Wednesday, March 7, 2007

MAC Tournament Preview

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The Mid-American Conference had a typical year for them: several quality teams that pulled off nice wins in the non-conference, but beat up on each other in conference play. In other words, there’s too much parity in the conference for anyone to garner at-large consideration. Toledo won the overall conference title, going 14-2 in the West division. In the East division, Akron went 13-3 to get the title. Kent State finished one game back, while Miami (Ohio) went 10-6. It should be a wide-open MAC Tournament.

Favorites: Toledo played in the far worse West division of the MAC, but they made the most of it, and even knocked off Akron. They went only 4-9 in non-conference play, though, killing any shot they had for a potential at-large bid. The Rockets have won six league games in a row heading into March. They are very balanced, and have one of the best trios in the conference. Keonta Howell is a difficult match-up due to his size and scoring ability; Justin Ingram is a very quick guard who can do a variety of things; and Florentino Valencia anchors the post. Pint-sized point guard Kashif Payne is a good distributor. Akron is widely-recognized as the best team in the conference, and they were the preseason favorite heading into the year. The Zips are very efficient at both ends of the floor, and they take care of the ball and limit mistakes. Romeo Travis is one of the best players in the conference, and has the ability to dominate the post. Jeremiah Wood is a very good rebounder next to him. Akron has three guards that all average double-figures. Dru Joyce is a very quick guard who can distribute the ball well; Nick Dials can really shoot the ball and is also a good defender; and Cedrick Middleton is the team’s second leading scorer.

Contenders: Kent State is a perennial player in the MAC, and this year was no different. The Golden Flashes had a chance to win the division title in the last game of the season, but they fell at home to Akron in overtime. They play very good defense and share the ball. Omni Smith is a terrific scorer, and had 33 points at Duke earlier this year. Armon Gates is another good scorer on the perimeter. Mike Scott is the go-to-guy in the frontcourt, and he is also the best rebounder on the team. Miami (Ohio) had won ten of twelve in the middle of the league season before dropping their last two to end the year. The RedHawks have the best field-goal percentage offense and defense in the conference. They have arguably the best frontcourt in the conference. Tim Pollitz and Nathan Peavy are both very good scorers and rebounders, while Michael Bramos is a do-it-all type of player. Their backcourt is clearly the team’s weakness.

Sleeper: Ohio may have lost five of their last seven to end the season, but the Bobcats have five guys that average over 12 points per game, and they have the ability to win a few games. Jerome Tillman and Leon Williams form the best post tandem in the league. Both dominate the glass, and also can score very consistently down low. Tillman is also effective on the perimeter. Sonny Troutman does a little bit of everything, and is a very good distributor. Bubba Walther and Whitney Davis can also score in the backcourt.

Prediction: There are several teams capable of winning the MAC Tournament. Toledo won the conference title, but they might not even be the favorite heading into the tournament. That honor goes to Akron, the team I think will win the automatic bid. The Zips have the best inside-outside balance in the conference (Ohio is a close second), and they have a player in Romeo Travis that can take over games down the stretch. Throw in the experience factor, and Akron will go to the Dance.

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