has two proven veterans), but I expect Michigan to clamp down in the second half, really push the pace on Buffalo, and blow the game open 4-5 minutes into the second half. On the other hand, this game could be a blowout and Buffalo looks like an undisciplined team. It really is hard to predict what Buffalo team shows up tomorrow.

We have to remember that this is the very first game of the season, and no team looks amazing right out of the gate. I expect Michigan to have a lot of turnovers (still feeling out each other on offense, building chemistry, and the players learning the other’s tendencies), and possibly allow more offensive rebounds than we’d like, but I still expect the Wolverines to win comfortably.

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Score prediction: Michigan 78 Buffalo 61