2011 MAC Tournament Preview
Straight to Cleveland
1. Kent State (21-10, 12-4)
Justin Greene: 15.6 PPG, 8.4 RPG
Rodriguez Sherman: 12.9 PPG, 3 APG, 40.6% 3 PT. FG
The Golden Flashes are the number one seed for the second consecutive year. Last year, it was one and done for number one in Cleveland. The Bobcats blew the Flashes out of the building in a commanding win. There’s only one real bad MAC loss on Kent State’s resume this season. That’s a 79-54 trouncing at the hands of Buffalo back in January. Since then it’s 10-2 in conference with both losses coming in OT.
Greene is the MAC Player of the Year. He’s consistently scoring in double digits but his shooting percentage is down. Greene needs to be commanding in the post and the Flashes must successfully run the offense through him to earn their number 1 billing.
Last dance: 2008
2. Western Michigan (19-11, 11-5)
Demetrius Ward: 13.9 PPG, 4 RPG
Flenard Whtifield: 13.3 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 51.3% FG
It’s been a good stretch of basketball the second time through the MAC West for Western Michigan. It swept through those final four games to take the MAC West title and earn a first round bye. The Broncos have a size advantage with Whitfield, Matt Stainbrook and Nate Hutcheson all prime contributors. They lead the conference in rebounding margin and that is usually a good determinant of March success.
Last dance: 2004
3. Miami (16-15, 11-5)
Julian Mavunga: 14.8 PPG, 7.9 RPG
Nick Winbush: 12.7 PPG, 7.2 RPG
It has been another great coaching job by a guy who’s not just a character (though he certainly is that) but also quite the coach. That’s Charlie Coles, who in his 15 th season in Oxford, has finished with a losing conference record just once. There were tempered expectations for the Redhawks coming into the season and they were dealt a harsh blow when senior Antonio Ballard went down and out for the season at the end of January.
But other players, like Winbush and Orlando Williams, have stepped up around one of the MAC’s best, Mavunga. Ultimately though it’s Mavunga that Miami will need to be at his finest to make a run. In Miami’s last loss, to Buffalo, he had his worst game of the season, six points on 3 of 14 shooting. In a 78-57 loss to Kent State, he didn’t play. Mavunga has to be in the double-double realm for Miami to win this. Watch out if Miami draws a good three point shooting team. The Redhawks are last in the MAC in three-point field goal defense.
Last dance: 2007
4. Ball State (18-12, 10-6)
Jarrod Jones: 14.6 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 51% FG
Randy Davis: 9.8 PPG, 5.1 APG
A hot start marked the beginning of Ball State’s MAC campaign. The Cardinals got out of the gate 5-0, sweeping the MAC West. Then came cross-division play. They lost five of six to East opponents, the sole win a one-point victory over Buffalo. Their only loss against the West came to Western…and it cost them the number two seed.
But the Cardinals still get a direct trip to Cleveland and have one of the MAC’s best big men in Jones. That said Jones had two of his most lackluster performances against two of the MAC’s best bigs. He put up just five points and seven rebounds against Justin Greene and Kent State. Against Miami and Julian Mavunga, he finished with nine and four. Ball State is solid on paper. Its top three in the MAC in field goal percentage and defense, as well as rebounding margin. But their performance against East teams they’ll have to beat to get a title is alarming.
Last dance: 2000
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The Unpredictable Contenders
5. Ohio (17-14, 9-7)
D.J. Cooper: 16.5 PPG, 7.4 APG
DeVaughn Washington: 12.7 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 51.7% FG
Last year, Ohio made its Cinderella run to a MAC title as the lowest seed to ever win the Tournament. The Bobcats did it with outstanding point guard play, mostly that of departed Armon Bassett. Expectations were high after the NCAA Tournament victory over Georgetown but the Bobcats started out slow. A 1-4 start to MAC play had some wondering if they were overrated. But they answered the second time through the East, winning four of five and just missing out on a bye.
When Ohio is firing on all cylinders, it’s tough to beat. Cooper has moments where he is just lights out, dishing the ball around to his teammates. But there are also times where you wonder about his shot selection. The interior game has gotten better with Ivo Baltic progressing and DeVaughn Washington finding a groove but any foul trouble will be a real hindrance, as the Bobcats lack interior depth.
Ohio blew an 18-point halftime lead to Buffalo early in the season and almost hemorrhaged a 22-point advantage at Kent State before winning in overtime. This is an unpredictable team that has the capability of defending its title. But you don’t want to play its style. The Bobcats like to move the pace and give Cooper ample opportunities to find guys like Tommy Freeman and Nick Kellogg, two of the conference’s best three point shooters. But the only team to beat the Bobcats twice this season is Miami. And it did so because of its grind it out style. If you work the shot clock and minimize the amount of possessions, you have a better chance of beating the Bobcats.
