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2020 MAC Conference Tournament Preview and Prediction

MAC Madness is back. We can’t really say that it is better than ever, as the Mid-American Conference seems to be down a little bit as a whole this season, but the potential for chaos is very much there when the teams descend on Cleveland, Ohio for the quarterfinals beginning on Thursday March 12.

Before we get to that point, the bottom six teams all have to play on campus sites on Monday March 9. All 12 teams participate in this conference tournament, but four of them won’t make it past the first round.

Buffalo has won this conference tournament four of the last five years, but the Bulls are down quite a bit from those versions of the team. Kent State won in 2017. Akron typically shows well in this thing, but hasn’t won the championship and the auto bid since 2013. Something that is interesting to point out is that a team from the current MAC West Division has only won once since 2004. That was Western Michigan in 2014.

We’ll see what this year’s tournament has in store for us.

Here are the teams, seeds, standings, and odds from 5Dimes Sportsbook for the 2020 MAC Tournament:

  1. Akron 24-7 (14-4) +140
  2. Bowling Green 21-10 (12-6) +700
  3. Ball State 18-13 (11-7) (record vs. NIU/Buffalo) +525
  4. Northern Illinois 18-13 (11-7) (record vs. Ball State/Buffalo) +900
  5. Buffalo 20-11 (11-7) +625
  6. Kent State 19-12 (9-9) +800
  7. Toledo 16-15 (8-10) (record vs. Ohio) +1000
  8. Ohio 16-15 (8-10) +1500
  9. Central Michigan 14-17 (7-11) +6000
  10. Western Michigan 13-18 (6-12) (record vs. Ball State) +7500
  11. Eastern Michigan 16-15 (6-12) +5500
  12. Miami (OH) 12-19 (5-13) +7500

Buffalo has held serve as the #1 seed the last two years. Akron made the finals as the #1 in 2017 and lost to #6 Kent State. The Zips also lost as the #1 seed to #3 Buffalo in 2016. Buffalo also won in 2015 in a 2 vs. 1 matchup. So, we get some craziness in the early rounds and some upsets, but the top teams generally make it as far as the conference championship game.

Akron has been the best team per most rankings throughout the season, but the Zips do feel a little bit vulnerable, in part because they haven’t really been able to get over the hump in this tournament. Ball State is the best defensive team in the field and won the West Division by tiebreakers over Northern Illinois. Akron is the best offensive team and is the most balanced overall, as the Zips rank third in adjusted defensive efficiency. They are the top defense inside the arc, while Ball State is the top defense from 3.

Here is the schedule for the 2020 Mid-American Conference Tournament:

Monday March 9

9 Central Michigan at 8 Ohio

12 Miami (OH) at 5 Buffalo

10 Western Michigan at 7 Toledo

11 Eastern Michigan at 6 Kent State

Thursday March 12

12 p.m. ET: 9/8 winner vs. 1 Akron

2:30 p.m. ET: 12/5 winner vs. 4 Northern Illinois

6:30 p.m. ET: 10/7 winner vs. 2 Bowling Green

9 p.m. ET: 11/6 winner vs. 3 Ball State

Friday March 13

6:30 p.m. ET: 9/8/1 winner vs. 12/5/4 winner

9 p.m. ET: 10/7/2 winner vs. 11/6/3 winner

Saturday March 14

7:30 p.m. ET: Championship Game

Those first-round games on campus sites will be interesting. Central Michigan and Miami (OH) have long trips. A win for Toledo would set up a rivalry game in Cleveland against Bowling Green, which would be a whole lot of fun. There are a lot of alumni from the Ohio schools in the Cleveland area, especially Bowling Green and Toledo, so that would probably be the best atmosphere of the tournament, at least up until the championship game.

Bowling Green has been a pretty darn good team, too. It wouldn’t be a big stunner to see Akron draw Buffalo in the semifinals, as Northern Illinois is a fairly week #4 seed. Buffalo, of course, has to play the extra game, but with ample travel and rest time for the trip down I-90, they’ll be fine after disposing of Miami of Ohio.

Ball State is a really interesting team here and the Cardinals could decide a lot. They are the best defensive team in the conference. They are one of the best at defensive rebounding and have held opponents to just 29.1% from 3 in conference play. Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse will be pretty cavernous for the players in these games with a lot of fans clustered on the sidelines for TV purposes. The areas behind the baskets will appear very deep, especially with the wine-colored seats.

If shooting percentages are going to be down anyway, do you want a team that has the best chance offensively or a team that could further hamper an opponent’s offensive chances?

Akron played a lot of games that were too close for comfort, including losses to Toledo, Buffalo, Kent State, and Bowling Green. They also beat those four teams, so they have a wide range of outcomes in this tournament, especially because they are likely to run into Buffalo and then Ball State would be the only team on the other side of the bracket outside of those three.

Bowling Green comes into the tournament playing some of its worst basketball of the season. The Falcons are in the midst of their longest losing streak of the year at three games. Their defense totally fell apart at the end of the season and has had some lulls over the course of the year.

Buffalo’s price has been cut down based on reputation and they are a little bit high-variance themselves. Ball State is from the West, which has historically been the weaker of the two conferences and may have serious problems scoring.

Each and every one of these teams has what could be a fatal flaw. I guess that is true of every conference tournament, but especially this one.

Kent State isn’t playing very well, but Rob Senderoff is a good coach and the Golden Flashes tend to go on some runs in this thing. Again, they will be well-represented by fans. With the bottom of the bracket pretty wide-open, Kent State avoids Buffalo or Akron until the finals. The Golden Flashes are my favorite dice roll in what is truly a gamble of a conference tournament.

A money line rollover is going to give you a better price than +800, but for the purposes of the article, Kent State is the pick. I would just explore better ways of attacking it.

Pick: Kent State +800

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