The Mid-American Conference was rocked with controversy last week, when Akron Zips point guard Alex Abreu was suspended indefinitely and charged for marijuana trafficking. The Zips were considered the favorites to win the MAC conference tournament, and still have a good shot to do so. Abreu's suspension, however, makes that road more difficult and gives other dangerous team's, such as last year's tournament champion Ohio Bobcats, a better chance to punch their own NCAA ticket.
What, Who, When
The Mid-American Conference men's basketball tournament will be held March 11-March 16th. The first round of the tournament will take place at the arena of the higher seed, while the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, OH will host the remaining rounds of the tournament.
The 12-team conference only has eleven teams participating in the tournament, since the Toledo Rockets were declared ineligible due to poor academic performance. The tournament features a staggered-bye system. The top two seeds, Akron and Ohio, receive byes to the semi-finals. The No. 3 and the No. 4 seeds, the Western Michigan Broncos and the Kent St. Golden Flashes, receive byes to the quarterfinals while the No. 5 Ball St. Cardinals receive a first-round bye
Monday: Game 1 - No. 8 Buffalo Bulls vs No. 9 Central Michigan Chippewas, Game 2 - No. 7 Eastern Michigan Eagles vs. No. 10 Northern Illinois Huskies, Game 3 - No. 6 Bowling Green Falcons vs. No.11 Miami (Ohio) Redhawks
Wednesday: Game 4 - Game 1 Winner vs. No. 5 Ball State Cardinals, Game 5 - Game 2 Winner vs. Game 3 Winner.
Thursday: Game 6 - Game 4 Winner vs. No. 4 Kent State Golden Flashes, Game 7 - Game 5 Winner vs. No. 3 Western Michigan Broncos
Friday: Game 8 - Game 6 Winner vs. No. 1 Akron Zips, Game 9 - Game 7 Winner vs. No. 2 Ohio Bobcats
Saturday: Game 10 - Game 8 Winner vs. Game 9 Winner
Who The Numbers Like
Akron: Despite missing an important piece in Abreu, Akron still has the pieces to win the conference tournament. Akron had the top-rated defense in conference play to compliment their third-ranked offense, and while they will miss Abreu on the offensive side of the ball, the defense should still be dominant. Senior center Zeke Marshall has the seventh highest block percentage in the country, and his presence down low can alter game plans. Akron also won both games against Ohio this season.
Who The Eyeballs Like
Ohio: It is hard to predict how a group of college kids will react to the lose of there point guard and leader, making the Bobcats the favorites. Ohio only needs to win two games to win the tournament, same as Akron, and has a similarly well-rounded team, owning the second best offense and defense in conference play. The Bobcats are also 7-0 against the teams on their side of the bracket, while Akron is 4-2 against their potential opponents.
Kent State: If the Golden Flashes get hot in the tournament, they will be a tough out for anyone. Kent State had the best offense in conference play, thanks to a league-high three-point percentage. On average, Randal Holt shoots seven three-point shots per game, while Chris Evans and Devareaux Manley are also willing to shoot from downtown. Kent State also enters the tournament having won seven out of their last eight games, including their season finale, a road victory against Akron.
Best Possible Title Game
Akron vs. Ohio: The top two seeds played an overtime game on February 27th, and Akron escaped the Convocation Center with a 88-81 victory. The Bobcats, however, beat Akron 64-63 last season in the MAC championship game.
Who Might/Will Get In Anyway
Akron: The Zips have a chance to gain an at-large bid even if they lose the tournament, but they would be squarely on the bubble.
Players To Watch
Carmelo Betancourt, Akron: Betancourt has been thrust into the starting role with Abreu's suspension. The freshman has struggled this season, owning a 48 percent turnover rate to compliment his 26 percent assist rate. Betancourt has also struggled from beyond the arc this season, while Abreu was the Zips most consistent deep threat. Marshall and Nick Harney can help carry the team offensively without Abreu, but Betancourt cannot be a liability with ball to give Akron a chance at winning the conference tournament.
D.J Cooper, Ohio: Cooper is the top point guard in the conference, and will need to play up to his lofty standards for the Bobcats to win the tournament. Ohio's offense runs through Cooper, as the senior owns the second highest assist rate in the conference while being one of the more efficient scorers in the league. Cooper also has the fifth highest steals percentage in the conference, and might get the chance to hound the unproven Betancourt in the title game.
Randal Holt, Kent State: Holt has the ability to carry a team to a victory with his outside shooting if he gets hot. Holt went 6-9 from behind the arc on February 27th, scoring 28 points and willing his team to a 83-81 win over Buffalo. Holt, however, will keep shooting if he's cold, as the senior went 1-10 from behind the arc and 2-17 overall earlier this season in a 62-55 loss against the Xavier Musketeers.
Majok Majok, Ball State: Ball State also enters the tournament on a hot streak, winning seven of their last eight games, and is top rebounding team in the conference. Majok plays a major role in the team's rebounding excellence, as the junior forward is the best on the defensive glass and fifth best on the offensive glass in the MAC. Majok can create extra opportunities for himself and for his teammates while limiting second chance opportunities for the Cardinals opponents, which will be key if Ball State wants to make a run in the tournament.
Javon McCrea, Buffalo: It's going to be difficult for any of the team's playing in the first round to win the tournament, as they have to win double the amount of games that the top-two seeds have to win to be declared champion. McCrea, however, does give Buffalo a chance to make some serious noise. The 6-7 forward is the offense for Buffalo, as McCrea ranks in the top 25 in both possession and shot percentage in the nation. The junior has handled the load well, as he ranks sixth in the conference in true shooting percentage. McCrea is also a strong rebounder, and the fifth best shot-blocker in the MAC.