On one hand, CMU, WMU and EMU all had disappointing seasons. On the other hand, the Chippewas and Broncos tied for first place (along with Ball State) in the MAC West with the Eagles just a game behind.
The good news for CMU is the Chips notched a share of their first division title since 2003 with a come-from-behind win against the rival Broncos over the weekend. The bad news, while the win tied them for first, the Chips still only had a 7-9 league mark. Suddenly EMU being a game behind that mark does not sound all that impressive.
All of them have a chance at redemption this week when the MAC Tournament convenes in Cleveland with opening rounds beginning this afternoon. All three Michigan schools take the floor today. Interestingly, Central and Eastern hook up today in the 7/10 game, beginning at noon. The Eagles swept the Chips this season, including a win almost two weeks ago with last second free throws by EMU proving to be the decisive points.
Say what you will about their overall records, but both clubs are at least playing their best ball of the season in March. The Chips have won 4 of their last six. Eastern, after entering the final week of February with just four overall wins, rallied to close the season with four straight wins. After enduring three different losing streaks of at least six games, the Eagles doubled their season win total over the final fortnight of the schedule. With Ball State, a club each has beaten already this season, up next in the quarterfinals, I wouldn’t rule out a mini run in this field by either team. Technically speaking, Michigan fans should root for the Eagles since it would help out the SOS and RPI numbers.
Western tips off at 4pm against the Ohio Bobcats in the 8/9 game of the first round. A quarterfinal date with top-seed Bowling Green looms for the winner. The Broncos are not playing their best ball right now. They’ve lost 9 of their last 12 games. They vomited away a chance for the outright West title and #2 seed in the MAC field. Western has twice as many losses as wins right now. Yet, they are a first place team. Such is life in the MAC, I guess.
The MAC this season has been both easy and difficult to figure out. The easy part comes from the East’s dominance over the West this season. In head-to-head games, the East ran up a 29-6 record against the West. The three Michigan schools contributed to those woes with a 4-14 mark against East foes. That math led to the equation where five East leagues have at least 10 league wins and no West team had a winning league mark.
Of course, the hard part of the MAC to decipher who is the best team. The top five teams record wise are all within one game of each other and basically played the same type of schedule. Is it surprising top-seed Bowling Green? How about upstart Buffalo, carrying over some momentum from the historic football season the Bulls had? Or, is the top dog still one of the usual suspects in Miami, Kent or Akron?
We’ll find out between now and Saturday night. My pick? I’m going with Bulls of Buffalo. The league is about as Even Steven as you can get. The Bulls have a tricky quarterfinal game against Kent, but otherwise I like their draw much better. Three of the power teams from the East are on the top side of the bracket. The Bulls get the side with Ball State, the 7-9 West Champ, serving as the field’s #2 seed. I see Buffalo, the #3 seed, beating Miami, the #4 seed in Saturday’s final.
As for today’s game, I think Central Michigan breaks their losing streak to the Eagles and advances. In the Western game, how can you fade the season long trend of east over west? I can’t. Ohio nips the Broncos in the end. Please note, however, these are just leans and not actual picks.
Oakland, yes that Oakland, plays for a bid
The biggest news of the day among the Michigan Mid-Majors is the stirring run the Oakland Golden Grizzlies have been on of late in the Summit Conference. Winners of nine games in a row, the Grizz square off against North Dakota State with, get this, an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament on the line. Yep, you read that right; Oakland is 40 minutes away from going to the Dance. Michigan’s RPI and SOS numbers will skyrocket if the Grizz upset top seed NDSU, won’t it?
Oakland’s success should not surprise savvy college hoops followers. Their home games are the most underrated sporting events in the Detroit Metro area. Head Coach Greg Kampe has been a mainstay of the Detroit sports scene for a quarter century. He turned the program into a D2 power and shepherded it through the transition years of becoming a full-fledged D1 program. Since joining the Summit League, Kampe has led the Grizz to top-3 finishes in six of 10 seasons, including a pair of league titles.
