Arizona State opened their NCAA Tournament run by defeating St. John's, 74-65, in the First Four in Dayton, Ohio.
It was the first tournament win for the Sun Devils in a decade and the first in head coach Bobby Hurley's career. Now he takes on the very team that he left to claim his current helm.
Arizona State takes on the University at Buffalo on Friday, in the Round of 64 in a showdown that pits Hurley with the man his hired to replace him, Nate Oats.
"I have so much love and enjoyed those years so much and felt so proud of what Nate's doing so it’s going to be a little surreal you know I haven’t had a chance to allow that to register I was just fighting for my life to get this win," Hurley said during his media availability before the game in Tulsa, Okla. "And I haven't really had time to think about how I'm going to feel on Friday. But Nate and I speak, and we both agreed that we're really good friends, and we both helped each other tremendously in our careers, but that's probably not going to matter a whole lot on Friday."
Under Hurley, Arizona State has made it to the NCAA Tournament in back-to-back years for the first time since the Byron Scott years in the early 1980's. As the coach in Buffalo, he led the Bulls to the program's first ever trip to the Big Dance in 2015.
While Hurley left for greener pastures, the magic didn't depart from Buffalo. The Bulls have since made three tournament appearances and defeated Arizona last season for their first ever win. ASU is the seemingly superior power conference team facing off against a member of the mid-major MAC. However, Hurley sees this as a matchup of equals.
"There are some elements of offense that I did at Buffalo with Nate and there are a lot of other things I've done since I've gotten here. So there's been some change in what we do at that end of the floor. I just know for sure watching Nate Oats teams, they take on his character and his personality by how hard-nosed he is and how fiery he is. And his kids play extremely hard and they have a chip on their shoulder. The whole mid-major thing, I think they're tired of that. So it's going to be a heck of a game."
Buffalo has the respect of his former coach and so should the nation, as this is clearly the best Bulls team ever. They're entering the tournament riding a 12-game winning streak and have only lost three games all season.
"We had the best record in college basketball," Oats told reporters earlier this week when complaining about his team's seed in the tournament. "We're tied with Houston. Nobody has more wins than we do. A six is a little low. It is what it is. You look at the teams that are one through five, those are some pretty good teams."
The Bulls are led by senior guard CJ Massinburg, who earned the title of Mid-American Conference Player of the Year. Massinburg by averaging 18.3 points per game. He's also the sharp shooter of the group, having knocked down 86 3-pointers this season. Senior forward Nick Perkins is Buffalo's second-leading scorer at 14.4 PPG and leading rebounder with 7.3 RPG.
The winner of this game will advance to take on the winner between Texas Tech and Northern Kentucky.