The MAC Report, Presented by SportsTime Ohio

By Dave DeNatale

Well it is finally here:  MAC Madness!  The spectacle that is the Mid-American Conference basketball tournament is ready to tip off starting on Tuesday with the first round games, and then the action shifts to the Q for games on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.  For teams that are on a roll (see Kent State, Western Michigan, and Ohio), this is the chance to carry that momentum over for a few more games.  And for some that have struggled down the stretch or lost a key game in the final week (see Miami, Akron, and Ball State), now is the time to put the past aside and start anew.

I mention those six teams specifically because I think those are the ones who have to be considered the most realistic contenders to cut down the nets on Saturday night.  That’s not to say that a team like Buffalo can’t get hot and make a run.  We’ve certainly seen teams come out of nowhere to win the championship in the past.

Before we preview the first round matchups, let’s hand out my choices for the MAC Player of the Year, Coach of the Year, Freshman of the Year, and my All-MAC team.

Player of the Year: Justin Greene, Kent State

Greene was a consistent, driving force behind the Golden Flashes march to their second straight MAC regular season title.  He won a record six MAC East player of the week awards as he averaged 15.6 points per game (7th in MAC) and 8.4 rebounds (3rd in MAC).  He had 10 double-doubles on the season and Kent State was a perfect 7-0 whenever Greene scored at least 20 points.

Honorable Mention: Julian Mavunga, Miami

Coach of the Year:  Charlie Coles, Miami

Coles turned in one of the finest coaching performances of his 15-year career as he guided the RedHawks to an 11-5 conference record despite the loss of Antonio Ballard to a season-ending injury.  The RedHawks also played a month without starting point guard Quinten Rollins.  Miami’s 16-15 overall record may not sound impressive at all, but keep in mind that they faced off against national powers Ohio State, Kansas, and San Diego State in their non-conference schedule.  Coles will have the ‘Hawks focused and ready for the tournament.

Honorable Mention: Steve Hawkins, Western Michigan

Freshman of the Year:  Trey Zeigler, Central Michigan

Zeigler gets this by a small margin over Buffalo’s Javon McCrea.  The son of CMU head coach Ernie Zeigler, Trey averaged 16.5 points per game which not only is third-best in the MAC overall, but it was fourth-highest in the nation for freshmen.  Zeigler also pulled down five rebounds per contest as well.  McCrea was a welcome addition for the Bulls this season with averages of 11 points and six rebounds a game.

All-MAC Team:

Guard–D.J. Cooper, Ohio

Guard–Xavier Silas, Northern Illinois

Forward–Julian Mavunga, Miami

Forward–Justin Greene, Kent State

Forward–Brandon Bowdry, Eastern Michigan

So that leads us to Tuesday’s first-round matchups at campus sites.  Remember, Kent State, Western Michigan, Miami, and Ball State all have byes to the quarterfinals, so those teams get extra rest and preparation time.

Northern Illinois at Bowling Green–The Falcons ended a six game losing streak on Saturday with an impressive win over Buffalo.  They will play their final game at Anderson Arena against the Huskies so emotions will be running high.  Xavier Silas is hurting with a high and low ankle sprain and if he can’t play, NIU will have a very hard time winning.

Eastern Michigan at Akron–The Zips suffered a disappointing loss to Kent State on Friday, but still closed out the regular season playing about as well as any team in the conference.  Keep in mind however, the Eagles did beat UA when the teams played earlier in the season.  And if Brandon Bowdry is not contained, Eastern could stick around and make things interesting.

Central Michigan at Buffalo–Intriguing 8 vs. 9 matchup with good scorers on each team.  It’s just hard for me to imagine that the Bulls lose this game at Alumni Arena.  But if the duo of Thomas and Zeigler keep the Chippewas in the game, this one could certainly go down to the wire.

Toledo at Ohio–Had the Bobcats not gotten off to such a slow start, they probably would have gotten one of the top seeds at the tournament.  But as it is, you have to consider the defending champs a threat to repeat as D.J. Cooper, Tommy Freeman, DeVaughn Washington, and Ivo Baltic are all playing well right now.  Nick Kellogg is also proving to be a superb addition.

The next MAC Report, presented by SportsTime Ohio will come your way on Wednesday, as we’ll preview the quarterfinals.  Remember we here at ESPN Cleveland as well as our partners at STO will be your home for the MAC Tournament starting on Thursday so I hope you’ll join us for all of the excitement of MAC Madness!

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