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Nate Linhart what he felt about Senior Night. He responded immediately about how nervous he has been about it. With such a rapid response, you could tell he had thought about it a lot. Linhart doesn't look overly jittery in pregame warmups.
The MAC is tightening its belt for the tournament. Bands and cheerleaders are not allowed to attend during the first-round games on Tuesday. There is no media food in the first round, either.
I just learned a very important fact about MAC tiebreakers. As you know, the second tiebreaker is determined by looking at the tied teams' records against the No. 1 team, No. 2 team, etc. until there is a winner. Well... Did you know that the first tiebreaker will be against the MAC West winner? It is not against the No. 2 teams via record, but via seeding.
Right now, Ball State and Western Michigan are tied at 7-8. Ball State has an almost certain win Sunday in Muncie, Ind., against Eastern Michigan. WMU plays at home against CMU, who is 6-9.
Here are the scenarios for the No. 2 seed: Both win -- They tie. Akron has a combined record of 2-0 against these teams. BSU wins, WMU loses -- BSU wins the West. Akron beat the Cardinals. WMU wins, BSU loses -- WMU wins the West. Akron beat the Broncos. Both lose -- They tie, and CMU joins them. Akron has a 3-0 record against each.
Who does this hurt? WMU beat only Ohio. BSU beat Ohio and Buffalo. CMU beat Ohio and Miami. What does all that mean? Akron should want a three-way tie in the West, because that will bring down Buffalo and Miami in a potential tiebreaker. Alternatively, it wouldn't be bad if Ball State won the West because it would kill Buffalo in a second tiebreaker. The picture will make more sense in about three hours.
Ironicially, this is Linhart's 100th career start. It comes against the same team that he beat with the shot of his career -- a fall away tip in at the buzzer to win the game. A stronger irony might be that Akron is likely to play another game at Rhodes Arena this season. There are three postseason tournaments.
Nik Cvetinovic and Linhart.
Tom Gaffney says he can't see Akron winning three games in a row in the MAC Tournament. Neither can I. I also have trouble seeing any other MAC team on a three- or four-game streak.
The Bobcats are having a down year in 2009, but next year looks bleaker. They lose
Jerome Tillman and
Michael Allen, who are two of the best players in the conference. The rest of the East has the same problem. Miami loses six seniors, including
Michael Bramos. Buffalo loses four seniors, but keeps its two best
Rodney Pierce and
Calvin Betts. Kent State loses four seniors, including its lifeblood
Al Fisher. Bowling Green loses its three best players:
Darryl Clements and and
Given those facts, the MAC West will probably creep back to respectability. Ball State and Northern Illinois, in particular, will have serious depth and talent. My MAC East predictions for 2009-10: Akron, Buffalo, Miami, Kent State, Bowling Green and Ohio.
This game is heading toward Uglyville. Akron is shooting 27 percent. Ohio has eight turnovers. Akron has five. It looks like both teams spent the past hour in a walk-in freezer. The bright side for Athenians is Ohio's 8-0 run.
Brett McClanahan and Ohio's
Frankie Dobbs grabbed for a loose ball. It was the game's fourth or fifth "jump ball" call in 12 minutes.
Besides the NCAA and NIT, Akron also might attend the College Basketball Invitational and CollegeInsider.com's tournament, which is hopefully better organized than its
Web site. Ohio participated in the CBI last season, but the university paid $50,000 to host a game.
The fans are not into this game, but I can't blame them. It's dull, even for someone sitting in the front row. However, there is one fan who is into the game. He is sitting in the AK-Rowdies wearing nothing but a blue speedo. I tip my hat to that gutsy young man.
At halftime, both teams have more turnovers (UA: nine; OU: 13) than field goals (UA: eight; OU: nine). That's a sign of garbage basketball. Linhart and Tillman lead the game with seven points each. Linhart has game-high five rebounds. Akron is shooting 27 percent. Ohio is shooting 53 percent.
The other MAC games are well into the second half. The home teams (Kent and Miami) are winning at home by a handful.
Linhart stole the ball at the top of the arc and drove to the other rim for a dunk. Linhart has battled through the flu the past couple days. He received some intravenous support and looks fine.
Brett McKnight committed his third foul with 18 minutes to play, but
Keith Dambrot is leaving him on the floor.
DeVaughn Washington also picked up his third foul.
Mike Bardo threw a nasty elbow while he had the ball. It didn't connect with a Bobcat, but an Ohio coach is lobbying with the officials during this timeout. The elbow looked intentional to me. Bardo wanted to part someone's hair with it.
Brett McKnight and Tillman scrapped for position. The ref could have called either for his fourth foul. They called it on McKnight.
Ohio has squeezed harder on defense lately. The Bobcats are contesting routine passes. Kent State did this to Akron last year and it was quite effective.
Tillman committed his fourth foul against Linhart on a loose ball.
Miami and Bowling Green are heading to overtime with the Pre-Shot Clock Era score of 40-40.
Akron has held a steady lead of about eight all half.
Steve McNees twisted the dagger with a 3-pointer that extended Akron's lead to 11 with three minutes left.
I planned to play an hour of basketball at the Rec Center after the game tonight, but the pace of this game is making me drowsy. That's no hyperbole.
Joe Dunn is glancing at my laptop every minute to check the Miami/BG and Kent/Buffalo scores. These other games are keeping me awake, at least. Buffalo leads by one at Kent with 1:46 to play. Miami leads by two with 1:56 left in overtime.
Tillman fouled out.
John Groce set up a play to have Tillman launch a 3-pointer. I would call a 3 for any of the other Bobcats on the floor before Tillman. The shot missed badly, in case you wondered.
