Nearly a week after clinching a share of the conference title, Ohio will face Western Michigan in the fourth round of the MAC Tournament.
Last season, as the three seed, Ohio was forced to win three games in three days in order to earn a trip to the NCAA Tournament. This year, the Bobcats earned a quadruple bye until the conference semi-finals.
“It’s a new thing for me,” said coach Jim Christian of the format. “It rewards success in the regular season, so I’m really in favor of it.”
Christian, who won two conference tournaments as Kent State’s head coach, has yet to coach under this format, which was introduced last year. Though he has never coached with such a large break between the regular and post seasons, he doesn’t feel rust will be an issue with his ball club.
“If we’re worried about if we played or didn’t play, then we’re not really that hungry,” he said. “Whether you play on Thursday or play on Friday, whenever it is, you better be ready to play.”
After Ohio’s last game on March 9, they were cutting down the nets after an improbable comeback victory over rival Miami on Senior Night. Though a share of the MAC Title wouldn’t give Ohio the top overall seed, Christian says that it shouldn’t take away from his team’s accomplishment.
“This basketball team…went 14-2 in this league. That’s the best record in the history of this school,” he said. “I have so much respect for the MAC and how hard it is to do that in this league. “
The way this tournament is shaping up, it seems that Ohio got the better draw with the two seed. Top seeded Akron will be forced to play rival Kent State, winners of six straight.
However, Western Michigan won’t be a pushover. With a significant inside presence, the Broncos have a major advantage in the post. Their 37 rebounds per game put them near the top in the MAC. Junior center Shayne Whittington will be a big matchup problem for Ohio. He averages 13 points and nine rebounds per contest.
Earlier this season, Ohio escaped Kalamazoo with a two-point victory. Ohio led by 12 with 11 minutes remaining, but the Broncos stormed back behind strong efforts from Whittington and guard Jared Klein. Ricardo Johnson blocked David Brown’s jumper as time expired to give Ohio its first road victory of the season.
Christian is well aware of the matchup problems, but he has his Bobcats playing with confidence.
“I think we’ve shown that we can compete with anybody in this league,” he said. “You don’t go 14-2 in the MAC if you haven’t.”
This weekend, Ohio will get to chance to prove that statement as fact. Tipoff is scheduled tentatively for 9 p.m. at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.