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The Chase for Cleveland: 2021 MAC Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournament Projections, Feb. 8

NCAA Basketball: MAC Conference Tournament-Ohio vs Akron Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Last week was the beginning of our “Chase for Cleveland” series, which examines the current tournament projection scene for both men’s and women’s basketball standings. If you missed the first edition, you can check them out here.

To briefly refresh, there was some unanswered questions regarding the women’s bracket, as Kent State, who had yet to reach double-digit games played, were tops in the women’s bracket, thanks to their undefeated MAC record, holding up a number of more competitive teams. On the men’s side, Toledo was absolutely dominant, with five-straight victories to advance to 10-1 in conference play. More the question was who would retain their spots at the high seeds, as four or five teams are all in the mix for the spots.

Let’s check in on how last week’s results have affected the race:

Men’s basketball

Toledo faltered this week, taking a bad loss to Ball State, who was eighth in the conference going into the game. This presented an opportunity for teams to gain ground for the top seed, but it seems no one took the opportunity, with Akron and Kent State both going 1-1 in this week’s games to maintain the pace. Only Ohio and Buffalo gained ground in the fight for the fourth seed, which has more or less been the main skirmish of the last few weeks.

Bowling Green’s free fall continues apace, as they’ve now lost five-straight games (with one game this week is delayed,) and are now in the danger zone of falling out of the Top 8 completely, as Ball State and Western Michigan remembered how to win once again. The Broncos, in particular, pulled off two wins this week, elevating them to 3-7 in conference play. It’s unlikely WMU can keep up that momentum for long, but it should be a warning shot for the Falcons that they need to get their act together, especially as BGSU has already dropped one to the Broncos earlier in the season.

At the bottom of the table remains the largely uncompetitive CMU squad (6-12, 2-9 MAC), who have lost their last five games, and the perpetually-paused NIU and EMU squads, which have two combined MAC wins between them.

If the tournament were to start today, here would be what the bracket looks like:

  • Game #1: #1 Toledo vs. #8 Ball State
  • Game #2: #2 Akron vs. #7 Miami
  • Game #3: #3 Kent State (.667 overall winning percentage) vs. #6 Bowling Green
  • Game #4: #4 Ohio (.647 overall WP) vs. #5 Buffalo

The major change here is Miami falling from the three-seed to the seven-seed, mostly due to going winless this week. This elevates Ohio up one spot, and Buffalo up two spots on the projection charts.

Postseason projections will always have the expected MAC tournament champion as “IN”, and we expect no different. Toledo will be in there, should they win it all. However, if they do not, there’s still the NIT for them, should they finish at the top of the table.

Akron. Kent State, Ohio and Buffalo could also see invitations to the CBI or CIT, if they don’t win the tournament.

Women’s basketball

Kent State came back to the court with a vengence this week, going 2-1 in their first three games back since pausing basketball activities on Jan. 19, to further grab hold of the top seed in the women’s side of the bracket.

It’s still an absolute war in the middle table, with one game seperating third from eighth place, and it could even be argue that the ninth team out, Toledo, could still make a run as they’re .500 in overall games, even despite their 4-8 MAC record.

Currently, BGSU, arguably the best MAC team, sits second at 14-4 (10-3 MAC.) NIU jumped up three spots to the third-seed, as they extend their winning streak to four games over the last week, which forces Buffalo (one spot) and Central Michigan (two spots) to drop in the standings. Both CMU and Buffalo split their games in last week’s actions, resulting in the downgrade.

Ohio moves up a spot thanks in part to NIU’s ascent, holding down sixth in the table, even despite a split week. The battle for the final two spots is still as exciting as ever, with Eastern Michigan (9-6, 6-4 MAC) jumping Ball State (9-7, 7-5 MAC) for the seventh spot after the Cards dropped both their contests this week. Toledo, even with a four-game losing streak, still has an outside shot at the last seed if they can pull together the right results.

With a combined four MAC wins between them, Akron, WMU and Miami are still out of the proceedings.

If the tournament ended today, the bracket would look like this:

  • Game #1: #1 Kent State vs. #8 Ball State
  • Game #2: #2 Bowling Green vs. #7 Eastern Michigan
  • Game #3: #3 NIU (.727 conference WP) vs. #6 Ohio (.615 conference WP)
  • Game #4: #4 Buffalo (.700 conference WP) vs. #5 Central Michigan (.692 conference WP)

Kent State has proven that at least, for now, they are deserving to be the favorite after their return to the court this past week. After an initial loss to shake off the rust, the Flashes came back strong to win two straight. They’re on pace to be the MAC representative at the NCAA Tournament as a tournament or WNIT as a regular season champion.

BGSU and NIU are also potential favorites to earn spots to the Big Dance due to the MAC’s reputation thanks to their current standing, a change from last week. CMU, Buffalo and Ohio have pedigree and will be an attractive option in at-large bids for the NCAA and WNIT tournaments. EMU and Ball State could project for other invitational tournaments.