MAC at the Movies: Line Drills February 8th

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

"Well, nobody's perfect."

Last weekend my girlfriend and I settled down from an evening of her cooking and me eating when I summoned her to the television so she could watch a slam dunk I was already convinced she cared nothing about.  While I watched the replay wide-eyed, she mustered only mock enthusiasm and declared the reverse flush, "inconceivable."  At this point I could feel her staring a hole into the side of my head while I quickly tried to identify why that word should jump out at me.  As tactfully as I could (that is to say, not at all) I turned to her and said, "I don't get it."

She replied, "You know, from The Princess Bride."

Now what followed is a battle I have waged for 20 years.  Perhaps you've already guessed that I responded, "Actually I've never seen The Princess Bride."  Her face went pale, she managed only to repeat the word, "inconceivable" and she took to Facebook to declare, "I don't even know this man."

I figured this was the best opportunity to expose the other skeleton of a misspent childhood more focused on the play by play and color commentating talent of Ken "Hawk" Harrellson and Tom "Wimpy" Paciorek during late 80's early 90's White Sox games, than that of playing dress up time in fantasy land.  So I dropped the other bombshell on her.

"And look, while we're at it, I've never seen The Goonies either."

Now loyal readers, I'll remind you that Line Drills is for entertainment purposes only.  In the past, I admit, I've had a legit gambling problem.  I've shared the details of that addiction with my lady friend.  Her reaction to the disgusting, lurid details of the life of a degenerate bettor paled in comparison to my lack of exposure to the aforementioned 212 minutes of "cinematic brilliance."  She demanded an explanation.

We're both white so we're Tom Hanks fans as is decreed in the official charter.  I simply explained that I've never much been a fan of fantasy movies and have been more drawn to films rooted in reality.  "You know, like Big."

The joke fell flat.

I then explained that there was some truth to the first half of that statement.  In the most obnoxious way possible, I painted myself as a cinephile so advanced at a young age that when The Princess Bride was released in 1987, I was already consuming the true staples of American cinema.  The Godfather, Citizen Kane, Raging Bull.  I didn't have time for dragons, or fairies, or whatever other varieties of whimsy are present in the films of her childhood.  Of course she's never seen the films on my short list, a litany of truly greater cinematic felonies on her record.

She was sweet enough to suggest I watch Glengarry Glen Ross that evening.  On the couch.  Alone.  I thanked her for the suggestion but informed her I would be watching Jamal Crawford crossover videos on YouTube and texting asinine dunk contest ideas with my brother.  (His best: "I want to see Javale McGee throw one down from the back of a Harley Davidson driven by Michelle Obama while "Bombs over Baghdad" is playing in the background.")

We found some common ground the next day over Cocktail when she asked for a "cuba libre."  I asked, "Why didn't you just say rum and coke?"

So what does this have to do with betting on MAC basketball?

Though it's not an interest I kept up with, there's truth to being attracted to more intellectually challenging films at a young age.  The same can be said for basketball.  I grew up in Big Ten country.  Glenn Robinson, Calbert Cheaney, Acie Earl, Shawn Respert, Michael Finley, Evan Eschmeyer, Calvin Booth, Voshon Leonard, these are the names that dominated the television when I was a child.  The reason for that is one indisputable truth that survives today.  You want the truth?  You can't handle the truth!

It is very easy to be a Big Ten fan.

Entire weeks are planned around a mid-week game.  The last thing that's worried about however, is how to watch the game.  Dare I say it's taken for granted.  All you have to do is flip on the regional ESPN affiliate and round up the usual suspects.  The MAC fan though, the MAC fan knows!  He knows the ins and outs of online streaming!  He runs the beta tests to ensure that when tip off comes around he'll be watching moving pictures instead of still photos of the previous three weeks in sports.  The point?  It's a bigger commitment.

