With the remainder of the MAC season rendered more or less anticlimatic thanks to Kent’s complete and utter domination, our thoughts turn to the conference tournament, which should be much more exciting.
Here then are five things to watch for during the remainder of the season:
1. Can Kent roll to a 17-1 conference record?
This question is worded a little poorly. Obviously the Flashes CAN win their remaining four league games and post a remarkable 17-1 mark in the league. It’s incredibly unlikely however that they will. The rest of the league has too much talent to continue to roll over to the Flashes.
Make no mistake – this has been one of the more remarkable MAC seasons of the past 15 years or so. It’s unheard of for a team to run roughshod over the rest of the conference like Kent has. Even Ball State in its Rick Majerus glory days or Gary Trent’s Ohio teams of the mid-1990s never dominated as much as Kent is this season.
What’s probably more remarkable is the lack of respect the Flashes are getting from most of the national media. They haven’t even gotten a whiff of the Top 25 in either poll despite the fact they’ve got a fairly impressive RPI (40th as of Feb. 17) and could be seeded in the 5-to-7 range of the NCAA Tournament if they win the MAC tournament and take an 18-game winning streak into the Big Dance.
To be fair, Kent’s profile is hurt by a lack of impressive wins (St. Bonaventure and UC-Irvine are nice, but…) and a couple of positively head scratching losses to Youngstown State (308 RPI!) and Buffalo (Kent’s only conference loss and by one point).
The mind positively reels at what the Flashes ranking and RPI would look like if they had taken care of business against Youngstown State and Buffalo and managed to beat say….Hofstra?
Still, the last time Kent won by less than 12 points? Jan. 26 at Bowling Green (a three-point win). Not too shabby.
2. How will the MAC’s postseason situation shake out?
Unless Kent completely implodes in its last four games, count Kent in for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament if it stumbles during the conference tournament. Ball State is an enigma, but more on that later (see number 4).
Bowling Green probably needs to win the conference tournament, but under the right circumstances could get an at-large bid IF it wins its remaining five conference games and gets to the league title game and plays well on national TV.
Don’t underestimate the importance of getting the third and final first-round bye for the conference tournament either. Both division winners (almost certainly Kent and Ball State) get one, as well as the third-best team in the league. Bowling Green is leading the race for third narrowly with a 9-4 mark, but Ohio is close with a 10-5 record.
Not having to play that extra game on March 5 could make a big difference since no one wants to play four must-win games in five days.
3. Which, if any, of the conference’s team are capable of pulling some upsets in the league tournament?
Miami seems to practically relish the role of coming into the conference tournament unheralded and either winning the whole thing or doing some damage along the way.
Last season, Miami was seeded eighth and knocked off top-seeded Central Michigan in the quarterfinals and made it to the championship game. The RedHawks will be seeded anywhere from fourth-to-seventh this year and they have the potential to win the whole enchilada. They also have the potential to score only 25 points and stink up the Gund Arena in the title game. It’s been that kind of year in Oxford.
Central Michigan has had a disappointing season, but is capable of beating anyone in the league, especially if David Webber gets hot. He could take the team on his back for five days.
Marshall has two NBA prospects in Tamar Slay and JR VanHoose. You’d be silly to overlook a MAC team with such a solid one-two punch in a single-elimination tournament.
4. The Ball State factor.
Everyone is quick to write off the Cardinals’ at-large hopes after their “struggles” in the conference. If you want to call a 10-4 mark and an almost certain Western Division title as struggling.
But look a little closer at the losses and see for yourself if Ball State is truly on the outside looking in.
Eight losses. Duke, Indiana, Oklahoma State, Butler and Kent. There’s five almost certain NCAA Tournament teams right there. The other three conference losses are on the road, none to extreme RPI laggards. If the selection committee does its homework (and it usually does), it will see that Ball State’s record isn’t that bad. There’s not too many teams that have as many “good losses” as the Cardinals.
So the real question is – what does Ball State need to do to get in to the Big Dance?
Winning out in the regular season for a 14-4 conference mark ought to do it if the Cardinals don’t lose their quarterfinal game in the MAC Tournament. If they do, all bets are off. What they can’t afford is that magical 10th loss. Giving a mid-major an at-large bid with 10 losses is a dicey proposition at best.
5. What are the key games leading into the conference tournament?
March 2 – Kent at Miami.
March 2 – Ball State at Central Michigan.
March 2 – Bowling Green at Ohio.
Are you getting the point? The last day of the conference regular season is going to be HUGE for the three current conference leaders, who all face stern road tests – Kent against a schizophrenic, but talented Miami team; Ball State at one of the toughest courts in the conference, Central’s Rose Arena; and Bowling Green, facing a resurgent Bobcat squad which will be gunning for the league’s No. 3 seed and a first-round bye.
All three of those games will have national impact as well, likely helping to determine NCAA and NIT bids.