Editor's Note: Eight teams have made it to Cleveland and will resume their quest for a MAC tournament championship Thursday. The schedule includes two games in the afternoon session (beginning at noon) and two more in the evening (beginning at 7 p.m.). As he did for the opening round, MAC Report Online's J. Scott Fitzwater turns his love for stats into a comprehensive preview of the upcoming matchups.
No. 2 Central Michigan Chippewas (15-14, 9-7)
vs No. 7 Western Michigan Broncos (17-14, 8-8)
The Chips and the Broncos meet for a third time this year in Cleveland. Home court was defended in the season series this year, CMU winning 74-66 in Mt. Pleasant Feb. 27 and WMU winning 70-61 in Kalamazoo Jan. 16. In both games, the Chippewas launched comeback efforts; CMU chipped a 13-point lead to 3 in the Jan. 16 loss and erased a 7-point WMU lead in the Feb. 27 win.
Central Michigan has a first-round bye, winning 4 of their last 6. Western Michigan advanced to the quarterfinals with a 75-73 win over Bowling Green.
Between the two regular season games, CMU's Jordan Bitzer had 42 points and 19 rebounds and Robbie Harman had 41 points and 6 assists. No other Chippewa scored in double figures in either game. WMU's David Kool had 48 points and 8 assists.
This game pits the MAC's best three-point shooting team (CMU, 37.9%) against the MAC's leader in points per weighted shot (WMU, 1.087) and true shooting (55.1%).
Keys: Central Michigan is 14-9 when Harman scores in double figures, but 4-1 when he records at least five assists. Western Michigan is 6-3 when Donald Lawson rebounds in double figures. Both teams are very close in defensive efficiency (.97 points per defensive possession allowed by CMU, .974 for WMU) and turn the ball over at a near-identical rate (19.8% for CMU, 19.3% for WMU), so look for turnover margin to play an important role. CMU plays some of the most physical defense in the league. They will try and bully the Broncos.
Of note: This is CMU's first game of the season on a neutral floor. WMU is 2-1 this season on neutral courts. WMU is 2-0 when Kool does not score in double figures, 2-4 when he records five or more assists.
Interesting, but irrelevant: Both teams are .500 on Thursdays (CMU 2-2, WMU 1-1). CMU is 4-3 in day games, WMU 10-7.
No. 3 Akron Zips (22-9, 12-4)
vs No. 7 Eastern Michigan (17-14, 8-8)
The Zips and the Eagles are meeting for a second time this season. Eastern Michigan defeated Akron at the JAR 62-59 Feb. 1 in a game that saw 12 ties and 14 lead changes. Akron shot a frigid 35% from the field and 28% from three. Antonio Green, Justin Dobbins, Carlos Medlock and Jay Higgins all scored in double figures for EMU. Brandon Bowdry (7 points) was the only other Eagle to score. Conversely, all 10 Zips that reached the floor scored.
Akron has a first-round bye, finishing second in the East and winning 7 of the next 8 MAC games after the loss to EMU. Eastern Michigan advanced by defeating Northern Illinois 65-59 in the opening round.
Akron ranks first in the MAC in offensive efficiency (1.037 points per offensive possession) and fourth in defensive efficiency (.964 D-PPP). EMU is 10th in offensive efficiency (.945 O-PPP) and third in defensive efficiency (.945 D-PPP). Akron scores at least one point in 52.5% of offensive trips, first in the MAC. EMU is 10th with 46.5%.
Keys: Akron is 7-0 when Jimmy Conyers records a double-double and 4-0 when Humpty Hitchens records at least five assists. EMU is only 14-13 when Carlos Medlock scores in double figures but 8-3 when he records at least five assists. Medlock is not a good shooter (47.5% effective field goal) but does not have a problem hoisting shots (at least 10 field goal attempts in 22 of 31 games). Akron would be well-served to keep the point guard from getting others involved and let him bomb away.
Of note: EMU is 1-5 in games decided by 3 points or less. Akron is 6-0 when shooting at least 50% from floor, 0-5 when opponents shoot at least 50% from floor.
