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Road to a First Round Bye in the MAC Tournament

It’s crunch time in the MAC

NCAA Basketball: MAC Conference Tournament-Akron vs Buffalo Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

We have all heard that the regular season in college basketball is meaningless. Heck, I have said it many times myself. It’s a lie. It does have meaning everywhere, including the MAC. In this league, there are two times that it’s most crucial. The first is during the non-conference. Currently the MAC is a one bid league, meaning it will only get their one automatic bid to the the NCAA tournament, for the MAC tournament champion. It didn’t have to be that way. There were quite a few key match-ups in the non-conference that could have given a team a fighting chance at an at-large bid. That didn’t happen.

Now is the second critical time during the regular season. Four teams get a bye in the MAC tournament. Aside from giving the team one less chance to lose in a competitive league, it gives the team fresher legs throughout the tournament. It’s much easier to win 3 games in a row than 4. The top 4 teams get almost a full week off before the tournament, where as the bottom 8 play on a Tuesday before the meat grinder 3 consecutive game stretch that starts on a Friday.

Each team has 4 games left in the regular season, and I am going to break down their chances. If you don’t see your favorite team listed, it either means I don’t think they are going to make it, or they’re Akron, and thus a lock. The teams are in order of their chances, in my humble opinion, from least to best.

Kent State Golden Flashes

7-7 in the MAC, 4th place in the East

Remaining Schedule

  • At Buffalo, 2/21, 7p.m.
  • Ohio, 2/25, 7p.m.
  • At Bowling Green, 2/28, 7p.m.
  • Akron, 3/3, 9p.m. ESPN2

Kent State has the roughest road of teams that have a chance, and that’s not an indication of how they have been playing. They have actually been on a bit of a run, including their win against Akron. It’s likely going to take 10 or 11 conference wins to get that 4th spot. I just don’t see 3 wins on that schedule. There are only three teams I would give a chance of winning 3 out of 4 of those games, and those three teams are on that schedule.

Western Michigan Broncos

7-7 in the MAC, Tied 2nd place in the West

Remaining Schedule

  • At Toledo, 2/21, 7p.m.
  • Ball State, 2/25, 2p.m.
  • At Northern Illinois, 2/28. 8p.m.
  • Central Michigan, 3/3. 7p.m.

For Western Michigan to even be in this position is a mini-miracle. Like Kent State, they will probably need to win at least 3 out of 4. It’s possible, but the deciding factor for me between the Broncos and the Rockets is simply that the Rockets get the Broncos at home.

The good news for the Broncos is that they have been playing much better as of late, especially after starting Seth Dugan . They will probably only lose Tucker Haymond off their 8 man rotation going into next season. While this season isn’t over, even if they don’t get the bye, the future certainly looks bright for next season.

Toledo Rockets

7-7 in the MAC, Tied 2nd place in the West

Remaining Schedule

  • Western Michigan 2/21, 7p.m.
  • Central Michigan, 2/25, 7p.m.
  • Ball State, 2/28, 7p.m.
  • At Eastern Michigan, 3/3, 7p.m.

Of the three teams at the 7-7 logjam, only the Rockets have three games at home. Going by record alone, they also have the easier remaining schedule, though EMU is kind of a sleeping giant.

The Rockets have been streaky this season. For most of the season, they have shown an ability to score, but now their defense is rounding into form. I do think they will get to 10 wins on the season, I just don’t know if it will be enough.

Ball State Cardinals

8-6 in the MAC, First place in the West

Remaining Schedule

  • Eastern Michigan, 2/21, 7p.m.
  • At Western Michigan, 2/25, 2p.m.
  • At Toledo, 2/28, 7p.m.
  • Northern Illinois, 3/3, 7p.m.

The Cardinals suffered three tough losses, before winning their last two in overtime. Had they not been able to pull out both of those wins, they would most likely be on the outside looking in. As it is, I think they are going to win 10, possibly 11 conference games. I would give Ball State about a 50/50 shot of getting the first round bye. The three teams previously mentioned have about the same chance, combined.

Buffalo Bulls

9-5 in the MAC, Tied 2nd place in the East

Remaining Schedule

  • Kent, 2/21, 7p.m.
  • Akron, 2/25, 3:30p.m.
  • At Ohio, 2/28, 7p.m.
  • Bowling Green, 3/3, 7p.m.

The Bulls have won 6 in a row, and look to be a serious contender to win the tournament. They are also a virtual lock to get a first round bye.

Ohio University Bobcats

9-5 in the MAC, Tied 2nd place in the East

Remaining Schedule

  • at Miami, 2/21, 7p.m.
  • at Kent, 2/25, 7p.m.
  • Buffalo, 2/28, 7p.m.
  • Miami, 3/3, 7p.m.

What Ohio has done since losing Antonio Campbell has been amazing. What is also amazing is that they have Miami left on their schedule twice, when they only need 2 wins to get 11, which is what I think the magical win number will be.

My prediction is that Akron, Ohio, and Buffalo get three of the spots. Ball State has a 50/50 shot, with WMU, Toledo, and Kent all in the mix if Ball State can’t get it done. In fact, I think the most important game left on the schedule is Ball State at Toledo on 2/28. If Western Michigan can knock off Ball State and Toledo in their next two games, the race for the 4th bye will be a lot more interesting and likely will involve tie breakers.