There used to be a time when the Mid-American Conference would send two teams to the NCAA Tournament. But the last time that fanciful feat happened was in 1999. Miami University lost the MAC title game to Kent State, who lost their first round game. Yet MU reached the Sweet 16 on the back of pretty boy Wally Szczerbiak. The last actual win in March Madness by the conference was in 2003, when Chris Kaman and Central Michigan upset 6-seeded Creighton before getting pummeled by Duke.
So this tournament is pretty much it for everyone involved. Whoever wins the whole thing gets to move on, and the rest get to watch. And that's why smaller conference tourneys are way more fun to watch. It's devoid of all the "if they reach the semifinals they're off the bubble" nonsense. The season hangs in the balance for each team at every round.
The first round begins Sunday. All games are at 2 p.m. Eastern.
#12 Toledo (4-27, 1-15 MAC) at #5 Buffalo (17-11, 9-7)
Winner plays #4 Miami (13-17, 9-7)
The Rockets set a MAC record for most overall losses, breaking the record they tied last year with 25. I've attended all their home games, and as bad as they are, suspensions and midseason departures haven't helped them either, leaving them with one junior and no seniors on the roster. Just two years ago Buffalo was the No. 12 seed, and this year features five seniors in their rotation, all who shoot free throws exceptionally well and will absolutely wear down UT, putting them out of their misery. Buffalo 71, Toledo 49
#11 Northern Illinois (6-10, 10-19) at #6 Eastern Michigan (16-14, 8-8)
Winner plays #3 Central Michigan (15-14, 9-7)
NIU began conference play strong, winning their first four. But they finished up 2-11, including a 10-game losing streak buried in there. Meanwhile, EMU beat the Huskies 66-60 on February 27, and the three-headed monster of Carlos Medlock, Brandon Bowdry, and Justin Dobbins are the only threesome in the conference to average at least 12 points per game apiece.
EMU loves shooting the three, but they have one of the poorest percentages at it (30.4), while the Huskies rebound extremely well. This game could spell the end for the Eagles if Colorado transfer Xavier Silas has a breakout game for NIU. And, sure, I have no problem seeing that happen. Northern Illinois 62, Eastern Michigan 57
#10 Bowling Green (6-10, 14-15) at #7 Western Michigan (16-14, 8-8)
Winner plays #2 Akron (22-9, 12-4)
When these two teams last tangled on February 6 in Kalamazoo, the Falcons blew an 11-point lead with seven minutes left and Western took the lead with four seconds remaining. (This is why David Kool is not welcome in my house.) Considering the Falcons' biggest win was on the road at Kent State, they have the potential for a road upset, but losing their last four MAC games portends them to bow out gracefully sooner rather than later. Western Michigan 67, Bowling Green 62
#9 Ohio (17-14, 7-9) at #8 Ball State (15-14, 8-8)
Winner plays #1 Kent State (23-8, 13-3)
Finally, the "evenly matched up" game, if you will. Their regular season meeting was extremely fun, as Ball State notched the winning bucket with three seconds left in overtime. But the Cardinals have lost their final three games (including one that led to Toledo's first MAC win) and Ohio has won three of their last four. Ohio junior forward Tommy Freeman (ironically from Muncie, Indiana) has sunk 14 of his last 23 3-point attempts to help propel him near the top of the nation in 3-point percentage (46.6%). If he gets hot, this one gets out of hand quickly. Ohio 69, Ball State 60
The quarterfinals begin at Cleveland's Quicken Loans Arena on Thursday. Semifinals are Friday and the MAC Championship will be at Saturday at 6 p.m., watchable on ESPN2. The losers may watch.