Sunday, March 7, 2010

Mid-American Conference Tournament Preview

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The Mid-American Conference was annually one of the best mid-major conferences in college basketball several years ago, consistently producing an NCAA Tournament threat with a couple of at-large possibilities. This year did not have that, but featured an excellent conference race that came down to the season’s final day. On Friday, Kent State went into Akron and knocked off the Zips to finish 13-3, one game ahead of Akron. Central Michigan won the West Division title with a 9-7 record. Five other teams finished at least .500 in conference play.

Favorite: Kent State got off to a rough start in conference play, losing two of its first three games. However, since then, the Golden Flashes have won 13 of their last 14 games to win the MAC title. They are a very good defensive team that forces turnovers, guards the three and controls the glass. On offense, Kent State takes care of the ball and has a very balanced offense. Justin Greene is the team’s best scorer and rebounder, while Tyree Evans can shoot from the perimeter. Chris Singletary and Rodriquez Sherman can also score.

Contenders: Akron was the favorite at the outset of the season, and the Zips nearly lived up to those projections. The Zips won seven of their last nine games, including four road victories. They are an excellent offensive rebounding team that thrives on second chances, while their defense is predicated on defending the perimeter. Akron has a balanced offense led by forwards Brett McKnight and Jimmy Conyers. Sure, Central Michigan won the West, but the Chippewas went only 2-4 against the East Division. Guards Jordan Blitzer and Robbie Harman form one of the better backcourts in the conference. Miami (Ohio) is a threat despite losing four of its final six games. The RedHawks play a slow-down style that relies on the three-pointer and forcing difficult shots on the defensive end. Guard Kenny Hayes is an explosive scorer, while forward Julian Mavunga is a productive scorer and rebounder.

Sleeper: Ohio started 0-4 in MAC play, but the Bobcats won three of their final four games and have some very solid options on offense. They get up and down the court and force turnovers while also taking care of the ball and guarding the perimeter well. Former Indiana transfer Armon Bassett can stroke it, while D.J. Cooper is an all-around stud and playmaker. Tommy Freeman is a gunner who can get hot. Western Michigan was entirely inconsistent all season, but the Broncos have one of the conference’s best players in guard David Kool, who averages 21 points per game.

Prediction: There are several teams that are capable of winning the conference tournament, but it’s tough to argue with Kent State. The Golden Flashes are playing the best basketball in the league right now, and they just went to the second-place team (Akron) and thumped them. They play excellent defense and have multiple options offensively. Their balance – both offensively and in terms of offense/defense – is going to be the key in the title game against Akron. The Zips will need to get good production from their guards if they are to knock off Kent State in the championship game. They won’t – Kent State will go to the NCAA Tournament.

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