If you're reading this article you've graduated from the simplicity of Big Ten hoops.  Whether it's recruiting or the on the court product, you like to dig a little bit for your info.  Anyone can become a Big Ten/ACC/Pac 12/SEC expert with a little bit of work.  You're more advanced than that.  You've reached a heightened level of college hoops awareness.  Most importantly you're on Hustle Belt.  Because there's two things a true MAC fan must do.  First, read Line Drills.  That's a given.  Second, bet on MAC hoops.  You know what it takes to bet on MAC hoops?

Brass balls.

Your February 8th picks:

Kent State at Eastern Michigan (-5.5)

"Funny like I'm a clown?  I amuse you?"

Kent State moved from bad to laughable after dropping their fourth consecutive contest, a 50-49 eyesore against Northern Illinois on January 29th.  Luckily for the Golden Flashes, they rebounded just in time to score a 60-57 victory against Akron last week, contributing to our epic 0-5 Saturday.  Since then Kent State has returned to doing Kent State things, falling to Central Michigan 78-73 on Wednesday.

Kent State takes up residence in the basement of MAC East, but they're not the worst team in the league.  They step their game up against top tier MAC competition.  Along with the Akron win they went to the wire at MAC West leader Toledo before falling 81-78 on January 26th.  The problem with the Golden Flashes lies in uninspired performances against lesser foes.  The loss at Central Michigan marked the Chips first conference win of the season.  In the loss to Northern Illinois, KSU blew a 13 point lead with under 13 minutes to play.

"I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender."

What happened Eastern Michigan?  The Iggles looked to challenge Toledo in the MAC West, standing at 11-6 overall and 3-1 in league play following 72-59 win at Central Michigan on January 18th.  With the league's top ranked defense and a stout RPI fueled by an impressive non-conference strength of schedule, the West figured to be a two team race with the Eagles and Rockets.  Since the win over the Chippewas, EMU has lost 4 of 5, settling into the middle of the pack behind Western Michigan in the division.

In all fairness to EMU, this stretch is the most difficult of the conference season for the Eagles.  Two of those losses were to Akron, and the Eagles nearly pulled off the upset, tied with the Zips with just 42 seconds remaining before falling 52-48 on Wednesday.  EMU also lost to an Ohio squad nipping at the heels of Akron in the MAC West.  Ball State is up after KSU for the Eagles before Toledo comes to Ypsilanti.  A pair of wins before the matchup with the Rockets could make for a fantastic game a week for Saturday.  The reeling Eagles need these next two.

The pick: Saturday, take the Eagles, lay the 5.5. I can't get over how bad the losses are for the Golden Flashes, and I think EMU still has something to prove this season.  If they can't win by six at home against Kent State, you've got my permission to give on up them for the season.

Miami (+10.5) at Ohio

"Get busy livin', or get busy dyin'."

Miami is a tough team to read.  At 5-4 in league play the argument could be made that they're exceeding expectations simply by treading water.  Since winning three straight conference games they've dropped two of their last three, most recently 53-41 to Northern Illinois on February 4th.  In that contest Miami shot a frigid 1-15 from behind the arc.  The RedHawks are dead last in the MAC in three point shooting, so perhaps it would behoove the team to lay off from long distance.

Nevertheless the RedHawks are just a game behind Ohio and Buffalo for second place in the MAC East.  A win Saturday against Ohio, and another February 12th against Buffalo, and Miami will be firmly entrenched in the two spot behind Akron in the division.  Not too bad for a team that opened the season 0-4 and is still fighting to get back to .500 overall.

"These go to eleven."

Ohio is every bit as good as Akron.  Yeah I said it!  And I said it on the heels of the Bobcats putting up a clunker, getting slapped around at Western Michigan 90-74 last Wednesday.  I think the 95-90 win over Toledo last Saturday is more indicative of what Ohio brings to the table.  I don't want to say "must win," but with road matchups against Toledo, Buffalo and Akron comprising three of their next four, it's an important one for OU.

Ohio can run, and run the Bobcats will.  Expect this game to be high scoring with a OU squad that's third in the conference in offense against a Miami defense that's middling at best.  Assuming Ohio can get past Miami, we will see plenty of jockeying for position the next couple weeks as multiple teams challenge Akron's division lead.  Western Michigan needs to become a distant memory for the Bobcats, as winning the MAC East and making a run in the conference tournament is a very real possibility.

