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2021 Mid-American Conference Men’s Basketball Tournament Preview: #8 Ball State Cardinals vs #1 Toledo Rockets

The MAC Tournament tips off with the Cardinals taking on the Rockets.

NCAA Basketball: Toledo at Buffalo Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

The 2021 MAC Men’s Basketball Tournament tips off Thursday morning in Cleveland, Ohio when the eighth-seeded Ball State Cardinals take on the top team in the MAC, the Toledo Rockets.


#8 Ball State Cardinals (10-12, 8-9 MAC) vs #1 Toledo Rockets (20-7, 15-4 MAC)

Game Info:
When: Thursday, March 11th at 11:00 a.m. EST
Watch: ESPN+
Where: Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse — Cleveland, OH
Odds: Toledo has an 83.0% chance to win according to ESPN’s BPI predictor

These two teams should be quite familiar now, as they’ve played each other twice— including six days ago, on March 5th, in the regular season finale for both squads.

The Rockets ran away with the game late, en route to an 89-70 victory, ensuring their spot as the #1 seed in the MAC Tournament. However, in the first meeting between the two schools in early February, the Cardinals were able to pull the upset and ended the game on a 26-11 run, winning 81-67.

Ball State Quick Facts:
Points scored: 74.1
Points allowed: 74.8
Rebounds (Off/Def): 36.5 (9.6/26.9)
Assists: 14.0
MAC Tournament Championships (last year won): 7 (2000)

Toledo Quick Facts:
Points scored: 81.3
Points allowed: 71.4
Rebounds (Off/Def): 37.7 (10.5/27.2)
Assists: 16.4
MAC Tournament Championships (last year won): 1 (1980 - the first year of the MAC Tournament)


MAC Tournament History

The Toledo Rockets have a great chance at winning their first MAC Tournament, and making it back to the NCAA Tournament, for the first time in over 40 years. However, no MAC West team has won the conference tournament since 2014, when WMU blew out the Rockets 98-77.

Toledo claims the MAC’s second longest streak of missing the big dance, as they haven’t been in the tournament since 1980. But there is some slightly good news for Rocket fans, as the team with the longest streak is their bitter rival, Bowling Green. The Falcons are the only MAC school that has never won the MAC Tournament and hasn’t made the NCAA Tournament since way, way back in 1968.

Ball State, on the other hand, has won the MAC Tournament more than any other school, winning it seven times. However, it has been 21 long years since the Cardinals last cut down the nets in Cleveland and made the NCAA Tournament.


Players to Watch

The Cardinals

The Cardinals are led by Ishmael El-Amin and K.J. Walton, who each average over 16 points per game - which is nearly 44% of Ball State’s scoring.

El-Amin, a senior guard, leads the team with 33.1 minutes, 16.3 points and 1.4 steals per game. He also nets 2.8 assists and 3.0 rebounds per game. Walton, another guard, is right behind him in points, with 16.0 per game, but leads BSU with 5.7 rebounds per game (tied with Brachen Hazen).

After missing most of the season early on, Jarron Coleman has done well the past few months. The guard, who first saw time on January 16th, has scored an average of 12.3 points per game and added 5.1 rebounds and 3.5 assists (best on the team). And he’s been on fire over the last four games, averaging 19.25 points and just under five assists.

The Rockets

Toledo relies on their senior guard Marreon Jackson to do it all. Jackson leads the team in points (17.6), assists (6.1), and steals (1.9). He’s also second in rebounding, pulling down 6.3 boards per game. And, over the past six games, he’s been doing even better - netting 20.7 points, 8.7 rebounds and 7.8 assists per game.

When Jackson doesn’t have the ball, the Rockets other guards - Ryan Rollins and Spencer Littleson - do a lot of damage. The duo combines for an average of 27.5 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 3.8 assists. Littleson also leads the team, and the MAC, in 3-point shooting, hitting 48.5% of his shots from behind the arc (which is 14th best in the NCAA).


Prediction

The Rockets are the deeper team and have shown their the team to beat in the MAC. Look for Jackson and Littleson to have solid games and lead Toledo to back-to-back wins against the Cardinals here.

#8 Ball State - 74
#1 Toledo Rockets - 85