MAC Wrap & Tourney PreviewPosted by Brian Goodman on March 8th, 2011
Alex Varone is the RTC correspondent for the Mid-American Conference. With the MAC Tournament set to tip Tuesday, get up to speed with RTC’s preview and regular season wrap-up.
The Favorite: In what was an up-and-down regular season, no one displayed more consistency from start-to-finish than Kent State. Two of the Golden Flashes’ four conference losses were in overtime, and not once did they lose two consecutive league games. Kent State is led by forward Justin Greene, but the strength of this squad is a balance and cohesiveness that is exhibited by the five scorers who average at least 9.4 points per game.
The Sleeper: Ohio came into the season as many expert’s preseason pick to repeat as MAC Champions. The Bobcats never lived up to those expectations and really struggled out of the gate in conference play. But of late, Ohio has looked like the type of team that could win four games to capture the MAC Tournament title. This team has evolved offensively from being the D.J. Cooper Show to a strong, balanced unit that features four double-digit scorers, quality shooters, and a strong inside presence.
Upset Alert: All four teams with first-round byes better be on upset alert, as we saw last year (a No. 9 seed and No. 7 seed both made the semifinals). This year might not see as much parity, but don’t be surprised if anyone seeded 5 through 8 not only pulls off an upset, but wins the whole tournament.
Best Potential Matchup: The beauty of this year’s MAC Tournament is the opportunity for so many great contests that should feature fantastic finishes. An Akron-Miami quarterfinal would be hard-fought, with neither team giving an inch. A Kent State-Western Michigan final would be a lot of fun and a chance for the West to regain some bragging rights. But a Kent State-Ohio semifinal features a number of juicy subplots: two hot teams, last year’s champion vs. this year’s regular season champion, a rematch of last year’s quarterfinal stunner.
A Look Back
After a wild final week to the Mid-American Conference regular season, in which division titles and tournament seeding were at stake, the dust has settled and the pairings for the 2011 MAC Tournament have been revealed. Kent State won the outright regular season title and is the tournament’s number one seed for the second consecutive year. Western Michigan rallied to win the West Division and capture the number two seed. Miami and Ball State are the number three and four seeds, respectively, and will both receive first-round byes.
The MAC Tournament begins with four first-round games on Tuesday, March 8th to be held at campus sites, with the winners advancing to quarterfinals to face the top four seeds at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. In those first-round games, five-seed Ohio will host twelve-seed Toledo, six-seed Akron hosts eleven-seed Eastern Michigan, seven-seed Bowling Green hosts ten-seed Northern Illinois, and eight-seed Buffalo hosts nine-seed Central Michigan.
With the end of the regular season comes the announcement of the league’s annual postseason awards. The official award winners will be revealed this week, but here is one man’s choice for the best of the Mid-American Conference in 2010-11.
- Player of the Year: Justin Greene, Kent State (15.6 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 1.5 BPG) – Greene gets the nod not only because he was the top performer on the MAC’s top team, but because he was the most consistently excellent producer of the 2010-11 season. Greene scored in double-figures in all but two of the Golden Flashes’ sixteen conference games, and grabbed at least five rebounds in all but one. As the season wore on and the games grew more and more important, Greene was at his finest, posting double-doubles in four of Kent State’s last six games.
- Coach of the Year: Steve Hawkins, Western Michigan – Hawkins deserves major credit for leading Western Michigan to the West Division title just one season after losing last year’s MAC Player of the Year, David Kool. The Broncos finished the season with a flourish, winning nine of their last eleven games, and will be a tough out this week.
- Newcomer of the Year: Trey Zeigler, Central Michigan (16.5 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 2.1 APG, 1.4 SPG) – A strong case could be made for Buffalo’s Javon McCrae (11.4 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 1.7 BPG, 64.8 FG%), but while McCrae only played just over 21 minutes per game, Zeigler was a key contributor for the Chippewas in playing over 34 minutes per contest. Zeigler had his share of ups-and-downs in what was a disappointing year for Central Michigan, but the head coach’s son still managed to finish third in the MAC in scoring, and was one of the top rebounding guards in the conference.
- G: D.J. Cooper, Ohio (16.5 PPG, 7.4 APG, 5.1 RPG, 2.3 SPG)
- G: Xavier Silas, Northern Illinois (22.3 PPG, 4.6 RPG, seven 30-Point Games)
- F: Justin Greene, Kent State (15.6 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 1.5 BPG)
- F: Julian Mavunga, Miami (14.8 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 2.9 APG)
- F: Brandon Bowdry, Eastern Michigan (20.1 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 16 Double-Doubles)
Cooper was the conference’s most versatile player and easily could win POY, but the sophomore was prone to a shaky performance here and there and Ohio seemed to hit its stride when other contributors shared the offensive spotlight. Mavunga, like Greene, was a consistent performer on a quality basketball team. Silas and Bowdry deserve special mention for carrying otherwise dreadful teams.
Power Rankings (last week’s ranking in parentheses)
1. Kent State (1)
21-10 (12-4), RPI: 85, SOS: 139
No. 1 Seed, Will Face Winner of No. 8 Buffalo/No. 9 Central Michigan
Last Friday night’s win over Akron wrapped up a second straight outright regular season MAC title. This year, the Golden Flashes will look to erase the memories of last year’s disappointing quarterfinal loss to Ohio. Note that one of Kent State’s four conference defeats did come at the hands of potential quarterfinal opponent Buffalo. Kent State did get revenge for its worst league loss later in February with a three-point home win over the Bulls.
