Line Drills is coming around. Tom went 3-2 on Wednesday, upping the ante for all MAC handicappers around the globe. Myself in particular. We work as a team of course, except if I start doing a markedly better job picking these games than he, in which case I've never heard of him. Wednesday provided us with some fantastic finishes, and Saturday we get division leaders clashing. Thanks Tom for providing the Ball State write up. Now bet on these games. All of them! We'll help. Your January 18th picks:
Toledo at Akron (-1)
Toledo is good. Real good. How good? Good enough that they shouldn't have trailed Buffalo 39-32 at the half on Wednesday. The Rockets regrouped though and Juice Williams drained a jumper as time expired to give UT a 69-67 victory over the Bulls. The 69 points Toledo scored on Wednesday was their weakest offensive output of the season, against a Buffalo defense that's middling at best. Still, the Rockets are the MAC's highest scoring team, dropping in north of 84 points a contest. That's nearly nine points better than the league's second most potent offense, Central Michigan. The Rockets like to run, and while those 84 points a game are good for 15th in all of Division 1, they yield nearly 75 points a game, dead last in the MAC. Akron is considerably more balanced. The Zips have rattled off five consecutive wins, and raced out to a 3-0 record in the conference. Akron's last four victories are by an average of less than four points per game. Still they've notched perhaps the most impressive win of the conference season, an 83-80 win at Ohio on January 12th. Look, on paper Toledo is the better team. Still, they clearly have have struggled against inferior opponents after a superb effort versus Kansas on December 30th. What followed was a loss at Western Michigan and a victory at home against Central Michigan in a game still in doubt with four minutes remaining. I'll take the more consistent Zips in a tight one. Take Akron, lay the point.
Miami (-0.5) @ Ball State
No game is a must-win in college basketball until March. But this is very important as mid-January goes. Miami needs to try to keep some its momentum from well-played, competitive games that have left it at 1-2, the losses to Western Michigan and Akron. Ball State is more or less in free fall, though even at 0-3, losses to Akron, Ohio, and Kent State should carry no shame. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, the last of the three was the least competitive, the 20 point loss at Ohio on Wednesday. In my mind there's no question who's been the better team this season. I'm also getting tired of being an apologist for Ball State, though to be fair, the two teams' results against Akron are quite comparable. I'm a baseball guy for life, where happily the Win statistic for pitchers has come under considerable scrutiny. The notion that some guys "know how to win" is likely ridiculous in most cases. College basketball is a team game, with a fair amount of year to year stability in both rosters and coaches. The coaches matter in-game, but probably more so for game preparation and strategy. I do think that as a season goes on, you can see which teams and coaches know "how to win." I certainly can't say that about this young Miami team, but the Cardinals seem to know how to lose. They may be one or two losses away from mentally packing it in for the season.
The pick: Miami -0.5, though I'm not happy about it. One division I win for BSU - I'm going to keep harping on that until it increases.
Kent State at Buffalo (-4.5)
BATTLE FOR THIRD PLACE IN THE MAC EAST. If you consider it, that's where the winner of this game will likely finish. Ohio and Akron are clearly the class of the division, and while both Kent State and Buffalo have shown they'll be a tough out when it comes time for the conference tournament, neither are on the level of the Zips and Bobcats. Kent State has opened up conference play 2-1 with wins over Ball State and Northern Illinois, and an inspired effort in a loss at home against Ohio. Kent State has lost four games by eight points or fewer against teams with an RPI of 150 or better. Buffalo, you already know, was on the losing end of the MAC's most thrilling finish of 2014, the buzzer beater in Toledo. Buffalo's a solid squad, were it not for the heartbreaker against the Rockets, they'd be 3-0 in the league. The Bulls have a blowout win over Northern Illinois and a 10 point win over Eastern Michigan under their belt. Buffalo's 6-0 at home this season, and will pull away from Kent State cruising to an easy win. Take the Bulls, lay the points.
Eastern Michigan (-5) at Central Michigan
Iggles and Chips in Mount Pleasant. Eastern Michigan's last contest they moved to 2-1 in league play holding Western Michigan to a frigid 37 points, blowing out the Broncos by 19. Eastern Michigan plays lockdown defense, and gives up less than 64 points a game, second in the conference. EMU will challenge Toledo for the MAC West crown, and Central Michigan will be small potatoes. The Chips are off to an 0-3 start in MAC play, and have not won a game this season against a team with an RPI better than 240. They are second in scoring in the MAC at 75 points a game, but that number is largely skewed by the 127 they scored against Marygrove on January 3rd. With Akron looming on the schedule next Wednesday, this could end up being a trap game for the Eastern Michigan. Could be, but won't, they'll cruise. Take the Eagles, lay the points.
Ohio (-6) at Northern Illinois
I liked this at -7, I love it at -6. Ohio's one conference loss this season is against Akron, and it was a thriller, 83-80. Their last time out the Bobcats ran away from Ball State 71-51 on January 15th. With three wins in the RPI top 100, and an offense that scores nearly 73 points an outing, Ohio shouldn't have any trouble with NIU. The Bobcats have the number three defense in the MAC. The Huskies on the other hand are dead last in offense, scoring a meager 63 points a game. January 25th Ohio travels to Eastern Michigan for a blockbuster matchup. Don't expect the Bobcats to slip up against Northern Illinois and Bowling Green before then. Take Ohio, lay the 6.