The State of MAC Basketball: You Have To Feel Good About It

Nikola Cvetinovic reacts in the first half of the game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the second round of the 2011 NCAA men's basketball tournament at the United Center in Chicago.

Here's why meaningless postseason tournaments matter. Between the National Invitation Tournament, the College Basketball Invitational, and the CollegeInsider.com Tournament, there are 72 slots for teams who didn't impress the selection committee. Add to the the 68 that go to the actual tournament, and that's a very large number! The season's already 30+ games, so why get beat up for a few more? That was Ball State's thought process — we're tired, we're hurt, and we don't want to spend that type of money.

Obviously there is no short-term gain in paying to play play in untelevised tournaments and perhaps losing in the first round. This is what Miami did — they were in a similar shape akin to Ball State, thin bench and tired legs, although they did have a few guys come back from injury and it was nice of them to get an extra game. Now look at the other four teams: OHIO, Western Michigan, Buffalo, and Kent State. They all won postseason tournament games, and of these four only WMU has bowed out, namely because they were paired up with Buffalo and screwed over by geography, as the entire region of West Michigan understands so dearly.

But pool together all the wins and losses, including Akron's loss to Notre Dame, and you have a 6-3 record. That's six wins for the Mid-American Conference, including four on the road (Marshall, St. Mary's, Quinnipiac, Fairfield) and then the Buffalo win at Western Michigan, but please don't ask me how it will be categorized.

It could be curtains for MAC men's basketball tonight as Kent State plays Colorado in the NIT quarterfinals, OHIO travels to Tennessee Tech and Buffalo hits Iona — the latter two in CIT quarterfinals. Three tough games. Three MAC underdogs.

Add to that Akron's 15-seed in the NCAA tournament, the lowest seed a MAC team received since the early 90s. And despite all this, you still have to feel great about the near future of MAC basketball.

There will be another post on this bloger later to better comb all 12 teams and see which ones are going to improve rather than regress, but top-to-bottom it's looking spiffy. However, while greatness for the conference can be defined in the depth of the league — and that's important — the other factor is to have some powerful teams at the top. Kent State is darn good, but prior to their NIT double-upset two-step, their best win of the season was against Iona in Cleveland, practically a home game. And it was the first game of the year. You can't gauge much from a team in November. They went 12-4 in the conference, which was simply better than anybody else and they were the de-facto "team to beat." Turns out somebody beat them. There's always a best, but there's not always a great.

In 2002, before Kent State's trip to the Elite Eight, they went 17-1 in the conference. And it was a deep league, too: this was the year Bowling Green beat Michigan and finished 24-9. This was the year Ball State went to Hawai'i and upset Kansas and UCLA before giving Duke a heart attack and bolting up to No. 15 in the AP rankings. They had some teams. And they were able to prepare one team for a run into the NCAAs.

Let's not kid ourselves; OHIO beating Georgetown was awesome but it was an inexplicable aberration. Well, actually there is an explanation: Armon Bassett playing out of his gourd. Another possible explanation: Georgetown is now a habitual first-round punching bag.

It could be Blogger ADHD™, but while this year may not have a ton of memorable teams, the takeaway from the regular season and the distribution of postseason success is that the conference is balanced. You saw that in the MAC tournament winner odds: favorites were Buffalo (8-seed), Akron (6-seed), and Kent State (2-seed), but it wouldn't have shocked anybody had Miami, Ball State, OHIO or Western Michigan walked away with the nets in Cleveland. Seven sensible favorites.

The depth is there, and with these seven teams — throw in Bowling Green because they expect to return damn near everybody — you're going to (hope to) see a much better showing in the nonconference, the BracketBusters, and perhaps what this whole conversation boils down to, and what the conference has been chasing all along: multiple NCAA tournament bids. Having two teams reach the CIT quarterfinals is not the goal, but it's far better than what transpired last year: an NCAA tournament 14-seed (and victory), an NIT victory, and a CBI first-round exit. Neat, but not enough.

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