The Mid-American Conference basketball tournament is underway. The men's and women's teams that win the MAC tournament at the Q in Cleveland on Saturday get automatic bids to the NCAA tournament.
WKSU commentator Terry Pluto says Akron's men's team is the clear favorite, seeded No. 1 overall, while Kent State's women's team is on the rise.
Regular season means little now
Akron had the best regular season record in the MAC (24-7). But, Pluto says that means very little in the conference tournament. The Zips received a bye to the quarterfinals, but it's single-elimination format.
"Even though Akron has 24 wins and Keith Dambrot became the winningest coach in Akron history, one bad day and they’re done."
While many schools in much larger conferences can get at-large bids to the NCAA tournament, the MAC hasn't received one in nearly 20 years.
Kent State on the rise
Pluto says perhaps the hottest team is Kent State. Coach Rob Senderoff is in his sixth season and has never gone to the NCAA tournament. The last time the Flashes went was 2008 under Geno Ford. Dambrot has gone to March Madness three times, the last in 2013.
"Senderoff would love to knock off Akron, get to the NCAA tournament and bring his program back up to the level where it was before Keith Dambrot came to Akron," Pluto says.
"I know Senderoff, who has had good years at Kent -- not great -- has who I believe is the player of the year in the MAC, Jimmy Hall. They’re in position to knock [Akron] off."
The team that’s gone to the NCAA tournament the last two years is Buffalo, which could be another threat in the MAC tournament. See the bracket here.
KSU women on the rise
Kent State's women's team had a remarkable season, posting a 19-11 record and clinching the MAC East title. They had just 18 wins in the last three seasons combined. See the MAC women's tournament bracket here.
"They hired Todd Starkey who had been an assistant at Indiana University. “A lot of these guys from these top programs come to the MAC and they say, 'We don’t have the resources we had at Indiana.' But his background is different. He coached at Lenoir-Rhyne University in North Carolina, "a very small school in where he set all kinds of records. He learned how to do more with less."
“They’ve come out of nowhere, won 19 games with two women who are obviously very bright. I would love Kent to come out of the MAC and go to the NCAA tournament. It would change the basketball program. Because in the ’90’s, when Bob Lindsay was there, they went to the NCAA tournament several times."
The last time Kent State's women's team went to the NCAA tournament was 2002.
"The games will be very intense and let’s hope a couple local teams can go to the NCAA tournament."