There was no dominant team in the MAC this year. Kent State was simply the "team to beat" becuase they had the most wins. Akron was the team that beat them. They also lost to Northern Illinois and Eastern Michigan. Not an elite team. We knew this; they were a streaky team who can beat you in any given four-minute span, and perhaps a 40-minute span. And yes, there was that five percent chance they could do this all against Notre Dame.
Here's what they did: they made the Big East's second-best team uncomfortable as hell.
It's not a win, but it's a thorn in their confidence. We couldn't pull away against THIS team? For the last 8:38, the Irish never led by less than 10 points, but before then every time ND tried to go up by 10 or 12 points, the Zips could cut the lead to seven, six, five points. Without fail. And it wasn't any one player, either. In fact, no one player had an amazing game. Quincy Diggs may have had the most points (11) and early on it looked like Brett McClanahan was going to net about 20 (he finished with 7, all scored in the first 11 minutes).
But everybody did something.
One time it was Nikola Cvetinovic hitting a little shot off the post. Or Alex Abreu would hit an outside shot, as he doesn't take many of those. And, of course, Zeke Marshall would get a block on the defensive side (he finished with four of those). But it was unsustainable. Akron is a roster with a bunch of skilled guys, but specialists. For whatever reason, Marshall began taking jump shots. (And a three!) He's not even an offensive player, but he look 13 shots. Notre Dame was loaded with versatility, and it showed. Well, look at the score.
But by virtue of winning the MAC tournament, the dominant team didn't go, and they were seeded No. 15. And yet, they continued to irritate Notre Dame for 30 minutes. Yes, the MAC can play with the Big East, but not all the time, and usually not for the full game.
We get this picture in our head of 15 and 16 seeds, wherein a team of misfits and 4-foot-tall forwards is trying to play against giants. We know this not to be the case, as identified by Marshall being the biggest guy on the court. But the size of their performance will be small in our memories. We're going to remember Miami and Wally Szczerbiak's run to the Sweet 16, Kent State's run to the Elite Eight, and OHIO's upset of Georgetown. We are probably not going to remember Akron losing to Notre Dame by 13. But it wasn't an embarrasing defeat. Losing to the Big East's second best team by 13 never is. Notre Dame beat California by 13. Georgetown by 14. St. John's by 15. Cincinnati by 38. Seton Hall by 12. Villanova by 19. They're just pretty good.
So while NCAA hopes are dashed, there remains MAC teams in contention of lesser tournaments:
NIT: Kent State
CBI: OHIO, Buffalo, Western Michigan
WNIT: Toledo, Eastern Michigan