Sunday , Mar , 05 , 2006 C.Y. Ellis

2006 Mid-American Conference Tournament Preview

*** 2006 Mid-American Conference Tournament Preview ***

The Sports Network

By Ralph Lauro, College Basketball Staff Writer

FACTS & STATS: Site: First round games at campus sites; Quicken Loans Arena
(20,562) — Cleveland, Ohio (Quarterfinals through Final). Dates: March 6-11.
Television: ESPN2 (Championship Game). Annual: 27th. Defending Champion:
Ohio University.

OULOOK: For the first time since 2002, and for just the second time in school
history, the Kent State Golden Flashes won the Mid-American Conference regular
season crown, posting an impressive 15-3 league record. For its effort, KSU
picked up the MAC Tournament’s number one seed. At 12-6 in conference, the
Northern Illinois Huskies won the West Division and nabbed the second seed,
although the Akron Zips and Miami-Ohio RedHawks posted better league records.
The Zips and RedHawks finished the regular season one game behind Kent State
at 14-4 and were given the third and fourth seeds, respectively. The Ohio
University Bobcats will defend their 2005 MAC Tournament title as the fifth
seed, as they posted a 10-8 record, matching that put up by both the Western
Michigan Broncos and Toledo Rockets. The Broncs and Rockets lost out on the
tie-breaker with Ohio and landed the sixth and seventh seeds, respectively.
The Buffalo Bulls grabbed the eighth seed at 8-10, while the Ball State
Cardinals claimed the ninth spot with a 6-12 finish. The Bowling Green Falcons
went just 5-13 during the regular season and claimed the 10th seed, and the
Eastern Michigan Eagles earned the 11th seed by virtue of their 3-15 finish.
The Central Michigan Chippewas round out the field of 12 with their league-
worst 1-17 mark. The top four seeds earn an opening-round bye, while the rest
of the group will be forced to play games on the higher seeded team’s campus.
The winner of this event receives an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Top-seeded Kent State won the its fifth MAC East title in the last six years
by posting the league’s best record during the regular season. The Golden
Flashes have won nine of their last 11 outings and also own the league’s top
overall mark at 22-8. Kent State made four straight MAC Tourney championship
game appearances from 2001-04, going an even 2-2 during that stretch. The
Flashes will take on either Ball State or Buffalo in the quarterfinal round
on Thursday.

The second-seeded Huskies won the West Division and also earned a free pass to
the quarterfinals, where they will await the winner of the Bowling
Green/Toledo matchup. Northern Illinois closed out the regular season with
four straight wins, as it now heads in search of its first league tournament
title since 1982.

Another team that was awarded an opening-round bye is third-seeded Akron,
which is in the midst of one of its best seasons ever. The Zips own the
second-best overall mark in the league at 21-8 and has won 18 straight home
games. Akron, however, has struggled in this event over the years, going just
2-8 all-time.

The fourth and final team to receive a bye in the opening round is Miami-Ohio,
which closed out the regular season by winning nine of its final 10 games. As
the top seed in the tournament last season, the RedHawks made it to the
semifinals before being bounced by Ohio University.

The 2006 MAC Tournament kicks off on Monday with eighth-seeded Buffalo hosting
ninth-seeded Ball State. As the seventh seed in this tourney last year, the
Bulls made a run to their first-ever championship game appearance where they
lost by a point in overtime to Ohio. Buffalo went 11-3 at home during the
2005-06 regular season, including 6-3 against league foes. As for Ball State,
it split a pair of games with the Bulls during the regular season, but went
just 2-7 on the road versus conference foes.

The fifth-seeded Bobcats begin their title defense by hosting 12th-seeded
Central Michigan in the opening round on Monday. Last year, Ohio was the
fourth seed in the tournament, as it won its first postseason crown since
1994. The Bobcats went 12-2 at home during the 2005-06 regular slate and will
have the luxury of hosting a Chippewa club that has dropped 11 of its last 12
outings. Central Michigan, which last won this event in 2003, is a dreadful
1-13 on the road this year.

Seventh-seeded Toledo enters the tournament as one of the hottest teams in the
league and will host 10th-seeded Bowling Green in the opening round. The
Rockets won four straight games and seven of eight overall to close the
regular season, and also own a 13-2 ledger at home. Toledo is in search of its
first league title since 1980. As for Bowling Green, it completely fell apart
down the stretch and brings a seven-game losing streak into the postseason.
The Rockets and Falcons split a pair of bouts during the regular season, each
winning on their home court.

The final game of the opening round features a pair of intrastate rivals as
sixth-seeded Western Michigan battles 11th-seeded Eastern Michigan. The
Broncos swept both games from the Eagles during the regular season and own a
solid 9-4 mark at home. WMU won its lone MAC Tournament title in 2004, while
Eastern Michigan last won this event in 1998.

In terms of the history of this yearly tournament, Ball State has been far and
away the winningest team in the MAC, capturing seven championships and going
an impressive 35-17 in postseason action. The Cardinals last won the tourney
in 2000, when they defeated Miami-Ohio. Eastern Michigan and Ohio University
are next with four championships apiece, while Kent State and Miami-Ohio have
each won three titles. Central Michigan won its second title in 2003, while
Toledo, Western Michigan and Northern Illinois check in with one tournament
championship apiece. Bowling Green has won by far the most games (16) in this
tournament without winning a title, while Buffalo (4-6) and Akron (2-8) have
had the least amount of success in terms of wins.

For the second straight season the field is wide open, as there are at least
six legitimate teams that can win the MAC Tournament. Kent State has to be
considered the favorite coming in as the top seed, although Akron and Miami-
Ohio are just as good. Toledo is the hottest team and could be poised to make
a serious run. The Zips, however, seem to have the most balance at both ends
of the court and they should be able to continue their dream run by winning
their first MAC Tournament title.

Sports Network Predicted Champion: Akron