2. Miami (Ohio) (3)
16-15 (11-5), RPI: 106, SOS: 61
No. 3 Seed, Will Face Winner of No. 6 Akron/No. 11 Eastern Michigan
The RedHawks have a very tough potential quarterfinal assignment against Akron, one of the hottest teams in the conference heading into the tournament. Miami split its two meetings with the Zips, winning by eight at home, but losing by seventeen on the road. A potential semifinal matchup against Western Michigan would give Miami a chance to avenge a home overtime loss to the Broncos.
3. Western Michigan (4)
19-11 (11-5), RPI: 173, SOS: 289
No. 2 Seed, Will Face Winner of No. 7 Bowling Green/No. 10 Northern Illinois
Among the four teams with first-round byes, Western Michigan looks to have the easiest draw. The Broncos went a combined 3-0 this season against Bowling Green and Northern Illinois, with two of those wins coming on the road. A No. 2/No. 3 semifinal against Miami would likely be a toss up, but Western Michigan’s fantastic 9-2 finish to the season began with an overtime win at Miami.
4. Ohio (6)
17-14 (9-7), RPI: 157, SOS: 146
No. 5 Seed, Will Face No. 12 Toledo
Ohio was playing as well as anyone in the league before its recent loss at Miami, which cost the Bobcats a first-round bye. Instead, Ohio will host Toledo, which will likely be an easy victory. A win over the Rockets would set up a quarterfinal contest against Ball State, where in their only meeting this season, Ohio won by one point on the road.
5. Akron (2)
19-12 (9-7), RPI: 131, SOS: 181
No. 6 Seed, Will Face No. 11 Eastern Michigan
A seven-game win streak came to an end with a pair of tough losses at Ohio and Kent State to close out the season. Akron should handle Eastern Michigan at home in the first round, but just one month ago, the Zips fell at Eastern Michigan by four points. The looming matchup with Miami in the quarterfinals is a tossup, with Akron having beaten Miami by seventeen just two weeks ago.
6. Ball State (7)
18-12 (10-6), RPI: 177, SOS: 294
No. 4 Seed, Will Face Winner of No. 5 Ohio/No. 12 Toledo
Ball State let the West Division title slip away with a loss at Western Michigan in the season’s final week, but the Cardinals were still able to secure a first-round bye. Barring an unforeseen turn of events, Ball State will face Ohio in the quarterfinals and would likely face Kent State in the semifinals, two teams that each handed the Cardinals a loss in the regular season.
7. Buffalo (5)
17-12 (8-8), RPI: 161, SOS: 231
No. 8 Seed, Will Face No. 9 Central Michigan
Buffalo faces Central Michigan at home in what is the most evenly-matched first round game, however, in their only matchup this season, the Bulls defeated the Chippewas by 29 points. Regular season champion Kent State awaits the winner, a team that Buffalo has had its share of success against, splitting the two regular season meetings.
8. Bowling Green (8)
13-18 (8-8), RPI: 247, SOS: 230
No. 7 Seed, Will Face No. 10 Northern Illinois
The Falcons have a winnable first-round game at home against Northern Illinois, a team that they already defeated on the road in overtime just over a month ago. Should Bowling Green advance past the Huskies, West Division champion Western Michigan will be waiting, who handed Bowling Green a fourteen-point loss at home in their lone regular season contest.
9. Central Michigan (9)
10-20 (7-9), RPI: 308, SOS: 297
No. 9 Seed, Will Face No. 8 Buffalo
Central Michigan has played better of late, winning four of six before falling to Western Michigan in the final game of the season. That 4-2 stretch began following the Chippewas worst loss of the season, a 29-point drubbing at Buffalo, who they will face in the first round. If Central Michigan can get past the Bulls, it will face Kent State, who handled Central Michigan by thirteen points earlier this year.
10. Northern Illinois (11)
9-20 (5-11), RPI: 313, SOS: 288
No. 10 Seed, Will Face No. 7 Bowling Green
Eight losses in a row left Northern Illinois looking like a team just playing out the string, but the Huskies showed some competitive fire to finish the season with two wins in their final three games. Albeit, the two wins were against Eastern Michigan and Toledo, but Northern Illinois also played well in a ten-point loss at Ball State and now get a Bowling Green team in the first round that it took to overtime a month earlier.
11. Eastern Michigan (10)
9-21 (5-11), RPI: 329, SOS: 296
No. 11 Seed, Will Face No. 6 Akron
Eastern Michigan has the dubious task of facing an Akron team that is playing very well of late. Eastern Michigan’s only road win of the season a conference-play opening blowout of Toledo, but it was only a little over a month ago that the Eagles defeated the Zips at home in what was their best win of the season.
12. Toledo (12)
4-27 (1-15), RPI: 337, SOS: 238
No. 12 Seed, Will Face No. 5 Ohio
No matter what happens against Ohio, at least Toledo can hang its hat on the fact that it defeated West Division champion Western Michigan earlier this season, in what turned out to be the Rockets lone conference win this season. As for Toledo’s chances to win at Ohio in the first round? I wouldn’t expect this game to be any closer than the early February contest between the two teams: a thirteen-point Ohio win.