- Ky McKeon
3MW’s All Conference Team:
Player of the Year: CJ Massinburg, Sr., Buffalo
Coach of the Year: Nate Oats, Buffalo
Newcomer of the Year: Larry Austin, R Sr., Central Michigan
Freshman of the Year: Jason Preston, Fr., Ohio
1. Running of the Bulls
Buffalo made headlines early in November after knocking off then-nationally ranked West Virginia in Morgantown. The Bulls’ dominance continued throughout the non-con slate, as Nate Oats’ group made mince meat of the likes of St. Bonaventure, San Francisco, and Syracuse, vaulting Buffalo into the AP Top 25. As most predicted in the preseason, Buffalo ran rampant over the league to the tune of a 16-2 conference record and now appears to have locked up an at-large bid to the Dance no matter how the MAC tourney plays out. Led by seniors Nick Perkins, CJ Massinburg, and Jeremy Harris, the Bulls are a legitimate threat to make the second weekend in March.
2. Ball State? More like LOL State!
What happened to the Cardinals? Ball State was considered a legit conference title contender coming into the year after returning nearly everyone from its 2017-18 squad. Despite being one of the most experienced teams in the entire country, James Whitford’s squad stumbled down the stretch, losing six of their last seven contests. Injuries may have played a small factor during the year, but a 6-12 finish for a team this talented is 100% inexcusable. Ironically, this is the second straight season in which the Cards have crashed in late February / early March.
3. Expect the Unexpected
The MAC is one of the toughest leagues to predict every single season. Sure, Buffalo was a given to be placed #1, but after that was an utter crap shoot. I felt pretty confident that Ball State and Eastern Michigan would be really good. I felt pretty confident that Northern Illinois would not be very good and that Ohio would not suck. I was wrong! NIU finished 7th overall after being picked by many outlets to finish last. EMU was a disaster for much of the year. Bowling Green was a team on fire for much of the year despite many believing the Falcons to be a lower tier squad. Toledo quietly had one of the best mid-major seasons in the country, and Central Michigan won over 20 games behind Vandy transfer Larry Austin. Oh - something I did get right… I was called out in the preseason for picking Miami OH 9th… Guess what? They finished 9th.
The top four seeds receive byes into the quarterfinals. Seeds 5-12 play first-round games at the campus of the higher seed. Winners of the first-round games advance to face the top four seeds in the quarterfinal round in Cleveland, Ohio.
Best Team and Projected NCAA Tournament Seed
This is Buffalo’s tournament to lose, but the Bulls did drop two MAC games during the regular season - Northern Illinois and Bowling Green were each able to defeat the mighty Bulls at home. I’m not worried about those two losses; they were both on the road to solid teams that were in perfect hype-up spots. Buffalo is far and away the most athletic and complete team in the league. The Bulls rank 1st in the MAC in both offense and defense, and their uptempo style is a recipe for blowing teams out on any given night. If Buffalo wins the postseason tourney it could see as high as a 4 or 5 seed, but will most likely fall in around a 6.
Buffalo is in no matter what - if they happen to fall in the conference tourney, Nate Oats’ squad probably ends up around an 8 or 9. If a squad like Toledo or Bowling Green takes home the title, a 12 seed is the most likely spot in the bracket.
Dark Horse Team
Toledo was excellent this season and is one of the best shooting teams in the country. The Rockets are led by sharpshooter Jaelan Sanford and big man Luke Knapke and finished a full three games ahead of the 2nd place team in the West Division. They have the best shot out of anyone to knock off Buffalo in the MAC tourney. Bowling Green has started to fade down the stretch, perhaps regressing to the mean a bit.
Two underachieving squads to keep an eye on are Eastern Michigan and Ball State. Both teams should have been WAY better than they performed during the regular season. Conference tournaments tend to function as a reset button for a lot of teams at the end of the year, so it would not shock me to see either of these teams competing for the auto-bid next week.
(8) Akron over (9) Miami OH
(7) Northern Illinois over (10) Ohio
(5) Central Michigan over (12) Western Michigan
(11) Ball State over (6) Eastern Michigan
(1) Buffalo over (8) Akron
(2) Toledo over (7) Northern Illinois
(4) Kent State over (5) Central Michigan
(11) Ball State over (3) Bowling Green
(1) Buffalo over (4) Kent State
(2) Toledo over (11) Ball State
(1) Buffalo over (2) Toledo
As much as I want to see a 2-bid MAC and say goodbye to some of these crappy power 6 bubble squads, Buffalo is just too loaded, too complete, and too well coached to bet against. Expect to see the Bulls in the Sweet 16.