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2010 MAC Tournament Preview

Championship Week is upon us and it's time to start finding out who's worthy of making the field of 65.  The MAC appears it will only send 1 team to the Dance unless there are no upsets in the other conference tourneys, all other bubblers lose allowing Kent St. a chance at an at-large bid with a MAC Championship loss.  Tournament play usually equals grind it out, half-court basketball at its finest, which demands perfect execution at both ends.  It also provides an opportunity for one team to get hot and carry that play over 3 days, allowing a team to break through and advance.  Tournament play is the ultimate pressure cooker:  one big scoring run to get separation may be enough to win, but if it comes too early and you decide to sit on the lead, the door is open for your opponent to come back and send you home disappointed.  We're going to try and break down every game from the 1st round on and see how things play out.

1st Round

12 Toledo at 5 Buffalo

Previous meeting at Toledo:  Buffalo 65-59.  When they played earlier, both teams were looking to gain some confidence.  Toledo hadn't won a conference game and Buffalo, after starting strong, had lost 5 of their last 6.  This game was close throughout, but Buffalo's experience and Toledo's self-doubt were the difference at the end of the game.  Since their previous meeting, both teams have played better, Buffalo has won 6 of 8 and Toledo got their 1st conference win against Ball St.  Buffalo is one of the top 3 offensive teams in the league, led by Pierce and Betts and their gambit of athletic bigs who provide a number of things.  However, their defense has really fallen off, especially on the perimeter, which can keep a team like Toledo in it because the Rockets will be able to get shots.  Toledo played one of their better games vs. Buffalo and still lost, at home.  Toledo will have a chance to score points, but Buffalo will score more, between 10-15 more.  I see the Bulls gradually pulling away in this one.

11 NIU at 6 Eastern

Previous meetings:  NIU 77-69 at DeKalb, Eastern 66-60 at Ypsilanti.  When these 2 teams met 10 days ago, NIU had 72 shot attempts (making 22) and Eastern had 48 FT attempts (making 26).  Earlier in the year, NIU shot the ball well, but their percentages have dropped as the year's gone on.  NIU is now the worst 3 point shooting team in the league at 30% and they need to make 3s to win.  To make up for that, they do a great job on the boards, so it'll be important for Bowdry and Dobbins to stay out of foul trouble.  The most important question may be how Eastern responds after giving away the West title Thursday night to Central on their home floor.  But Eastern has won 4 of 6 with their 2 losses being in the last minute and Medlock played well in both meetings.  I think he'll lead Eastern to a 5-7 point win.

10 BG at 7 Western

Previous meeting at Kalamazoo:  Western 65-64.  BG led by 11 late in the 2nd half, but the Broncos came back and won it on a Kool drive with 4 seconds left.  These 2 teams are pretty evenly matched.  Western had trouble keeping BG's guards in front of them and they don't have the bulk to match up with BG down low.  On the other hand, BG doesn't have anyone who can stay in front of Western's athletes, they're not quick enough and most importantly, they don't have anyone who can stay with Kool.  BG's lost 3 straight, 4 of 5 and haven't won away from the Anderson bandbox since late January.  Western wins another close game.

9 OU at 8 Ball St.

Previous meeting at Athens:  OU 67-66 (OT).  OU led by 3 with 13 seconds left, but Ball St. scored twice to steal one at the Convo.  Ball St. had a big edge on the boards, including 12 offensive rebounds.  OU was without DeVaughn Washington and they missed him as Terence Watson went for 20 and 16.  Ball St. wins games with defense, which is good because OU can score and make shots in bunches.  You have to force OU into falling in love with perimeter shots less dribble penetration and kickouts.  OU's done a better job of getting more balance in their scoring and their play has improved.  Ball St. has lost 3 straight, but OU hasn't won away from home in a month.  I think OU's ability to make shots and Washington's play will be enough to give OU the win, but by a basket.

Quarterfinals

9 OU vs. 1 Kent

Previous meetings:  Kent 62-60 at Athens, Kent 74-67 at Kent.  To beat Kent, you have to be able and willing to attack them off the dribble at every position.  OU's guards have the ability to do that and they've had success in doing so while also putting pressure on Kent's guards, not making it easy for them to run their offense.  But, Kent's bigs have the advantage inside because they can guard OU's pick and roll and they're better on the glass.  Kent gets too many 2nd chance points and they'll win by 8-10 points, though OU will make a lot of outside shots to stay in it.

