"Difficult to see. Always in motion is the future."
Q-gazing loves to examine past trends to help predict future results, but this week we're taking a brief break before gearing up for the big final push. Even the serious college basketball fan may currently be partially unaware of, or completely lost in, the current postseason tournament landscape. So this week we present a brief diversion from MAC tournaments past to join Master Yoda and look to the future, working our way through the 2014 national postseason tournaments. We also offer thoughts on which MAC teams may end up there, and how they might fare.
A few general notes apply. First, Q-gazing is staffed exclusively by MAC homers, and we're pretty happy with the overall level of competition we're seeing this year. So get ready for a little optimism coming your way. Second, note that we can't predict exact matchups since the brackets won't be released for many weeks to come. So we'll just have to guess based mostly on what we've seen in our MAC children, and a little based on past results.
We'll do things in opposite order from the usual, since we need a MAC champion before we can figure out who's going where in the NIT, CBI and CIT.
MAC tournament tiebreaker notes:
- A two-loss week results in a plummet to the five seed for the Akron Zips, who lose out to Ohio on the tiebreaker. The two split their home-and-home this year, each winning on the other team's floor. But Akron is 0-3 against Western Michigan / Buffalo / Toledo, whereas Ohio is 2-3. So no matter which of those is the top team, Ohio is ahead based on its wins over Toledo and Buffalo.
- Kent State and Northern Illinois split their series this year, and both beat Miami. Miami rates at the bottom of the three team tie at 6-8, and now Kent State is at the top based on best win (Akron).
- Western Michigan retains the one seed over Toledo based on their head-to-head win earlier this season. With only four regular season games remaining, it's looking very much like the winner of the March 1st rematch between these two will go into the MAC tournament as the top seed.
What the MAC tournament might look like if played today:
12 Ball State @ 5 Akron
2014 head-to-head: The Zips and Cards met in the conference opener way back on January 8th, in a nail-biter in Muncie won by Akron 72-68.
Prediction: If this game were played today, we'd strongly consider Ball State in an upset. The matchup isn't bad for Ball State, as Majok Majok can match up against Demetrius Treadwell, the athletic Chris Bond is a reasonable foil for Quincy Diggs, and that leaves the Zavier Turner-led backcourt against Akron's sharpshooters. But Akron will be home for three of its last four games, and probably favored in all four. The bloom is off the Zips' rose, but they'll get their house in order enough to win this game.
11 Central Michigan @ 6 Eastern Michigan
2014 head-to-head: The Eagles won 72-59 in Mount Pleasant on January 18th; they rematch this Wednesday.
Prediction: Upset city! Da'Shonte Riley's value is minimized against a team that doesn't try too hard to score inside anyway. The Eagles are talented but inconsistent on offense, and a Chips team that has dynamic scoring potential isn't a bad matchup as they can put points on the board. The Chippewas are weak on defense but Glenn Bryant has faded as an offensive force in the front-court. Critics of Keno Davis are furious as Central Michigan shocks Rob Murphy and company in Round 1.
10 Bowling Green @ 7 Kent State
2014 head-to-head: Kent State won at home on a last-second 3-pointer on February 12th. These teams also complete the season series this Wednesday.
Prediction: It's another first round upset, as the Falcons use their front-court superiority to push around the Golden Falcons. Both have been inconsistent, with Kent State having some recent momentum. We're banking a little on looser officiating in the post-season, and having that benefit the more physical team, even though they're on the road.
9 Miami @ 8 Northern Illinois
2014 head-to-head: NIU won 53-41 on February 4th.
Prediction: The Huskies are turnover prone and can be sloppy on offense. But they've been the better team this season, and Jordan Threloff is coming into his own as a top player in the MAC. Miami has been fading fast and can be shut down by the Northern Illinois defense. Huskies advance.
8 Northern Illinois vs. 5 Akron
2014 head-to-head: Akron won at the JAR 62-54 a week ago.
Prediction: We've said it before - the Huskies match up really well against the Zips, especially with the Zips struggling on offense and the Huskies possessing such strength on defense. Akron would be disappointed to be in this game. We know Dambrot has had success, but there's a changing of the guard in the MAC this year, and it's highlighted with an NIU upset here.
