Keep refreshing your browser for updates during tonight's games...
Thus far, there have not been any surprises in the MAC Tournament. A majority of fans probably expected Ohio to beat Ball State, but the Cardinals were the higher-seeded team. The only "upset" was Akron over Miami, but oddsmakers actually favored the Zips. The same would be true of this matchup between Akron and WMU.
During warmups, the Broncos are practicing more dunks than you usually see. They must have watched the second half of the Akron-Miami game, which would have given them the indication they won't see much defense.
I shared an elevator with some of the WMU players yesterday evening. They were saying they wished the Zips/RedHawks game would have lasted a few more hours to "wear them out."
As much as the Broncos run, they only scored eight fast-break points against Bowling Green yesterday. That game was rather dull.
One of our officials tonight is Bo Boroski. That speaks for itself. The odds of him not being mentioned again tonight are 20:1.
The 2011 MAC Coach of the Year is Geno Ford. You can't argue with the guy who wins the most games and leads his team to the greatest level of in-season improvement. He's also a good guy.
As you've probably heard, there's a good chance next fall will be excruciatingly difficult to survive. The NFL owners could lockout the players. The union de-certified today, a move that will allow them to sue under federal antitrust law. Anyhow, I'm only bringing this up because the players' association's website has changed. Check it out.
With 10 minutes until tipoff, the players have retreated to the locker rooms. Attendance is sparse in all but maybe four sections of the arena. WMU is four hours away, and Akron attendance is likely suffering from the snow scare.
A bigger crowd will be expected tomorrow if both favorites win tonight (Akron and Kent).
If the Zips win, they will tie a MAC Tournament record for five-straight appearances in the championship game. That's a dynasty, folks.
Western Michigan has only lost once since Akron last saw the Broncos almost a month ago.
I got up to use the restroom, came back a couple minutes later, and amazingly, it seems like the crowd isn't half-bad.
Akron's starters: Steve McNees, Brett McClanahan, Nik Cvetinovic, Darryl Roberts and Zeke Marshall.
WMU's starters: Demetrius Ward, Mike Douglas, Nate Hutcheson, Flenard Whitfield and Matt Stainbrook.
WMU is on the board first. The Broncos got two offensive rebounds, and eventually Whitfield put it back in.
Stainbrook tried to chest pass the ball to the referee after a whistle. One problem: Ward's head was in the way.
McNees hit a 3, and Roberts sunk an even deeper one to give the Zips a 6-4 lead. Roberts hit a second 3. No hesitation. He just hoisted it without thinking. Nothing but net.
Cvetinovic fed a cutting Marshall for a power dunk.
Boroski called Marshall for his first foul. The WMU player ran right into Marshall. Not a good call. Marshall is now on the bench. (Hopefully you didn't take that sucker's bet on Boroski.)
Roberts canned a third no-hesitation 3. Cash again.
Whitfield and McKnight had a brief scuffle after a missed Broncos shot attempt. That matchup will be one to watch tonight.
Apparently, one of those Roberts shots was not a 3-pointer. He has eight points in the game's first five minutes.
Another bogus call. This one was on McKnight. It gave Alex Wolf an opportunity to hit a 3.
Currently, ESPN.com's bracketologist, Joe Lunardi, has Kent State as a 14 seed. If it's a team other than Kent, then that seed could look really ugly.
Akron is playing swift defense. Wow. This is the best they've looked all year.
The fans got a real jolt when Marshall swatted a Juwan Howard Jr. dunk attempt, such that Howard wound up on the floor. On the ensuing fast break, Quincy Diggs converted a three-point play. Akron leads by 13 at the 12:30 mark.
I can't help but look at Stainbrook and think: "Why isn't he playing offensive tackle or tight end at Ohio State?" Below is evidence of what can go wrong when a Bronco mixes basketball with football (Joe Reitz).
If you read this blog during my undergrad days, you remember Kiel Fleming. We wrote a column together, where he would end up being the bad guy. It's a role he relishes. Anyhow, here is a text he just sent me: "I can't wait to see how big of a lead the Zips can blow tonight. I'm guessing they manage to choke away at least 25."
One thing I like about Steve Hawkins teams is that they rebound with five guys. The downside to that strategy is that it's easy to run on those teams.
