We were 2-4 last week and you know what Vegas? You're welcome. We've demonstrated we're not scared of digging an early hole. Football season looked hopeless after starting 2-10, but we rattled off a Toledoesque 10 consecutive winning weeks and finished the season in the black. We've taken that egg and rolled it over into MAC hoops. Conference play is heating up, and we've got four good ones on Saturday. Ok fine, two good ones, but damn it we're betting on all of them. How much are we betting? How much should you bet? Whatever makes you nervous. Your January 11th picks.
Eastern Michigan (+4) at Buffalo
Game of the weekend? Game of the weekend potential for sure. Eastern Michigan is going to be a tough out in the MAC West this season. That 9-5 is a lot more impressive than your typical 9-5. The 5 came against UMass, Purdue, Kentucky, Syracuse, and Duke. The closest the Eagles came to knocking off one of those opponents was the 69-64 loss they endured to the Boilermakers on December 7th. Look at the margin of victory of some of the other losses, and it may be hard to give EMU their due. We all know though that a rigid non-conference schedule pays dividends once league play commences. Last week's win against Bowling Green may not seem impressive, but it's a road victory against a Falcon defense yielding just 64 points a game this season. Karrington Ward, Ray Lee, and Glenn Bryant lead a balanced offense with Lee shooting better than 43 percent behind the arc. Buffalo figures to be conference players this year. The Bulls opened conference play with a resounding 67-46 win over Northern Illinois on January 8th. Javon McCrea has delivered so far this season, dropping in over 17 points a contest. McCrea was especially impressive against Northern, with 14 points, 8 rebounds, 8 blocks, and 4 assists. He won't be able to do it by himself against EMU though, and will need significant contributions from Joshua Freelove and Will Regan. Buffalo has not played a team this season in the top 50 of the RPI. EMU has played 4. That and the four points are enough for me. Take Eastern Michigan and the points.
Western Michigan (+1.5) at Miami
ROW THE BOAT. Wait we're not doing that anymore are we? Western Michigan is riding a three game winning streak after knocking off Toledo 87-76 on Wednesday. That was immediately preceded by a three game losing streak as the Broncos fell to Northwestern, Missouri, and Drake. In those three games guard David Brown, the MAC's leading scorer who was doing his best John Starks routine, shot a combined 3 for 23 from downtown. In the three games since, 5 for 13. Brown and Shayne Whittington provide the Broncos with perhaps the best inside-outside punch in the MAC, depending on how Brown's trigger finger feels. Whittington is scoring better than 14 points a game and pulling down nine boards. Miami started off conference play on a high note, scoring a road win, 77-70 over Central Michigan on Wednesday. Miami does nothing particularly well, but has protected their home court (3-0) and played tight games at UMass (RPI: 4) and at Notre Dame (RPI: 79.) Will Felder, Reggie Johnson, and Geovonie McKnight shoulder the scoring load for the RedHawks, but it's a RedHawks squad third from the bottom of the conference in scoring at under 66 points a game. Western Michigan on the other hand, is third from the top. This line baffles me, I see Western Michigan as the overwhelming favorite, but there's a reason that Vegas has such tall buildings. Gotta go with my gut though, take the Broncos and the 1.5.
Central Michigan at Toledo (-16.5)
No, maybe this is game of the weekend! The MAC's top two scoring squads clash Saturday evening and there will be more points than a CMU/Toledo football game. (And we know that's saying a lot.) Toledo's 85 points a game is actually good for 12th in all of Division 1 hoops. The Rockets rattled off 12 consecutive wins to begin the season, before playing Kansas tight until the final couple minutes and falling 93-83. UT followed that up with a bit of letdown to open MAC play, leaving Kalamazoo on the wrong side of a 87-76 decision against Western Michigan. Don't let that confuse you though, Toledo thus far is the class of the MAC, and is certainly the team to beat in the West. Toledo has five players who average double figures in scoring and are an eyelash behind Kent State as the best three point shooting team in the conference. Despite such prolific scoring, junior Juice Brown has struggled of late. In the loss at Western Michigan he shot just 3 for 13, in the loss against Kansas just 3 for 13. Central Michigan should help him bust that slump. The Chips enter Saturday's matchup 7-6 overall, but have nary a win worth crowing over. The most impressive victory for CMU this season is a 90-76 home win over Cal State Northridge (RPI: 249) on November 23rd. Their strength of schedule is 297, and I think they're in for a rude awakening against the Rockets. If the Chips are to stay in this game, they'll need contributions outside of Chris Fowler and John SImons. This game will be the MAC's highest scoring contest of the weekend, and it will go to the Rockets. By more than 16.5. Take Toledo, lay the points.
Ball State (+11.5) at Kent State
In case you didn't read our MAC football betting column Spread Offense last season, (likely because you were out supporting the BCS, Lance Armstrong, or communism), I don't pick the Ball State games. I'm an exceptionally loyal alum, so blinded by adoration for the Cardinal and White that every pick will be a homer pick. The bad is you're unable to get my pick for the Cardinals, which you desperately desire you degenerate gambler. The good is you're blessed with my unparalleled eloquence weekly, thanks to Ball State University. So you blessed, I'm blessed, he blessed, she blessed, you strong? I'm strong, we strong, who strong? Sorry, that's my inner Jameis Winston coming out. Luckily for you intrepid MAC fan, Tommy has lent his expertise so that you aren't left with a few loose singles unwagered. Enjoy.
"Huge, huge game for Kent State. They started with so much promise, then lost 3 of 4 in December, then dropped a home game to Ohio to open conference play. I realize the league season is 18 games long, but you cannot drop your first two at home and hope to compete for one of the better seeds in the tournament. I have no new analysis here - Kent State should be deeper but without stars, and Ball State has the potential to play the big boys close as they did with Akron. For Ball State it's their second consecutive opportunity to pounce on a big guy when they're down. It almost worked Wednesday, but almost doesn't count for wins & losses. One close call can build momentum, but two close calls is just two losses.
The pick: Ball State for sure. I'm shocked - Kent State has not been so good and they lost at home the other day, and Ball State lost to Akron by only 4. Best bet."