Interesting, but irrelevant: Akron has not played on a Thursday this season.
No. 1 Kent State Golden Flashes (23-8, 13-3)
vs No. 9 Ohio Bobcats (18-14, 7-9)
This is the third meeting of the season between the East rivals. Kent won both, prevailing 62-60 in Athens Jan. 9 and 74-67 at home Feb. 17. Ohio's DJ Cooper had 44 points, 12 rebounds and 9 assists in the two games. Armon Bassett shot a combined 8-27 from the field, 14-16 from the charity stripe. Chris Singletary scored 39 points and dished 9 assists in the two games for Kent State.
Kent State has a first-round bye, winning 13 of the last 14 and is the top seed in the tournament. Ohio advanced by defeating Ball State 85-77 at Muncie in overtime.
Kent State is the best defensive team in the conference by far (.895 D-PPP allowed, 22% opponent turnover rate) and is third in offensive efficiency (1.034 O-PPP). Ohio is second in 3FG% (37.5%), but Kent is tops in three point defense (28.3%).
Keys: Ohio is accustomed to winning the turnover battle, only coughing the ball up 17% of the time and forcing turnovers 20% of the time. This game pits OU's best ball control rate against Kent's top forced turnover rate (tied with CMU). Kent is a much better two-point shooting team than three-point shooting, so look for a lot of zone to force the Flashes to beat the 'Cats from outside.
Of note: Kent State has never lost as the top seed in the MAC tournament. Ohio's Tommy Freeman is the top three-point shooter in the country (48.2%). KSU is 10-0 when Chris Singletary has at least five assists and 6-0 when Justin Green double-doubles.
Interesting, but irrelevant: Since the tournament moved to Cleveland, Kent and Ohio have traded wins. Ohio drew first blood in 2002. Kent returned the favor in 2003. Ohio then won in 2005, then Kent was victorious the next year.
No. 4 Miami RedHawks (13-17, 9-7)
vs No. 5 Buffalo Bulls (18-11, 9-7)
The evening's final match-up also doubles as the rubber match between the 'Hawks and the Bulls. Buffalo won in Amherst, 73-55, in the conference opener Jan. 9 and Miami prevailed in Oxford, 73-62, in the season finale Mar. 4. The Bulls were wire-to-wire leaders in their victory, while Miami grabbed the lead shortly before halftime and pulled away in the second half in theirs.
Miami had a first-round bye, finishing third in the East via tiebreaker. Buffalo advanced to the quarterfinals with 72-54 win over Toledo.
UB's Calvin Betts recorded a double-double in the Jan. 9 win, scoring 11 points and seizing 11 rebounds. In the rematch, he grabbed 12 rebounds but only scored 4 points on 1-6 shooting from the floor, 2-4 at the free throw line. Similarly, Antonio Ballard struggled with a 1-6 shooting performance at Buffalo but had 13 points and 9 rebounds in the Mar. 4 win, while Kenny Hayes shot only 1-10 from the floor in the January loss but 7-11 in the March win. In both games, the winning team shot 50% from the floor, the losing team 35-36%.
Keys: Normally when you have a team that likes to play slow (Miami, 61 possessions per 40 minutes) and a team that likes to play faster (Buffalo, 69.5), the team that plays the speed it wants is at an advantage. However, Buffalo had 65 possessions in their win and 67 in their loss and Miami had 69 possessions in their win and 63 in their loss. Instead, check to see which team's weakness hurts them less: Buffalo's conference-worst defense (1.038 D-PPP allowed) or Miami's inability to play team offense (last assisted basket percentage [46.2%] and 10th in assist-to-turnover ratio [.827:1]).
Of note: Miami had a positive turnover ration in just 8 games. The RedHawks are 9-2 when outrebounding opponents, 4-15 when not. Miami is 10-5 when Julian Mavunga scores in double figures. Buffalo is 12-11 when they shoot less than 50% from the floor, 6-0 when they shoot at least 50%. John Boyer leads the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.7:1).
Interesting, but irrelevant: Miami is 6-15 in night games. Perhaps they need to extend the curfew in Oxford?