Day One of the MAC Men’s Basketball Tournament has come and gone, and there’s been a good amount of action. The results have been largely chalk, as three of the four high seeds advanced to the next round of the tournament.
The Buffalo Bulls (24-9) dispatched the Central Michigan Chippewas (19-14) in the morning session Thursday, collecting a 89-74 win on the strength of Jeremy Harris’ standout offensive performance, while the Kent State Golden Flashes (17-16) had a bit more of a bumpy ride on the road to advancement, relying on a late layup by Jalen Avery to secure a 76-73 victory over the 12-seeded Ball State Cardinals straightafter.
This sets up a rather intersting matchup in terms of storylines, as it’s a rematch of the 2017 MAC Basketball Tournament Quarterfinal Game, which saw Kent State hold off Bulls in the waning moments to upset the Bulls’ attempt at three-peating as the MAC’s NCAA tournament representative.
Kent State would go on to eventually punch its ticket to the Big Dance and broke the hearts of their biggest rival Akron, who was shut out of the NCAA Tournament for the second year in a row after losing to Buffalo as the #1 seed the previous season.
Buffalo will once again rely on its quartet of guards in Jeremy Harris (28 points vs. CMU), CJ Massinberg (18 points), Nick Perkins (16 points) and Wes Clark (11 points) to pace what has been the MAC’s best offense by far this season.
The Bulls are #1 in conference play in field goals made (581), field goals attempted (1142), defensive rebounds (513), total rebounds (695), points (1,586) and points per game (88.1) and rate second in three-point attempts made (170.) Perhaps the only weak part of their game so far in the conference slate has been its defense, where they rank seventh with 75.7 points per game allowed.
Kent State will have to find ways to slow down that prolific offense, and they will have to win the rebound battle if they want to preserve the upset bid. The Golden Flashes are fairly average on defense, ranking sixth in conference in blocks and eighth in conference in steals and will have to keep their hands on the ball, as they’re ninth in the conference in turnover rate.
They’ll be relying mostly on their starters, as Kent relies on a short rotation. Adonis De La Rosa, a seven-foot, 261 lb. center averaging 11.6 points per game, will team up with Kevin Zabo (12.8 points per game) to penetrate the inside paint for the Golden Flashes, with Jalen Avery (16 points in the game vs. Ball State) and Jaylin Walker (16.7 points per game) providing outside shooting options. These four names provided 68 of Kent State’s 76 points in its win over Ball State.
The winner of the game will face the winner of #2 Toledo vs. #3 Eastern Michigan on Saturday, March 10 at 7 p.m. on ESPN2.
Where: Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio
When: Friday, March 9, at 6:30 p.m. EST
TV/Streaming: CBS Sports Network (check with your local cable provider for availability)
Odds: Buffalo -11.5, over/under 159.5, per OddsShark.