Last dance: 2010
6. Akron (19-12, 9-7)
Nik Cvetinovic: 12.3 PPG, 6.9 RPG
Brett McClanahan: 10.1 PPG
The Zips were the hottest team in the MAC coming down the final stretch. They’d won seven straight and were moving toward a bye after an inconsistent start. Then came the regular season’s final two games, two senior night losses, a trouncing at Ohio and a double-digit loss at rival Kent State.
But if anything, those two losses make me think Akron will only play better in this tournament. Keith Dambrot and the Zips are going to have a chip on their shoulder and they have plenty of experience with success in Cleveland. In fact, they’ve been to four straight MAC Championship games- but won only one.
That said the Zips have some fundamental causes for concern. They are a very poor rebounding team, as the much-touted Zeke Marshall has not lived up to that billing or even filled the role they need him to inside. They’re ahead of just Toledo in rebounding margin and it’s rare you see teams in the bottom of the barrel in that category advancing far.
They do hold on to the ball and distribute it well, best in turnover margin and assist to turnover ratio. It really comes down to consistency. If Brett McKnight, Brett McClanahan, Steve McNees and Nik Cvetinovic find their rhythm at the same time, Akron’s dangerous. But they have inconsistent moments and if the majority is off on one night, it’s over.
Last dance: 2009
Potential Darkhorses or One-and-Done?
7. Bowling Green (13-18, 8-8)
February may be the shortest month of the year- but you can bet it felt pretty long for the Falcons. They went into the month 5-2 in the conference. After the 28 days that followed, 7-7. Add a March 1st loss and Bowling Green was residing in the East’s cellar.
It’s not all bad as it secured the 7th seed with a Senior Day victory over Buffalo. While the Falcons do create turnovers with Louis Orr’s zone defense, they don’t do anything else exceptionally well. They’re in the bottom quarter in most other statistical categories. They’ve been skidding and could even have trouble in the first round against Northern Illinois, who they squeaked by in overtime for that one February win.
Last dance: Never
8. Buffalo (17-12, 8-8)
The Bulls come into the Tournament as an 8 seed that could be a scary opponent if they get to Cleveland. They’re the MAC’s best offensive team and when firing on all cylinders are tough to beat. Zach Filzen and Byron Mulkey provide the scoring punch at the guard spots. They can nail threes and when they get on a roll it’s hard to stop the Bulls.
The freshman Javon McCrea could be a big X-Factor. He leads the MAC in field goal percentage, making 64% of his shots. That’s really good and he’s only in his first collegiate season. The 6-6 forward can create matchup issues and also is good on the blocks, averaging more than six rebounds per game.
Buffalo is a very talented team and would be a very tough quarterfinal matchup for Kent State.
Last dance: Never
9. Central Michigan (10-20, 7-9)
It’s a very young squad in Mount Pleasant. One of those young ones, a freshman you’ll have to keep your eyes on for years, Trey Ziegler. He’s averaging 16.5 PPG and really had made the difference in games the Chippewas have won.
Jalin Thomas is averaging 16.2 PPG and presents another scoring threat. Central is last in the MAC in both field goal shooting percentage and defense. That’s not a good omen when going against a Buffalo team that is at or near the top in both those essential areas. Nor is the 72-43 crushing Buffalo delivered the Chippewas in the regular season.
Last dance: 2003
The Rest of the Field
10. Northern Illinois (9-20, 5-11)
Xavier Silas gives the Huskies a chance. They played Bowling Green close during the regular season but will need to limit mistakes to beat the Falcons and get to Cleveland.
11. Eastern Michigan (9-21, 5-11)
The Eagles actually beat first round opponent the Zips in Akron this season, 60-56. Akron shot a woeful 30% in that game but Brandon Bowdry was dominant with 25 points and 12 rebounds. It will not be a blowout in the 6 vs. 11 game.
12. Toledo (4-27, 1-15)
It’s been another real rough season in Toledo. Malcolm Griffin has done what he can but Toledo’s version of the zone does not do much stymieing. The Rockets haven’t won a game since mid-January. There’s nothing to make you think that will change now.
MAC Tournament Predictions
#5 Ohio over #12 Toledo
#6 Akron over #11 Eastern Michigan
#7 Bowling Green over #10 Northern Illinois
#8 Buffalo over #9 Central Michigan
#1 Kent State over #8 Buffalo
#2 Western Michigan over #7 Bowling Green
#3 Miami over #6 Akron
#5 Ohio over #4 Ball State
#1 Kent State over #5 Ohio
#3 Miami over #2 Western Michigan
MAC Championship Game
#1 Kent State over #3 Miami
For historical MAC Tournament winners, locations and venues check out the main MAC Basketball Tournament page here at VanDelay Sports!
By: Connor Kiesel
MAC Basketball Correspondent