Most times when you have a top seed and a two-seed playing in a tourney championship, you assume that it was chalk-tastic to get to that point. And though the Mid-American Conference was devoid of any stunning upsets, besides Akron upsetting Western Michigan in the opening round, it certainly wasn’t without drama and intrigue. But that drama and intrigue has culminated today in a 7PM championship matchup between the #1-seed Buffalo Bulls (25-8, 15-3 MAC) and the #2-seed Toledo Rockets (23-10, 13-5 MAC) with more than a championship banner on the line. The winner gets an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament where they will hope that MACtion can last past the first weekend.
Buffalo’s run to the tourney championship was dominant and impressive, beating the 8th-seeded Central Michigan Chippewas by 15 and the 5th-seeded Kent State Golden Flashes by 17. In each round that they’ve played, the Bulls have put up the most team points by any squad. Suffice to say, the Bulls are red rocket hot and peaking at the exact right time.
Toledo’s title game mach was a bit more close and nerve-racking for their supporters. A two-point win over the Miami-Ohio RedHawks followed by a one-point win over the Eastern Michigan Eagles, ripe with controversy about a timing error that prevented a final game-winning attempt for the Eagles, doesn’t necessarily inspire fear and terror in the hearts of an opponent, but it is March after all. March is notorious for a team that almost feels kissed by destiny to find every way under the sun to win games. Hard to argue that isn’t Toledo.
But let’s not forget among the storylines and dramatics of a hard fought conference tourney that these two squads were head and shoulders the class of the conference for the majority of the year. If you had a two-team playoff for the MAC’s auto bid to the big dance, hard to imagine anyone would select two other teams besides the two that will matchup tonight in Quicken Loans Arena.
Of course, there is recent history with these two squads. The Bulls defeated the Rockets in January 104-94. The Rockets’ 16 turnovers trumped their over 50 percent shooting in both teams’ conference opener. Tre’Shaun Fletcher paced Toledo offensively with 27 points but was saddled with foul trouble much of the evening and played just 25 minutes and Willie Jackson tallied his first collegiate double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds.
The impressive scoring wasn’t limited to the Rockets. A trio of Bulls each topped the 20-point plateau with junior C.J. Massinburg leading the way with 27 points. He was joined by senior Wes Clark (25 pts.) and junior Nick Perkins (24 pts., 10 reb.).
The difference in that game was the free throw line, where Buffalo converted 87% of their attempts to Toledo’s 60%. That nine point difference was significant with a ten point final margin.
Buffalo is looking for their third conference championship in four years (‘15, ‘16) after falling short last season. Conversely, a win over the Bulls would give the Rockets their first MAC Tournament title and NCAA Tournament appearance in 38 years.
Mid-American Championship Game Information:
Location: Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland, OH
Streaming: WatchESPN app, pending cable provider
Odds: Buffalo -6.5, o/u 158