WMU went on a quick 5-0 burst to make it a single-digit game.
The irony about these big leads is that, as a fan of the winning team, they don't give you much assurance. When you're a fan of the losing team, you still get really worried. In a way, it's like pro wrestling. Even if it's Ric Flair against Barry Horowitz, you know Horowitz will hit a suplex or DDT.
Marshall picked up another foul, and again it was Boroski. He made the call from near the Zips bench -- far out of position.
Stainbrook is really huffing and puffing out there. He's the kind of guy you do NOT want to guard at the gym. Mainly, because it's a guarantee he will sweat all over you.
The Zips missed a chance to extend the lead to 15. McClanahan had a wide-open 3 attempt. Cvetinovic caught the rebound with no one around, but missed the tap-in putt. A few possessions later, McClanahan did cash in on the 3. Zips lead by 15 with 4:44 left in the half.
In a press conference a few weeks ago, Keith Dambrot asked the media a question: What is one thing this team does better than every other team he's had? It was an easy one: dribble-drive. The addition of Diggs and Alex Abreu gives the team a brand new batch of plays to put in the book.
Abreu got fouled on a drive, but he missed the front-end of a one-and-one. Those always hurt. WMU is 3-for-9 at the line.
Douglas airballed a 3 and received the usual treatment from the AK-Rowdies, who seem to have multiplied since yesterday.
Ward is suffocating McClanahan on the perimeter. Seeing this as a challenge, McClanahan faded away on a deep 3 and drilled it. Not a good shot, but you can't complain with the result.
Diggs just hit a killer 3 to take the lead to 16. The ball found him on the kick-out from an offensive rebound.
Hutcheson scored a put-back just before the halftime buzzer.
Halftime - Akron 41, Western Michigan 27
Notable halftime stats: Diggs has a game-high 12 points. Hutcheson and Stainbrook have a game-high six rebounds apiece. WMU shot only 31.4 percent; Akron was 50 percent. The Zips made 7-of-13 3-pointers; WMU was 2-of-8. WMU had a rebounding advantage, 25 to 23.
McKnight did not score in the first half. Tom Gaffney says that's a good sign, because you know he'll get some points in the second half.
I wrote almost 3,000 words in yesterday's blog post -- and that's without transcribing any post-game quotes. Wow.
KSU's Ford won Coach of the Year by a single vote over Charlie Coles. I know of two reporters who voted for Ford, but just as easily could have gone for Coles.
Seventeen seconds was all it took for Marshall to pick up his third foul in the second half. McClanahan picked up his third just 10 seconds later. Unbelievable.
In the first two-and-a-half minutes, the refs have called five fouls. I don't know if any of them was really deserved.
The Broncos opened the half on a 9-3 run. The question wasn't, "Will WMU go on a run?" It was, "When, and how prolonged will it be?"
Diggs always seems to be falling forward, off-balance, when driving with the ball. On the most recent drive (a successful one, by the way), he had to use his off-arm to brace himself on the hardwood.
Boroski strikes again. He called Diggs for a loose-ball foul, one that really should have been a non-call. Diggs reacted by nearly slamming the ball. Boroski called Diggs for a technical foul. Now Diggs is on the bench with four personal fouls. Boroski is really hearing it from the Akron fans.
We have now had 11 fouls in the first 6:30 of the half.
Below is a photo of the Akron fan section. See if you can find yourself!
Marshall's fourth foul came at the 13:00 mark. It was a horrible call. Ward went up with a shot right into Marshall's chest. There was contact, but it was shooter-initiated. At least it wasn't Boroski who made that call.
Is it just me, or does the Western Michigan mascot look like he's on drugs?
We just saw a six-point swing. A McNees 3-point attempt just barely rattled out. On the other end, Ward's 3 hit every part of the rim before falling in.
Mike Bardo has been getting the biggest ovations of any player this week for the Zips. I think people truly appreciate the non-statistical parts of his game. He got a key rebound-putback, while being fouled. The Zips lead by 14 with 11:13 left.
Whitfield also has four fouls now.
Roberts just had a wardrobe malfunction. His shorts fell a little farther than any of us was comfortable with.