The pick: I think Ohio wins this game, and easily, but 10.5 is just too much to lay.  Tommy's taking a page out of my book and laying the points in the Toledo/Ball State game, so I'll take a page out of his and pick up the 10.5 the RedHawks are getting.

Toledo (-9) at Ball State

"I am your number one fan."

Annie Wilkes said it best.  Tommy weighs in on the Rockets and Cardinals.

The Rockets roll into Muncie, unsurprisingly as the biggest road favorites in conference play this year.  We hope our loyal readers have been following the excellent discussion threads elsewhere that have well documented Toledo's schedule - much easier in the second half of league play than in the first, so potentially conducive to running the table (and making a more serious run at an at-large bid).  Teams (and players) can certainly show their character over the course of the year, and part of the reason this Toledo club is only 2-7 against the spread in league play is what seems to be comfort with a medium-sized lead.  They've played - and won - a lot of games living in that 6-12 point margin, displaying both an aptitude for holding the lead and an apparent lack of inclination to post a blowout.

For betting purposes, it's potentially notable that all three of Toledo's losses have come on the road.  Meanwhile, the dismal Cardinals are 1-3 at home in league play, but have covered the spread twice, both times as heavy underdogs (against Akron and Buffalo).  And based on how they got beat up by both Buffalo and Akron in the road rematches, there is plausibility to the theory that Ball State may have something going at home.  Maybe Ball State looks at their schedule, sees five of the next seven at home, and decides they're playing for pride starting now.  Maybe Toledo gets caught looking ahead to the Ohio rematch next week and gets ambushed, or just barely does enough to win.

The pick: Toledo -9. Or maybe i'll try to stick to my refusal to be a Ball State apologist any more.  Toledo has indeed lost twice on the road in conference, but all four of their road games have been against tough teams.  The two they won (Miami and Akron) were by 13 & 14 points.  This is the first road 'test' against one of the lower tier teams.  The choice is a 2-7 ATS team or a 1-8 straight up team.  It's Scylla and Charybdis, people.  Don't shoot the messenger.

Buffalo (-5) at Central Michigan

"I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!"

Buffalo's not getting their due.  They're smashing teams and are players in the MAC East race along with Akron and Ohio.  The last two wins for the Bulls were blowouts, running over Ball State 69-48 on February 5th, and blasting Western Michigan 84-63 on January 29th.  Nestled in there is a road loss to Bowling Green, 74-68 on February 2nd, a game the Bulls gave away in the final two and a half minutes.

Ohio is on the horizon for the Bulls.  After Central the Bulls travel to Miami before returning home for the Bobcats.  With the logjam at the top of the division, much like Ohio, this Saturday is critical for the Bulls if they're to catch Akron.  In the loss to Bowling Green Javon McCrea scored 14 points.  McCrea should be putting down 20, particularly against lesser competition.  I expect to see that on Saturday.

"I see dead people."

Damn it, damn it, damn it.  Well, despite my wishes Central Michigan managed to win one, thanks Kent State!  The Chips snapped their 8 game losing streak on Wednesday thanks to the Golden Flashes.  That means Ball State and Central Michigan are knotted up in the MAC cellar at a win a piece.  Don't expect the Chips to notch their second win against a considerably more talented Buffalo squad.

So, there's not a lot to look forward to in Mount Pleasant.  Circle February 19th and March 1st on your calendar.  Those are the Central Michigan/Ball State games.  The Battle for the Bottom in the MAC.  Central does go to Kent State on February 15th however, so it's not outside the realm of possibility that the Chips come away with a second win.  HOW DID YOU BEAT AKRON, KENT STATE??  Sorry, this is about Central Michigan.  The Chips are bad.

The pick: Lock of the week.  Buffalo learned a lesson after the Ball State loss.  Losing on the road to Bowling Green is one thing, but Central Michigan?  I don't see it.  I expect Buffalo to win and cover the 5.5.

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