New MAC Basketball Format: Would Akron Still Have Won? Let's Simulate

While we were questioning conference alignment and gnashing at the upcoming football season, the MAC just took Doc Brown to the bracket lab and came back with an inventive new setup for their basketball tournaments. The three noticeable changes:

1. Seeding is division agnostic. So while the overall regular season champ gets the No. 1 seed, the other division winner is not automatically No. 2. Winning a division is merely a cosmetic reward, in that the team gets to hang a banner from their rafters.

2. The "first round" is now two rounds, while the top two teams receive byes into the quarterfinals. Run with me here; seeds No. 5 through No. 12 play each other until two teams remain from the pool, then they play the No. 3 and No. 4 teams. The winners of those games move onto

3. All tournament games in Cleveland are now co-ed. Previously they would have four women's games on one day and four men's games the next. Instead they're going to play boy-girl-boy-girl for three straight days until the day of both championships. Perhaps this was done to let the teams mingle.

I've had all afternoon to mull this over, knowing full well that a bunch of people don't like it, although the schools seem to love the not-too-subtle incentive behind the format. So I can see benefits for all teams here.

The obvious impetus behind this is simple: put your best teams forward and give them a fast-track to the NCAA tournament. Emphasize the regular season, where one or two games can make the difference.

The last two men's basketball champions both came from the first round: 9-seed OHIO in 2010 and 6-seed Akron back in March. Let's use the 2011 tournament as an example.

Here's what the tournament WAS:

First Round
9 CMU at 8 Buffalo (Buffalo won)
12 Toledo at 5 OHIO (OHIO won)
10 NIU at 7 BGSU (BGSU won)
11 EMU at 6 Akron (Akron won)

Quarterfinals
8 Buffalo vs. 1 Kent State (KSU won)
5 OHIO vs. 4 Ball State (BSU won)
7 BGSU vs. 2 WMU (WMU won)
6 Akron vs. 3 Miami (Miami won)

Semifinals
4 Ball State vs. 1 Kent State (KSU won)
6 Akron vs. 2 WMU (Akron won)

Finals
6 Akron vs. 1 Kent State (Akron won)

Now let's look at the new system:

First Round
(unchanged)

Second Round
8 Buffalo vs. 5 OHIO
7 BGSU vs. 6 Akron

All the crappy teams are gone, leaving a nice hefty pool of so-so teams. I'm going to use WhatIfSports' generator for these matchups, just to get things going.

OHIO 77, Buffalo 66
Akron 64, BGSU 60

Third Round
5 OHIO vs. 4 Ball State (same matchup as before)
6 Akron vs. 3 Western Michigan (WMU does not get the division championship bump)

(Note: I have realized that even in this year WMU would have remained a No. 2 seed by virtue of winning the regular season game against Miami. I was looking at outdated standings.)

The results:
Ball State 76, OHIO 73 (same as before)
WMU 66, Akron 62 (WhatIfSports simulated)

Semifinals
4. Ball State vs. 1. Kent State
3. WMU vs. 2. Miami

Projected semifinal results:
Kent State 79, Ball State 68 (same as before)
WMU 70, Miami 65 (simulated)

This gives us a championship of Kent State vs. WMU. Simulating the result, the Golden Flashes win 71-62. Your one-seed is in the tournament and they're probably a 13-seed.

What changed? Well, simulations are games played on paper, so that doesn't help a 6-seed like Akron who got hot at the right time. I also guess you can't neglect the fact that Akron plays an extra game in succession. But this does exactly what they want: put the stronger team in a better position to reach the NCAA's field of 68.

But it could also help one of the 5-12 seeds. Slightly. Let's assume Akron won the tournament in this double-bye tournament as a 6-seed. They just added a win over a decent BGSU team to their resume, making them 24-12 instead of 23-12. Perhaps this vaults them out of the 15-seed ranks and into the 14s. I still think they were a better team than Saint Peter's, who won the MAAC at 20-13.

Multi-tiered byes are prevalent in the 16-team Big East tournament as well as the 8-team West Coast Conference. But no 12-team conference that I can find in Division I has their byes set up like this where the first round is two rounds before a bye kicks in.

Personally I'm astonished that they don't make it so that Akron and Kent State receive direct byes into the finals. For everything else ... I can't complain that much.

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