10 Bowling Green vs. 11 Central Michigan
2014 head-to-head: The Falcons won 67-57 back on January 15th.
Prediction: We really think the Falcons are the more complete team, and they've got the multi-player front-court strength to repeatedly eat up the Chippewas inside. It would be a thriller, with heroics from the Chippewa backcourt, but Bowling Green moves on.
8 Northern Illinois vs. 4 Ohio
2014 head-to-head: Ohio won 65-46 on January 18th.
Prediction: The Huskies' run ends against a deep, talented, and rested Bobcats team. NIU completes an unexpectedly competitive year and loses almost no one of consequence as they enter an optimistic offseason for the first time in forever. But in this one, Ohio romps.
10 Bowling Green vs. 3 Buffalo
2014 head-to-head: Bowling Green beat Buffalo 74-68 on February 2nd. They will play again four days before this, in the last game of the regular season.
Prediction: It's tempting to pick the Falcons to roll on, given that they've already beaten the Bulls this year. But come on - we're already going to be subjected to urine drug testing for having them come this far. Here's predicting a low-scoring brawl, with Buffalo coming out on top.
4 Ohio vs. 1 Western Michigan
2014 head-to-head: The Broncos have swept the February series with two convincing wins.
Prediction: If you missed Q-gazing last week, go back and do your homework. When a team sweeps another team in the regular season, and especially when they do it in convincing style, they're overwhelming favorites to win a third matchup. Since we're the ones that took hours to crunch those numbers (really), we're not going away from them. The Broncos move on.
3 Buffalo vs. 2 Toledo
2014 head-to-head: The Juice Brown buzzer-beater on January 15th gave Toledo a win at home against a spirited Buffalo team.
Prediction: The Bulls seem to have found something in the late season. Maybe that thing is Javon McCrea, whom they've learned to feed repeatedly. Maybe it's a little better team defense. But we're just not sure we can trust a Toledo team that can't put anyone away and doesn't play good defense. We're taking Buffalo.
3 Buffalo vs. 1 Western Michigan
2014 head-to-head: Buffalo stomped the Broncos 84-63 on January 29th.
Prediction: Honestly, this is the final that Q-gazing would love to see. No Akron, Miami, Ohio, or Kent State. It's the new kids in town, duking it out for the automatic berth. It's the Kraken and fiery coach Bobby Hurley. It's the seniors Whittington and Brown. It's a double-overtime instant classic. And it's Western Michigan moving on.
With all those results in mind, let's have a look at what the MAC schedule would look like after March 15th.
The NCAA Tournament
The Western Michigan Broncos enter the NCAA tournament as the MAC's lone representative. In this scenario, they're probably heading in at about 23-9 overall, a very respectable team but sporting an RPI of about 90. Their seeding will depend a bit on how many lower RPI teams score upset bids, but we see the Broncos landing at either a 13 or 14 seed. Let's give them a 13 seed, pitting them against a four in the first round. This is a top-15 team nationwide, and while the senior-led Broncos have experience and a variety of scorers, there's no good reason to think they'll beat, say, Virginia on a neutral court.
Prediction: Our money is on Western Michigan covering the spread and putting up a reasonably good fight. But coach Hawkins' squad bows out gracefully after the first game.
The National Invitational Tournament is now owned and operated by the NCAA. It is run in a seeded, fully bracketed format, which will come as a surprise to those who followed it in the past but haven't looked for the last few years. The NIT has 32 spots, but promises automatic berths to any regular season conference champions that fail to qualify for the NCAA tournament. At Q-gazing we're fond of this rule, as it means that smaller conference teams get rewarded for all their hard play in January and February.
The automatic bids do lower the number of ‘at-large' selections chosen by the NIT. Last year there were ten auto-bids, and that's probably around the number we would expect year to year. So while the NCAA gets roughly the top 60 teams in the land, plus some lower quality conference tournament champions, the NIT will take about the next 20 or so teams in overall quality as their at-large bids.
In 2013, the only MAC team to qualify for the NIT was the deserving and outstanding Ohio Bobcats squad. This highlights the fact that these are still very high quality teams, with double-digit RPI ratings for sure.
