Tuesday, March 18

Big MAC attack or: My weekend as an AK-ROWDIE

The Mid-American Conference (MAC) tournament rolled into Cleveland this past weekend, and with two teams near and dear to me making appearances in the semifinals, I took the opportunity to check out some games with my trusty companions Lance and Bucko. I left impressed by the quality of play and the fans' fervor for their favorite clubs.

Tickets were only $10 per night; the first night, they were good for admission to both semifinal games (#3 Akron vs. #2 Western Michigan, and # 1 Kent State vs #5 Miami). Not bad. The seats were actually $17, but with my youthful good looks (I'm actually 28) and Akron gear I passed as a UA student and got a solid discount.

Akron sported a pretty solid fan base, the self-proclaimed AK-ROWDIES, to watch their club try to avenge last year's heartbreaking loss in the MAC Tourney finals (and subsequent hosing by both the NCAA and, bizarrely, the NIT). Hell, even Western Michigan had quite a crew, though you can probably attribute some of that to people looking for some excuse, any excuse, to get the hell out of Michigan for a while.

Anyway, Akron, put a pretty good pounding on the WMU Broncos and advanced to the title game. Even though we could have watched Miami-Pitt for free in person, we decided to go to the bar and do so instead. This allowed me to watch the Pittsburgh and Indiana games as well, and all three contests turned out to be terrific. More on that later.

We went back to the Q for Saturday night's final to find a much larger and more spirited crowd. Kent State and Akron don't especially like each other, and this rivalry has really intensified in past years. Only UNC-Duke really matches it in terms of geographical proximity - if so inclined, you could run from one campus to another without too much trouble.

Despite the similar distances to Cleveland, there were way, way more Kent State fans than AK-ROWDIES. I was slightly torn, having connections to both schools, but I was going for Akron in the hopes that both clubs would earn admission to the NCAA tournament. It wasn't to be, as Akron was icy cold from the floor during the second part of the first half and allowed Kent to build a lead that the Flashes sat on for the rest of the game. Congratulations to Kent State, the MAC regular-season and tournament champions. I wish them the best of luck in their opening-round game vs. UNLV. Also, big it up for the Zips, who landed in the NIT, where they will face Florida State in the first round of play.

Two funny things from Saturday's game:

1) A KSU fan sported a t-shirt billing his school as "The Harvard on the Cuyahoga." That's brilliant.

2) One obnoxious group of Kent Staters behind us (we eventually moved sections to avoid them) were taunting Akron fans saying, "You only went to Akron because you couldn't get into Kent State." Um, dude, pretty much everyone gets into Kent State. No knock on the institution and quality alumni like Arsenio and Milkey, but it's a state school, just like Akron.

Getting away from the MAC, and making a sudden departure from Ohio-based sports, much respect to the Pitt Panthers, who, as a #7 seed, disposed of three straight ranked squads (Lousville, Marquette, Georgetown) to claim the Big East Tournament title in Madison Square Garden. That makes seven appearances in the Big East final in the past eight years, and two championships. Congratulations to Jamie Dixon and the boys. Beat the hell out of Oral Roberts for me.

Now that the dust has settled, I've got quite a few horses in the two major tournaments. In order of preference, I've got:
NCAA: Pittsburgh, Kent State, Xavier (sort of - that's pure Ohio solidarity)
NIT: Ohio State, Akron, Cleveland State

I'm looking forward to the Madness here in a few days. Hopefully Nick and I will have an NCAA bracket challenge against each other, which he will no doubt win. Probably not an NIT challenge, though thinking about the NIT reminds me of once when I was little and I saw Ohio State win the NIT. I was pretty excited - the Buckeyes were champions! - until Dad pointed out that it only made them the 65th-best team in the nation. That's not exactly true - I'm sure the NIT champ from any given year would destroy the various NCAA 15 and 16 seeds, but he does have a point.

Go Panthers, go Golden Flashes, go Musketeers, go Buckeyes, go Zips, and go Vikings!

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