Kent State favored to win 2023 MAC Conference Tournament
Affectionately known as “MAC Madness”, the Mid-American Conference Tournament tips off on March 9 in Cleveland, Ohio at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. The conference’s lone bid into the NCAA Tournament is up for grabs, as no teams will qualify for at-large berths. From 2010-19, first-round games were held at campus sites, but now the entire tournament is back to being in Cleveland.
Only the top eight of the 12 teams in the conference qualified for the tournament. Akron, Toledo, Kent State and Ohio are very well-represented in the Cleveland area and the tournament has been held in this venue since 2000, so this is one of the better atmospheres for a mid-major, neutral-site tournament.
How to Watch the MAC Conference Tournament
When: March 9-11
Where: Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland, Ohio
Format: No byes given; all teams start in quarterfinals
Watch: ESPN+, CBS Sports Network, ESPN 2; Championship Game on ESPN 2 on Mar. 11 at 7:30 p.m. ET
MAC Conference Tournament Seeds, Teams and Odds
1. Toledo (+170)
2. Kent State (+150)
3. Akron (+5000)
4. Ball State (+1400)
5. Ohio (+1100)
6. Buffalo (+2500)
7. Northern Illinois (+8000)
8. Miami (OH) (+13000)
Favorite To Win MAC Conference Tournament
No. 2 seed Kent State is the favorite to take down the title here, but by a small margin over Toledo. The Golden Flashes are the best defensive team in this conference, but would appear to have a harder path with a rubber match against Akron looming in the semifinals. The two teams played a very intense regular season finale that featured a lot of fouls, a ref show and some crazy technical foul calls.
Ken Pomeroy has Kent State as the best team in the conference, but Bart Torivk puts Toledo first. The Rockets have far and away the league’s best offense, but Kent State has a good offense and an elite defense by conference standards.
MAC Conference Tournament Darkhorse
I haven’t been able to find a lot of teams I’d consider darkhorses in previous write-ups, but Ohio is absolutely one here at +1100. The Bobcats will be small favorites over a really banged-up Ball State team that they beat 76-71 during the regular season. Ohio is a strong offense and ranks second to Toledo in offensive efficiency. Both teams are poor defensively, so that potential semifinal likely becomes a track meet.
If the Bobcats can get past the Rockets, I’m fully expecting Kent State vs. Akron to be a war. The two schools are separated by just 11 miles and the Zips beat the Flashes by 20 in last year’s championship game. Ohio’s offensive prowess makes them a dangerous team.
Players to Watch in MAC Conference Tournament
There are a few really good scorers in this league, but nobody tops Akron’s Xavier Castaneda, who managed 21.4 PPG during the regular season. By Torvik’s “PORPAGATU!” stat, which measures Points Over Replacement Player Per Adjusted Game At That Usage, Castaneda is a top-15 player in the nation. That puts him above players like Max Abmas from Oral Roberts, Ryan Kalkbrenner from Creighton and Brandon Miller from Alabama.
RayJ Dennis for Toledo is also a top-25 player in the nation by that metric. He racked up 19.4 PPG, but added 5.9 APG to lead the conference. He gets a lot of help from teammate JT Shumate (16.5 PPG), while Castaneda’s right-hand man is Enrique Freeman (16.5 PPG, 11.1 RPG). Sincere Carry is Kent State’s top scorer with 17.4 PPG and ranks third in APG with 4.9. Look for Ohio’s Dwight Wilson III (15.9 PPG, 9.1 RPG) to be the straw that stirs the Bobcats’ drink.
Betting Pick to Win The MAC Conference Tournament
I don’t think Ball State has the roster or the health to win this for the first time since 2000, but I really think Toledo, Kent State, Akron or Ohio all have the chance to cut down the nets. I certainly don’t hate taking a look at Ohio at that 11/1 price tag, though a moneyline rollover will net a few dollars more because they’ll be in a slight favorite role to Ball State, a dog to Toledo and a dog to the Kent State/Akron winner, assuming we get that game.
Because Akron shoots so many 3s and plays slow-paced games, their margin for error is thinner than Kent State’s. I think Kent State presents problems for Toledo. Akron doesn’t, as Toledo won by 10 and 21 in the regular season. I also think there’s a chance that Kent State winds up playing Ohio in the title game. As a result, I’ll give the favored Golden Flashes the nod.
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