Dambrot is happy with how his team is playing. Normally, you don't see the Zips coach smile or clap too often. He did both after a McKnight three-point play.
After a few minutes when the refs actually let the game go, the Zips lead by 13 with 6:46 remaining.
Here's something to ask yourself as a Zips fan: At what point does this season become a success? Do they have to win tonight? Do they have to win tomorrow? Do they have to be competitive -- or even win -- a game in the Big Dance? I think it's a success if they make it to tomorrow.
Whitfield is back on the floor for WMU. Another foul and he's gone. Diggs and his four fouls are back out there, too. Marshall is coming back at the 5:25 mark.
The AK-Rowdies gave Michael Reghi a chant. He responded with a wave. Reghi is my favorite announcer, with Gus Johnson a very close second. It's refreshing that Reghi is also a really nice guy. He's wearing a bold pinstripe suit tonight. Normally, I don't mention people's clothing, but if you're watching the game on STO, you'll see how bold it is.
Marshall made a dumb error. After a made bucket by Ward, Marshall stepped on the baseline while passing the ball in. That gives the ball back to WMU. The mistake cost the Zips, as Whitfield made one free throw. It's also about 25 seconds they would have run off the clock. The Zips lead by 10 with 3:52 remaining.
Western Michigan eliminated the Zips in Dambrot's first year. If the Zips hold on to win, this will be the fourth instance of MAC Tournament payback for Akron in the last six years.
Diggs fouled out, and it was a dumb one. He essentially stopped the clock while WMU was in transition. His night ends with 18 points. Akron leads by eight with 3:04 left and the ball.
The Broncos have begun to apply a full-court press.
Roberts followed up with another bad foul. WMU cashed in on two free throws, and are now within six.
Abreu got trapped in the backcourt and launched a baseball pass to the frontcourt, right at Cvetinovic, who was busy staring at the referee, trying to call timeout. The ball sailed right past him. Broncos ball again.
Ward appears to have a cramp or some sort of leg ailment. He is trying to stay on the floor, but the refs say he must go, because they stopped the clock for him. Hawkins called a 30-second timeout to cure the issue. WMU ball. Akron's up six with 1:59 left.
Ward has been WMU's go-to player. He's having his way with the Akron guards. He backed Roberts down and drew a foul. After two free throws, the lead is down to four.
The Zips drew the clock down to 12 before McNees found McClanahan in the corner for a 3. Douglas took a quick 3 on the other end, which missed. McNees rebounded it, and Douglas threw an elbow at McNees' head as McNees passed him. Roberts got in Douglas' face. The refs are now trying to sort this out.
Looking at the replay from over Reghi's shoulder, Douglas appeared to have headbutted Roberts. Boroski called at least one technical foul so far. That much is certain.
We are still waiting on the refs to come to a conclusion. Despite the drama, this game is over if the Zips have a free throw surplus as a result of Douglas' behavior (and they should).
Douglas gets a personal foul, a "contact" technical foul, and a "flagrant" technical foul. The result is that he's ejected. Roberts also got a technical foul.
Douglas is now heading back to the locker room. For his sake, it's good he's not a senior. That would be the worst possible way to end a career.
McNees missed the personal foul free throw. Roberts made two free throws. On the inbounds play, Roberts was fouled immediately. He made two more. The Zips lead by 10 with 1:17 left.
The Broncos went to Ward on the next trip down. His shot didn't fall for once. McNees collected the rebound, was fouled, and made one more freebee.
Cvetinovic bit on a pumpfake by Wolf on the perimeter. How many of these late-game fouls is Akron going to commit on 3-point shooters? Fortunately, it would take a meteoric meltdown for this game to be close again. But the Broncos have not given up yet.
Based on my formula, the game is over. My formula: (If Deficit > (minutes left x 2) + 6, Then it’s over.)
After the postgame press conference, I will be sticking around to liveblog during Kent State vs. Ball State.
McKnight missed two free throws. The fans are getting a little restless over that. But a WMU 3 attempt missed on the other end.
Whitfield fouled out. Roberts made both shots. The AK-Rowdies now unleashed the "I believe that we have won" chant.
Just about everyone in the arena is puzzled. Stainbrook plowed over Roberts, and apparently a foul was called. After a WMU timeout, the Broncos got the ball. The fans are booing. At the least, the refs should have gone to the table and told the public address announcer what was going on.
