It's been 15 years since the Mid-American Conference sent two teams to the NCAA Tournament. Those were the days when Wally Szcerbiak and Charlie Coles were beating down the doors of the big boys.
Since then a lot has changed for the MAC. Marshall left, again. Toledo got hit with a point-shaving scandal that rocked the program to its core. Charlie Coles retired, and has since passed away, Akron turned into a MAC powerhouse, Ohio made it to the sweet sixteen, and Toledo has bounced back with a vengeance. Throughout all that time though the MAC hasn't sent more than one school to the big dance.
It's not like the conference hasn't been close. Hell, in 2013 had Ohio beaten Akron in the MAC Championship the Zips had a decent (though not great) chance of getting in with their impressive resume. But alas, though the conference continued to produce exciting teams, with a flare for pulling off upsets, it's been reduced to a one bid league.
But with March quickly approaching, and the Rockets, fully recovered from the point-shaving scandal tearing through their schedule, there is some brief hope that this could be the year. The MAC is as competitive as ever; a top-12 conference RPI proves that. Akron and Ohio are once again well on their way to 20+ win seasons, and yet somehow Toledo has managed to lose just three times all year.
With 21 wins already, one of the nation's most productive offenses, and an easy final stretch, UT could wind up with 28 wins before the MAC Tournament begins. Even if the Rockets get bounced out before the MAC Championship game that'd be a 4-loss team with an RPI in the top 30, and wins over Akron, Ohio and Cleveland State to name a few. It'd be hard for the selection committee to leave that team at home. Now, let's be realistic here, the only snowballs chance in hell the MAC has of getting two teams in is for Toledo to win out the rest of the regular season, and then lose in the MAC Tournament. If UT wins it all, neither Akron nor Ohio are worthy of an at large bid.
But how do the bracketologists see it all shaking out? Do they think anyone can beat the Rockets in the final stretch? Where do they have any of the MAC bids being seeded? Let's take a look.
First, let's begin with Chris Dobbertean SB Nation's in-house bracketologist.
BLOGGING THE BRACKET:
Dobbertean, who by the well is well aware of the MAC and its competitive nature, has the conference as a one-bid league with Toledo winning the MAC Championship and claiming the automatic bid in his latest Bracketology update (posted Friday morning). He has the Rockets seeded as a 12 seed out of the South division of the bracket. His projected opening round matchup has UT going up against that other UT, the one from Austin.
The Longhorns currently rank No. 19 in the nation and are a physical squad. Size wise, this could actually be a good matchup for the Rockets, as Texas is rather small for a power conference squad. J.D. Weatherspoon and Nathan Boothe would have their hands full with Jonathan Holmes (13.1 ppg, 7.4 reb and Cameron Ridley (10.9 ppg, 8.1 reb), but Rian Pearson, Justin Drummond and Juice Brown would cause issues for the Longhorns' backcourt. Plus, with Toledo's ability to stretch the floor and outgun opponents a hot hand from one of those three could be the keys to victory. It'd be a tough go of things for Toledo after that, with a likely 2nd round matchup against Wisconsin and in the same chunk of the bracket as Florida, George Washington & Colorado.
CBS' Jerry Palm has things shaking out slightly different in his Friday morning update. He also has Toledo winning the automatic bid, dashing any hopes of a two-bid MAC year, but has Toledo garnering a 12 seed in the East. In the same division as likely No. 1 overall seed Syracuse. Palm has UT going up against 5 seed Iowa in round 1.
This would be an interesting matchup as these two teams feature some of the most efficient and high-scoring offenses in the nation. The difference here? Iowa has got some size and also crashes the boards with the best of them. Roy Devyn Marble would be a tough matchup for Drummond, and Aaron White is a fantastic power forward that would be hard for Weatherspoon to contain. This game would feature the most action, and would really be a test to how well Toledo can play defense (the early verdict: not well).
Joe Lunardi tends to agree with Dobbertean in his Friday morning update. He also has the Rockets winning the MAC and taking a 12 seed in the South to go up against Texas in the first round. His projections would make any further advancement for Toledo even more difficult though. He has Arizona taking home the No. 1 seed in the South, with Virginia the No. 4. This would pose, in my mind, a much harder division for Toledo to make some noise in.
Of all of the match ups out there, this is easily the most interesting one. Shelby Mast's Friday morning bracketology post has Toledo as a 12 seed out of the south, going up against....Ohio State in round one. As a MAC fan this is a match up I would kill for. Any MAC on B1G match ups are great, but an Ohio MAC team vs. Ohio State is as good as it gets. The Buckeyes have shown a lot of holes in their game lately, and Ohio, a team Toledo just beat, held its own with OSU earlier this year.
Aaron Craft on Juice Brown would be a fantastic battle to watch, as would J.D. Weatherspoon going up against his former team, which is sure to bring out the best in him. Really this game would be full of fantastic match ups, and would be two of the best teams in the state of Ohio going at it for 40 minutes. It's really a can't lose situation, especially if UT could pull off the win, something I think is highly possible considering the two teams style of play.
There are of course countless other Bracketology posts out there, but these are the main ones to pay attention to. Sadly, it doesn't appear that anyone has faith in an Akron or Ohio (or NIU!) beating Toledo for the MAC Championship and the Rockets getting an at large bid.
Do you think the MAC can get two teams in this March? If so, who is the other team (besides Toledo)? LEt us know in the comment section below.