Matt, the unofficial Mayor of the MACropolis is leading the round table this week. With MAC teams all just one game away from a sweep through the conference things are starting to take shape as we approach the tournament and much of the banter focuses around that.
This week Brandon and I both weigh in on the round table questions.
Don't forget to check out the Belt later this week or Falcon Blog's answers.
1. Right now it looks like Akron/Kent State/Buffalo/Ohio are the top four teams. Beyond them who looks the strongest (not necessarily who will have the best record) and seems like a MAC Tournament sleeper?
Brandon: Bowling Green is a team to watch out for in March. I know they lost a game versus the west, but they seem to be the only team to consistently have strong games against them and not just squeaking wins out. Their zone seems to always bother Buffalo and Ohio (likely opponents late in the MAC tournament), and the losses to Akron and Kent were by a total of 6 points combined. I know their schedule gets tough with road games against Akron, Buffalo, and Ohio, but they can beat the big boys on any given night.
Tim: I'm going to have to go with Bowling Green. They have played just about everyone tight and have a couple of quality wins in conference. The only real blemish is the loss to EMU, and I am a bit Bullish (see what I did there) on the scrappy Eagles as being very close to the top half of the conference, so its not a bad loss.
The Good news is that the Falcons play tight enough to jump up and bite some of the top four in the east. The Bad news is that they have to play them all with three of those games on the road down the stretch. If they manage to hold onto a first round home playoff game after that run there is no reason to think that they don't have a better chance than anyone else in the bottom eight.
2. This is the first year MAC Tournament seeding is division agnostic. If it began today the East would have the first five (!) seeds. Can a team from the MAC West get a top-two seed and bye into the semifinals? If not, what's a realistic seed for the West winner?
Brandon: No chance for a West team to get one of the top 2 seeds, but EMU can get the 4 spot. The powers of the East will cause a few losses from one another. That combined with a 4-1 record the second time around against the West (same 4-1 record the first time around) can get them into a spot for the 4 seed.
Tim: Could they? I suppose that EMU, who is two games and a hand full of tie breakers out of a top four spot, has the best chance. If they manage five wins in their second west swing they will end up 10-6, if they can shock OU this weekend make that 11-5.
11 Wins, and some grace from tie breakers might be enough to get a top four spot if the teams in the east cannibalize themselves, particularly Kent and Ohio who are two off of Akron and one off of Buffalo.
Realistically EMU or BSU might sneak in as a five seed if they dominate their next sweep through the west. Bowling Green is going to have a hard time keeping pace with them due to their trips to Amherst, Athens, and Akron. EMU also holds the head to head tie breaker with Bowling Green.
3. Ernie Zeigler's team up in Central Michigan doesn't seem to be improving. Is he the most likely MAC coach to be fired after the season?
Brandon: I personally give coaches the benefit of the doubt that they'll keep their jobs, but its not looking so good for him. They have such a young team that an objective fan would love to see him stick around for an extra year or 2 to see if they can really cause some havoc, but its hard to keep him around when his team consistently under performs. One thing he has going for himself is that firing him would mean his sons departure as well. Losing both of them would set this program back another 2-3 years, so I'll say he keeps his job.
Tim: You may risk a Zach Maynard type of situation with his son if you do that. He has a redshirt to burn and firing 'Dad' may be enough to make him pass on helping to rebuild in Mount Pleasent. But if you're CMU how do you not fire him? Bringing Tre in was a lifeline that has done nothing for the chips through two years. EMU is making more progress than Central Michigan and there is a lot less talent in Ypsi right now.
NIU, EMU, and Toledo all look to at least be taking some baby steps in the right direction. WMU and Ball State have been floating above the Chips for a bit so if you don't do something soon you could end up in the celler of the West.
4. WMU coach Steve Hawkins gave two of his starters, Matt Stainbrook and Mike Douglas, one-game suspensions for key road games, Ohio and Kent State, respectively. They lost both games but barely. Let's play "Scruples." If you're coaching your favorite team and one of your key players broke team rules, would you have them sit out a big game?
Brandon: Mid-majors rarely get to the NCAA tournament based off of overwhelming talent, nor do they make it solely because of the coach. They get there by creating a culture and getting the right set of guys believing in one another and understanding that they'll only reach the ultimate goal by sticking together. Showing your players that none are above the rest of the team is the best way of achieving long term/big goals. Sitting them is absolutely the right call.
Tim: In divisional play? Yes! I have no doubt I would lose a spot in the MAC seeding to prove an ethical point to my players. Doing it for a post season game? That takes a backbone and while I think I would it all depends on the rule broken and the players propensity for breaking the rule.
5. Jason Arkley of the Athens Messenger brought up a neat discussion on Twitter the other day. He talked about Ohio Bobcats players in recent memory who were not very liked by his own fans, D.J. Cooper being one of them. Who from your team did you consider unpopular during his playing days?
Brandon: There was only one player at UB who I talked to consistently, so to say I disliked one because I knew them as a "bad guy" would be unfair. That being said, Rodney Pierce rubbed me the wrong way the few times I spoke to him. He acted like he was better than everyone else, and several people told me he would never look anyone in the eye when they spoke to one another. That shows me he had no interest in what that other person was saying, so I considered him unpopular in his UB days.
Tim: Buffalo fans are too fickle to pick on just one player for the whole season, we hate anyone having a cold night.
One thing about coach witherspoon is he does a great job on developing the kids who enter UB hoops into the Men that will represent the institution well. I know it's cliche but he really does look for class kids and makes sure to nurture that as their careers develop at UB. That's why he gets so much slack from a large segment of the fan base despite a ten plus year career and no dance tickets to show for it.
I honestly can't think of one Buffalo basketball player I have ever thought of as cocky or classless. Sure some of the guys have a little swagger, and in the case of Pierce maybe a bit too much swagger, but that's all just second hand stuff to me.