Akron dribbled out the clock. We will know within 20 minutes whether they regained first place.
The AK-Rowdies unveiled a 15-foot long banner that reads: "Thank you Nate." Linhart greeted them after the game and walked to the locker room while the remaining fans cheered. Every athlete should be so lucky to have a sendoff like that.
Kent and Buffalo also are heading to overtime. It's too bad we don't have a few big screens on which to watch these games. This just in: Miami beat Buffalo 50-45.
Final stats of note from Rhodes Arena: Tillman had a game-high 17 points. Linhart had 15 to lead the Zips. Tillman had eight rebounds. Linhart grabbed seven. Akron shot 37 percent. Ohio was 47 percent, but missed all 14 attempts on 3-pointers. The Zips won the rebounding battle, 33-25. The Bobcats finished with 24 turnovers. Akron had 18, which is still a lot.
The Zips are back in first place. Kent held off Buffalo in overtime, 71-77.
Final score -- Akron 60, Ohio 51
Nate Linhart "It's just kind of how our games have been going lately. We knew we were going to see some zone tonight because of the Bowling Green game and how we performed against them. We have to perform against zone. It is going to be a point of emphasis."
"I thought I was going to (keep it together emotionally), but right before I walked over to them and it all hit me. I was thinking of all the kindness shown to me by everyone here. It kind of all hit me. I couldn't keep it in."
Talked about how he needs one more win to be the winningest player in the history of Akron's program.
Cedrick Middleton currently holds that record. "Cedrick had 19 (wins) the year I wasn't here."
"I'm definitely going to (miss Rhodes Arena). Even as emotional as I was, I don't think it has completely set in."
"I don't believe how fast it went. That sound corny, cliche, whatever. Savor all that. It's the best part of this job."
After being told Kent is up four with 27 seconds left: "They won't blow it. That's the only time I'll root for Kent."
John Groce "Obviously, the majority of the 40 minutes, their toughness and physicality wore on us."
"You turn it 24 times, it kills your chances to win. They had a great deal to do with that."
"I don't think shot selection or us being able to make shots was a problem."
On shooting 0-for-14 from 3: "The majority of those were out of a position of weakness due to very good Akron defense."
"To their credit, they did a good job of rotating, combined with some poor decision making we had led to the 24 turnovers."
"I was very disappointed at halftime to see we had zero (offensive rebounds) and they had 10. I thought they were very scrappy and they played with great energy."
"We're not playing to keep the game below 60. Us and Akron are No. 1 and No. 2 in points per game. The MAC can be a grinder league. We want to run for sure when we get stops. It's tough to run when you're taking the ball out of the net."
"When you play zone, it does slow down the tempo of the game. We were mixing our defenses. That was very effective in the first half. We were playing man and playing zone and doing some trapping."
"I think we knew what we had to do. They were able to impose their will. They were very physical and very disruptive. We felt that playing two point guards at one time would help us take care of the ball better."
"I don't think of it as being on the road. It's that Akron's good. I think they're second or third nationally in causing turnovers. You got to be able to take care of the basketball against them."
Keith Dambrot "Their team is a lot like our team, really. He is a really good coach. He does a good job of structuring them and getting Tillman the ball."
"We continue to lack confidence offensively. Unforced errors. We butchered everything in the first half. The second half, we got it where it had to get. Throw the ball to the block and you'll be successful. There were game-winning shots that we did not make to put the nail in the coffin. Darryl had three of them and didn't make them. Humpty's doing some things that he didn't do since the beginning of the year. Those are just facts. When I say we're not going to win many games with the McKnights going 2-for-13, they don't take that personally."
"We made it man-to-man. We threw it to the block. In the first half, we finessed it. We're not a team that is good at that."
"With those four guards shooting the ball like that, we're going to see a bunch more (zone). There is no coach in the country who can handle the zone when they're not making shots. Darryl goes 1-for-7. Humpty goes 1-for-6. We're lucky we can guard, because we'd be in trouble."
"They beat our brains in physically because they're strong. They brought it to us. We showed a lot of clips of them just pounding us."
"Right now, the way we win is 'slop it up.' You can dress a pig up but you're still a pig."
"I like Bardo. I told him until he tells me a little extra work. I'm not speaking to him until he gives me more work on his own. Throw his numbers out the window; he's a good player. You might not see the rebounds, but he's not letting his guy get it."
"What's funny about the whole thing is you can't even have tiebreakers because they're tied in the West. They may have to flip a coin. Can you imagine getting a bid to the NIT on a coin flip. I think they should take the highest RPI and give it to them. It's fun. It's crazy."
"Can you imagine being on the West and saying, 'We're 9-20 and we're West champs!'"
"You can put all our half together. They all seem the same to me. OU's no different from Buffalo. Heck, we can't beat Northern Illinois. And Eastern's beating people. This might be the weirdest year ever. The last-place team might win the tournament."
On Kent State: "I think the one guy (Al Fisher) is the best player in the league. They just haven't gone through him this year as much as they have in the past. They're a little more offensive than we are."
Geno Ford "did a good job of rallying his team when they were dead in the water. To me, they're still the cream of the crop. Their talent level in the backcourt is so good that they could win the MAC Tournament. The question is going to be are they going to take good enough shots? Are they going to defend on every possession?"
Ronnie Steward being done for the year: "It's pretty obvious isn't it? You can draw your own conclusions."
"Brett (McKnight) is getting better (on defense). Jimmy is really good on him (Tillman). Most of our problem is that we didn't take the high-low pass away."