About a third of the MAC schedule is complete for all teams, and we have learned a few things so far about the conference so far.
1. Miami knows how to play outstanding highly ranked teams really close, but are still a middle of the pack team in the MAC
2. Akron and Kent St are the 2 best teams (not in terms of record) but if you watch the way they play all facets of the game
3. MAC West teams with RPI's in the 200's are atop the division (usually means time to falter once they play the MAC East)
4. Buffalo can look like the best team in the conference, and at times look like the second worst team.
What does all of this mean in the big picture? Not much actually
The MAC is once again a 1 bid team for the NCAA tourney this year, partially to do with the fact that the MAC west always holds the conference down, but also because no team in the conference can ever seem to win the big game against ranked opponents. The MAC's one bid (just like almost every other Mid-major conference in the country) is based on who wins the end of season tournament, a tournament by which every team in the conference is invited to.
For the MAC tournament, the top 4 (actually the top MAC West team automatically gets the 2 seed for reasons of fairness, so its not always the 4 best teams) seeds would only have to win 3 games to win the tournament, while the other 8 teams would have to win 4 games in order to be crowned MAC champions. Of those 8 teams, the 4 better ones get that first game on their home floor, instead of having to play it in Cleveland...
This year is the first time since the 05-06 season that these middle 4 teams will get to play the first round game at home. This will be in the place for the next 2 seasons, unlike the past 3 seasons where there was no MAC tourney games played at campus sites. For the past 3 seasons there wasn't much of a difference between finishing 12th in the conference, and finishing 4th in it, because neither team would have any sort of advantage over the other. This years format allows for the teams finishing in the middle/bottom of the conference to have something to compete for (a home playoff game in the MAC) instead of just trying to get healthy.
This is a step in the right direction, but is the long grueling season worth just trying to make a neutral court game at home? Is it worth having to win 1 less game in the conference tourney? What about the non-conference schedule? It has no effect on seeding for conference tourney position, all it does is help/hurt the conferences RPI, which doesn't really matter since no team is competing for an at-large bid. This doesn't just go for the MAC, this is applies to a ton of Mid-Majors across the country. They all play their asses off all year long, and the most that these 30 or so games does for a team is give them one less game to win at the end of the year. It all of this work during the year worth it for just that???
I know that some conferences have it so that the schedule means a little more than it does in the MAC. Some conferences have the bottom seed or 2 have to play 2 extra games in order to win the conference championship. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think there is even a few conferences where not every team in the conference has a shot in their end of year tourney, which provides a lot of reason for teams to make sure they don't finish at the bottom. I know that in some conferences like the America East the championship is decided at the home court of the higher of the 2 seeds remaining. To me having the chance to go to the NCAA tourney sided on your own court is a pretty big reason to finish as high as possible throughout the year.
Should the MAC have some sort of system in play similar to this in order to give teams more incentive to to play as well in the conference as they possibly can? To me, I think its a no-brainer. Every player at every school in the MAC starts practicing over the summer (with official practices starting in October because of NCAA rules), has to travel through long road trips, miss out on being home with family during the holidays, balance a ton of school work an projects in between their athletic schedule, as well as beat their bodies up to no extent for the good of the University and team. To have to go through all of this to play one less game at the end of the year seems like a slap in the face, especially when every team in the conference makes the tourney regardless of effort, record, and skill level.
What do I suggest be done?
To me, more emphasis has to be put on the regular season for college basketball, ESPECIALLY for mid-major conferences that are only getting 1 team into the NCAA tourney. It isn't such a big deal for schools in the power conferences because they are able to schedule a handful of games against top opponents, so they have more opportunities to show the voters they are worthy for an at large-bid. But for the mid-majors, more emphasis is a must. Some teams go the entire year as the best team in the conference, lose one game in the tourney, and miss out on the dream because their 26-6 record wasn't good enough. It may be true that they didn't deserve to get into the big dance, but they should definitely be at way more of an advantage than the team playing 500 ball, who has the same statistical chance of winning the tournament and at large bid.
The Ivy league is the only conference in the country where there is no end of year tournament, and the teams automatic bid goes to the team with the better conference record throughout the total seasons work. This puts massive emphasis on teams making every single game count, which is what athletics at all levels should be about. Do I completely agree with this system? I do, because it puts a lot of emphasis on the season as a whole, instead of just the last week. Also, it favors teams with more depth, because they have to find a way to right the ship really fast if an important player goes down with an injury or illness.
Will the MAC every do something like this?
Of course not, and for one major reason.....$$$MONEY$$$
College basketball has turned into a big business, where money reigns over fairness and equality. Why should the conference give away the profits it makes by holding an end of season tournament where they want it? That is why I'm shocked they're actually having first round games at the campus sites. I know the way the conference tourney is set-up gives the higher teams some sort of advantage, but for all the work they put in, if is definitely not enough.
My proposal on how it should be done...
1. Only 8 teams make the conference tourney, instead of all 12.
this puts a lot of emphasis on playing well throughout the course of the season, and avoids the better teams getting knocked out by a lucky win.
2. Have the top 4 seeds play at home against the 5-8 seeds.
this gives the teams with the better record after a full seasons work a chance to be rewarded to their season.
3. Semi-final and Final played in Cleveland
this gives the conference the most important games of the best teams at a neutral court site where they can pack in as many people as possible.
most people would think this idea is a little too extreme, but I feel like the players and teams that put all of the extra effort in and had good schedules would agree that this is a more fair way of setting up the tournament.