The Zips haven't stopped defending either. Even with 14 seconds left, Marshall swatted a Howard shot attempt.
Game over. The Zips, and Dambrot in particular, ties a MAC record with his fifth consecutive MAC title game appearance.
Final Score - Akron 79, Western Michigan 68
Diggs was named Player of the Game with his 18 points and four rebounds. I believe this will be his first career press conference.
Notable final stats: Akron shot 48.2 percent; WMU was 31 percent. Ward finished with 22 points and seven rebounds. Hutcheson had 12 rebounds; Cvetinovic grabbed eight. Roberts scored 16; McClanahan had 14. McNees dished seven assists and had two turnovers. Marshall blocked three shots. WMU had 29 second-chance points, compared to Akron's nine. The Broncos only scored three fast-break points. WMU outscored Akron in the paint, 32 to 26.
"We didn't follow through with the gameplan. We lost a couple shooters (defensively) early in the game."
"We just didn't come to play today. We were frustrated with our effort."
"The first half killed us. Mistakes we made early in the game that we couldn't come back from."
"It's not the team that's beating us. It's ourselves."
"We have what it takes to do it. We had to come with the same mentality every game we play. You can't slack off for a minute. That can be a 3-ball that wins it for the other team. That can be a rebound that kills you."
"We picked a bad night to not shoot the ball well. We missed a lot of bunnies tonight -- a lot of shots around the rim. It seems like every time we play Akron here, they shoot great and we don't. They're a good team, a very good basketball team."
On fans' belief of a mental block against Akron: "That's why they're fans. 'Fan' is short for 'fanatical.' But there's nothing wrong with that."
"It's tough to play them in Cleveland. It's tough to play Kent in Cleveland. It's like a road game."
"Nobody looks smooth if you don't make shots. Flenard missed a couple. Stainbrook missed a couple. We missed a lot of layups. We missed free throws. We just didn't shoot the ball as well as we normally shoot it. It would have looked a lot smoother if the ball went in."
"It took a ton of physical effort to get all the way back into the game. They threw the ball away a couple of times, but we had two different players come into the huddle and say, 'Coach, I need a blow.' I said, 'You can't.' We called a timeout."
"There was a lot of talking going on during the game on both sides. Mikey got into it a little bit. They were talking and Mikey didn't like it. They always get the second guy. It's not something we like or something we condone."
"It's a fine line between playing this game with passion and emotion and not having it spill over, and it spilled over there. I didn't like the way it happened, but it did."
"We knew Cvetinovic was going right, going over his left shoulder. Abreu only goes left. We let him go left and get to the rim. Keeping them off the glass. All of those little effort things. Mentally, not physically. In the second half, we started executing better mentally. That allowed us to get some stops and Demetrius was able to get to the rim. The game was called tighter, so we were able to get to the free throw line."
"I think it was a typical Western Michigan-Akron game. Very physical. It's almost like an East game because we've played them so many times in the MAC Tournament."
"I felt bad because Mike Douglas is a good kid. He competed so hard and he sort of lost it at the end. They're kids and we have to remember that."
"I didn't think we'd have heavy legs. I thought we only hit one stretch of the game we were tired. We fouled so much, we stayed fresh. Zeke fouls so much, he never plays more than 18 minutes. I think we'll be ready to play tomorrow."
"Tonight, we were just better than them. They battled and battled and tried to come back on them. There's some tough matchups for them. When we play Nikola and McKnight on the floor together, that makes Stainbrook have to ... We tried to put him into those ball-screen situations."
"We didn't have any answers for Ward and Flenard Whitfield. And I thought the little guy, Mike Douglas, played really well."
On his fifth-straight championship game: "Some people will say that's a great thing. Some people will say the damn guy never wins any of the (championships). I think most times the best teams win the championship. If we play (Kent) tomorrow night, it's probably a pick 'em."
"This group has made me probably prouder than any group we've had because nobody expected us to be there. They said, at 12-10, they're done. This group has more upside than any other we've had."
On McClanahan's big 3: "One of the things we've been trying to do a little more is to let our guys play a little bit. Steve drove it down and kicked it. It was just a good decision by McNees."