5 Buffalo vs. 4 Miami

Previous meetings:  Buffalo 73-55 at Buffalo, Miami 73-62 at Oxford.  Buffalo is more experienced, more athletic, more unselfish, and tougher on the boards, all things Miami has had trouble with.  But, Buffalo's had trouble on the defensive end and if you can beat their initial ring of pressure, you can get any shot you want.  Team defense wise, Buffalo's pretty good, especially with their athletic, tall bigs waiting to swat away any weak stuff.  Where they've had trouble defensively is in the half-court on ball reversal and getting out to shooters, things Miami is good at.  In each game, one team has gone on a 15 minute run to put the game out of reach.  Miami must attack the dribbler on the ball screen, attack offensively, and rebound better to win.  I think Miami wins by 3-5 points.

6 Eastern vs. 3 Akron

Previous meeting:  Eastern 62-59 at Akron.  In their 1st meeting, Eastern got hot with Antonio Green and Jay Higgins emerging from slumps and Medlock finishing it off at the end.  Akron had plenty of chances, but they insisted on settling for jump shots despite getting to the foul line with regularity.  Akron is at its best when they're moving the ball, getting shots from that ball movement, then hitting the glass hard to get 2nd and 3rd chance points.  Unless Akron falls in love with the 3 again and Eastern gets hot, the Zips should come away victorious.  Eastern has to hit 3s in order to stay with Akron and Akron's defense shouldn't allow this to happen a 2nd time.  Akron by 10-12 points, though low scoring as Eastern will make it hard on Akron to score.

7 Western vs. 2 Central

Previous meetings:  Western 70-61 at Kalamazoo, Central 74-66 at Mt. Pleasant.  In the 1st game, Donald Lawson was the difference with 17 and 8 while Harman and Bitzer were forced into tough shots and lots of dribbling.  10 days ago, Central got better ball movement, better shots for Harman and Bitzer and Lawson was nowhere to be found.  On a neutral floor, the result is usually somewhere in the middle of the home and home.  Kool will get his points; Harman and Bitzer will get theirs as well.  The more aggressive team will win because that will mean someone's supporting cast will have stepped up.  Western has the more talented supporting cast, but Central is a good defensive team and will force Kool to try and do it all by himself.  The problem is Kool can do it all by himself and he makes the game-winning play for the win in this one.

Semifinals

4 Miami vs. 1 Kent

Previous meetings:  Miami 55-53 (OT) at Oxford, Kent 66-58 at Kent.  Miami is another team that matches up pretty well with Kent because Hayes is willing to attack outside and Mavunga has the mismatch offensively against Greene and Parks.  However, Kent likes the matchup as well because of Miami's weakness at guarding the ball and on the glass.  Usually when Kent and Miami play one another in the tournament, the pace slows to a grinding halt and the affair becomes physical.  Miami has sometimes shyed away from the physicality of the game while Kent normally embraces it.  Since the 1st meeting, Kent's frontcourt, especially Greene and Simpson, have stepped up their play, giving Singletary some help.  Miami should be able to stop their 1st shot offense, but I think Kent will get too many 2nd chances and win by 4-6 points.

7 Western vs. 3 Akron

Previous meeting:  Akron 79-70 at Kalamazoo.  Akron shot 53% in the 1st meeting and made 8 3s, one of their better offensive performances of the year.  Western doesn't fare well against East division teams, especially in Cleveland because they usually run into Kent or Akron, teams they usually don't match up with physically.  That's the case here.  Kool will get his, but no one else will.  Akron wins by 12-15 points.  The McKnight boys are too good and too strong offensively for Kool, McLemore, Whitfield and whoever else tries to guard them.

Championship

3 Akron vs. 1 Kent

Previous meetings:  Kent 87-70 at Kent, Kent 74-61 at Akron.  Akron's gameplan is to isolate you on both ends of the floor and see if you're as good as us.  Right now, Kent is better at every position, outside, inside, and off the bench.  Once Kent got through the 1st 5 minutes Friday night and took the lead, Akron's facial expressions told the story.  Kent's play Friday night was the best game by any MAC team this year that I've seen.  They are the team to beat and I don't think Akron is capable of beating them.  Kent beats Akron by at least 12 points.  Kent's tougher matchups will be OU, Miami, or Buffalo, depending on who they see.

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