The highlight of their D1 tenure was a 2005 appearance in the NCAA Tournament. They went a surprise run in the Summit Sectional to get the bid. After winning the play-in game over Alabama State, the Grizz played eventual national champion North Carolina in a 1/16 game. I’ll say this about Oakland: They are 2-0 ATS lifetime in the NCAA Tournament. They were catching 29 points against the Heels, but only lost by 28. Woot!!
That season, Oakland was a Cinderella story, even within its own league. This go around, they’re legit contenders for the Summit’s auto bid.
Oakland spanked tournament host South Dakota State last night in the semifinals, stifling the Jackrabbits offense all night. Oakland surged to a 19-point halftime lead and never looked back.
Oakland has a nice seven-man rotation and, at times, can go even deeper than that. Their two mainstays are the guard tandem of Erik Kangas and Jonathon Jones. Both rarely leave the court, averaging over 35 minutes a game. Kangas is one of the nation’s top three point shooters. Jones, meanwhile, mans the point, dishing out almost 8 assists a game to go along with 13.9 ppg.
Last night, Kangas poured in 21 points, while Jones had a double/double, scoring 16 and dishing out 10 dimes. Keith Benson, their 6/11 pivotman, provides beef up front and grabbed 14 boards last night.
The chore will be tough tonight going up against the Bison. They’ve been the wire-to-wire first place team in the Summit all season. Since Christmas, they’ve won 20 of 22 games. One of those losses, at least, was a one-point defeat at the hands of Oakland. The Bison returned the favor, beating the Grizz by 10 back in February.
Leading the Bison is the best player you’ve probably never heard of or seen play, Ben Woodside. He has a fantastic, rather old school game. The Bison have been steamrolling folks much of the winter. As such, they’ve compiled a pretty good statistical resume, so much so that according to KenPom’s projections, the Bison are one the top 70 teams in the country.
The Bison are a new team to the D1 level and this is the first year they’re eligible to play in the Summit Sectional and compete for the conference’s automatic bid. Don’t think this game is important for the NDSU folks? Consider this storyline: The team is led by a core of seniors who all took a redshirt season just so they would still have eligibility left for this particular season. An entire college career has pointed to this season, to this particular tournament, to this particular night.
Make no mistake, there will be a lot of pressure and drama in this one. It’s the essence of March Madness. I think NDSU has too much invested to let this one slip. They’re favored by just four points. I will be pulling for the Grizz, but, if I were to gamble tonight, I would take the Bison. The O/U total is 152, so expect a rather high scoring contest.
The Sun Belt Conference will also hand out its automatic bid tonight when South Alabama plays Western Kentucky. I don’t know a whole lot about the league this year. My gut tells me WKU is the better team, but South Bama has looked better this weekend. Instead, I’ll drop this historic information: Michigan beat South Alabama in the second round during its 1989 title run. Western Kentucky beat Michigan in the first round of the 1995 tournament, ending the Wolverine careers of Jimmy King and Ray Jackson.
The Horizon League title game offers the most important bubble game of the night. Win or lose, Butler will be in the field. But, a Cleveland State win gives the Vikings the auto bid and will eventually knock one bubble team off the bracket line. Butler won both games this season. Both games went down to the wire and were among some of the more well played games of the season.
I’ll try and dig up more information on those two games as the day goes on
The Big East gets its five-day tournament off the ground this afternoon in Madison Square Garden. In the first round, Notre Dame, Cincinnati and Georgetown all play today with one last chance to impress. Each needs at least two, if not three, win to put itself in legit at-large conversation.
Only one today. I’m taking Cleveland State +6 over Butler. I backed the Vikings both times this year against the Bulldogs and came out even. I lost the first matchup, a pick ‘em, when Butler drained a three-pointer at the buzzer. I won the second game with CSU catching 7 points on Butler’s home floor in a game that also went down to the wire. Tonight, the rubber match for my wallet. I had no second thoughts taking CSU two weeks ago on Butler’s home floor. With the spread basically the same, I don’t see why they cant do it again.
Maybe more predictions later, we’ll see.