We're going to go ahead and award an NIT berth to Toledo. Their outstanding RPI will make them a fairly high seed - perhaps a three. Toledo can get up and down the floor and score from any position, which figures to be a matchup problem for many teams in the range of a 60-ish RPI. At a three seed, they may even draw one of the lower tier regular season conference champions, a matchup we like for the Rockets.
Prediction: The MAC hasn't had great success in recent years in the NIT, nor did the conference fare well out-of-conference this year against high quality opponents. We see Toledo winning their first round game, though it may well be a high-scoring overtime shootout. The Rockets then lose in the second round on the road at a number two seed - likely to be a very high quality team like Missouri or Maryland.
The College Basketball Invitational (CBI)
As best we can tell, the CBI is next in the pecking order of postseason tournaments, as it was the first of the newer tournaments (established in 2008). Each of the remaining two tournaments are privately run, and figure to choose teams based partially on quality and partially on ability to play competitive and profitable basketball games in front of home arenas.
The CBI is a 16-team tournament. Continuing with our extrapolations, we're now looking at teams that would be ranked around 80-100 in Division I basketball. But a team like Eastern Michigan - again, frankly not so likely to attract attention anyway unless they get up to a good 18 or 19 wins - figures to be viewed less favorably by these private tournaments once their average home attendance of 1000 is factored in.
Ohio is a natural fit for this tournament. They're a quality team with a sizeable fan base, and will have one of the better RPI's remaining of the teams still available. And here at Q-gazing, we like Ohio's chances in the CBI. There is a risk that the senior-heavy team will be disappointed at not having advanced further, and could get caught off guard by an inferior opponent. If they're able to win a game and get the feel-good postseason momentum going, we like the way they match up against teams in this range.
Prediction: We see Ohio winning three games in the CBI, and finally losing in the (best two out of three) finals. A very nice post-season run for a very talented team.
The CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament (CIT)
Finally there's the CIT, which started the year after the CBI (kicking off in 2009). MAC fans may actually be more familiar with this tournament, as it intentionally (we think) caters to mid-majors, and has seen quite a few MAC participants. Kent State has played three times in the CIT (in only five years of the CIT's existence), and Buffalo twice.
The CIT expanded last year to 32 teams, and is played in an old-school NIT format (i.e. nobody really knows what's happening). With the mid-major focus, however, they're digging a bit deeper into the RPI talent pool, bypassing the down teams from major conferences that will still have acceptable RPI numbers.
Both Akron and Buffalo would seem to be easy fits for this field. Eastern Michigan is sliding, but will be favored in what are likely four remaining home games (three regular season plus one first round MAC tournament). An RPI top 100 or so team will be hard to leave home - here's guessing that the Eagles also get the call to the CIT, but in a road-only capacity.
Kent State has a big fan base, a nice arena, and a three-year history in this tournament. But they've got only 15 wins, and will be on the road for three of their last four in conference. We don't see a CIT invitation in Kent State's future unless they can win about five more games between the regular season and conference tournament.
Predictions: Akron is really not looking like a team that can make a run in any tournament, plus they've still got to worry about running into a guard-heavy team like VCU - or even the South Carolina team they faced twice in December - that can destroy them with press. Because we think they may get a game at home, we'll give Akron one close ugly win before a road loss and quiet second round exit.
Buffalo we like a little better to make some noise. McCrea is not only playing like a man possessed, but also a man interested in playing basketball next year. He'll have the eye of some scouts and will be a load for some unsuspecting small conference opponent. Let's give the Bulls two home wins before they go on the road and lose in the third round.
Eastern Michigan will be the team that surprises. Their 2-3 zone will be death to some opponents who've never faced it, and especially if they can avoid some of the relative rebounding disadvantages they face in the MAC, the Eagles can make noise in March. Unfortunately the offense isn't clicking well enough for sustained success, but Q-gazing is going all-in on MAC successes in the post-season and predicting two road wins for Rob Murphy and the crew before suffering a third round loss.
Next week: get ready. It's ambitious, but with daily polling, we're planning to crowd source the MAC tournament. Participation will be required, loyal reader. And trust us - given the expected voter turnout, every vote will most definitely count.