Viva la new format! No longer can teams lie in waiting in the semifinals for some poor squad playing its fourth game in five days. Instead, four programs will wait in the quarterfinals for teams that are a little bit more rested. Those four teams as of February 11th are Akron, Buffalo, Kent State and Central Michigan. Of course, this is the MAC and everything is perpetually subject to change, so this bracket is in no way a projection. Hell, there's a three way tie to make sense of in the West, so let's just take a look at the bracket as it stands today.
The Top Half
If it all ended today, we'd get a James Thompson IV and Nathan Boothe match up in the first round. Unfortunately, we're not so lucky, but never fear, the two take the court in Ypsilanti on February 20th. I'll say this now, don't sleep on Eastern Michigan. They're some hot shooting away from being a really good basketball team, and could be far higher than 10th in a couple weeks.
On the less exciting end of the spectrum is Ball State and Miami in the first round. As far as must see TV goes, this is far from it, as the last time these two teams met was a 48-46 snoozer of a victory for the Cardinals in Oxford. The RedHawks are playing better as of late, however, winners in three of their previous four games.
Buffalo and Kent State have had excellent seasons, but with the Xavier Pollard injury looming large for the Flashes and the Lamonte Bearden suspension likely to cause trouble for the Bulls over the next three games, these two teams could slip to a campus site game in the blink of an eye. In this scenario, neither team should be excited with their potential second round games. Buffalo to deal with Boothe or Thompson, and Kent State to deal with Franko House and the Cardinals
Dream semifinal match up: Kent State and Eastern Michigan
Why not dream? We'd already get the dream battle between the league's best centers in round one, why not see Jimmy Hall and Thompson go toe-to-toe? The Flashes may be ailing, but they shouldn't be ruled out. Plenty of experience and talent on this Flashes squad.
The Bottom Half
Northern Illinois and Bowling Green are like the Monstars after losing to Michael Jordan and the Looney Toons, forced to return their stolen NBA talent. They peaked far too early and haven't looked the same since. Both the Falcons and the Huskies haven't logged a win since mid January, and the schedules don't get any easier. This game would be a true coin toss.
The red hot Bobcats would host the ice cold Broncos of Western Michigan if the tournament started today, but Ohio handled WMU pretty comfortably before they caught fire, so, advantage green and white. WMU is fresh off a loss to then last place Miami at home, so any first round match up proves unfavorable at this point in time. Ohio on the other hand is winners in four of it's previous five games with the lone loss coming to first place Akron.
Speaking of Akron, they await the winner of the existential crisis game between the Huskies and Falcons, and they should feel pretty good about their chances in that one, provided the Huskies don't catch fire again. Central Michigan and rival Western Michigan haven't met on the court yet, but I'm sure they'd much rather play the Broncos than the Bobcats, even though Thomas Wilder is (still) playing out of his mind.
Dream semifinal match up: Central Michigan and Akron
Okay, I know, not very creative. But if the Chips can figure out how to shoot the three ball again and retain their "3MU" nickname they'll pose a huge threat to the MAC favorites in Akron. The Zips look like world beaters at the moment, and are projected to be the MAC representatives in the NCAA tournament. Maybe the other 11 members of the league will have something to say about that.
Dream final match up: Akron vs Kent State
Rivalries are fantastic, and there's nothing like a local blood feud to spice up a championship game. That's exactly what we'd get with Kent State and Akron, and we'd all be well served to see this happen. Sure it isn't the same Kent State team without Pollard, but Hall and company are talented and experienced enough to carry. Here's to hoping Kent State can stick around in a tough top half.