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Exploring the dark horses for the MAC Men’s Basketball Tournament

Who, other than the usual suspects, have a really good chance to win it all in Cleveland?

NCAA Basketball: Northern Illinois at Ohio State Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

We are just a mere couple of weeks from the MAC Tournament, and the race to Cleveland is still very much wide open as their isn’t a team that has really separated itself from the rest of the pack at this point in the season.

With this in mind, let’s take a look at the teams not named Akron or Ohio and make the case for the ones that can legitimately win the ‘ship in the Land in March.

Buffalo Bulls

NCAA Basketball: Buffalo at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

It’s a strange year when the two-time defending champions are considered a dark horse to win its own conference.

The Buffalo Bulls are back in form at the right time, as the Bulls managed to put together a six-game winning streak in MAC play before an eight-point home loss to Kent State.

Surely, that has to kill at least some of the team’s momentum heading into the Tournament. But then, they lost a double-digit lead to Miami and then went off on the best runs of the season, so who knows really?

Their next three games will tell us a lot about the defending champions as they face the Zips in back-to-back games before traveling to take on the Bobcats. When UB is at its best, it can beat any team in the MAC so we’ll have to keep an eye on Buffalo from here on out.

Ball State Cardinals

Kyle Crawford: BSU Athletics

After faltering a bit, the Ball State Cardinals are starting to pick up some steam with three consecutive games as they currently lead the pack in the MAC West, where they hold an undefeated divisional record.

However, the Cards only have two wins vs. East teams this season: at home against Miami and on the road at Buffalo early in the season.

That’s going to be a major problem come tournament time.

BSU still has some strong West tests remaining with contests at WMU and Toledo before wrapping up the regular season at home against NIU. By the time the Tournament rolls around, Ball State could be the hottest team in the league with a favorable path to Cleveland.

Northern Illinois Huskies

NCAA Basketball: Northern Illinois at Ohio State Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

I’ve personally been on the Northern Illinois bandwagon for a large chunk of MAC play, because when the Huskies play at their best (like against Akron or CMU twice) they are more than capable of beating anybody in the conference.

It isn’t an easy thing to hold Marcus Keene to 12 points on the road and NIU managed to do just that Tuesday night.

The problem this season for the Huskies has been NIU’s ability to close the deal with as many close losses it has had. NIU has a reputation for being a tough competitor and it’s certainly shown in the box scores; Mark Montgomery will have to figure out how to help his team reach that next level in crunch time.

Northern has two tough road left with against EMU and Ball State and a sneaky matchup at home vs. resurgent WMU, but if it can survive that stretch, it’ll have a puncher’s chance in the Tournament.

Central Michigan Chippewas

NCAA Basketball: Central Michigan at Brigham Young Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

To close, it’s finally time we have a little talk about the Central Michigan Chippewas.

CMU currently stands at 6-9 in conference, which is not a nice record to have this time of year. They’ve fallen from fourth to ninth in the last two weeks in the conference standings, not having won a game since tying four other teams for the MAC West lead.

Needless to say, this is not where the Chips need to be to make a run. That being said, they are more than capable of returning to form. Cross-divisional scraps with Ohio and Akron have more than proven that they can make noise with the right matchups.

However, CMU also has had some unforgivably low lows, including its current four game losing streak (which was kicked off by Marcus Keene’s eight-point performance at Miami). CMU has shown a lot of fight in their losses, but if they continue to wilt in the final moments as they have been prone to do, they’ll have no chance to advance int he conference tourney.

With games at Toledo, vs. EMU, and at WMU to end the regular season, Central could very well salvage a decent seed in the Tournament and continue to shock MAC fans everywhere with the kind of season that the team is having.

Got any teams that you think should be dark horses in the MAC Tournament? Let us know who we might have missed in the comments below and keep supporting #MACsketball everywhere.