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Line Drills: Spreading the Love to MAC Basketball Fans and Previewing February 15th Matchups

Line Drills quotes romantic movies and offers an update on some season-long betting trends in MAC basketball games.

Things are pointing in the right direction for Jordan Threloff and the surprising Huskies
Things are pointing in the right direction for Jordan Threloff and the surprising Huskies
Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back to Line Drills!  Once again as a public service - because we are public servants - we present updated statistics for MAC bettors.  Here are the teams' records against the spread in conference play through February 12th...


Buffalo 9 - 2


Eastern Michigan 7 - 4
Miami 7 - 4
Northern Illinois  7 - 4
Bowling Green 6 - 4 - 1


Central Michigan 5 - 6
Ohio  5 - 6
Akron  4 - 6 - 1


Ball State 4 - 7
Kent State 4 - 7
Western Michigan 4 - 7
Toledo 3 - 8

And here are some updated statistics by common breakdown categories:

Home teams are...

37 - 29 straight up
28 - 37 - 1 against the spread

It is potentially noteworthy that pundits often talk about the wear and tear of the long season in college basketball.  Remember that through the first six conference games, home teams were 11 - 25 against the spread (i.e. covering 31 percentof the time).  A little quick math will tell you that over the five subsequent league games, home teams have rebounded to go 17 - 12 - 1 (i.e. covering 59% of games).  Remember kids - adjustment is an important skill for the young artist who seeks to make his or her career by hosting a 1-900-BET-ON-MAC line.

Favorites are...

46 - 20 straight up
28 - 37 - 1 against the spread

Favorites have had a similar rebound, though not quite as impressive.  They were 13 - 23 through six weeks (36 percent), and have been 15 - 14 - 1 (52 percent) in the last five.

Home favorites: 18 - 27 against the spread
Road favorites: 10 - 10 - 1 against the spread

A breakdown of performance by spread.  When home or away teams are favored by...

  • 0.5 - 5 points: favorites are 11 - 16 - 1 (covering 41 percent)
  • 5.5 - 10 points: favorites are 12 - 11 (52 percent)
  • At least 10.5 points: favorites are 5 - 10 (33 percent)

And finally, gulp, our record.  Line Drills is clearly, indisputably in the midst of a historic run, having posted a 5 - 1 record mid-week.  You've got to get on this train, people, or you'll be left behind at the sad, sad station in Loserville.  And there might be plenty of good seats still available - the season mark stands at 30 - 35 - 1.

In honor of Valentine's Day (and especially for those of you that may not have paid enough attention to the loved ones in your lives), today's Line Drills honors quotes from some of the most romantic movies of all time.  You can thank us later - for both the extra money in your bank accounts and the extra snuggling from your sweeties.

Ohio @ Buffalo (-4.5)

Finally these two east division powerhouses - and multiple round bye seekers - square off for the first time.  Both teams essentially played Toledo to a draw - Ohio winning once in overtime and losing by a narrow margin the second time, while Buffalo lost on the Juice Brown buzzer-beater.  Buffalo comes in with the momentum, winners of five of six.  But the Bulls have played the thinner schedule both in-conference and out, leading to a much lower current RPI (122 for Buffalo versus 74 for Ohio).

At home, Buffalo has been a destructive force in-conference, posting a 5-0 record to date with an average victory margin of 17 points.  This includes their best league win so far, a 21-point demolition of Western Michigan.  Not only is Javon McCrea posting 20 & 10 double-doubles with reckless abandon, but Bobby Hurley seems to have found a consistent guard producer in Joshua Freelove.  Freelove has been in double figures in all but two league games, though he's only shot better than 50% twice.

Ohio is just a game back of Buffalo in the east standings.  They've lost two of three, though these were stern road tests at Western Michigan and Toledo.  Add this to the home loss to Akron and it means that the Bobcats' only victory over a MAC team with a winning conference record is the 2-point miracle last-second comeback win against Eastern Michigan.  That fits the theme - this Ohio team has not put together many 40-minute dominant performances on the year.

But they eat drama for lunch, having at one point posted three consecutive wins when trailing by double-digits at the half.  Early on it looked like Ohio might have an elite defense, as they allowed an average of 59 points in their first seven MAC contests.  The stiffer competition in the last four games, however, has posted an average of 84 points against.  Lots of close games for this club - they are 7-3 but could easily be 9-2 - or 4-7 - in league play.

The line: "I wish I knew how to quit you." It may not be a Brokeback Mountain of a man-crush, but I think most of Hustle Belt is at least a little sweet on Javon McCrea, the odds-on favorite for conference player of the year.

The pick: Buffalo -4.5. They are dominant at home this year, and have the best player in the league.  And by the way, I think the absence of T.J. Hall (academic suspension) will affect Ohio's inside defense.

