By Amy Audibert, Buffalo Sports Page
187 points. That’s what attendees were delightfully treated to at the Quicken Loans Arena for the 2018 Mid American Conference Women’s Basketball Championship game. The end result was a 96-91 Central Michigan win over Buffalo. Those who love scoring, from all over the court- deep threes, paint &1’s, transition run-outs, clutch free throws, well for us, maybe we wish the end for this game didn’t come so soon. However, both squads in this matchup should be suiting up for at least one more, and on the biggest stage of the season.
The Big Dance
Although the post game pressers displayed polar opposite tones, there was at least one similarity…..dancing expectations. Both UB Head Coach Felisha Legette-Jack and CMU’s Sue Guevara are confident that this final featured two NCAA Tourney caliber teams. If the bench bosses are right, this would be the first time in 21 years (96-96 season) that the MAC has been given an “at-large bid”. The Chippewas stamped their ticket over the weekend where they continued to display one of the highest powered offenses in the country averaging 82.5 points per game. Just like many contests this season, the starting five carried the load combining for 89 points of the team’s total 96; they all know how to put it down. Maybe most impressive was the ability to sustain efficiency from long range where 12 connections were made on 22 attempts, good for 54.5%.
Buffalo has also proven that it deserves a spot in the field of 64. The Bulls have displayed the ability to score at a high clip themselves, averaging 77.5 points per game and they like to do it fast, outscoring opponents 368- 109 in the fast break column on the year. Buffalo’s game is equal if not stronger on the defensive side of the ball. They stand top ten in the country at 12.2 steals per game, and on average force 20.9 turnovers leading to 24.3 points per outing. In the MAC final, Buffalo posted 13 thefts and dropped 24 points off of 17 CMU turnovers. The Bulls are more than deserving of an NCAA invitation where they finished the regular season sitting at #19 in the latest RPI, one of the highest of any mid-major schools, sitting only behind UCONN and South Florida in the AAC. The high rank is accredited to early road wins over Clemson(ACC) Nebraska(Big 10) UNLV (Mountain West) and St. John’s (Big EAST). The selection committee often reminds programs, and especially the mid-majors that for “at large bid” consideration, programs must go out and show a challenging non-conference schedule. Felisha Legette-Jack went out and not only scheduled tough games, but left gyms across the country with W’s in the early months which lead to a UB program record 27 win season. Felisha Legette- Jack knows her group is ready for the opportunity to dance on the big stage. “I think we said in the locker room we’ve already played an NCAA team. I think Central Michigan can battle with a lot of people that’s going to make that tournament. So we’re tournament-ready.”
The Mid American Conference finished the regular season with an overall RPI rank at 8 out of 32 conference’s in the Division 1 field. This is a tough place to survive and the norm is not easy wins. Central Michigan and Buffalo are the two best teams coming out of the MAC this season, plain and simple. There will be many fans, Bulls and Chippewas’ alike, tuning into Monday night’s NCAA Tournament Selection Show airing on ESPN live at 7pm. We all know CMU is a guarantee, but the Mid American Conference as a whole should be pretty confident behind Buffalo also getting the nod , now becoming a question of who, where and what seed.
Worth noting from ESPN’s Charlie Creme’s Bracketology – last updated March 8th – had Buffalo as a 10th seed taking on 7th seed Miami (FL) and Central Michigan at the 9th seed squaring off with (8)Marquette. If the seeding stays relatively close, the consistent proven ability between these two programs to run and score in a balanced fashion leaves two MAC programs in a plausible position for big first round upsets. Guevara won’t be happy just to be there, “I don’t want to do the two-step; one step in, one step out. I want to cha cha a little bit. I’m sure Fe (Legette- Jack) does, too. We want to go and show people that the MAC conference is a very, very good conference and we have good coaches in this league.”
One of the most intriguing factors about March Madness is the unpredictability of outcomes, the concept that anything can happen… and it’s the stone cold truth because every year brackets bust and upsets prevail…. ENJOY!