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Buffalo coach Oats to face ex-boss Hurley in first round

March 21, 2019
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FILE - In this March 14, 2019, file photo, Buffalo's CJ Massinburg (5) shoots over Akron's Scott Walter (14) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game of the Mid-American Conference tournament, in Cleveland. Buffalo battles Arizona State in West Region action on Friday, March 22. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak, File)

TULSA, Okla. (AP) — Buffalo coach Nate Oats has mixed feelings about facing his former boss.

Oats’ sixth-seeded Bulls will face Arizona State and former Buffalo coach Bobby Hurley in an NCAA Tournament West Region matchup Friday.

“Great friend,” Oats said. “We’re going to try to beat him. He’s going to try to beat us. We’ll be good friends afterwards.”

Hurley had a 42-20 record at Buffalo during the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons. Oats learned a deeper level of competitiveness from Hurley before taking over.

“It was not fun when we had losses around there, but the point was made that I don’t accept losing and we’re not going to be a losing program,” Oats said. “Got it turned around quick. That’s why he got Arizona State turned around quick. He refuses to accept anything that deals with losing.”

Oats hasn’t accepted much losing, either. He has a 95-42 mark at the school and was named MAC Coach of the Year this season. Hurley said he would have taken Oats as an assistant at Arizona State if Buffalo didn’t hire him.

“I told Nate that I think that he should aggressively try and get the (Buffalo) job, that he deserved the job, that he would do phenomenal and to go after it confidently,” Hurley said.

Hurley said though he has fond memories of his time with Buffalo and working with Oats, he’ll be able to put the friendship aside at the tip.

“It’s not the greatest scenario,” Hurley said. “But then as a coach you think about all the work you put in and how hard your players work July through the fall, and all these battles you’re in during the season — to even get yourself in a position to be in this tournament, and once you’re here, everything goes out the window and you’re just trying to compete like heck to advance and make your season more special.”

In the other matchup, No. 3 seed Texas Tech will face Northern Kentucky in a clash of styles.

Tech, one of the nation’s top defensive teams, has allowed just three opponents to score more than 70 points and held 11 under 55 points.

“Selection Sunday is like Christmas morning, only I didn’t ask to play Texas Tech,” Northern Kentucky coach John Brannen said. “You know what I mean? They get to ask what they want their gifts to be. They’re an unbelievable defensive team.”

Northern Kentucky averages 79.1 points per game and ranks 10th nationally in assists per game and 24th nationally in field-goal percentage at 48.1 percent.

“Had a lot of respect for Northern Kentucky,” Texas Tech coach Chris Beard said. “I feel like I’m a fan at this point, I’ve watched so many games. I love the way they play.”

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CONFERENCE MVPs

Texas Tech’s Jarrett Culver was the Big 12 Player of the Year after averaging 18.5 points and 6.3 rebounds. Buffalo guard CJ Massinburg was the MAC Player of the Year after posting 18.3 points and 6.6. rebounds per contest. Northern Kentucky forward Drew McDonald was the Horizon League Player of the Year after averaging 19.1 points and 9.5 rebounds per game.

QUICK TURNAROUND

Arizona State beat St. John’s on Wednesday night in Dayton, Ohio, to qualify for Friday’s game against Buffalo.

That made for a rough early morning.

“I didn’t get into my hotel bed until about, I want to say like five in the morning,” Arizona State forward Zylan Cheatham said Thursday. “But I say the most tough part about it was just leaving straight from the game. Your bags are already packed, go straight to the airport, and you get straight back on the road.”

STILL UNDERDOGS

Though Buffalo has the higher seed against Arizona State, the Bulls still feel they need to prove themselves.

“We got to bring it,” Buffalo guard Jeremy Harris said. “We’ve got to do a good job of staying in the moment and just not getting a big head, staying humble. As long as we stay with our base and do what got us here, we’re going to be fine.”

DROUGHT OVER

Arizona State is making its first back-to-back appearances in the NCAA Tournament since 1980-81, when Byron Scott, Fat Lever and Alton Lister played for the Sun Devils.

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Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP

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