By Michael Reghi
I’ve always loved the final two weeks of Mid-American Conference regular season, when February turns into March. This year is no different, as game importance magnifies with the new format for seeded teams in the MAC Tournament kicks in beginning the week of March 5.
As a quick refresher, the top four seeds earn byes into tournament play, with the Nos. 1 and 2 seeds heading to the semifinals on March 9 @ Quicken Loans Arena. Seeds 3 and 4 avoid first-round games on campus sites and begin play on Thursday, March 8 in the quarterfinal round.
I am a proponent of the move, because it places heavier weight on the 16-game regular season schedule, and rewards the top 4 records.
Entering play this week, Akron has a two-game lead with four to go for the coveted top seed. While the Zips lost in Tulsa by 24 against Oral Roberts in BracketBuster action over the weekend, they are going to be tough to unseat for the top seed. Although, they still have to travel to Ohio and Kent State in the final two weeks.
Kent is the current No. 2 seed, although tied with Buffalo at 9-3, behind Akron's 11-1. Ohio's Bobcats sit fourth at 8-4. Remember, that's a highly-coveted spot, as well. Bowling Green holds down the fifth seed at 7-5.
Who is the first MAC West squad to show up? Eastern Michigan. The Eagles are currently the No. 6 seed at 6-6 in league play, with a one-game lead over 5-7 Western Michigan.
Keep close tabs on Kent State's trip into Oxford tonight (Sportstime Ohio, 7 p.m.) Steve Mix joins me courtside at Millet Hall on the call.
Charlie Coles’ squad, paced by the February burst of underclassmen Quinten Rollins, Jon Harris and sweet-shooting frosh Brian Sullivan have won three of its last five MAC games behind Sullivan’s hot shooting. The true freshman is fourth in the NCAA, burying 49 % of his three-pointers.
Even better, in February he's connected on 55% from long distance in the last seven MAC games. That's scalding!
Rollins, Harris and Sullivan will need to augment the continued strong play of 6-8 senior Julian Mavunga, who leads the MAC in both points per game (16.8) and rebounding (9.4) The last time a MAC player led the league in both? How about Gary Trent, who was just unstoppable in the '94-'95 season with averages of 22.9 points and 12.8 rebounds.
A win tonight would give the Flashes their 13th 20-plus win season in the last 14 years! Should the Flashes win one of their final four games in MAC play, they would join Kansas from the Big 12, Gonzaga from the West Coast and Creighton from the Missouri Valley as the only four programs in the NCAA to win 10-plus conference games in each of the last 14 seasons. That’s superb in this era of college hoops.
Still armed with a seven-game MAC win streak, Kent State leads the league in conference play, averaging 74.5 points per game, while shooting 48% from the floor, on 16.8 assists per night. The guard play has been tremendous, as Michael Porrini, Randall Holt, and Carlton Guyton can apply pressure all over the floor defensively, and are diverse in their skillsets on the offensive end. Holt's been on blazing away in the win streak, averaging 13 points on 45 percent from deep, while 6-7 junior Chris Evans is an offensive highlight machine off the Flashes’ bench, averaging 13 points per game on 63% shooting, in just 24 minutes per-game.
An added bonus tonight from Oxford: We'll be joined by former Miami All-American Wally Szczerbiak on the telecast. Miami has been bringing back their players from the program’s history to be saluted by their faithful. Who better than 'Wally World', who was phenomenal in leading the RedHawks to the 1999 Sweet 16, averaging 30 points per game on his way to becoming the second-leading scorer in program history! It will be good to visit with Wally and all of you tonight from Southwest Ohio! See you then!
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