Buffalo and Kent State were picked to tie for fifth (and last) in the MAC East this season, but so far the Bulls have the better of the season.
Despite losing its top four scorers from a year ago, Buffalo is 9-4, 1-1 in the MAC. Kent State is 3-9, 0-2 in conference play.
The Bulls visit the MACC at 2 p.m. Saturday for Kent State’s conference home opener.
Buffalo has built its season on defense. The Bulls lead the MAC in scoring defense at 55.7 points a game, which is 36th in the nation. On Wednesday they beat Central Michigan 67-61 in Mount Pleasant, where Kent State lost 81-61 last Saturday.
The Bulls are second in the conference in field goal defense (34.8 percent) and three-point defense (26.4), fourth in blocked shots per game (3.8), and third in steals (9.8).
But the Bulls average 55.9 points a game, last in the MAC, and have the lowest field goal percentage (35.1) and three-point percentage (26.1) in the conference.
Still, they have an RPI of 76 (of 349 Division I teams), third highest in the MAC. A lot of that rank comes from their strength of schedule. The teams the Bulls have lost to (Hofstra, Duquesne, St. Bonaventure and Eastern Michigan) have a combined record of 46-8 and all rank in the top 100 in RPI, according to RealTimeRPI. RPI is based on a team’s record, its opponents’ record and its opponents’ opponents’ record, with extra weight given for road victories and home losses.
Only two of the teams Buffalo has beaten — Canisius (7-6) and Central Michigan (7-6) — have winning records, and Buffalo’s overall schedule strength is 131st in the country.
Kent State’s RPI is 332 and schedule strength 261.
Like Kent State, the Bulls force a lot of turnovers (18.8 per game) but turn the ball over themselves a lot (18.2). They have a +0.9 rebounding margin.
Kent State forces 18.6 turnovers per game while making 17.8 and is second in the MAC in steals at 10.8 per game. But the Flashes’ turnover margin has been -2.7 with only 16 steals total in their last three games.
Buffalo’s top scorer is junior guard Joanna Smith, who is the only Bull averaging in double figures at 16.5 points per game. Six-three junior center Cassie Oursler, a transfer from Robert Morris who became eligible at the start the semester, has 27 rebounds in three games.
The Bulls have 10 freshmen and sophomores on their 14-woman roster, the same as Kent State.
The Flashes are coming off its best road game of the season, a 73-67 loss at Toledo. The Flashes led after the first quarter but were outscored 28-14 in the second. They fought back from 15 points down in the fourth quarter to pull within four with 15 seconds to play.
Forward Jordan Korinek leads KSU in scoring at 15.1 points per game. Guard Larissa averages 14.6 and wing Tyra James 10.3. James has had two good conference games after struggling through most of December.
The Flashes average 65.7 points a game, seventh in the MAC, but give up 71.9, last in the league.
The game pretty much comes down to whether Kent State can score on Buffalo’s tough defense while keeping the Bulls’ low-scoring offense down.