2014 MAC Women's Basketball Tournament: Round One Preview

It's Day One of #MACMadness. Here's what to expect.

The 2014 Mid-American Conference Women's Basketball Tournament begins tonight with a slate of four games.  The bottom eight seeds of the tournament will participate, with the top four of those hosting the games.  The winners of these contests will face each other in the second round of the tournament, which will be played on Wednesday afternoon in Cleveland, Ohio.

Let's cut right to the chase and see what we've got tonight...

(9) Northern Illinois at (8) Eastern Michigan -- 5:00 p.m. EST

Regular season meetings:

Jan. 12 (DeKalb, Ill.) -- Northern Illinois d. Eastern Michigan, 77-54

Mar. 2 (Ypsilanti, Mich.) -- Eastern Michigan d. Northern Illinois, 54-45

The Huskies' defense was very good in both games this year against the Eagles.  They limited EMU's freshman pair of Cha Sweeney and Janay Morton to 24 points in the 1st contest and only 19 in the second.  However, NIU's offensive production varied wildly.  Amanda Corral busted out for 30 and NIU shot nearly 50 percent in the first game, but she scored only seven and the Huskies shot under 40 percent in the trip to Ypsilanti.

The feeling here is that Northern Illinois would have been much better off if they could have earned the #8 seed.  In MAC play, they were 5-4 at home but only 1-8 on the road, and that road win was by two at 4-14 Miami.  The Eagles' home-road splits weren't nearly as pronounced, but they are coming off a huge season-defining win over Central Michigan that ought to inspire a good crowd tonight.  Of course, it should be noted here that EMU dropped the 8-9 game at home in last year's tournament.

Corral, Sweeney and Morton will be the keys to tonight's game.  For the Huskies, Corral needs to be much closer to what she was in the first meeting than the second.  For the Eagles, Sweeney and Morton must find a way to score closer to their season averages if they want to advance.

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(12) Kent State at (5) Ball State -- 7:00 p.m. EST

Regular season meetings:

Jan. 12 (Muncie, Ind.) -- Ball State d. Kent State, 55-31

Feb. 2 (Kent, Ohio) -- Kent State d. Ball State, 60-57

The first game these two played in 2014 was as ugly as it gets, particularly from the Kent State point of view.  The Flashes scored a season-worst 31 points and actually had more turnovers (32) than points.  However, KSU has become a much different (and better) team in the last two months, and that all started with the rematch with Ball State in Kent.  The Flashes scored more in the first half of the second meeting (33) than in the entire game in Muncie.  They also had 15 fewer turnovers.

KSU has now won four of their 10 games, and that includes road wins over Western Michigan and Ohio.  Meanwhile, that loss to Kent State sent the Cardinals reeling into five losses in seven games.  However, they have since recovered to win three in a row.  They ended their regular season with a very nice 13-point victory over a Toledo team that had dismantled Eastern Michigan a few days prior.

The Cardinals have enough offensive firepower to propel them to a win in this game, and they've played well against the best teams in the MAC, especially at home.  However, the Flashes aren't to be taken lightly here.  They're far better than they were a month ago, and an upset here is certainly not out of the question.

(11) Ohio at (6) Toledo -- 7:00 p.m. EST

Regular season meetings:

Jan. 26 (Athens, Ohio) -- Toledo d. Ohio, 64-62

Feb. 15 (Toledo, Ohio) -- Toledo d. Ohio, 62-58

The Rockets used their veteran leadership and experience to power through two comeback victories over the Bobcats this season.  In Athens, they trailed by 21 in the second half after shooting just 21 percent in the first, but they flipped the game on both ends of the court and survived a two-point win.  When they met the Bobcats in Toledo, they again trailed in the second half, this time by four with under 10 minutes to go.

Toledo was ice-cold from the floor in both games but somehow managed to find the touch in the second half both times.  They won the rebounding battle in both games, but turnovers were an issue for both teams in each meeting.

Toledo's been maddeningly inconsistent all season.  They won four in a row during February, then lost three straight.  They beat Eastern Michigan by 36, then lost at Ball State.  They swept the Eagles but were swept by the Broncos.  And, as noted above, they had trouble in both games with the #11-seeded Bobcats.  Meanwhile, Ohio started MAC play 3-1 but then lost 10 in a row.  They broke that streak by beating #4 seed Buffalo at home, but then they closed the regular season with three more losses, including a home game to Kent State.

The Rockets should win this game handily, given the makeup of the rosters and the environment -- Savage Arena should be filled and raucous.  But it's so hard to get a read on Toledo.  They can beat EMU at home by 36, but they also lost to 5-24 Valparaiso at home.  If I were a betting man, this is one game I'd stay as far away from as possible.

(10) Miami at (7) Western Michigan -- 7:00 p.m. EST

Regular season meetings:

Jan. 4 (Oxford, Ohio) -- Western Michigan d. Miami, 88-78

Jan. 22 (Kalamazoo, Mich.) -- Western Michigan d. Miami, 86-75 (OT)

These two opened the MAC season in Oxford, and Miami jumped out to a 7-0 lead.  After that, the season pretty much went downhill for the RedHawks.  In that game, they were outscored 51-30 for the rest of the first half.  They threatened late, closing to within three, but ultimately fell to start what ultimately became a 4-14 MAC season.  In the second meeting, Miracle Woods scored 31 for the Broncos, but they blew a 17-point lead in the second half.  However, they re-kindled a spark in the overtime and finished a season sweep of Miami.

Miami will have to find a way to quiet Miracle Woods and Marquisha Harris, who scored a combined 48 and 28 points, respectively, in the two meetings.  However, the Broncos found out that Miami has a powerful duo of its own during those games.  Hannah Robertson scored 33 during the two meetings, and Jillian Spurlock was even better with 38.  Whichever pair can re-create that magic tonight will likely lead their team to a win.

WMU enters the tournament on a three-game losing streak that followed a three-game winning streak.  Two weeks ago, the Broncos were 8-7 and needed no help to claim the 4th seed and a bye in the MAC tournament, but they finished 8-10 and have to play in the first round.  It will be interesting to gauge their mindset in the early minutes tonight.  Miami had lost eight in a row prior to winning their final game of the regular season against the Ohio Bobcats.  The RedHawks were 1-8 on the road in the MAC this season, but the one win did come at Eastern Michigan.

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Our predictions for tonight?  Wins by EMU, Ball State, Toledo and Miami...but the beauty of this is that any of these games could go either way.  #MACMadness should be in full effect tonight, and this should be the start of a fantastic tournament.

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