Preview: Men's basketball squares off against Buffalo in MAC semifinal

Senior guard Shawn Roundtree Jr. smiles after making a major offensive play on March 14 in Quicken Loans Arena.

Analysts picked the Central Michigan men's basketball team to finish last in the Mid-American Conference and have its season end quietly.

Those analysts were wrong. 

The No.5-seeded Chippewas (23-10) meet the top-seeded, and nationally 16th-ranked, Bulls (23-3) in the MAC Tournament semifinal at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio.

Buffalo secured the one and only time that these two programs squared off in the regular season. It won a 90-76 game in Buffalo on Feb. 9, but they had to come from behind to do it. 

CMU was poised for a major upset when they traveled to Alumni Arena in Buffalo, New York by leading the game by as many as 21 points. 

Buffalo stormed back, however. 

The Bulls flexed their muscles for the last 10 minutes of the first half to tie the game. They did it again in the second half to take the lead and pull away from the Chippewas to earn the 14-point victory.

Senior guard Shawn Roundtree Jr. led the Chippewas with a game-high 26 points, Jeremy Harris scored 19 to pace the Bulls in the first matchup. 

The postseason matchup is a familiar one, this will make the fourth time that CMU and UB have met in the MAC Tournament since 2013. Buffalo has won every previous matchup. 

How they got here

Buffalo earned a first round bye in the tournament so it played its first game in the quarterfinal on March 14 against Akron. 

The Bulls charged the Zips and blew them out of the tournament with a 82-46 stampede. Harris again led the way for Buffalo, scoring 23 points. Jayvon Graves scored 13 points and CJ Massinburg scored 10 of his own. Dontay Caruthers and Nick Perkins scored 12 and 11 points off the bench, respectively. 

The Chippewas defeated No. 4 Kent State 89-81 in their quarterfinal matchup and battled to advance in the tournament. 

Senior guard Larry Austin Jr. led the way with 23 points in a "play for your life" situation. He controlled the second half to secure the Chippewa victory. Roundtree scored 20 points, junior guard Kevin McKay had a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds. Fellow junior guard Dallas Morgan scored 16 off the bench with four clutch 3-pointers. 

Who to watch for

Perkins will be the biggest focus, both literally and figuratively, for CMU. 

The 6-foot-8, 250-pound forward is able to bang around his frame inside. He averages 14.6 points per game off the bench. Perkins is also able to score from beyond the arc, he shoots 36 percent from 3-point territory.

Like nearly every game it plays, CMU will be undersized against Buffalo inside. When asked about how CMU deals with it's size differential, Davis smiled before responding. 

"There's some really good inside players in this league and it seems like every night when you play you're dealing with someone really good in the post," Davis said. "We're undersized but we've gone to in the past couple weeks is focusing on more help defense inside and less on the perimeter."

Massinburg is Buffalo's key threat, scoring 18.7 points per game and shoots 42 percent from downtown.

Roundtree and Austin are the key players for CMU, they average 17.4 and 16.6 points per game, respectively. 

They will need a strong 3-point shooting performance to swing momentum in their favor to defeat the Bulls.

Game time

The Chippewas and Bulls tip off at 6:30 p.m. at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. The winner will earn a berth into the championship game.