Mid-American tournament: Preview, prediction, TV info
Toledo was unbeaten through nearly two months, but Western Michigan split the regular-season title with the Rockets. And what about Buffalo?
What: Mid-American Conference championship.
When: March 10, 12-15.
Where: Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland for second round through championship game. Campus sites for the first round.
Bracket: View tournament field here.
TV: Championship game on ESPN2 (March 15, 6:30 p.m.). Second round, third round and semifinals on ESPN3.
Last year's champ: Akron (26-7, No. 12 seed)
What matters: Toledo and Western Michigan shared the regular-season title, with each team going 14-4 in the West Division. The Rockets were the favorites entering conference play, as they jumped out to a 12-0 overall start before falling to Kansas in late December. But Western Michigan's late charge forged a tie. The Broncos weren't great in the non-league and started 4-3 in the MAC, but they won 10 of their final 11 games -- with the lone loss coming at Toledo. Over in the East Division, Buffalo is the team to watch. In Bobby Hurley's first year as head coach, the Bulls are the highest-ranked MAC team at KenPom and have been very consistent over the past two months.
Who matters: There is some star power among the top teams in the league. Toledo is mostly a balanced outfit, with Julius Brown (14.8 ppg, 6.3 apg) and Justin Drummond (14.5 ppg, 4.9 rpg) forming a hard-to-guard duo in the backcourt. Ohio State transfer J.D. Weatherspoon (11.3, 6.7) and Rian Pearson (14.3, 5.3) anchor the frontcourt. Western Michigan counters with the league's highest-scoring tandem in David Brown (19.1 ppg) and Shayne Whittington (16.1 ppg, 8.8 rpg). And we haven't mentioned arguably the league's best player, Buffalo's Javon McCrea (18.9 ppg, 9.8 rpg). He has been one of the most efficient players in the country for four straight years.
Fun fact: If one of the three favorites reach the NCAA Tournament, it's going to snap a drought. Out of the three, Western Michigan made the tournament most recently, reaching it in 2004. However, Toledo and Buffalo go back much further. The Rockets last made the Big Dance in 1980, when they lost to Florida State in the first round. And Buffalo has never reached the NCAA Tournament. Bobby Hurley getting there in his first year as head coach would be a historic moment for the program.
Prediction: Toledo knocks off Western Michigan in the title game. As the top two seeds, both Toledo and Western Michigan get byes until the semifinals of the conference tournament, meaning only one game separates these two teams from the rubber match of their season series. The aggregate scoring margin from their two regular-season meetings is 0, with each game being won by 11 points. If Toledo is going to win on a neutral floor, it needs to do a better job of defending inside the arc. Western Michigan shot 69.7 percent and 66.7 percent from 2-point range in the regular season meetings. I think the Rockets will make defensive plays at the right time, and the inside-outside balance in the starting lineup will be the difference.
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