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Mid-American Tournament Preview

March 4, 2002 Conference Notes No Comments

Mid-American Tournament Preview

So, the final two weeks of the season took care of most nagging questions heading into the Mid-American Conference tournament. It more or less breaks down like this:

• Kent is in the 65-team NCAA Tournament field no matter what happens in the MAC Tournament. No matter what, regardless of what the stuffed shirts on ESPN will tell you if the Golden Flashes are upset this week.

• Ball State and Bowling Green have no chance for an at-large bid, but both will be reckoned with in the conference tournament. Again…Ball State has NO shot for an at-large bid, those wins over UCLA and Kansas were more or less for naught.

The Cardinals were in a great position heading into the conference season. A 14-4 conference record would have almost certainly clinched an at-large bid, but they lost too many league games, including some real head-scratchers at the end of the year. (Northern Illinois? At home?).

Here’s how the conference tournament shapes up:

The Favorite

Kent (24-5, 17-1)

The Flashes put together one of the most impressive MAC campaigns in the history of the conference. It’s unheard of to make it through an entire conference season with only one loss. Even some of the best teams in MAC history like the Ball State and Eastern Michigan Sweet 16 teams didn’t dominate as impressively as Kent.

That said, there’s still danger afoot for Kent. Losing in the conference tournament would take some of the shine off its successful run and force the Flashes to sweat the tournament selection process a little. There’s also the matter of their seeding in the 65-team field. Winning the MAC title would mean a 19-game winning streak heading into the Big Dance and could get the Flashes as high as a No. 7 seed.

The Challengers

Ball State (19-10, 12-6)

Ball State will be hungry since the Cardinals know they need to win the MAC title to get a chance to return to the national stage they occupied during the Maui Classic. Theron Smith can dominate games, especially in a knockout tournament. No one will be overlooking Ball State.

Bowling Green (22-7, 12-6)

Bowling Green has won some big games and surprised a lot of people, but the Falcons are starting to slip a little bit. Making the NIT is an excellent result for this team, which will possibly be the conference favorite next year. Still, it’s well within their grasp to knock off Ball State and/or Kent. Earning the No. 3 seed for the conference tournament and the first-round bye that goes with it will be a big help.

Upset Minded

Ohio (17-10, 11-7)

Ohio tends to play well when Brandon Hunter’s game is on, so the junior guard will have to carry the load and score more than 20 points a game for the Bobcats to take the title. That’s not impossible. Hunter has made several teams look stupid this year, as he did in a 27-point, 22-rebound performance against Marshall.

Marshall (14-14, 8-10)

Speaking of the Herd, their 8-10 conference record is somewhat inexplicable considering they have probably the most talented 1-2 punch in the MAC in Tamar Slay and JR VanHoose. Both players have struggled at times this year, but if they can get hot in a hurry, Marshall will make some teams sweat.

Miami (Ohio) (12-17, 9-9)

Miami is another big question mark with lots of talent and big game potential. Previous seasons have shown time and time again that it’s unwise to count the RedHawks out before the games are played.

Little Chance, but . . .

Western Michigan (17-12, 10-8)

The job Robert McCullum has done in turning around the Broncos is nothing short of amazing and he should win the conference’s Coach of the Year honors. Ben Reed is a lock for Freshman of the Year as well, though his season-ending injury two weeks ago means Western’s hill to climb in the MAC tourney is that much higher. This is another team to beware of next season.

Toledo (14-13, 11-7)

The Rockets had a very impressive conference season, but a lot of their wins were against the more inferior Western Division. That doesn’t mean the Rockets don’t have a shot, just don’t be too fooled by their record.

Cannon Fodder

Buffalo (12-17, 7-11)

There’s a lot of excitement in Buffalo and for good reason – this year’s Bulls team posted their most successful season since joining the MAC four years ago. This year’s team posted more conference wins than the previous three seasons combined (6-48). Still, you’ll probably see buffaloes fly before seeing the Bulls accepting the MAC championship trophy this season.

Northern Illinois (12-15, 8-10)

The Huskies are another team which has made big strides this year. They played very well at home and got a huge upset win against Ball State on the road, so they’re only one degree of separation from beating the No. 1 team in the land. Leon Rodgers scored 21.1 points per game, but it’s too bad he’s a senior because NIU is still a year or two away from contending.

Central Michigan (8-18, 5-13)

Preseason picks to win the MAC West, the Chippewas appear to have thrown in the towel on this season. An upset win in the first round of the MAC tournament could get them rolling, but I wouldn’t count on it.

Akron (9-20, 5-13)

I won’t make the too-easy crack that Akron has a “zip” chance of winning the tournament. Their chances are fractionally larger than that.

Eastern Michigan (6-23, 2-16)

Pity the Eagles and their fans. Only a half-decade ago, major programs trembled at the thought of playing Eastern, who dispatched Duke from one Big Dance. This year’s team doubled last year’s total and they’re still a ways away from respectability. Kudos to sophomore guard Ricky Cottrill and his 20 points a game, which give the Eagles some star power.

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