I feel the Mid-American Conference basketball teams have gone largely unnoticed to this point of the season because of the wondrous success that the football teams have had.
Nevertheless, now that the season is over, and #MACsketball is about to begin, it is time to ceremonially turn attention to the guys on the hardwood.
Sometimes it is tough to gauge the talent level of teams in this league by the way they perform during out of conference games. It is even tougher to gauge how teams will compete in the conference using the same metric. Some programs elect to pit themselves against the toughest of opponents--the Michigan schools are known to take this route at times. Others decided to rack up many wins and momentum by playing lesser teams. Either way, all of these schools schedule to prepare itself for MAC play. Though Akron head coach Keith Dambrot has been on record, saying that he wants to clinch the first at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, the chances of a team in this conference pulling it off is slim. The four loss Zips are already well out of the running and will be force to run the table (and lose the MAC Championship Game by very little) if they hope to have any chance of clinching the goal. The same can conceivably be said for OHIO, Kent State and Western Michigan who all have five losses.
And because the MAC is the MAC, all of this becomes chiefly unlikely. The Mid-American Conference is famous for its parity. The top of the conference will knock each other around all season. OHIO and Kent State (Jan 26 and Feb 16) will more than likely split. Throw in Akron who will split at least one of those teams as well and you have yourself no at-large bids again.
Fair or unfair, it is the way of the Mid-American Conference.
Last season, the world was cheering and howling for the OHIO Bobcats. The little school taking it to the big boys. They were the Cinderella of 2012, and a mighty fine one. However, everyone who followed the Bobcats and the conference in general throughout the year knew something that the rest of the world did not. In the Mid-American Conference, there were probably two or three other teams that were just as good (possibly better) than OHIO was. The Bobcats were not a totalitarian force that manhandled the conference as supreme overlords. They finished in third place in the East! But they were great. And they took it too the NCAA field and played their best basketball at the perfect time. Exactly what a MAC team is supposed to do.
If OHIO’s run did anything for the conference, it made teams hungrier. It increased a lot of expectations for pretty much every top conference team. It is no longer a question whether a MAC team can make a run, it is an expectation. This is a good thing.
But all that will have to wait, for there are plenty of story lines and excitement to follow in the regular season. Like in the West, where Toledo, who can not compete in the Tournament this season due to academic issues with the program, was favored to win it. They are in last place via the out of conference record. They’ve collapsed. Ryan Autullo, of the Toledo Blade, reports that the program is low on numbers and continue to see players depart due to the sanctions. Can they rebound? Or will the once promising team find themselves picking up the shattered scraps of their dreams? We will find out.
Also in the West, Western Michigan finds themselves atop the standings with eight wins and five losses. WMU is probably the most consistent West team. They always find themselves loosing to a MAC East team late in the tournament. The Broncos will make their way to James A. Rhodes arena in their very first conference game of the season. The Broncos can afford to leave Akron with a moral victory, but an actual victory would be a huge statement to the league. Western Michigan is the best in the West, but can they keep that crown?
And of course on the East side of things, it is going to be a no holds bar rumble. OHIO, Kent State, Akron and Buffalo all want the crown. Bowling Green is bound to upset one or two. This is going to be, once again, a great race. Some of the story lines is Kent State looking to rebound after being swept by Akron 3-0 last year, Buffalo looking to continue to grow after sweeping Akron last season 2-0, but being swept by OHIO 3-0. And of course OHIO, who brings back the whole band and will be looking to repeat their performance from last season.
The 2013 #MACsketball season is sure to be a great one. With plenty of story lines virtually every game played has some reason to watch. Because these teams are so similar in talent, a single game could easily determine the regular season champion. The MAC is one of the few conferences where you can expect that.