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Lesson of The MAC

March 1st, 2004

by Karl Gustafson


Quick! Think of two words that are synonymous with college basketball this time of year.  Is it “major upset”? How about “bubble teams”?  Give up?  You know I have to be talking about those pesky “mid major” schools.  The average hardcore college basketball fan loves the mid-major team.  To them, that word means upset, bracket mayhem, and small school splendor.  The 11 or 12 seed senior laden team rides the magic carpet to the sweet sixteen.  However, ask just about any fan around the Mid-American Conference, West Coast Conference or the Missouri Valley Conference, and they will say they hate that term.  To them it’s degrading; it looks upon these schools as inept, and as if what they are doing is unreal or out of the ordinary.  I personally have no problem with the term; I think it gives these teams an identity.  Syracuse, Kansas, or Arizona does not want to have to play them in the first round.  They are the scariest teams out there because they haven’t been mainstreamed into the media like the Kentucky’s of the world.  I am ready to make a case that we may finally see a school from one of these conferences make a run into the Final Four.  You may call them an upset, but it happens every year, the only problem is we don’t know where the gun shot will come from.

            By now, you all know about Gonzaga and Southern Illinois.  Both ranked, both steam rolling through their respective conferences, and both vying for unprecedented seeds.  In each of those conferences, The Mo Valley and the WCC, the front runners are clear every year.  Gonzaga has made themselves a perennial favorite and Southern Illinois and Creighton are always one-two.  There is however that one conference where you can expect two things.  The Mid-American Conference offers competitive basketball year in and year out, and the front runner is not clear until mid season. Top heavy leagues are nice and all, but compared to the MAC top to bottom, there is no comparison. This year thus far is no different.  Consider the MAC like the old NFC Central Division, the Black & Blue Division, everyone beats up on everybody, but the winner emerges tested, tougher, and focused on making some noise in the big dance.

            It’s been five years since the MAC has received two tourney bids (1999: Miami University and Kent State), but the MAC is finally loaded and deserving of two bids.  Nomination one goes to the Western Michigan Broncos, who at weeks end were 21-4 overall and 13-3 in league play.  The Broncos are led by senior forward Mike Williams who is averaging 19 points a game and 7.4 “Rodman’s per game.  But the Broncos boast two more players averaging in double figures, junior guard Ben Reed and senior center Anthony Kann are scoring 16 and 12 points per game respectively.  Talk about experience, WMU starts 3 seniors and 2 juniors.  As equally tough and tournament tested are the Golden Flashes from Kent State, who if you remember correctly, it was only 2 short tourneys ago that Kent State was dancing deep into the Elite Eight.  At weeks end, Kent State sat at 19-4 overall and a strong 13-2 conference record.  Kent State doesn’t boast the prolific scorer that the Broncos have, but the Golden Flashes are balanced and deep, they usually go 9 or 10 players a game. They have 8 players scoring 5 points or better a game.  Not impressed, take a look at the defenses in the MAC.  Leading the way is Miami University, who is currently up for the number 3 seed in the MAC tournament and leading the conference in scoring defense at around 60 points per game.

But the conference talent doesn’t end there; this is a deep conference top to bottom, and every year a new talent is emerging.  Last season, MAC dandy Central Michigan taught Creighton a lesson or two in the first round; this year they sit at the bottom of the MAC East Division.  Should the Broncos or the Golden Flashes falter in the Conference tournament tilt, then there are two teams I guarantee will be waiting in the wings.  Let me introduce to you the Toledo Rockets and the Miami Redhawks.  Both have experience players, nice records and MAC tourney experience.  Miami head coach Charlie Coles sent his team into the Conference tournament finals 4 straight seasons from 1998-2001.

            Currently, the MAC is keeping up with the rest of the nation yet at the same time, keeping that level of parity in the league that I talked about earlier.  Just last weekend, Kent State pulled an impressive win versus the always difficult Creighton Blue Jays.  But just a few nights ago, the Flashes were humbled by the Buffalo Bulls who are having their best campaign since joining the MAC.  Buffalo beating Kent? Come on, we all know that Buffalo is known for two things and two things only, building snow forts and losing Super Bowls.

            The prognosticator will tell you that the MAC will probably get only one in the tournament.  Either Western or Kent State could be on the bubble come Selection Sunday if they don’t take care of business in the conference tournament.  Is it too much to dream that one day the MAC may boast three teams to the big dance and be the representative conference for the first mid-major Final Four team?

By Karl Gustafson - Karl runs, a sports humor website. Check it out!




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