There's something impressive about consistency. Sure, we all love a Cinderella, or the occasional hot-shot team that busts to the front of the class seemingly out of nowhere (such as Toledo this year), but you really have to appreciate those teams that year-in-and-year out are always vying for a MAC Championship. It may be boring to always see them, but it's not any less impressive.
Friday night in the first game of the 2014 Men's MAC Tournament Semifinals we'll get to see two of the most consistent teams in the MAC over the last decade squaring off for a shot at a MAC Championship. It's the No. 3 Akron Zips (21-11) vs. the No. 1 Western Michigan Broncos (21-9) at 6:30 p.m. on TWC SportsChannel and WatchESPN, and if history means anything at all, it's going to be a hell of a game.
2014 MAC Tournament Coverage
2014 MAC Tournament Coverage
For nine straight seasons the Akron Zips have been in the men's semifinals. Nine. That's two different complete classes, and another year of freshman to boot. The Zips have competed in the past seven MAC Championship games, winning three of them.
Western Michigan on the other hand has won a share of the MAC West title for the seventh time in the last 11 years (all under 2014 MAC Coach of the Year Steve Hawkins). While the Broncos haven't been as successful in the MAC Tournament as Akron, WMU does have the No. 1 seed on its side. The last time the Broncos were No. 1 overall in the MAC Tournament they won the whole thing, and this was back in 2004, well before the MAC changed the format of the tournament to greatly favor the top seeds.
So we know these teams have been fantastic over the past decade, but all that really matters is tonight. Who will win tonight and why is what you want to know. The answer isn't so simple though.
Our friends in Vegas think Akron is a good pick, having the Zips as a 1.5 favorite over WMU, but there's a reason the Broncos are the No. 1 seed and Akron is No. 4.
Back on February 12 these two squads met up in Kalmazoo. At the time both were behind in the standings of their respective divisions. Akron took a commanding eight-point lead into halftime of that game, and seemed poised to pull out the win, but the Broncos fought back. WMU erases Akron's halftime lead midway through the second half and fought for the final 10 minutes of the game, blow-for-blow, with the Zips.
Shayne Whittington and David Brown went off, scoring 24 of the Broncos 26 second-half points and edging out the win 57-54 on a trio of clutch free throws down the stretch. It was a bruising physical game, with the bigs banging, and the guards having to force what shots they took. The two biggest squads in the MAC used their size to wear each other out, and in the end it was really Brown's ability to compliment WMU's bigs that was the difference maker.
Friday night it's likely to come down to that again. Akron and WMU will pound each other inside for 40 minutes. It's what they're both good at. the Zips Isaiah Johnson, Pat Forsythe and Demetrius Treadwell form one of the more physical front-courts in the game, with Treadwell being arguably the most explosive player in the conference. WMU's big may be less physical, but are polished offensively, led by Whittington, the best center in the MAC, hands down. These assets will likely neutralize one-another, bringing it all down to the play of the guards (for WMU, namely MAC scoring champion Brown; for Akron, it's the dynamic combo of Jake Kretzer and Reggie McAdams).
Last time out the Akron guards failed to make an impact. Kretzer and McAdams, usually automatic from deep, managed to go 3-for-9 from 3 but only had nine combined points. Fellow Zips' guard Carmelo Betancourt and weren't much better, combining for seven points, and just one assist). Unable to move the ball with any sort of efficiency all the pressure fell on Treadwell's shoulder. Though he's capable of carrying the Zips, doing so against a team like WMU which is far bigger than him, is no small task.
WMU had zero production from its bench. As in not a single bench player scored a point. And Brown was the real reason WMU was able to win. The senior guard had a game-high 17-points, despite going a miserable 1-for-6 from 3. He was successful at drawing contact and creating free opportunities, which he converted at an 85 percent clip that night.
Which ever team can get the best play out of its guards Friday night will hold the distinct advantage, and honestly, the odds seem to be in Akron's favor.
The Zips hold an all-time 4-1 record against WMU in the MAC Tournament. Factor in that Akron's defense has stepped up as of late, allowing just 61.3 points per game over the past 13 contests, which would be first in the conference (just ahead of EMU's 61.4 percent). What's been the difference? well for one the team has stopped coughing up the rock (which it did 15 times against WMU last time out) cutting back on easy points by the opposition. The other thing has been Quincy Diggs and Treadwell's play. The senior duo have stepped their games up, not only offensively, but also defensively.
Diggs had a negative impact on that game back in fEburary, going 3-for-13 from the field and turning the ball over three times, but since then he's upped his offensive efficiency and attacked the glass much harder on the defensive end. He could be the x-factor tonight if my above hypothesis isn't quite right, it will likely come down to if WMU can effectively lock down Diggs or not. He's a match up nightmare, and it's worked in Akron's favor several times in the past.
But let's not pin this all on Akron. Clearly WMU is the top seed for a reason. The Broncos have won, consistently, and are about as hot as any team in the MAC, having won 12 of their past 14 games. But with almost a week off (WMU last played in the regular season-finale this past Saturday) will he time off prove to be valuable "rest" or detrimental "rust"? Again, it will show in how well the guards are knocking down shots. Akron has the more recent momentum on its side with a thrilling win over Ohio Thursday night.
If history serves right, expect a close game, decided in the final minutes, and well worth the price of admission. With a MAC Championship berth on the line, intensity will be at an all-time high.