Published March 13, 2018
When he checked his phone Monday morning, UB men’s basketball coach Nate Oats had two voicemails. One of them was from none other than Buffalo Bills head coach Sean McDermott.
The kind words from McDermott seemed to epitomize the fact that everybody in Buffalo is getting behind the Bulls these days. Oats also saw the humor in it, coming off of Sunday’s NCAA Tournament Selection Show gaffe during which TBS co-host Ernie Johnson announced that the Buffalo Bills were headed to the tournament.
“(McDermott) told me to tell the team the Bills are pulling for them,” Oats said Monday afternoon before his 13th-seeded Bulls departed Buffalo en route to Boise, Idaho, where they’ll play No. 4 Arizona Thursday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
“I wanted to call him back and tell him I thought he was going to coach because when they did the selection show they introduced us as the Buffalo Bills,” Oats added with a chuckle. “I thought, maybe he’s going to come in and coach the team with us.”
Oats said the team appreciates the support Western New York sports fans have given the Bulls in what has been an historic season for them. “The community’s been great. Shoot, we saw it when the Bills got to the playoffs and went to Jacksonville and Buffalo took over the whole city of Jacksonville. It’s great for (Buffalo).”
Bulls junior CJ Massinburg said the team is hoping to see a fair amount of UB blue in Boise for Thursday’s game; fans who can’t make the trip can watch it on CBS at 9:40 p.m. Eastern time. It’s UB’s third trip to the NCAA Tournament in the past four years.
“It just shows where this program and where this city is going,” Massinburg said. “It’s (been) on the rise since (former Bulls coach Bobby) Hurley got here, then me and Nate got here. It just shows what kind of dynasty we’re creating here in Buffalo.”
Having been to the Big Dance before, the Bulls know they’ll be in the national spotlight, especially since they’re playing a Wildcats team that has one of the top players in the country in 7-foot-1 forward Deandre Ayton.
But, says Massinburg, that gives UB the opportunity to show the rest of the country what Bulls basketball is all about. “They’re going to learn how tough we are, how we’re fierce competitors, how we’re not going to back down from anyone,” he said.
“They have all the pressure on them because they’re expected to win,” Massinburg said of Arizona, which was No. 5 in the country in the preseason coaches’ poll. “We’re going in there with a free mindset and we have no pressure on us. We’re going to try to play our best basketball and hopefully pull out a win.”
The Bulls arrived in Boise Monday evening and have a shoot around scheduled for today. Wednesday is Media Day, where a few players and Oats will conduct interviews with national media covering the first-round games in Boise, followed by a short practice.