The Line Drills team rolls on, emboldened by our amazingly successful second week of MAC basketball prognostication. After a first week we'd sooner forget (3-9), we responded with a solid (7-5) second week. The overall mark needs work, but there are 84 MAC games yet to be played, and that's before we release our five star, guaranteed, mortal lock, free-to-the-first-100-caller double-value picks for the tournament. But you can't call the special number if you're not a diehard Line Drills fan. This shout-out is to both of you. We're feelin' the love.
To the uninitiated, a 7-5 week may seem drab. Well that's because you didn't hang out your picks on the inter-web for everyone to see. Plus if you're in Vegas, remember that you're paying 110 to earn 100 on your bets. You need to win 11 of every 21 such bets, or 52%, to break even. If we can really pick at a 58% clip (7/12), Keith and I will be picking out leopard fur coats and underemployed showgirls. Ahhh, a guy can dream.
The Tuesday theme this week asks how much you're willing to trust a batch of favored teams who will be laying significant points at home.
Akron @ Eastern Michigan (-5.5)
When Akron has the ball, Da'Shonte Riley may give their forwards fits. I could see Treadwell embracing that challenge and trying to get Riley in foul trouble early. It's also fair to say that there's a reason they call sharpshooters "zonebusters," and from that standpoint Akron can hope that one of Quincy Diggs, Jake Kretzer, Nyles Evans, or Reggie McAdams can heat up and extend the Eagles' zone to open up more inside scoring opportunities. This was the formula last year, when the Zips hit 9 three-pointers and prevented Riley from getting a single block en route to an 8-point - but comfortable - win in Ypsilanti. On the EMU offensive end, I do like the quickness edge that Mike Talley will bring to the floor. He should be able to penetrate and either score or distribute. Someone up front may need to bear some of the scoring burden as well.
The trend: 998. That's the average home attendance for Eastern Michigan this year. Come on, people, you're missing an exciting team with a great young coach! Unfortunately for those 998 fans, I just don't see this veteran Akron team being intimidated in that kind of road environment. They've won at Ball State and Ohio, and although they were both squeakers, they've proved their mettle. Akron is still 20-3 in conference play since last January and they're probably pissed off and embarrassed after the Toledo loss.
The pick: Akron +5.5. I was sitting on picking Akron anyway, expecting a 2 or 3 point spread. Do you really think the Eagles should be favored on a neutral court? That's the degree of this spread. I love an underdog story as much as anyone, and that part of me wants to see Akron stumble a little to make room for new teams at the top. It's just that I don't think Akron is interested in that story.
Bowling Green @ Ohio (-11.5)
The kids at Bowling Green must thrive under true scholar-athlete stress. Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, they went 5-2, including an overtime road loss to Xavier, while taking final exams. After that, the Falcons celebrated the completion of coursework with a 4-game skid that included MAC home losses to Eastern Michigan and Northern Illinois, averaging under 50 points in those 4 games. It's hard to imagine that same Bowling Green team, picked dead last in the east in the preseason media poll, sitting at 2-2 and having the opportunity to contend in the MAC. That opportunity may not last long - their next 7 games are against teams in the top 8 of the current Hustle Belt power poll. Meanwhile, the Bobcats have responded to the heartbreaking home loss to Akron with back-to-back wins by a total of 39 points. With an RPI of 73, Ohio is one of the MAC teams quietly positioning themselves well for the postseason. There's probably only 1 bid out there for our MAC boys at the big dance, but Ohio, Toledo (39 - you could have guessed), and... Eastern Michigan (48).
The numbers: 20 & 10. Really, Ohio has played 20 minutes of bad basketball all year - the second half against Oakland. The Falcons have played 10 good minutes since Christmas.
The pick: Ohio -11.5. Bowling Green played 10 good minutes against Western Michigan, and Anthony Henderson shot the lights out. That probably caught the Broncos by surprise - it sure as heck caught me. Let's see this offensively challenged team do the same to a Bobcat team that's been very strong defensively. I will note that other MAC teams had best not sleep on the Bowling Green defense, whose stoutness has been overshadowed by offensive ineptitude. They're allowing under 55 per game in MAC play - the Bobcats' tendency to start slow could be deadly here.
Central Michigan @ Miami (-8.5)
These two teams become the first MAC duo to complete a home & home series, and what a change there's been in only 2 weeks. I admit it - I was overly enamored with some of the out-of-conference results put up by the young Chips. Not only had they won some games, but a number of their statistics were near the top of the MAC team. Conveniently ignoring their strength of schedule, I endorsed them as a best bet against Miami on January 8th, and they promptly lost at home by 7 points. Since then, Central Michigan has lost 3 straight - all by double digit margins - while Miami has played WMU and Akron tooth-and-nail, and beaten Ball State. Miami's upside may be limited by having to play a lot of tough games against east division opponents, though they drew CMU and Bowling Green as their two west opponents that they'll play twice this year. Is it too much to dream MAC .500 in Oxford?
The number: Central Michigan did win two road games this season against division I opponents. They have a combined current RPI strength of 558. In none of their 5 road losses have they played to a final margin under this number.
The pick: Miami -8.5. I think Miami has the defensive strength at the guard position to disrupt the Chippewas' main source of scoring, and Will Felder up front should meet with minimal opposition in establishing himself as the dominant player in the game.
Northern Illinois @ Toledo (-17)
This is one of those games that is unlikely to interest you unless you're either (1) a fan of one of these teams, or (2) a pathologic gambling devotee. The question for either group is: what's the story here? Maybe Toledo is in the midst of asserting itself as the elite team in the MAC after a terrific out of conference slate, one bad half against Western Michigan, and a smackdown of Akron at the JAR. If so, ride the Rocket. Maybe Toledo played nobody except Kansas out of conference, lost to a Broncos team that just lost to Bowling Green, and caught a vulnerable Akron team on a bad day. Huskies roar. Maybe Northern Illinois is a 4-17 team that's lost by over 50 combined points in Toledo the past two years in league play. Permission for liftoff. Or maybe the Huskies are a feisty team playing tough defense whose losses this year have been exaggerated by late scoring runs in garbage time against Ohio & Buffalo. You get the idea - plenty of ways to look at this game that are actually interesting and plausible. Even though it is, really, a mismatch.
The number: This represents the biggest spread in MAC conference play so far this year. I know I'm a sucker for that many points, so I went to the data. Counting the MAC tourney last year, this NIU team has lost 17 MAC games over the past 13 months - that's a lot. Of those, only 5 (29%) were by more than 17 points... but one was the road game in Toledo last year.
The pick: Northern Illinois +17. I told you I'm a sucker for lots of points. Maybe this is a let-down game for Toledo, or one of those games where they do enough to win, but only that much.
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