Yesterday's quarterfinal games set a high standard for entertainment value. The semifinals are set. Who will advance to the title game?
No. 3 Akron Zips (23-9, 12-4)
No. 10 Western Michigan (18-14, 8-8)
Akron advanced after a hard-fought 97-89 double overtime battle with Eastern Michigan, while WMU merely had to erase a 14-point deficit in the second half to defeat Central Michigan, 69-60. The Zips and Broncos have the first date this evening at Quicken Loans Arena. Akron won the first meeting between the teams this year, 79-70, Jan. 27 in Kalamazoo.
It's a contrast in styles with these teams: Everything runs through Player of the Year David Kool for the Broncos, while the Zips feature an incredibly balanced offense with no single player averaging 10 points a game but seven players averaging 7 a game. WMU likes to get out in transition and push the tempo, averaging 67.7 possessions per 40 minutes in conference games. Akron plays a little more moderate pace at 66.2 possessions per 40.
Akron's remarkable balance helps contribute to the most efficient offense in the MAC, scoring 1.037 points per offensive possession. In addition, the Zips boast considerable depth: Steve McNees leads the team with 26.8 minutes per game and nine players log at least 12 minutes per contest.
The Broncos counter with Kool, the conference leader in points per game (21.1) and free throw shooting (89.2%). The senior is a solid shooter (44.4% from the field, 35.2% from three) from the field, but excels at drawing fouls and getting to the free throw line, averaging 7.5 free throw attempts per game. He shot 14 free throws in yesterday's win against CMU. While Kool almost always gets his points (he scored in double figures in 30 of 32 games), the Broncos' offense works better when 6'10 post man Donald Lawson gets involved. WMU is 8-3 when Lawson scores in double figures and 4-1 when he records a double-double.
No team is as efficient as WMU at scoring when it gets the chance to shoot; the Broncos lead the conference in points per weighted shot (1.087) and true shooting (55.1%) and are second in free throw shooting (72.2%).
Akron is not special as a shooting team, but the Zips attack the offensive glass with zeal, recovering 37.9% of their misses, tops in the MAC. As a result, they get a lot of second chance points and force opponents to play extra defense.
Akron is slightly turnover-negative, giving the ball up 19.5% of the time and forcing opponents into turnovers 19% of the time. WMU is slightly turnover-positive, coughing it up 19.3% of the time and forcing opponents into turnovers at a 20% rate.
The Zips are the defending champions and will try to make their fourth consecutive finals appearance. The Broncos have not been to the finals since winning the 2004 tournament.
No. 4 Miami RedHawks (14-17, 9-7)
No. 9 Ohio Bobcats (19-14, 7-9)
The oldest rivalry in the MAC meets in Cleveland for the 7th time in 10 years tonight in the nightcap. It also constitutes something of a rubber match; the 'Cats and 'Hawks are 3-3 in the last six. The archrivals split the season series: Miami won 79-67 in Oxford Jan. 16 after trailing by 8 at halftime and Ohio won 70-68 in Athens Feb. 24 on Tommy Freeman's last-second three.
It will be fast versus slow: The RedHawks set a deliberate pace of 61 possessions per 40 minutes and Ohio runs to a 69.9 pace. Both teams do a good job of taking care of the ball. Ohio turns the ball over at a MAC-low 17% rate, Miami third at 18.5%. Ohio, however, likes to force opponents into turnovers and succeeds 20% of the time, while Miami prefers to force opponents into bad shots. They only force turns 16% of the time, last in the MAC, but is third in field goal defense (40.7%).
Miami is 7th in offensive efficiency (.991 O-PPP) and 5th in defensive efficiency (.969 D-PPP), Ohio 4th in offensive efficiency (1.033 O-PPP) and 8th in defensive efficiency (.987 D-PPP). A stark contrast between the two teams is ball movement: Ohio is second in assists per game (14.6) and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.194:2) and fourth in assisted basket percentage (57.1%), Miami is last in APG (9.6) and assisted basket percentage (46.2%) and 10th in A:T ratio (.827:1).
Ohio outshoots Miami from three-point land, 37.5% to 30.9%, while Miami has the advantage inside the arc, 48.8% to 47.2%, and at the free throw line, 73.8% to 69.5%. Both teams have 80% shooters at the charity stripe: Hayes and Nick Winbush for Miami, Bassett and Freeman for Ohio.
Expect Ohio to press. Miami has struggled against full-court pressure this season and the Bobcats want to force the RedHawks to speed up their play. In the halfcourt, OU is likely to show a lot of zone to help prevent Kenny Hayes from penetrating and try to neutralize Julian Mavunga in the post. For Miami's part, they play almost exclusively man defense and there is little reason to think that will chance tonight. Even if Armon Bassett and DJ Cooper are hurting Miami with their dribble drives, they will be loathe to leave Freeman (5-5 from three in the Feb. 24 win) open on the perimeter.
Miami Head Coach Charlie Coles said Ohio is the toughest team to defend in the conference.
I told everyone after they beat us down there, and nobody would listen to me, he said. It used to be all about the Bobcats and (RedHawks). Hopefully, it'll be that way again.
Neither team is impressive rebounding. Ohio is 10th in offensive rebounding percentage, which is a little troubling because John Groce's offensive strategy includes second chance opportunities. Miami is 11th in this category, but they prefer to get back and defend. The two teams are similarly unsuccessful on the defensive glass. Miami ranks 9th in defensive rebounding percentage at 66.5%. Ohio, at 65.4%, is 10th. Because Ohio does try to get second chance opportunities, this could be a Bobcat advantage.
The last Cleveland meeting between Ohio was in the 2008 quarterfinals, a 74-61 Miami victory. The last semifinal meeting was in 2005, when Ohio beat Miami, 63-56. Miami last made the finals in their title year of 2007, Ohio in their title year of 2005.