Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Mid-American Conference Tournament Preview

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The Mid-American Conference did not have as good of a season as it usually does, when at least one or two teams seems to be in the mix for an at-large bid. However, it did feature one of the most exciting conference races in the country, with five teams finishing within one game of each other at the top of the East Division standings. On the final day of the season, Buffalo beat Miami (Ohio), Kent State beat Akron and Bowling Green defeated Ohio, leaving Buffalo and BGSU tied atop the division at 11-5. Ball State, Western Michigan and Central Michigan tied for the West Division title at 7-9.

Favorites and Contenders: With five teams finishing within one game of each other, there’s not a lot separating them; therefore, it’s tough to say one team is the clear favorite. Buffalo looked like it would win the league after starting 9-1, but the Bulls proceeded to lose their next four games, and five of their last seven. Because Bowling Green swept them, Buffalo was dropped to the No. 3 seed. However, Rodney Pierce is a big-time talent who can put this team on his back. Bowling Green started just 1-3 in conference play, but won 10 of its last 12 MAC games. They have a very balanced and deep attack, with Nate Miller leading the way offensively and on the backboards. Darryl Clements is another solid forward, while Brian Moten is the main man on the perimeter. Miami (Ohio) had the best RPI of the group, but the RedHawks five of their last eight games to lose a conference title. Guard Michael Bramos is a flat-out stud who can really fill it up from the outside. Big man Tyler Dierkers is a solid scorer and rebounder who is effective from the post. Akron had a seven-game winning streak in the middle of the conference season, but the Zips also struggled down the stretch, losing four of their final seven. They play excellent defense, with the highest turnover rate in the country. Forwards Brett McKnight and Nate Linhart are double-figure scorers up front and Anthony Hitchens is solid outside. Kent State has won 10 of its last 12 and is playing solid. Al Fisher is one of the best players in the conference and is capable of willing this team to a win. Tyree Evans is a gunner from the perimeter and Chris Singletary is a good all-around player up front.

Sleeper: Sure, they finished in last place in the East Division, but Ohio is a better bet to make noise in this tournament than anyone from the West. They’ve beaten Miami (Ohio), Akron and Kent State this season and lost to Buffalo twice by a combined six points. Jerome Tillman is still patrolling the inside, and he is capable of putting up 20-10 every night. Justin Orr and Steven Coleman are also solid scorers.

Prediction: This is going to be an absolutely wide-open conference tournament, with plenty of teams capable of winning the automatic bid to the Big Dance. Buffalo might have had the best overall season; Bowling Green finished the strongest; Miami (Ohio) has Bramos and is very solid at both ends; Akron plays outstanding defense; and Kent State might have the best trio. In the end, though, I think that Kent State is going to make the run from a No. 6 seed to the NCAA Tournament. They get a struggling Buffalo team in the quarterfinals and potentially a 7-9 Ball State team in the semis. The Golden Flashes will knock off Miami (Ohio) in the title game and get the auto bid.

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