After a grueling regular season and first round, the Mid-American Conference is set to start tournament play in Cleveland on Wednesday. There are eight teams in the mix for the title, and with how MAC play has gone this year, every team looks to have a chance of taking the trophy home.
The Post looks at who’s most likely to leave the tournament with the crown.
1. Central Michigan (24-6, 15-3 MAC)
Best conference wins: Jan. 9 at Ohio 88-70, Feb. 16 at Buffalo 100-95, March 9 vs Toledo 78-45
Worst conference losses: Jan. 16 vs Miami 70-67, Jan. 23 at Toledo 62-59, Feb. 9 vs Ohio 78-75,
Key players: No. 3 Guard Presley Hudson (20.5 points per game, 5.9 assists per game, 4.1 rebounds per game), No. 13 Forward Reyna Frost (21.4 ppg, 13.5 rpg, 2.3 apg)
Quarterfinals opponent: Eastern Michigan
The MAC regular season champions are favorited to repeat as MAC tournament champions. After hanging in the race all season before finally sneaking away with the title in the final stretch, Central Michigan has kept its control on the conference. The Chippewas enter the tournament with the MAC player of the year (Frost) and MAC coach of the year, Sue Guevara. The Chippewas have beaten nearly every team in the tournament at least once, and they start their quest for the title against ninth seeded Eastern Michigan —the only team with a losing record in the tourney. The road to the title may get bumpy, though, if the Chippewas face the winner of Buffalo and Kent State, but even then Central Michigan swept Buffalo this season and defeated Kent State in their one meeting.
2. Ohio (25-4, 14-4 MAC)
Best conference wins: Jan.5 at Buffalo 74-71 (overtime), Feb. 9 at Central Michigan 78-75, March 6 at Miami, 70-66
Worst conference losses: Jan. 9 vs Central Michigan 88-70, Feb. 13 at Toledo 76-50, Feb. 27 vs Buffalo 73-43
Key players: Cece Hooks (17.4 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 89 steals), Erica Johnson (14.0 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 3.4 apg), Dominique Doseck (10.7 ppg, .404 3pt percentage)
Quarterfinals opponent: Northern Illinois
The MAC East division champions are riding into the tournament on a three-game winning streak. The Bobcats didn’t known if they would get a first-round bye, but they finished strong enough to earn it, which helps a team who’s dealt with injuries all season. Ohio’s strength will be its offense, but it could be its downfall. In losses to Buffalo, Toledo and Miami, Ohio’s offense faltered when it needed it most. Despite being led by MAC Defensive Player of the Year Cece Hooks, the Bobcats aren’t among the conference’s best defensively and could struggle against the high powered scorers. Still, though, Ohio’s in this spot for a reason. The Bobcats face Northern Illinois to start the tournament, and if they win, they will be favored in the semifinals against either Miami or Toledo.
3. Buffalo (20-9, 12-6 MAC)
Best conference wins: Feb.6 vs Toledo 73-63, Feb 27 at Ohio 73-43, March 2 vs Miami 86-61
Worst conference losses: Feb 13 at Bowling Green 78-72, Feb 23 at Akron 70-59, March 9 at Kent State 62-53
Key players: Cierra Dillard (25.3 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 5.7 apg), Summer Hemphill (13.9 ppg, 10.3 rpg)
Quarterfinals opponent: Kent State
Buffalo could be the hottest team in the tournament, but it’s coming off a loss to Kent State, who it happens to play in the quarterfinals. Buffalo was a bit of a disappointment this season. Often times, the Bulls would play up or down to their competition. The Bulls swept Miami and have a blowout win over Ohio, but losses to Akron and Bowling Green, two teams that failed to make it to Cleveland. The Bulls will be dangerous with MAC leading scorer Cierra Dillard on the floor, but with a Kent State rematch and a probable match-up with Central Michigan looming, it’s hard to see Buffalo pulling it off.