"I think we have good people. We've been in a lot of ballgames. I think that's why they come to Akron. They want to play in these games. We're not scared. We're not scared to make good plays or bad plays. When push comes to shove, you better have belief structure."
"I had a lot of makeup to do from yesterday. KD, he wants me to be aggressive each and every game. It was a rough start at first. He wanted me to keep trusting him."
On the technical foul: "It was my bad. I lost my composure for a bit."
"I think we're a shooting team. We have a lot of threats."
"That's the beauty of the team, because you never know who's going to pop out."
"We were up by 20-something. They came back. Bottom line is that we stuck together."
"We worked so hard the whole season long. To say that we're tired now, it's just not right. Preseason, we ran so many miles. They're paying off now."
On WMU's offensive rebounding: "They're very aggressive. They have strong guards coming in. It was just one of those nights. At the end of the game, we got some big boards."
KENT STATE VS. BALL STATE LIVE UPDATES
The second game of the night has been high-scoring so far, with the teams combining for 30 points in the first 5:30 of play. Kent has the early lead, 17-13.
Ball State brought about as many fans as Western Michigan. Kent State, like Akron, had a nice turnout.
Ball State has a male member of the dance team. (Don't worry, I'll be nice.) He is, hmm.... He, well, really having a good time out there. You can't dispute the guy's talent, either.
The AK-Rowdies put together a half-hearted "Kent State sucks" chant.
At this pace, one of these teams will score 90. The teams have now combined for 62 points in the first fifth of the game. Jarrod Jones already has 10 points. The teams are both making at least two-thirds of their shots. (Sorry for all of those fractions.)
Kent State is getting the ball inside and Ball State doesn't have the interior defense to stop the buckets. I think Justin Greene has the best touch in the league, and he's using it tonight. He has 13 with 3:43 left in the half.
Josh Cribbs is here. It looks like he's about to be interviewed by STO's sideline reporter.
I can't deny that I'm a HUGE Jimmer Fredette fan. The kid dropped 52 for BYU against New Mexico. If the Cavs pass up on Jimmer, aka the second coming of Mark Price, I will be disappointed.
If you read the quotes above, you probably picked up on the fact that WMU's coach Steve Hawkins is unhappy about Kent and Akron getting home games in the MAC Tournament. It's a fair point. Just think if you had to travel to Detroit or Indianapolis for this tournament every year. All that travel time, the costs of a hotel room for maybe three nights. Would you do it? Could you get friends to join you? Probably not.
Realistically, Cleveland is the unquestioned best site for this tournament, with the conference's offices being downtown, two teams being within an hour and several others being within two hours. The MAC West sort of gets the shaft there. Dambrot was complaining that the division champions are guaranteed at least the No. 2 seed. When you consider the location of the tournament, that's a fair compromise.
They put Kent State's student section in the front few rows behind Ball State's bench. It's great for harassing the opponent, but they can't stand up. I'm also surprised at how few of them there are. I can only count about 30.
Both of these teams will be good next year, as well. Kent loses only Rodriguez Sherman. Ball State loses only Malik Perry. Akron's fate will depend in large part on whether Cvetinovic decides to turn pro and move back to Europe.
Kent State has made some mistakes and let Ball State creep back within one. I keep waiting for KSU to extend the lead into double-figures, but it hasn't happened.
Kent has outrebounded Ball State, 31 to 16, and outshot the Cardinals, 52 percent to 48.8 percent. It's just a matter of time before this game gets lopsided. Right now, Kent leads by three with 5:30 left.
I happen to be sitting in front of the loudest fans in the MAC, cheering on the Flashes with booming shouts. I'm going to need a hearing aide.
Jones can't handle Greene. When Greene gets the ball in the paint, it's over unless you're a shot blocker.
I hate this term, but Kent really did "grind out" a win. They didn't accelerate. They didn't wilt. They just held steady for 40 minutes.
The MAC will get what it wants (or should want): another Akron-Kent championship matchup. It certainly was nice winning the MAC Tournament against Buffalo, but doing it against Kent would be much sweeter.
The Kent State students are chanting, "We want the Roo!"
Final Score - Kent State 79, Ball State 68