The No. 7 seed Northern Illinois Huskies (14-16, 8-10 MAC) will host the #10 seed Bowling Green Falcons (12-19, 6-12 MAC) in the first round of the 2014 Mid-American Conference Men's Basketball Tournament at 8:00 p.m. EST on Monday, March 10th.
The game is a rematch of their January 12th meeting at the Stroh Center in Bowling Green, Ohio. The Huskies won that in what we called "a display that might have set basketball back 30 years". The final score was 45-36, and the statistics from that game were as frighteningly bad as the final score.
2014 MAC Tournament Coverage
2014 MAC Tournament Coverage
The two teams combined to shoot 31 percent (26-of-84) from the floor and an unthinkable 44 percent (22-of-49) from the free throw line. Much of that latter number can be attributed to BGSU's 1-of-11 second half performance from the charity stripe -- a streak of futility so inexplicable that it defied belief, especially given that the Falcons were 8-of-10 in the first half. After BGSU made only five field goals in the first half, NIU followed with that many in the second.
Ultimately, the difference in the game was NIU's strength on the boards and their ability to force BGSU mistakes. The Huskies out-rebounded the Falcons 40-29 and forced 17 turnovers that resulted in 16 of their 45 points. Individually, NIU's Trevor Baker led all players with 13 points, but BGSU's Richaun Holmes had perhaps the best single night, as he scored 12, pulled down eight rebounds, and blocked six shots.
Can we expect any better on Monday night? It would probably be wise to expect more points, but how many more? These are, on average, the two worst offenses in the MAC and two of the three best defenses. This bears out in field goal percentages, too. Where the Huskies have an edge is rebounding, and we saw that in the first game. NIU is at the top of the league in rebounding margin and offensive rebounds, while BGSU is in the middle of the pack for both categories. If NIU can win that battle, they stand a very good chance of winning the game.
The big battle in this game will be Jordan Threloff and Darrell Bowie on the inside against Holmes and Cameron Black. Holmes, as noted above, had a big game against the Huskies in January, but Black had only two points and three rebounds. Both are going to have to have big games in order for Bowling Green to win.
The Falcons are in the midst of a cold spell. They've gone 3-10 since starting the MAC season 3-2 and have lost five of their last six. However, they haven't lost more than three conference games in a row this season, and they've won big road games at Western Michigan, Ball State and Ohio. Their last win came on February 26th against Kent State.
The Huskies have gone 7-5 after beginning MAC play with a 1-5 record. They're just 5-4 at home against MAC teams, but they have won five of their last six at home and four in a row. That includes victories over Toledo and Eastern Michigan.
One thing about this game is certain: these two teams have awful recent histories in MAC Tournament play. They are both 1-8 in the last eight seasons during the MAC Tournament, and BGSU's only victory in that span came in 2011 against these Huskies. That 74-54 win was in Bowling Green. Northern Illinois' only win in that span was a 55-52 decision over Eastern Michigan in 2012. That year, they were the #12 seed and upset the 5th seeded Eagles.
It's been 11 years since the Huskies won multiple games in a MAC Tournament. For BGSU, that particular drought is even longer and currently stands at 12 years.
The winner of this game will face either Eastern Michigan or Central Michigan on Wednesday evening in Cleveland.