Toledo Favored To Win MAC Hoops Tourney

The regular season was a dream for the Rockets, but they'll face stern competition in their quest to dance on a bigger tournament stage.
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The University of Toledo men’s basketball team just put together one of the best regular seasons in school history.

Not only did the Rockets claim their second straight outright Mid-American Conference regular season title for the first time, they finished the regular season 25-6 overall and 17-3 in MAC play. UT’s 25 wins are the program’s second-most in a regular season, equaling the 2018-19 team’s effort.

The Rockets capped a memorable regular season by routing rival Bowling Green, 96-56, recording the largest margin of victory over the Falcons in a Battle of I-75 matchup. Toledo – led by Ryan Rollins (19.2 ppg, 6.1 rpg), JT Shumate (15.7 ppg, 6.1 rpg), and Setric Millner Jr. (15.0 ppg, 5.8 rpg) – will attempt to carry that momentum into the MAC Tournament, where the winner will earn an automatic berth to play in the NCAA Tournament.

MAC Tournament action tips off on Thursday at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland with top seed Toledo facing eighth-seeded Central Michigan (7-22, 6-12) at 11 a.m. local time. Fourth-seeded Akron takes on No. 5 Buffalo at 1:30 p.m., followed by No. 2 Kent State meeting No. 7 Miami at 4 p.m., and No. 3 Ohio taking on No. 6 seed Ball State at 6:30 p.m.

The MAC semifinals will be played on Friday, while the MAC championship is set for 7:30 p.m. Saturday and will be broadcast on ESPN2.

Rockets riding momentum

FanDuel has odds of +165 on Toledo winning the MAC Tournament. The sportsbook has odds of +240 on Ohio winning, followed by Kent State (+550), Buffalo (+650), Akron (+750),  Miami (+1,900), Ball State (+4,200), and Central Michigan (+18,000).

The Rockets, who are the lone MAC team to win 13 or more conference games in four out of the last five seasons, enter the tournament riding a five-game winning streak. Though they’re favorites to earn the conference’s automatic berth to play in the NCAA Tournament, nothing’s for certain when it comes to the MAC and March Madness.

Central Michigan’s first-year coach, Tony Barbee, wants the Chippewas to believe they have a good opportunity to do something big against the Rockets.

“We’ve given ourselves a chance to play a brand new season,” said Barbee of earning one of the eight spots to play in the MAC tournament. “What matters now is everybody’s starting 0-0. We’ve proven that we can play with the best teams in the league and now we’ve got to prove we can beat them if we’re going to do something special.”

Potential for upsets

Winner of 14 of its last 15 contests, Kent State (21-9, 16-4) also appears to be a team on a mission. Sincere Carry (18.7 ppg, 4.5 rug) and Malique Jacobs (12.0 pig, 7.6 rpg) lead the Golden Flashes into a meeting with Miami (14-17, 8-12), a team led by Dae Dae Grant (17.6 ppg, 4.7 rpg) and Mekhi Lairy (13.6 ppg, 3.0 rpg).

However, Ohio (23-8, 14-6) is the defending MAC Tournament champion and upset Virginia in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last March. The Bobcats, paced by Mark Sears (19.4 ppg, 5.8 rpg) and Ben Vander Plas (13.9 ppg, 6.7 rpg), will take on a Ball State team (14-16, 9-10) that has dropped five of its last seven contests. Payton Sparks (13.5 ppg, 8.3 rpg) and Tyler Cochran (11.5 ppg, 5.7 rpg) lead the Cardinals. 

Buffalo (19-10, 13-6), led by Jeenathan Williams (19.2 ppg, 5.0 rpg) and Ronaldo Segu (15.2 ppg, 3.1 rpg), will meet Akron (21-9, 14-6), which has won its last five games behind a balanced attack. Enrique Freeman (13.0 ppg, 11.0 rpg), Ali Ali (14.1 ppg, 2.9 rpg), and Xavier Castaneda (12.9 ppg, 3.5 rpg) pace the Zips.

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