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Akron, Kent basketball teams hope to punch ticket to March Madness

The Kent State men's basketball team tied a team record with 25 regular-season wins. They're the No. 2 seed in the MAC Tournament, led by senior Sincere Carry.
Kent State University Athletics
The Kent State men's basketball team tied a team record with 25 regular-season wins. They're the No. 2 seed in the MAC Tournament, led by senior Sincere Carry.

The Mid-American Conference basketball tournament tips off Wednesday at Rocket Mortgage Field House in Cleveland with Akron and Kent State’s men's and women's teams hoping to punch their ticket to the Big Dance.

Ideastream Public Media's sports commentator Terry Pluto said it’s become a big event for the city of Cleveland, which has hosted the tournament for more than 20 years.

“When I first started paying attention to the MAC, I was just thinking of this, they were playing at this smaller area in Toledo, maybe held about 4000 people. I remember when they moved it to Cleveland, I wondered, would this really go?" said Pluto. "And it has. And it's become a big weekend. But I don't care if you're a woman's coach, a men's coach. This is the most nerve-wracking time of the year."

Unlike powerhouse conferences like Ohio State’s Big Ten, the MAC gets just one automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, which goes to the winner of the MAC Tournament, not the regular season.

“For example, the winner of the regular season on the men's side for the last three years, it's Toledo. Never once have they gone to the NCAA because they didn't win the tournament,” Pluto said.

The eventual winner will play three games in three days.

“If you're playing over the regular season, you're playing over four months. You could have an injury. You could have even a bad couple of games and still turn around and, you know, go 15-3 or something like that. But here you have a bad half that could end your season," he said.

Toledo (26-6) is the No. 1 seed, followed by Kent State (25-6) and Akron (21-10). The Flashes and Zips split their regular-season series, and could meet in the semi-finals of the tournament.

“For a number of years now, both programs have been very good. But these games are just frenzied. It's so much fun to watch,” Pluto said.

Kent is led by head coach Rob Senderoff, who’s in his 12th season.

“He's only been to the NCAA tournament once. He's the all-time winningest coach at Kent," Pluto said. "Fortunately, they appreciate him and have kept him.”

At Akron, John Groce is in his sixth season as Akron’s coach. His team won the tournament last year.

“John Groce coached at Ohio (University). He won the MAC tournament twice. In fact, winning it twice enabled him to get a job in the Big Ten at Illinois. So, there's that sort of at stake, too,” he said.

So, it’s March Madness or bust for MAC teams this weekend. But Pluto sees it bigger than that.

“My argument is, all year these teams have been terrific entertainment, whether we're talking about Akron, Kent or Ohio or Cleveland State, Youngstown State, all the mid-majors in this area have been just so much fun to watch,” he said.

In the women’s MAC Tournament, Kent state is the fourth seed while Akron is the sixth.

Women’s schedule Wednesday:

(4) Kent State vs. (5) Northern Illinois, 1:30 p.m.

(3) Ball State vs. (6) Akron, 6:30 p.m.

Men’s schedule Thursday

(8) Miami vs. (1) Toledo, 11 a.m.

(7) Northern Illinois vs. (2) Kent State, 4 p.m.

(6) Buffalo vs. (3) Akron, 6:30 p.m.

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