By: Anthony Del Fiacco
The Mid-American Athletic Conference tournament begins Monday evening at various campus sites across the conference. Being a proud son of the Great Lakes region, and a witness to Michael Turner’s last home game at NIU, I felt familiar enough with the glorious magic of MACtion to do this preview. Does it matter that I haven’t watched a MAC game all year? It won’t, trust me.
Record: 24-7, 13-5
Key player: Isaiah Johnson (guard/junior)
The regular season champion is the obvious favorite to cut down the nets in Cleveland. The Zips boast a strong RPI thanks to wins over UCSB, Iona, Ohio (twice), and Arkansas on the road, and not a single loss to an opponent ranked outside the top 150. They shoot well (40 percent from beyond the arc) and often (111.4 points per 100 possessions), which will make them a sexy upset pick for the Big Dance.
Record: 20-10, 11-7
Key player: Antonio Campbell (forward/junior)
It’s been a stellar turnaround season for the Bobcats. Owners of a mere 10 wins last year, coach Saul Phillips’ men now pose the biggest threat to Akron’s coronation plans. However, doing so will likely require they beat their in-state rivals head-to-head for the first time this season. Their biggest asset in knocking off the Zips will be Campbell, a versatile offensive powerhouse with a center’s size (6’10’’) and an all-star point guard’s range (41.9 3P %).
Ball State (19-12, 10-8)
The Cardinals, led by Franko House and Bo Calhoun, are owners of the stingiest team defense (66.7 PPG) in the Mid-American. That fact alone should make their upset plans not laughable.
Central Michigan (17-14, 10-8)
The Chippewas are only the third MAC team with a top 150 RPI rating (144). Their outside chances at an NIT bid will hinge on their long-distance shooting: 2nd in MAC in three pointers made per game, but 6th in three point percentage.
Kent State (19-12, 10-8)
The name to remember here is “Jimmy Hall.” The redshirt sophomore forward, 2015 first-team all-MAC honoree, and team leader in points, rebounds, and field goal percentage has carried the Golden Flashes and their injury-plagued backcourt.
First Round, March 7th
#8 Eastern Michigan vs. #9 Toledo (6:30 p.m. CST)
#5 Kent State vs. #12 Bowling Green (6:00 p.m.)
#7 Northern Illinois vs. #10 Western Michigan (7:00 p.m.)
#6 Ball State vs. #11 Miami (6:00 p.m.)
Second Round, March 10th
EMU/Toledo vs. #1 Akron (11:00 a.m.)
Kent State/BGSU vs. #4 Central Michigan (TBA)
NIU/WMU vs. #2 Ohio (5:30 p.m.)
BSU/Miami vs. #3 Buffalo (TBA)
Semifinals and Final, March 11th and 12th
Semifinal 1 (5:30 p.m.)
Semifinal 2 (30 minutes following Semifinal 1’s end)
Championship (6:30 p.m. on ESPN 2)
And now, my predictions…
Toledo over Eastern Michigan
Kent State over Bowling Green
Northern Illinois over Western Michigan
Ball State over Miami
Akron over Toledo
Kent State over Central Michigan
Ohio over Northern Illinois
Ball State over Buffalo
Akron over Kent State
Ohio over Ball State
Akron over Ohio