"I'm gonna miss you. You had such potential. But then again, all good things must come to an end." - Q, in the final episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation
And so the MAC tournament draws to a close, and with it, the conclusion of Line Drills. Our record stands at 61-53-4, meaning that a faithful reader betting $100 per game would be +$270 heading into tonight's final.
Here's what we're going to do:
- Keith and I are each taking $35 - that's a dollar bill to frame, and $34 for a nice frame.
- Then it's time to go big or go home, and put the other $200 on tonight's MACtion.
First a note on MAC Madness. Many smaller conferences, especially those likely to earn only one bid, have recently switched formats to tournament structures heavily rewarding the top seeds. We can see the value of this - it adds to the regular season drama and enhances the meaning of on-campus rivalry games, especially those towards the end of the season.
But if you're a Cinderella-loving March basketball fan, the new formats are not to your liking, as they're much more likely to pair the top few teams in the final. As the MAC enjoys its third consecutive year of matching the top two seeds on Saturday night, it's a reasonable time for fans to ask whether this is what we want in a conference tournament.
2014 MAC Tounrament
2014 MAC Tounrament
We also wonder what it means to have two divisions if the division winners are not awarded the top two seeds. After the top two, we're happy to see teams seeded based on overall record. But after two years in a row with one division earning both automatic semifinal berths, Line Drills hopes the conference leadership re-examines this policy. Make the division titles mean something more than just pride.
If asked, Line Drills would continue to endorse at least some traditional first round games on campus sites - it gives teams something real to play for down the stretch, and importantly, is a nice reward (without having to travel) for fans of teams that finish in the middling seeds.
But the current multi-tiered four round tournament that follows feels like a little much. The five / eight and six / seven games feel mostly punitive to those teams, as they'll be exhausted by the end of the week trying to win five games in six days. It's not happening. And there's a little bit of a money-grab feel to adding the extra day of games.
Candidly, there is an enormous gulf between the four and five seeds that will make it virtually impossible for any team seeded five or lower to win the tournament.
- Remove teams 11 and 12 from the tournament. They're not worthy, and they've had all year to sort it out. This will make some late February games really important for the bottom teams in conference. We don't have strong feelings about if these should be the two worst overall or the bottom team from each division.
- Reduce the first round on-campus games to only two: the seven/ten seeds and the eight/nine seeds. These will be evenly matched teams, and they should have to work a bit to make it to Cleveland.
- Award the top two seeds to the division winners, then sort everyone else out by overall conference record and usual tiebreakers.
- In order to continue to reward the top seeds for their regular season achievements, adopt the flexible tournament structure already in use by many conferences that pits the highest remaining seed against the lowest, and so on and so forth, in each round.
- Play a traditional, three round tournament over three days in Cleveland. This means a jam-packed all-day Thursday extravaganza. A reasonable alternative would be to play the one and two seed quarterfinal games on Wednesday night, giving them the guaranteed extra day of rest. Then the three and four seed quarters on Thursday night, semis Friday, and final Saturday.
Ok, enough of our modest proposal. It's time to get to the business at hand.
No. 2 Toledo (-3) vs. No. 1 Western Michigan
Because Hustle Belt readers are not only attractive and charming, but exceptionally well-informed, the same staff that authors Line Drills and Q-Gazing has already previewed this finals matchup. In the inaugural Q-Gazing crowd-sourcing event, Hustle Belt readers cast hundreds of votes in predicting that Toledo & Western Michigan would meet in the finals at the Q. At Line Drills we're just hoping that we keep our jobs despite the group's prescient show of perfect prognostication.
Western Michigan has controlled the first 30 minutes of each of the two matchups this year. In the first, the Broncos led by as many as 22 before surviving a late Toledo rally that trimmed the lead to as few as four points. WMU survived with an 87-76 win behind 25 from Connar Tava and 19 from Austin Richie. Toledo put four starters in double figures (as usual) led by Justin Drummond with 18.
In the March 1st rematch at Savage Hall, the Broncos again had a big lead late, this time in front by 12 with 3:18 to play. But the Rockets came all the way back to tie in regulation, and beat a tired WMU team in overtime with a final score of 96-85. Again Justin Drummond led Toledo with 28, while Shayne Whittington and David Brown combined for 54 points for Western.
While the overall point totals are dead even in the two games combined, we think that Western Michigan has been the slightly better team for most of the season. Toledo has played terrific basketball and won a lot of close games - the WMU rematch included - but they've shown an inability to put teams away that is distressing.
Western Michigan just showed last night what they can do when they're allowed to hang around, and that was despite a horrific performance from David Brown. By the way, no truth to the rumor that one backboard is now concave after the projectile three-pointer Brown hit in overtime that was the decisive blow. Note that Hustle Belt readers also picked Shayne Whittington as tournament MVP, and the way he's playing right now, even that choice looks to be spot on.
Toledo will continue to have offensive threats at every spot on the floor, but it's at the defensive end where they'll win or lose this game. The Rockets shut down Eastern Michigan last night, but that's not the same as stopping another of the league's top scoring teams.
The pick: Western Michigan +3.
Happy March, everyone. Good luck to bettors everywhere. And thanks for reading.
Todd & Keith