The Mid-American Conference Tournament semifinal games are now set and the Broncos first hurdle they have will have to climb in order to bring home the MAC Championship will be the Akron Zips.
Akron defeated the Ohio Bobcats 83-77 after trailing by five at halftime and now faces a Bronco team poised to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2004.
The Broncos dynamic duo of David Brown and Shayne Whittington are the main reason why the Broncos are the #1 seed in the tourney and people have taken notice. Brown and Whittington were recently voted 1st Team All-MAC and finished 2nd and 3rd respectively for MAC Player of the Year. But the two might be playing their best ball of the season at the exact right time.
Brown was consistent in scoring all year, as he scored in double-figures in all 30 games this season, while leading the MAC in scoring with 19.1 points per game and is averaging 20.5 points over the last 11 games.
The 6’11 Whittington has recorded a double-double in five of the last seven games, and had 12 double-doubles in 28 games this year. Whittington has lifted his game to elite level lately and with the one and down format of the MAC Tourney, Whittington and Brown will have to continue their excellent play.
But if either Brown or Whittington are off their game, it’s safe to say the Broncos have one of the best supporting casts of any of the four teams left in the tourney.
Fellow starters Connar Tava, Tucker Haymond and Austin Richie might not have been as well known at the beginning of the year as Brown and Whittington but opposing teams are taking notice now.
Tava was easily the most improved player on the Broncos’ roster this year and was rewarded with an All-Mac Honorable Mention selection.
Freshman Tucker Haymond has played like a completely different player after missing time mid-season due to an injury. Before the injury Haymond was averaging just over four points per game and was shooting the ball at only 27.7%. Once Tucker returned to the lineup, so did his shooting touch. In 18 MAC games, Tucker averaged 7.6 points and made 46.6% of his shots from the field.
Then there is Austin Richie. Simply put, when Richie scores the Broncos win. WMU is 11-0 this year when Richie scores 10 or more points, with seven of those wins coming during conference play.
While the Broncos are hot at the right time, so are the Zips. After a three-game losing streak a few weeks ago, it was looking like you could write off the Zips chance at back-to-back MAC Tournament Titles, but since then Akron has won four in row by an average of eight points.
The Zips are led by Demetrius Treadwell (14.7 ppg, 8.7 rpg) and Quincy Diggs (12.2 ppg) but both played heavy minutes against Eastern Michigan and will have to play the majority of the contest against WMU, for Akron to have chance at victory.
However, playing in Akron’s favor will be their proximity to Cleveland, the site of the MAC Tournament. With Kalamazoo nearly 9x further away from Cleveland than Akron (270 miles vs. 30), the Zips will have the advantage of more fans in the crowd. I do expect the Broncos to travel well, but not nearly as well as Akron will. In tournament games, never underestimate the value of the 6th man.
The Broncos defeated Akron 57-54 at home on February 12th. The winner between WMU and Akron will play either Toledo or Eastern Michigan for the MAC Title and the right to dance in the NCAA Tournament.
WHO: WMU vs. Akron
WHAT: MAC Semifinals
WHERE: Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland
WHEN: 6:30 p.m. Friday
RADIO: WZOX-FM (96.5)
TV: ESPN3 (online)