AMHERST, N.Y. (WIVB) — The University of Buffalo men’s basketball graduate, who won two consecutive Mid-American Conference championships in the second half of the past decade, learned what it takes to stay on the hunt while being hunted.
The reunited Bulls are peppered with stars who made UB’s four NCAA Tournament appearances from 2015 to 2019, and they’re charging for back-to-back games with a purpose on their backs. Having secured a million-dollar bag as champions of last summer’s basketball tournament, the Blue Collar U have once again teamed up for a winner-takes-all event broadcast on the ESPN network.
“We know the equation,” said 2022 TBT MVP and leading scorer CJ Massinburg. “I’m pretty confident from last year’s results.”
The Bulls will begin their title defense as the No. 1 seed in the Syracuse district they won a year ago. On Monday at 2 p.m. ESPN+, the Blue Collar U’s will bring back 11 players from their championship roster and their entire coaching staff for a matchup against the Big 5, a team of University of Philadelphia alumni. The only addition was a member of the Blue Collar Brigades who reached the semi-finals in their 2022 TBT debut.
“I’m happy to have everyone back,” said big man Nick Perkins, fresh off an NBA Summer League stint with the Brooklyn Nets.
“Everyone on the team has grown over the past year,” Perkins said. “We have the right mindset. We know what it takes, the consistency, the approach and the mentality. A lot of teams just relax after a win and think the result will be. We know we can’t take that for granted in this group.”
Tenacious defender from Rochester, Dontay Carruthers, who covered Dayton’s court with confetti after last year’s championship win, addressed the main motivations of TBT’s teams.
“I’m always hungry when I’m playing for $1 million,” Carruthers said. “But we still feel like an underdog team in the midfield. We still play for the city of Buffalo, the people of Buffalo, and we don’t win too much for them.”
Massinberg said he feels the Bulls aren’t getting the respect the reigning champions, who boast a 10-1 TBT record and multiple MAC titles in the trophy case, deserve.
“We take it personally,” Massinberg said. “I hear we’ve been on defense since last year, but they’re very focused on other teams.”
One of those teams is regional host Beheim’s Army, the 2022 TBT-winning Syracuse alumni, who will face the Bulls in the third round on Friday night if the chokes line up in the bracket.
“The Buffalo-Syracuse game is always fun,” said Massinburg, recalling UB’s win over Orange in the Dome during the 2019 season when the Bulls were nationally ranked. “These games were honestly my favorite all my time at UB. More than the March Madness game because of how much it meant to the conflict between New York City and New York.”
Xavier Ford, UB’s first MAC Tournament-winning MVP and blue-collar U’s oldest player, believes TBT offers the Bulls an opportunity to “continue to build culture and history.”
Blue-collar colleges commemorated the lives lost in the Topps shooting in May 2022 by wearing jerseys with the victims’ names on the back during last summer’s championship run. One set of his jerseys was drawn to raise funds in honor of the victims, and another set of his was framed and given to the bereaved families.
“We’re not just playing for ourselves, we’re playing for the community,” Ford said. “We won in college. We won last year.
UB’s new men’s basketball coach, George Halkobege III, stopped by the Blue Collar U’s training camp closing practice at Daimon University on Sunday to greet and offer words of encouragement to the Bulls alumni.
“It’s great to have the former players together and come back to an event like TBT,” said Halcovage, a former associate coach at Villanova, one of Philadelphia’s Big Five schools.
“Everyone except one is a UB alumnus.
Jonah Bronstein joins WIVB’s roster as a Digital Sports Reporter in 2022. Since 2005, the West New York native has covered the Bills, Sabers, Bandits, Bisons, colleges, high schools, and other notable sporting events for publications such as The Associated Press, Buffalo News, and the Niagara Gazette. Learn more about his work here.