The Road to Cleveland

*MUNCIE–The regular season has concluded, but the Mid-American Conference Tournament is about to begin. The first round will take place Saturday with four play-in games at various campus locations. No. 9 seed Kent State will travel to Ohio to take on the No. 8 seeded Bobcats at noon. A pair of mid-afternoon contests will follow, as No. 12 Ball State will travel to Mt. Pleasant, Mich., to take on No. 5 Central Michigan and No. 11 Buffalo will make the trip to Akron, Ohio and go head-to-head with the No. 6 seeded Zips at 2 p.m. The first round finale will feature No. 10 Western Michigan at No. 7 Northern Illinois at 3:05 p.m.

No. 9 Kent State (6-20, 5-11) at No. 8 Ohio (13-17, 6-10)

This marquee matchup features a pair of Eastern Divisional teams. The Golden Flashes enter Saturday’s game with a 1-12 road record (1-7 conference road record), but split the season series with the Bobcats. Three players average 10 or more points for the Golden Flashes, including junior guard Trisha Krewson with 11.5 points per game, junior forward Diamon Beckford with 10.3 PPG and junior guard Tamzin Barroilhet with 10.2 PPG. For the Golden Flashes to have a chance, they will need to outscore the Bobcats in the first half. The Golden Flashes have been outscored by a combined 232 points in the first half this season.

Ohio enters Saturday’s game led by redshirt senior guard Tenishia Benson, who averages just less than 15 PPG. Sophomore guard Shavon Robinson is the only other Ohio player who averages more than 10 points per game. Offensively, the Bobcats rank second to last in the MAC in points per game, averaging  57.5 PPG. The entire roster will need to come through for the Bobcats against the Golden Flashes. If Benson and Robinson are the only source of offense, then the Bobcats will be one and done.

No. 12 Ball State (9-20, 4-12) at No. 5 Central Michigan (16-14, 8-8)

It’s been a struggle for Ball State this season, but the future of coach Kelly Packard may ride on this game against Central Michigan. This young Cardinals group has drastically struggled to put together any sort of road success, as they have amassed just two road victories this season, including just a lone conference road victory, a 75-56 route at Kent State on Feb 1. The Cardinals will look to repeat their last performance against the Chippewas, which resulted in an 84-76 triumph on Feb. 19 in John E. Worthen Arena. Freshman guard Brittany Carter, who leads the Cardinals’ offense, scoring a team-leading 255 points this season, will need to bring her A game. Carter is 9 for her last 24 from the field and 7 for her last 18 from beyond the arc. Senior co-captains Suzanne Grossnickle and Amber Crago will also need to aid the offense, especially in the paint, where the Cardinals have been outscored 120-66 in their last three games.

The Chippewas enter tournament play riding a three-game winning streak and will look to maintain their winning ways against the Cardinals. Freshman guard Crystal Bradford leads the Chippewas offensively, averaging more than 13 points per game. Despite their .500 record in conference play, the Chippewas are the second-highest scoring offense in the MAC, averaging over 70 PPG. In addition, the Chippewas lead the MAC in offensive rebounds, averaging over 43 boards per game.

No. 11 Buffalo (9-21, 4-12) at No. 6 Akron (13-17, 7-9)

The Bulls are looking to pull off an early upset over the Zips, who swept the season series. The Bulls closed out the 2011-12 season on a two-game home winning streak, defeating both Kent State and Ohio. Look for senior guard Brittany Hedderson to have a big game for the Bulls. Hedderson is second in the MAC in scoring, averaging over 21 PPG this season. Senior forward Beth Christensen is second in the conference in offensive rebounds, averaging over six boards per game for the Bulls.

The Zips closed out their regular season by snapping a three-game winless streak by defeating the Bulls 78-69 Tuesday night. Junior forward Rachel Tecca leads the Zips’ offense, averaging 17 points per game. Sophomore guard Sina King and junior guard Taylor Ruper are averaging double figures in scoring as well this season for the Zips. Ruper is third in the conference in 3-point field goals, averaging over two jumpers from downtown this season.

No. 10 Western Michigan (8-21, 5-11) at No. 7 Northern Illinois (12-16, 6-10)

The Broncos came away with a thrilling 66-64 overtime victory over the Huskies on Tuesday night to close out regular season play. They will look for their second consecutive triumph over the Huskies on Saturday. Redshirt senior guard Maria Iaquaniello heads the Broncos’ offense and is sixth in the conference in scoring, averaging over 14 PPG. Iaquaniello is also fifth in the conference in field goal percentage, making over 48 percent of her field goal attempts. Sophomore guard Corie Buchanan leads the group with 153 total rebounds.

The Huskies are fourth in the conference in free-throw percentage, at 72.3 percent and rank near the bottom in field goal percentage, at 37.4 percent. Despite dropping their regular season finale, the Huskies have won two of their last three games heading into tournament play. Freshman forward Claire Jakubicek leads the group offensively with an average of 12.9 PPG. Jakubicek leads the conference in free throw percentage, going a perfect 36-for-36 on the season. Senior guard Courtney Shelton is third in the conference in assists per game, averaging over three per game.

Teams to watch…

Eastern Michigan (21-8, 13-3)

The Western Division champion Eagles are on fire, having won nine of their last 10 games to close out the regular season. Senior guard Tavelyn James is the nation’s second leading scorer, averaging 25.9 PPG. The Eagles have a double-bye into the semifinals, which will take place on March 9 in Cleveland. Look for James to continue her dominance throughout the tournament.

Bowling Green (24-5, 14-2)

The Falcons clinched their eighth consecutive conference championship Tuesday night by rolling over Kent State 91-48. The top-seeded Falcons also have a double-bye into the semifinals. Their toughest opponent could end up being No. 4 seeded Miami (21-8, 11-5). Though the Falcons swept the season series, the RedHawks have won four of their last five games and are led by junior guard Courtney Osborn, who averages more than 18 points per game. Osborn ranks third in the MAC in points per game with 19.8, second in assists, averaging 4.9 per game, fourth in free throw percentage at 85.1 percent, third in steals with 2.5 per game and third in minutes played, averaging over 37 minuted per game.

Toledo (20-8, 13-3)

Toledo was one win shy of forcing a share of the Western Division title with Eastern Michigan. The Rockets won 12 of their final 13 regular season games and look to remain hot in the tournament. Junior center Yolanda Richardson leads the conference in field goal percentage, at 61.6 percent, and blocked shots, with 61. Look for the Rockets to square off with the Eagles in the semifinals.


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