I thought for sure I had MAC basketball figured out. I thought I found the “it” team — Kent State. They were 13-5 overall, with a spotless 7-0 record in Mid-American Conference competition, wiping the floor with each of the six MAC West opponents.
Then came a home game against Bowling Green, the last place team in the MAC East. BG left Kent with a 79-74 victory.
Wh-wh-whaa?? BG beat Kent? At Kent? My 7-10 Bowling Green? OK. I’m officially stumped.
I try to sort out the MAC competition every year, and at any given date I have no clear-cut answer. The teams just beat each other up. And since most of the teams hail from around the Great Lakes states, try to think of the MAC as the Big Ten’s neglected cousin. They’re treated like Harry Potter at the Dursley household.
Although the MAC rarely gets multiple bids in the NCAA Tournament, that doesn’t make the competition any less fierce. On the contrary, it increases the meaning of each game, as there’s no such thing as wiggle room in a “mid major” conference.
Usually a team makes noise in December, but no team really stood out in nonconference play. Good early records held by Toledo and Buffalo were the result of a strength of schedule akin to that of Lennox Lewis spending an entire career beating up Glass Joe.
And if you drew a flowchart of power in the conference, your end product would resemble a tasty bowl of angel hair pasta.
Kent State, by the record, looked like the team in front. With their loss to — it still doesn’t make sense even as I type it — Bowling Green at home, the favoritism travels 15 miles southwest of Kent to Akron, where the Zips are also 7-1 in the conference. Their only loss was to preseason favorite Ohio.
Ruthless parity aside, it’s just a fun league to follow. This is the same conference that gave us the five-foot-five-inch Earl Boykins, the I’m-not-John-McGinley Dan Majerle, and the just-got-traded-to-Boston Wally Szczerbiak (36 points in Scrabble).
The league doesn’t have any stars like that this year. And the two leading scorers — BG’s Martin Samarco and Eastern Michigan’s John Bowler — are on last place teams. Hey, all the more reason to keep an eye out for all the teams, right?
Akron’s always been a solid basketball program. Since their football team broke through and won the conference this year, I’ll earmark them as today’s favorite to play in the NCAA tournament.
But if they lose to Bowling Green Sunday afternoon, then you can just disregard this entire post, come to my house, and punch me in the face.1
(1) – Please don’t punch me in the face. It hurts.