4. Miami (22-7, 13-5 MAC)
Best conference wins: Jan. 16 at Central Michigan 70-67, Jan. 30 at Ohio 67-61, Feb. 20 at Toledo 65-56
Worst conference losses: Feb 27 at Kent State 67-58, March 2 at Buffalo 86-61, March 6 vs Ohio 70-66
Key players: Lauren Dickerson (16.2 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 5.2 apg), Kendall McCoy (11.5 ppg, 6.4 rpg), Savannah Kluesner (13.8 ppg, 8.2 rpg)
Quarterfinals opponent: Toledo
The RedHawks are the coldest team entering the tournament with legitimate title hopes. Miami led the MAC standings most of the season before melting down in the last two weeks. Losses to Kent State, Buffalo and Ohio ruined hopes at what looked like a MAC title, and who knows if Miami will be out of its funk in time to pull off the conference title. However, if Miami is able to turn it around, it’s without doubt one of the most dangerous teams in the tournament. Point guard Lauren Dickerson is among the MAC’s best and forwards Kendall McCoy and Savannah Kluesner can create mismatches in the post.
5. Toledo (20-10, 11-7 MAC )
Best conference wins: Jan 23 vs Central Michigan 62-59, Feb 13 vs Ohio 76-50 , March 2 vs Northern Illinois 64-53
Worst conference losses: Feb. 6 at Buffalo 73-63, Feb. 20 vs Miami 65-56, March 9 at Central Michigan 78-45
Key players: Kaayla McIntyre (16.4 ppg, 8.2 rpg), Nakiah Black (10.7 ppg, 3.2 rpg)
Quarterfinals opponent: Miami
Toledo could be the biggest surprise of the week. The Rockets boast one of the best defenses in the conference and is never afraid to play to the level of high competition. The Rockets’ quarterfinal matchup with Miami should be one of the best games of the tournament, and if they win, they’ll certainly be game for Ohio or Northern Illinois — two teams the Rockets previously defeated.
6. Kent State (19-11, 11-7 MAC)
Best conference wins: Jan. 12 at Toledo 58-47, Feb. 27 vs Miami 67-58, March 9 vs Buffalo 62-53
Worst conference losses: Jan. 23 at Ball State 48-44, Jan. 26 at Miami 79-63, March 2 at Bowling Green 62-49
Key players: Megan Carter (15.9 ppg, 4.2 rpg), Asiah Dingle (13.4 ppg, 3.1 rpg), Lindsey Thall (10.3 ppg, 4.9 rpg)
Quarterfinals opponent: Buffalo
The Golden Flashes will face a stiff opponent on Wednesday luckily for them, they just beat them less than a week ago. While that Buffalo team will make adjustments, Kent State has a great chance of beating them again. But while a win over the Bulls would garner some attention, it doesn’t seem likely that Kent State could pass any further than the semifinals.
7. Northern Illinois (19-12, 10-8 MAC)
Best conference wins: Jan. 5 vs Miami 82-71, Feb. 27 vs Eastern Michigan 70-60, March 11 vs Western Michigan 70-69
Worst conference losses: Jan. 23 vs Ohio 69-53, Jan. 26 at Buffalo 93-64, March 2 at Toledo 64-53
Key players: Mikayla Voigt (19.7 ppg, 4.4 rpg), Myia Starks (11.8 ppg, 3.0 rpg), Ally May (8.3 ppg, 8.7 rpg)
Quarterfinals opponent: Ohio
The Huskies face Ohio in the quarterfinals, and that will be one of their toughest tests of the season. NIU defeated the Bobcats in 2017 the last time they met in the quarterfinals, but this is a different Ohio team. It’s the same team that beat the Huskies earlier in the season in DeKalb. But NIU, like all the team in the tournament, has upset potential. If the Huskies are able to upset the Bobcats, it’d be hard to see any other team let another upset happen.
8. Eastern Michigan (14-16, 6-12 MAC)
Best conference wins: Jan. 23 vs Bowling Green 81-74, Feb.16 vs Ball State 56-53, March 11 at Akron 61-59
Worst conference losses: Jan. 19 at Ohio 85-44, Feb.13 vs Kent State 67-54, March 2 vs Central Michigan 87-60
Key players: Danielle Minott (13.6 ppg, 5.6 rpg), Corrione Cardwell (12.8 ppg, 4.2 rpg)
Quarterfinals opponent: Central Michigan
The Eagles have the longest shot to the conference title and most likely will see an early exit. Eastern Michigan is the only team in the tournament with a losing record. They have the tall task of facing Central Michigan in the first round, and if somehow it’s able to pull off the biggest conference upset of the year, it’s highly unlikely the Eagles will be able to ride that momentum into upset wins over the likes of Buffalo, Ohio, Miami or Toledo.