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Game Preview: Scouting report for Buffalo ahead of season opener

The Wolverines open against the MAC opponent at home on Wednesday.

MAC Men’s Basketball Tournament - Championship Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

The wait is finally over, college basketball fans: one of the most glorious sports in the world tips off this week, as March Madness is less than 130 days away.

The 2021-22 Michigan Wolverines’ men’s basketball team kicks off their season at home on Wednesday, Nov. 10 against Buffalo at 6:30 p.m. on Big Ten Network.

Here’s what fans can expect to see from the Bulls and what Michigan needs to do start the season off with a victory.

Buffalo is a good basketball team

The Buffalo Bulls are far from a cupcake, as they were recently picked to win the MAC in the preseason coach’s poll and are projected to be a 12-seed in the NCAA Tournament, according to ESPN’s bracketology.

Buffalo is led by two senior forwards: Jeenathan Williams and Josh Mballa, both of whom were picked to the preseason All-MAC first team.

Williams led the team in scoring last year, averaging 17.6 points, 6.8 rebounds and and 2.4 assists per game. An All-MAC second team and All-MAC Tournament team selection, he is a prolific scorer who can finish through contact at the rim and can capitalize from deep with a smooth jump shot. He’s a real crafty offensive player, utilizing ball fakes and his pivot foot to score in the lane for find teammates for open shots.

Mballa averaged a double-double last season and was also picked to the All-MAC second team, testing the NBA waters last season.

The Bordeaux, France, native is a stout defender and was named the MAC Defensive Player of the Year, while also being named to the MAC All-Defensive team.

The big man reminds of former Kentucky Wildcat Nerlens Noel — anchoring the Buffalo defense while putting down thunderous put-backs. Mballa may even be a more versatile offensive player than Noel, as he gets to the basket with a quick burst, is pretty nimble with the ball and even showed he can lead the break in transition last season.

Keys to victory for the Wolverines

The Wolverines will likely be a heavy favorite in this game, but Williams and Mballa are good enough to keep the game close for Buffalo. This isn’t a team Michigan will be able to walk over, as the Oakland game that went into overtime last season proved Michigan can’t take mid-majors lightly early in the season.

Hunter Dickinson will likely start the game guarding Mballa, and I would expect Moussa Diabate and Terrance Williams II to get the chance to try and slow down the talented big man. They need to make sure to try to limit him from getting easy buckets inside.

When Mballa is on defense, the Wolverines need to utilize quick passing to get easy buckets. When Mballa is guarding the rim, Michigan fans can expect to see a floater or two from DeVante’ Jones.

Williams is a bit trickier of a matchup, as a young player like Caleb Houstan may be a little overwhelmed trying to guard him. Michigan can’t let him get hot from three, and should consider going over on screens and forcing him to the baseline, where Michigan’s deep frontcourt can try to slow him down.

If the Wolverines limit what these two Buffalo seniors can do, Michigan should win this game by more than a dozen.