(Compare to our preseason preview here)
- Rocket Ship to the Top: Tod Kowalczyk and Toledo conquered the West division, in large part thanks to the addition of Tre'Shaun Fletcher, a transfer from Colorado who could very well be the MAC Player of the Year. Fletcher stepping in as the primary scorer and creator allowed the rest of the team's extremely capable shooters to slot in to proper roles, and his height (6'7) made it easy to find the open man.
- Bullish in the East: Buffalo ran away with the East and the overall title, starting 8-0 in the league and never looking back. Peculiarly, the Bulls reside at #32 in the RPI after playing the country's 10th-toughest non-conference schedule (per RPI), meaning they're a "Quadrant 1" game no matter where the game was played. They lost to the five best teams they played in the non-con portion, though, so they don't have any realistic shot at an at-large bid.
What to Watch:
- The first round games are at campus sites, but after that, the entire tournament moves to Cleveland. That means it will be tougher for an early round Cinderella (since they'll have to win true road games), but given the neutral site for the quarters through finals, we could see some chaos.
- Buffalo dropped a game each against Kent State and (bafflingly) Northern Illinois, the 5/12 combatants, but they wiped the floor with Ball State in Muncie back in January. For that reason, the Bulls may actually be cheering for the better-seeded team to make it to the semis - Buffalo simply matches up very well with Ball State.
- Western Michigan has the talented backcourt to go on a run, but their attack-the-rim scheme could struggle against rival EMU in the quarters. The Broncos were held to 58 points on their home floor by the zone in a muddied, slow game, as they struggled to find any openings going to the hoop.
Who Will Win:
- Buffalo - Quite simply, the Bulls are the best team in the league, sporting by far the conference's best collection of athletes and plenty of offensive threats. Nate Oats won this event in 2016 (mostly with Bobby Hurley's players), but the cupboard is once again full this year, and it would be a mild surprise to see them taken down this year.
If Not Them, Then:
- Eastern Michigan - The league's best defensive team during conference games, Rob Murphy's Syracuse-clone zone will be tough to prepare for on short rest. The Eagles' ultra-lanky primary lineup (6'2, 6'7, 6'9, 6'9, 6'10) can be suffocating, and they've been murdering opponents when they're all together:
- Toledo - Toledo's reliance on shooting means they could be the "get hot and go on a run" team in Cleveland. With Fletcher running the show and a collection of 40%+ gunners around him, the Rockets have the offense to barnstorm through the tournament field. They'll likely need to overcome EMU for the first time, though, as they've been swept by the Eagles in the past two weeks.