If there can be a must game for a team that’s 5-18, Kent State’s Saturday game against Bowling Green is one.
The Flashes are 2-10 in the MAC but play the three teams just ahead of them in the remaining five conference games. They have three of their five games at home, where they have played their best.
Here’s the MAC East standings:
Bowling Green 4-9
Add to that mix Northern Illinois, which is 3-10 in the MAC West. The Huskies will be competing with the losing teams in the East for seeding in the conference tournament.
Kent State is playing its best basketball of the season. In their last six games, the Flashes have played four solid games and two good halves. (They beat NIU and Ball State and lost to Western Michigan and Miami by three points. They outplayed Western Michigan and Akron in first halves before losing.)
The teams ahead of them aren’t doing so well.
BG, Saturday’s opponent, has lost five in a row. Miami has lost four in a row. Buffalo has lost eight of its last 10. Northern has lost 10 of 12, including what would be a tie-breaker for tournament seeding to Kent State. The Huskies also play nothing but winning teams in the West for the rest of the season.
So KSU has a legitimate shot of moving past Miami and Bowling Green if the Flashes can beat them in the MAC Center. I consider Northern pretty much out of the picture, considering its schedule and the fact KSU holds the tie-breaker because of its victory over the Bulls.
So let’s look at the possible final standings. They assume Ohio wins all of its remaining games (a good bet) and Akron wins all of its remaining games (more iffy but the Zips are clearly the second-best team in the division). Then we assume that the home team will win every other game. We get:
The key spot is Buffalo’s. It would be the eighth seed in the tournament and get a first-round game at home.
Kent State plays Akron at home. The Flashes led the Zips by 11 at halftime on the road Tuesday. So they clearly have a chance against them at home.
Kent’s last game of the season is at Buffalo. If the Flashes would win that one and beats Akron, they and the Bulls would tie at 6-10.
That sounds nice, but there’s one big problem: Buffalo is the only team in the MAC to beat Ohio (51-43 at Buffalo). And the Bulls beat Central Michigan, the leaders in the West.
The MAC tie-breakers work like this: If everything else is even (head-to-head competition, divisional record), the league looks at records against the first place team, in the league, then the second place team, etc.
So there’s really no way Kent State could win a tie breaker against Buffalo. For the Flashes to pass the Bulls and get the home tournament game, they would have to beat Ohio at Ohio, which no team has done this season. Or Buffalo would have to lose at home to either BG or Miami. That’s somewhat more likely — Miami beat the Bulls at Miami. But I wouldn’t count on it happening again.
This is undoubtably a silly academic exercise. Upsets are bound to happen. Kent State hasn’t shown it can win on the road (where it is 0-10 this season).
But what the heck. It’s more fun than writing the same statistical preview I’ve written all season.
One statistic you ought to know about Saturday’s game, though: Bowling Green clobbered KSU 71-49 at Bowling Green Jan. 23 when it made 15 of 29 three-point shots. It was probably the low point of the season for Kent State. It might have been the high point of at least the MAC season for the Falcons, who also have beaten 7-6 Eastern Michigan at home and NIU and Miami on the road.
Saturday’s game is no cinch for Kent State. But the Flashes have a solid chance.
The game is at 5 p.m. The unusual starting time is because it originally was supposed to be the first game of a doubleheader with KSU’s men’s team, who were to play Akron at 7. But the Akron game was moved to Friday so it could be televised nationally.