Here we go. We'll have a lot more to say over the week, especially as things shake out. There are going to be a ton of people talking about the Bulls.
My first reactions:
Looking at just the top four, this could not have gone better for UB. The road to a championship goes through only one of the MAC West teams who were a combined 3-0 against the Bulls, and the likely semifinal opponent is Kent State, who Evans, Skeete, and Bearden have twice torched this season.
In terms of unlikely semifinal opponents, do you see any of Ohio, Western Michigan, Northern Illinois, or Akron winning Monday, Wednesday, AND Thursday, and then giving the Bulls a fight on Friday? I could see someone catching Kent like EMU caught us last year, but with the Zips' Jake Kretzer suffering from turf toe, I think the most likely of these four to not only win two but also beat the Flashes is Western Michigan.
On the other side, after Toledo, why not Bowling Green to make it to CMU? Of all the bottom eight seeds, they may have the most potential to break up the chalk. Ball State has lost 16 in a row, I wonder how Miami will react to the Ohio drubbing, and Eastern's been up and down this year.
I think Toledo stands a better chance of losing in that round than Kent, especially after closing the regular season with a loud thud. Bowling Green is a very good team who found themselves unlucky in too many close games down the stretch and could surprise.
All that said, it's always been my gut feeling that your play is far more important than the team across from you. If UB is going to win, they're going to have to beat good teams. This year, we're glad it's only two, but it's still two teams who can play good basketball.
It's impossible to look at this and not think about the benefit of the byes: UB can get the very most out of their high-energy, high-pace game against whoever comes to meet them on Friday and unlike 2012 matches up well with the likely opponent. All bets are off in the Championship game.
It's impossible to look at this and not think about the pitfalls of the byes: This will be the fourth year that the MAC has used this bracket structure. In three years, five of six finalists have been top two seeds. Eleven of 12 semifinalists have been top four seeds. The two outliers? Buffalo in 2012 and Buffalo in 2014.
That said, I think in 2012 we all knew in the pits of our stomach that Ohio had our number. I guess I can't speak for everyone, but when Buffalo didn't take it to them early, I didn't feel good, and when Watt was called for that T, I really didn't feel good. It's still amazing to me that we had even a half-court shot to tie.
In 2014, the team just came out flat after an invigorating Senior Night win over Bowling Green.
But I think, at least in terms of coming out flat, this team is different. This six-game winning streak has seen a determined team playing high-energy basketball for a full forty minutes, and in several games needing that full forty. I am hopeful.
Remember that UB's two most successful teams in the MAC Tournament, 2005 and 2009, came from the first round and the quarterfinals before the tournament redesign. Anything can happen. I'll stop there for now.