The four what?
These are the four MAC teams you don't want to play right now. OHIO may have beaten Kent State, but it was just by the hairs on their cheek. Miami downed Bowling Green, Akron took care of Buffalo, and Kent State's knocking off pretty much everyone else. As the dust is starting to settle on the mayhem-filled MAC East, a clear picture is beginning to emerge as these four teams being the most dominant right now. Three of them will get byes; the fourth goes to the West division winner.
In each of their last six games, they have lost a total of five teams. One was OHIO at Western Michigan: tough place to win. Two others were in the BracketBusters: Drexel and James Madison. And the other two losses came within this quartet. Strong stuff.
Look at everybody's records in February:
Kent State 6-2
Bowling Green 2-6
Ball State 4-4
Western Michigan 5-2*
Eastern Michigan 3-4*
Central Michigan 4-4
Northern Illinois 1-7
* - They play each other today.
You might be able to include WMU in this group eventually — hell, they're probably gonna wipe EMU clean out of Kalamazoo — but the above four are the keys. They're all going to get to Cleveland, because whoever grabs the 5 seed is going to beat Toledo.
So you may want to watch these teams carefully as we head into the tournament, and this works out perfectly, because they're all gonna beat each other up and sully one another's records:
At Kent State
at Bowling Green
OHIO-Kent State was proof positive of the insanely fun basketball that's going to happen the next few weeks. The Bobcats hadn't won at Kent State since 2001, and they play there every year. It took overtime, and a Michael Porrini miss in the final seconds (something that hasn't happened lately), but they got it done. D.J. Cooper almost set his season-high assist total, which is 15, with 14 against the Flashes, but both numbers are 1-2 among all single-game highs in the conference.
The Bobcats are finally living up to the preseason hype, and you can't say they didn't improve, at least in the regular season. When they won the conference tournament last year, they were the No. 9 seed, as evidenced by their 7-9 record. Well, they're 8-6 now, so they've already bested that mark. Obviously if they flame out in the quarters, for example, then that'll suddenly be shocking.
And even with the loss, Kent State is still dangerous. A one-point home loss shouldn't raise any red flags. They've done right so far. The added punch has been some huge plays by Porrini at the end of games, and while he didn't get the buzzer-beating bucket to fall against OHIO, not everybody can be clutch forever.
And then there's Miami, who suddenly regained some desperately-needed depth. Freshman guard Quinten Rollins missed over a month with a hurt wrist, and he provided 32 minutes off the bench with nine points and six steals in their win over Bowling Green. That explains why BG couldn't put a run together. It's hard to do that when you don't have the basketball.
Finally, Akron. What a miserable start they had, going 2-5 and losing to the ilk of Northern Illinois and Eastern Michigan. No offense, teams, but looking at their current six-game winning streak (best in the MAC right now), it's hard to explain how they dropped those. It doesn't even look like the same team. That's because they re-added the services of Brett McKnight, a senior who had a whale of a time just getting eligible again for the spring semester. A guy that averaged double-figures the past two seasons was only managing about 8.8 a game, but in this winning streak he's topped that to about 13 per game.
All four teams are getting better, either by adding players or just flat-out improving. And this is probably the time (right before the tournament starts) that you want to kick it up a gear.