Bowling Green (-1.5) @ Ball State

The young and talented Falcons have lost their early conference momentum, and are coming off of two last-second losses in the past week.  While Jehvon Clarke seems to have found his stroke for Bowling Green, the frontcourt contributions of Spencer Parker and Richaun Holmes have become unpredictable.  And now a team that was competing for a #5 or #6 seed two weeks ago is looking at hitting the road in the first round of the conference tournament.

This is their big chance to turn it around against a desperate and flailing Cardinals club coming off of a poor loss to Eastern Michigan mid-week.  Ball State is 1-10 in conference and has dropped six straight, including three in a row at home.  Majok Majok, ostensibly their star player, dropped in a total of three points Wednesday.  While this was his worst game of the year, it was hardly an aberration - he's failed to hit double-digits in half the games of the season.  At this point they're relying on Chris Bond up front and hoping that either Jesse Berry or Zavier Turner heats up from long range.

The line: "To me, you are perfect.  And my wasted heart will love you." Keith and other Cardinals fans may feel the kind of desperate longing that was expressed to Keira Knightly in Love, Actually.

The pick: Bowling Green -1.5. Better talent, better season, and at least a little hope for a salvageable season.

Miami @ Western Michigan (-7)

The RedHawks and Broncos face off in a rematch of a spectacular thriller on January 11th, won by Western Michigan 78-77 in overtime.  David Brown scored 25 and Connar Tava added 22 for the Broncos in that one, and those two have been hot again lately, leading the Broncos to four straight wins including a big come from behind effort against Akron on Wednesday.  Tava has posted double figures in four straight while cutting down a little on his fantastical turnover rate.  Fun fact: Connar Tava is the only player in the MAC in the top 20 of scoring, rebounding, and assists in league games.  Meanwhile, Brown can flat out fill it up, coming in third in the league in scoring with 18.5 points per game in conference play.

Meanwhile Miami is threatening to pull a second half swoon - for the second season in a row - coming in losers of four of their last five.  Three of those losses were by double digits.  As we pointed out in the mid-week preview, Miami's success has come largely at the expense of the lower tier teams, and they haven't beaten any of the better clubs yet.  Miami has allowed 157 points over the last two games, and the concerning thing for their defense is that they did it in different ways.

Ohio stormed back from a halftime deficit to the RedHawks by absolutely lighting them up from behind the arc, whereas Buffalo fed Javon McCrea inside and watched him run wild.  Miami is 10th in the MAC in scoring defense and field goal percentage defense in league play, and that's not a good recipe for success against a streaky but talented Broncos squad.

The line: "I believe in the sweet spot, soft-core pornography, opening your presents Christmas morning rather than Christmas Eve, and I believe in long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days." It's been a sweet three days for the Broncos since the tough win against Akron, and that's no Bull (Durham).

The pick: Western Michigan -7. The Broncos have had their share of offensive inconsistency, and Miami has life in them.  This was nearly a dead draw in Oxford the first time around, but momentum and overall talent level are with Shayne Whittington and company.

Toledo @ Eastern Michigan (-1.5)

It's an interesting matchup in Ypsilanti as the first place Rockets roll into town.  This is a classic offense / defense showdown, with the conference's top offense (the Rockets, averaging 80/game) against the #1 defense (the Eagles, allowing only 59).

As predicted here (we have to play up our successes), Toledo weathered a challenge from Ohio without missing a step offensively.  Rian Pearson and Julius Brown combined for as many points as the two of them plus Justin Drummond usually score - it'll be interesting to see if the dynamic of touches changes with Drummond returning from the one game suspension.

Toledo is currently the conference's top seed, but it's not far from #1 to #5, with Ohio having beaten them earlier this season.  They'll need to keep winning, and they've shown the ability to beat the good teams on the road.  But now their schedule lightens considerably in the back half of the season - this is their last scheduled road game against a team with a winning record in conference.

Eastern Michigan is only at 6-5 in conference, but they, too have opportunity down the stretch.  They will be heavy favorites in their other three home games against west division foes, but the road games (at Toledo, Western Michigan, and yes, even Northern Illinois) figure to be challenging.  This is a huge statement game for the Eagles.  They have a good win over Western Michigan but lost to all three east division top contenders.  Keep an eye on freshman guard Ray Lee for EMU.  He's probably behind Zavier Turner in the freshman of the year race after a slow early conference slate, but Lee has explosive scoring potential and has poured in over 14 points per game in the last five.  A difference-maker for a team that wins games - especially games like this - would get a good hard look for year-end honors.

