So here we are. After a wild season, Kent State emerged as the first back-to-back champion in two decades. They go into Cleveland as the #1 seed (again), but are they the favorites? It depends whom you ask. Nearly half the conference looks capable of lifting the trophy Saturday. With no clear choice to win the tournament, this week could be one of the most exciting in the MAC's history. Appropriately, these rankings are very close.
1. Kent State (21-10, 12-4) (LW: 4)
Three seasons and two outright conference titles for Geno Ford. Not a bad haul. The dark side of the Golden Flash moon is postseason play; Ford has managed a single win against two losses in the MAC tournament. A strong run this week would assuage any worries that he can't win in March, but the road won't be easy. Barring an upset, Thursday will pair them against a Buffalo team that matches up well with KSU. A possible semifinal against Ohio looms after that. Fans groan that the top seed often has to run a gauntlet to win the title. This year, it's looking very much that way.
2. Western Michigan (19-11, 11-5) (LW: 2)
In previous years, the West champ receiving the #2 seed was more an act of charity than an earned benefit. Few are paying attention, but the Broncos do not need anyone's charity. This is a team capable of winning the championship. It's WMU with the highest efficiency margin in the conference - not Kent, not Akron, not Buffalo, but Western Michigan (+.07). They don't play the prettiest basketball, but defense and rebounding will get you far, and they do those things well. East fans should not be licking their lips at the chance to take on the Broncs, they should be concerned.
3. Miami (16-15, 11-5) (LW: 3)
Uncle. The RedHawks are riding some sort of magic carpet right now. Who knows? Maybe the ride won't end until next week. They did play some of their best defense of the season against Ohio, and if they bring that intensity to Cleveland, they will be a very tough out. The stats aren't pretty, but to borrow from Charlie Sheen, they do one thing well: Winning.
4. Ohio (17-14, 9-7) (LW: 5)
OK, so to stop Ohio, you have to get out on their shooters, prevent penetration, don't allow second chances, and hold onto the ball. Do all those things and you're in good shape. Teams like the Bobcats that are capable of burning the roof of the building are not ones you want to see in your draw, and Ohio got the friendliest path of all to the semifinals. It was almost a reward for losing to Miami. The difference is that this time people are expecting them to make a run. No sneaking up on anybody.
5. Buffalo (17-12, 8-8) (LW: 7)
The Bulls get the nod over Akron because they have the highest ceiling of any team in the MAC. That makes their recent struggles all the most frustrating. What happened? I'm going to guess a lack of focus. They're not playing defense as well as they had earlier in the year. From what I've seen, the defensive effort isn't there. That's putting more pressure on the offense, where they press. They CAN win in Cleveland. Easily. They can also not even make it there.
6. Akron (19-12, 9-7) (LW: 1)
Sixth feels low for the Zips, but that's how tight things are in the upper-half of the conference. Akron is clearly a different team outside the JAR than they are inside it. But Quicken Loans Arena is almost a second home court for the Zips, and you can't discount a team that is accustomed to playing Saturday. They just can't get shredded defensively like they did at Ohio and at Kent.
7. Ball State (18-12, 10-6)
They managed to obtain a bye, but this is not a team built for a knockout format. They have the lowest margin for error of any team with a winning MAC record and went just 2-5 against the teams above them in this list. They did a fine job taking out the trash down the stretch, but they won't face a single easy opponent at The Q.
8. Bowling Green (13-18, 8-8) (LW: 8)
The Falcons get one more game in Anderson Arena, and they should be able to close it in winning fashion against the moribund Huskies. After that? The outlook is dim. This is a young team that in some ways exceeded expectations. Next year is the time to make a move if they're going to make it.
9. Central Michigan (10-20, 7-9) (LW: 9)
If nothing else, the Chippewas clearly distinguished themselves as better than the bottom half of the West. Still, they own the worst efficiency margin (-.06) of the non-Toledo teams. As hard as I have been on them this year, the potential of the Chips is apparent. With all the experience their young players have collected, a quality off-season will make them very tough next season.
10. Northern Illinois (9-20, 5-11) (LW: 11)
Xavier Silas' tank is empty. Its a sad ending to one of the most painful seasons in NIU history. Like everyone else, he seems to just be waiting for it to be over.
11. Eastern Michigan (9-21, 5-11) (LW: 10)
A player like Brandon Bowdry should get the chance to show off his talent one last time on a bigger stage. It's a shame he won't be able to.
12. Toledo (4-27, 1-15) (LW: 12)
It will be very interesting to see what the Rockets look like next year.
J. Scott Fitzwater is a regular contributor to MAC Report Online. Send him an email at