The 2014 Men's MAC Basketball Tournament officially tips off Monday night with Ball State at Ohio. This 12-5 matchup may not be sexy on paper, but that doesn't mean it should be overlooked. While these two teams couldn't be further apart, if there's one thing to keep in mind about the MAC Tournament it's that anything can happen.
Since the MAC started allowing all of its teams into the conference tournament in 2000 (when the conference actually had 13 members) a 12 or lower seed has won a first round game three times: 13 CMU over 4 Akron 75-72 in 2000, 12 CMU over 6 Ohio 65-56 in 2002 and 12 NIU over 5 EMU 55-52 in 2012.
2014 MAC Tournament Coverage
2014 MAC Tournament Coverage
That's a fairly decent success rate for such an improbable match up. But, it's also important to note that of those three higher seeds to lose in the opening round Akron was 17-11, Ohio was 17-11 and EMU was 14-18. This year's No. 5 seeded Ohio Bobcats wrapped up a 21-10 regular season with an overtime win on the road on Saturday.
It's safe to bet that this squad is better than those other teams. The 'Cats feature one of the conference's best All-Time 3-point marksman Nick Kellogg, who needs just one more made 3-pointer to set a new MAC Career record (he's tied with former Miami guard Landon Hackim with 277 made). They're also one of the more efficient offenses in the conference and feature a nice balanced half-court attack.
Meanwhile Ball State just wrapped up its worst season in program history. Two of the team's five total wins came against non-Division I opponents, and the squad is among the worst in the nation both offensively and defensively. Factor in the lack of a true offensive weapon (senior forward Chris Bnd leads the team in scoring, averaging just 12.3 point-per-contest) and it's hard to see any legitimate shot the Cardinals have of pulling off the upset.
While forwards Bond, Majok Majok and Franko House provide BSU with an impressive frontcourt, the guard play on Ball State leaves too-much to be desired. Guards Jesse Berry and Zavier Turner were just dominated by Northern Illinois in the season finale. While the bigs put up decent rebounding numbers, none of them are especially good defenders and none possess the game-changing abilities of other bigs around the league, such as Ohio's Maruice Ndour.
The first-year Ohio Bobcat finished the regular season ranked in the top 10 in the conference in scoring, rebounding and top 5 in blocks. Ndour has held his own against much better bigs than Ball State's, and combined with one of the best defensive-minded bigs in the conference (center Jon Smith) and a high-upside young wide-bodied power forward (Antonio Campbell) and BSU's strength becomes a wash at best.
Expect Monday night to look near identical to the January 15 matchup between these two. Ohio beat Ball State by 20 in a game that saw the 'Cats entire bench get action, including first-year walk-on point guard Drew Crabtree, a player who has played in just five games all year, the last one being against Ball State.
Oh, and let's not forget that Ohio has history on its side. Ohio has won its first round game all four times it's been the five seed since the conference expanded the tournament.