2013 MAC Tournament Recap & Results
2013 MAC Tournament Scores
(8) Buffalo 74 (9) Central Michigan 72
(7) Eastern Michigan 45 (10) Northern Illinois 44
(11) Miami University 63 (6) Bowling Green 52
(8) Buffalo 76 (5) Ball State 61
(7) Eastern Michigan 58 (11) Miami University 47
(4) Kent State 70 (8) Buffalo 68
(3) Western Michigan 70 (7) Eastern Michigan 55
(1) Akron 62 (4) Kent State 59
(2) Ohio 74 (3) Western Michigan 63
(1) Akron 65 (2) Ohio 46
The Akron Zips might have been the most impressive team in all of college basketball on Saturday and, for that matter, this past week. Akron didn't merely win the 2013 Mid-American Conference Tournament in Cleveland. It won the MAC without its best player. Moreover, it won without a lot of time to prepare for the event that had seemingly destroyed this team's postseason hopes.
Akron was a shattered team in need of healing and a quick recovery a week ago, when it was announced on Thursday, March 7, that star point guard Alex Abreu had been arrested on charges of trafficking marijuana. The suspension would have been bad at any time of the season, but especially just one week before the MAC Tournament. Teams get evaluated by the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Committee based on the team they will have on the floor in the NCAA tournament, so when Abreu was arrested, Akron's chances of gaining an at-large bid to the Big Dance, which were already slim, decreased even more. Akron had to win the MAC Tournament to go dancing, and with Abreu - the centerpiece of the team's offense - out of the lineup, the Zips had to turn to a freshman point guard, Carmelo Betancourt. Moreover, they had to do so on very short notice.
Realize this about the Zips and the challenge they faced heading into Cleveland: It's not as though Akron had a month in which to work Betancourt into its rotation. Coach Keith Dambrot had to make a lot of adjustments on the fly in a very narrow window of time.
Realize this as well: Point guard is the most important position on the floor for a college basketball team, more so than in the NBA, where an imposing low-post presence can make the lack of a star point guard a lot more manageable. Just ask the Los Angeles Lakers with Jordan Farmar and Derek Fisher at the point - they won world championships because of the tandem of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum in the paint. Kobe Bryant needed the arrival of Gasol in order to win two more NBA titles in the latter stages of his career. Bynum only made a very good Laker team better, putting the Lake Show over the top. In college basketball, though, the point guard lends cohesion and structure to his team's halfcourt offense. If a college team lacks a credible point guard, it can and will get torn to shreds by a pressuring, trapping defense. If a college team lacks a strong presence at the point, it will not be able to make the smooth ball rotations and dribble-drive maneuvers that pry open good shots against a tough defense. Akron was missing this essential ingredient, and it was deprived of it right before the MAC Tournament. This was viewed to be a crushing blow by most college basketball scribes and pundits, and it was really difficult to disagree with such a notion.
The fact that Akron was not only able to win the MAC Tournament, but win it so convincingly on Saturday night with a 19-point wipeout of the second-seeded Ohio Bobcats, makes the Zips the best story of Championship Week and one of the feel-good teams in the NCAA tournament.
Let's point something out about Ohio: The Bobcats are a really good team. Ohio won the MAC Tournament last year, beating Akron to get to the Big Dance. D.J. Cooper has been a superstar in the MAC during his career, and he lifted the Bobcats not only to the tournament last March, but all the way to the Sweet 16 and within a shot of the Elite Eight. You will recall that Ohio knocked off Michigan in the round of 64 and then took care of South Florida in the round of 32. The Bobcats marched into the Sweet 16 and played North Carolina, a No. 1 seed, on even terms in St. Louis. Ohio had a chance to win late in regulation but missed, and North Carolina took over in overtime to give the Bobcats a heartbreaking loss. Nevertheless, Ohio had affirmed itself as a major player on the college basketball scene. Akron's experience kept the Zips ahead of the Bobcats this season, but when the Abreu arrest and suspension occurred, Ohio and Cooper were supposed to win the MAC Tournament.
Yet, Akron took it away from Ohio.
How did this happen? Dambrot's experience showed up in the coaching matchup. Ohio lost John Groce, last year's coach, to Illinois, and this year's head coach, Jim Christian, was not able to find ways to exploit Abreu's absence. Akron's defense smothered Ohio's offense on Saturday. Cooper missed all eight of his field goal attempts against the Zips and scored only 3 points. Ohio hit just 1 of 20 3-pointers and shot just 33 percent from the field. Akron's defensive performance was as complete as anything seen anywhere in college basketball during the past week.
Some other bits of news came from the MAC Tournament: Buffalo won a few games, but a failure to make the NCAA tournament for a thirteenth season led the school to fire longtime head coach Reggie Witherspoon. Kent State and Western Michigan were given byes into the third round, but neither team could make a dent in either Akron or Ohio in the semifinals. Kent State came close to beating Akron in the semis on Friday night, but poor shooting doomed the Golden Flashes, much as a cold night from the field hurt Ohio on Saturday against the Zips. Kent State's Chris Evans scored 25 points in a quarterfinal win over Buffalo, but he went just 1 for 11 from the field against Akron's defense, scoring only 6 points. Akron's Zeke Marshall scored 18 points and snapped down 10 rebounds to give the Zips just enough scoring punch to win. What made Akron's triumph over Kent State that much more improbable was that the Zips hit only 13 of 29 foul shots. Teams that lack a starting point guard and miss a majority of 29 free throws generally lose.
As you can tell, though, Akron had no interest in losing this past week, even with a mountain of adversity firmly placed in its path.
By Matt Zemek