The line: "You complete me." This Eastern Michigan team has promise, but against the top teams, it time they show me (and Jerry Maguire) the money.

The pick: Toledo +1.5. Yes, their losses are on the road, and this doesn't figure to be easy.  And yes, EMU has shown some offensive signs of life that will likely be enhanced by the porous Rockets defense.  But I'll always take the better overall team if I'm given points, even just the 1.5.  And the Eagles have shown an alarming inability to not finish games against talented opponents.

Central Michigan @ Kent State (-10.5)

It's the second meeting for these two teams in ten days, after the Chippewas posted their only win of the year in MAC play in a 78-73 overtime win in Mount Pleasant on February 5th.  There's not a lot of new analysis to offer here - both teams are lacking in size and looking to score predominantly from the guard positions, and neither rebounds especially well.

Chris Fowler and Braylon Rayson continue to delight CMU fans, but the inconsistent contributions of both Blake Hibbits and John Simons have been disappointing.  The two starting forwards combine for about 43% shooting from the field and fewer than 10 rebounds per game.  Simons, however, had his game of the year against these Golden Flashes, posting a 22 & 11 double double.  The Chippewas go home after this to face Ball State and Northern Illinois - they're clearly going to be a bottom seed on the road in the first round of the MAC tournament, but with such a young team, they're still looking to build with any win.

Despite our recent ragging on Kent State, they are inexplicably still alive for a decent seed in this conference.  You do not want to give these guys a look from behind the arc in a close game - three of their four wins in conference have come on the strength of last-second bombs from Devereaux Manley (to force a tie & overtime at Northern Illinois), Darren Goodson (the win against Akron), and Manley again (the Wednesday win against Bowling Green).

Very quietly, both Derek Jackson and Kris Brewer are putting together fine seasons, co-leading the team with 11.3 points per game.  Jackson is shooting 40% from downtown and averaging 1.9 steals as well, while Brewer leads the team with 3.0 assists and a sensational 2:1 assist:turnover ratio.  The weakness, as for Central Michigan, has been up front.  Mark Henniger was in double digits in seven of the team's first 14 games, including the competitive conference opener against Ohio.

Since then, he's averaged 4.4 (!) points per game in the last ten.  Darren Goodson double-doubled against CMU in the overtime game and averages 10.2 points per game, but is an inconsistent rebounder who turned the ball over seven times against Bowling Green.

The line: "Nobody puts Baby in a corner." Bowling Green may have considered it Dirty Dancing, but Devereaux Manley's game-winning 3-pointer from the corner was a sweet samba for the struggling Golden Flashes.

The pick: Central Michigan +10.5. I know CMU is coming off a spanking in DeKalb, but they've kept the majority of their games close, and these are the same two teams that just met in a Chippewa win ten days ago!  Good for Kent State making the most out of their close game opportunities so far - but they haven't posted this kind of win in many moons.

Northern Illinois @ Akron (-12.5)

If Ohio / Buffalo is the obvious choice for game of the day, and Toledo / Eastern Michigan is the highlight for RPI darlings, here's looking at this game as the secret gem.  Northern Illinois had two bad losses early in the conference schedule, but since then has played hardly a bad game.  They're actually threatening .500 in conference - who saw that coming?  PUT YOUR HAND DOWN.  It's not nice to lie.  Northern Illinois has evolved a big frontline that can contribute at either end, a bruising physical game that wears opponents down, and guards who can shoot the rock and create enough offense to really compete.

If that sounds to you like a recipe for a competitive MAC club, you're not wrong.  Basically take that and add in a bona fide 3-point sharpshooter (like Jake Kretzer or Reggie McAdams) and you've got the Akron Zips.  Akron has played the most road games in conference and now gets five of their last seven at home - mostly against some of the better teams in conference.

While Akron is coming off of a very disappointing loss to Western Michigan in which they led most of the way, they've often found a way to win close ugly games.  The Zips' conference wins this year are by 2, 3, 4, 7, 8, 10, 14, and 27 points.  But the 27-pointer was against a dispirited Ball State squad - look at those results and decide if you trust Demetrius Treadwell and company to beat a spirited opponent by a baker's dozen.

The line: "You should be kissed and often, and by someone who knows how." Nothing to do with this game, but at Line Drills we just want to wish you all a happy Valentine's Day - enjoy it before it is Gone with the Wind.

The pick: Northern Illinois +12.5. I really like this matchup for NIU and, if in Vegas, would even consider betting the money line on the upset.  It probably won't happen - Akron has the better overall athletes and the coaching experience.  But the Huskies' size figures to be able to compete effectively with the Zips' frontcourt, and their defense should be able to control the recently anemic Akron offense.  Northern Illinois has shown toughness on the road of late and should hang tough for quite some time.