Is this finally the year that one of the northwest Ohio teams ends their NCAA Tournament drought? Toledo hasn’t been there since 1980 and Bowling Green hasn’t made the dance since 1968. The Falcons looked like they were setting themselves up for a good shot in Cleveland, then their midseason woes happened and they finished the regular season 10-8 in conference.
Unlike typical MAC tournaments, this year, only eight teams made it, with the whole event being in Cleveland. The conference removed the first-round campus games, leading to less travel for the teams. That will unfortunately keep us from seeing another 12 over 5 upset like we saw with Miami and Buffalo last year.
Thurs., March 11
First Round (All games on ESPN+)
Game 1: Toledo vs. Ball State, 11 a.m.
Game 2: Kent State vs. Ohio, approx. 1:30 p.m.
Game 3: Buffalo vs. Miami, approx. 4 p.m.
Game 4: Akron vs. Bowling Green, approx. 6:30 p.m.
Fri., March 12
Semifinals (CBS Sports Network)
Game 5: Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner, 5 p.m.
Game 6: Game 3 winner vs. Game 4 winner, 7:30 p.m.
Sat., March 13
Game 7: Game 5 winner vs. Game 6 winner, 7:30 p.m.
Toledo (20-7, 15-4): This one’s pretty obvious. The Rockets look like the top team in the league going into the tournament, and they’ve backed it up all season. They’ve had a couple tough games throughout the season, including one really bad loss at Ball State — their quarterfinal opponent.
Toledo will need to lean on MAC player of the year Marreon Jackson, who comes into the tournament averaging 17.6 points per game, good for fifth in the conference, and 6.2 assists per game (10th in the country). The Rockets won the regular season championship for the MAC, but the championship they really want is the one that’ll send them to Indianapolis for the NCAA Tournament. If they can play their brand of basketball, and make their threes, they’ll have a good chance this weekend.
Akron (14-7, 12-6): Akron has been a team to watch this season in the MAC. They play a fast, exciting style of basketball, and could put up video game numbers. They sat at the top of the conference last season going into the tournament, but never got a shot to win it. The Zips were on the court last year in Cleveland, preparing to play their first game in the MAC tournament, when a press conference was called, and everything got shut down.
Akron is led by one of the most exciting players in the conference in Loren Christian-Jackson. He leads the conference in scoring with 21.6 points per game and is the only player in the MAC to score 20-plus per game. Akron has dropped a few games of late, and fell to the 3 seed, but that shouldn’t affect the Zips too much. They’ll open against Bowling Green, a team they split with this season.
Buffalo (15-7, 13-5): Buffalo doesn’t rebuild, it just retools. After a bad season by Buffalo’s standards, a 5 seed in the MAC tournament and a first round exit last year, the Bulls find themselves back near the top. Sneaking into second place in the conference late in the season, they have momentum.
The Bulls are led in scoring by Jeenathan Williams, who posts 17.3 points per game, good for sixth in the conference. They have a trio of all-conference second-teamers in Williams, Jayvon Graves and Josh Mballa. This team definitely has the firepower to come out and win the whole thing. They’re still the reigning champions of the tournament, and they’ll look to defend that this weekend.
Bowling Green (14-10, 10-8): It was a tale of two seasons for Bowling Green. The Falcons looked really good at points, and not so good at others. They had a six-game losing streak right in the middle of conference play, but also had a five-game win streak to open. Don’t count them out.
Ohio (13-7, 9-5): Ohio made national headlines early in the season, almost knocking off Illinois. The Bobcats kept that momentum and built a solid season out of it. They’ll need Jason Preston to keep up his level of play, as he’s top 10 in the conference in scoring, rebounding, minutes played, and sits atop the conference in assists. If he has a great day, the Bobcats will follow. Ohio is looking to make its first NCAA Tournament since 2012, when they went to the Sweet 16 as a 13 seed.
With the climate of conference tournaments this season, it’s really tough to try to pick a winner in here. Toledo and Akron are the clear favorites, but truly I think it’ll be Buffalo that’ll find a way to come through and win the tournament. As we’ve seen with other conferences though, it really could be anyone out of the MAC.