Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland, Ohio
Record: 23-8, 15-3
The MAC is annually one of the biggest toss-ups in terms of the Tournament, but this year could be different. Buffalo ran through the Conference with its title never in doubt, finishing with only three losses. Of course, its three losses came against Kent State, NIU and Miami with none of those teams in the top Four. Still, all rankings point to the Bulls as being the best team in the MAC by far, from its 32 ranking in RPI to 81 in KenPom. This is their Tournament to lose. They are the best overall team in the Conference with the best shooting numbers offensively, but also great numbers on the other end. That combined with Four guys averaging more than 14 points per Game is good enough reason to take this team. Its route to the Championship is straightforward, although nothing is a guarantee in this conference. The Chips should be a win, but they already split with Kent State this year, a possible semifinal opponent. The likely opponents in the title Game are Toledo and EMU and Buffalo hasn’t played either of those teams since January.
Record: 21-10, 13-5
The Rockets have lost three of their last five Games with two of those coming against EMU. It’ll be hard to bet on them mainly because a third matchup with Eastern Michigan could be waiting for them in the semifinals. Even the quarterfinal Game against Miami isn’t a given. The Rockets started Conference play with an 11-2 record, but that quickly disappeared with an ugly 28-point loss at Ball State standing out.
Record: 20-11, 11-7
The Eagles are the much easier bet compared to Toledo simply because they swept the Rockets late in the season. Another boost is that EMU has won its last six Games. A matchup with Akron in the quarters is also favorable as the Zips are the 11-seed in this Tournament. Unlike some of the other top teams, Eastern is led by a few juniors, which means next season could be even better. For now, the size of the Eagles is a real problem for most in the Conference and that could help them advance in this Tournament.
In the 4- and 5-seed spots, neither Kent State nor Ball State can be trusted to win this Tournament. The Cardinals have lost their last three Games and none of them were against top opponents. As for the Golden Flashes, they escaped past NIU on Monday and still have a losing overall record. No matter which team wins, it’s hard to see them taking down Buffalo in the semifinals.
Kent State won last year as the 6-seed, but Buffalo won in both 2015 and 2016 when it finished the regular season near the top of the standings. At the end of the day, the Bulls have the best team in the Conference and have already taken teams like Cincinnati and Syracuse to the wire. This team is destined for its third Conference Tournament title in Four years.