MAC semifinal teams ready for tourney

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 4, 2000

The Associated Press

There’s only one rule as the Mid-American Conference tournament reconvenes for the quarterfinals Sunday at Cleveland’s Gund Arena: Take nothing for granted.

Saturday, March 04, 2000

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There’s only one rule as the Mid-American Conference tournament reconvenes for the quarterfinals Sunday at Cleveland’s Gund Arena: Take nothing for granted.

No lead is safe, a wise coach doesn’t put much stock in seedings and win totals and no assumption regarding the NCAA selection committee is unassailable.

The only certainty is that whoever cuts down the nets Wednesday night will be one of 64 elite teams in the NCAA tournament. Everybody else is on their own.

Bowling Green, the MAC tournament’s top seed, won the tougher Eastern Division and is on a three-week hot streak. The Falcons’ RPI is good and so is their strength of schedule.

But coach Dan Dakich doesn’t feel as if he’s riding the favorite.

”I haven’t felt like a favorite all year and we played an Urbana team that is NAIA D-2,” Dakich said.

Every single MAC coach believes the league is at its strongest ever. The conference is ranked just below the elite leagues in the country in the power ratings.

Because of that – because the difference between first and worst isn’t far apart – the coaches and players know that their margin for error is about as thick as an eyelash.

”You want me to tell you why I don’t feel like a favorite?” asked Gary Waters, coach of No. 3-seeded Kent, the defending tournament champ. ”Almost every game we’ve played, it’s been a struggle. You go calling us a favorite and the other team is going to be coming after us with its best game. We lost our last two games and the opponents each shot 75 percent from the field against us in the second half.”

At one point, Ball State was 3-6 in the conference, then won nine of their last 10 games to tie Toledo for the top spot in the West.

”Our whole objective is to get to Cleveland, win three games and win the big prize,” coach Ray McCallum said.

Does he think his team will get into the NCAA tournament with anything less than a MAC title?

”We have to get to the championship game,” McCallum said. ”If we win our next two games, I think we deserve to go to the NCAA tournament.”

That sentiment is being echoed throughout the nation, however. There are a lot more than 64 teams who feel they deserve to be in the NCAA tournament. Trouble is, an upset in the early round of the Atlantic Coast or Pac-10 quarterfinals can send shock waves through the land. In no time flat, despite a good season, worthy teams are on the outside looking in.

Just ask Akron coach Dan Hipsher. three weeks ago, Akron was considered the best team in the conference. Loaded with seniors, the Zips were the one team nobody wanted to play down the stretch or in the tournament.

Then they went into the tank, losing seven of 10 games and tumbling from 14-4 and 8-1 in the MAC to a dismal 17-11 finish. At home against a Central Michigan team that didn’t win a MAC road game this season, they were eliminated 75-73 Wednesday night in the first round.

So much for experience.

”We just wanted to hang in as long as possible and then maybe have a chance,” CMU coach Jay Smith said. ”There was no doubt in my mind we could do it.”

That’s what scares the teams that have been superior for the last two months. They didn’t need the reminder provided by Akron’s early demise, but it did help to underscore the wide-open nature of this year’s get-together.

Bowling Green (22-6) takes on Miami of Ohio (13-14) in Sunday’s first game at noon. Next Marshall (20-8) finds itself matching up with Central (6-22).

The evening’s games pit Ball State (19-8) against Toledo (18-12) in a showdown between the West Division co-champs. The Rockets have won 11 in a row.

In the nightcap, Kent (21-6) tackles Ohio (19-12).

”I’m glad we get to play Kent again,” said Ohio coach Larry Hunter, whose team lost in two overtimes at Kent but beat the Flashes by 10 points last weekend. ”Our guys feel like they didn’t get a lot of respect for beating them here”