(SportsNetwork.com) - The 2015 Mid-American Conference Tournament kicks off Monday with a slate of first-round games as the quest to earn the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament and a conference title begins.
The tournament will take place at Quicken Loans Arena, home of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Defending champion Western Michigan earned the sixth seed, and will participate in Monday's first round. Central Michigan, which finished the 2013-14 campaign with a 3-15 record in conference play and second-to-last in the conference standings, earned the top overall seed this season and will receive a bye all the way into the semifinals, which take place on Friday.
Central Michigan finished atop the Western Division of the MAC with a 22-7 overall record, with a 12-6 mark in conference play. The Chippewas earned the top seed after the tiebreaker with both Buffalo and Kent State, which each finished with 12-6 records in the league as well.
Central Michigan capped off its regular season leading the league in scoring, averaging 78.1 ppg. The Chippewas were led by sophomore guard Chris Fowler, who scored 15.3 ppg and dished out a team-best 175 assists on the year. John Simons (12.1 ppg) and Braylon Rayson (10.5 ppg) each netted a double-digit scoring figure as well.
Buffalo earned the second seed in the tournament, and will receive the other bye all the way through to the semifinal round. Buffalo capped off its season at 21-9 overall, and ended the regular season on a six-game win streak.
Justin Moss led the Bulls and the MAC in scoring with 18.4 ppg, and also added a 9.3 rpg mark to top the league as well. Shannon Evans chipped in 15.3 ppg to help his Buffalo squad net 74.8 ppg - the third-highest mark in the conference.
Kent State (21-10) earned a bye into the third round after garnering the third seed. The Golden Flashes finished in a tie with Buffalo in the East Division at 12-6, and ended the season with a thrilling 79-77 victory over Akron. Jimmy Hall netted 15.5 ppg to lead the team, and grabbed a team-best 7.2 rpg. Kent State's scoring defense held opponents to 63.0 ppg this season - tied for second best in the MAC.
The team that entered the 2014-15 campaign perhaps as the favorite to win the conference was Toledo (19-12), which earned the fourth seed and the second bye into the third round. Toledo ended the season behind Central Michigan in the West Division at 11-7 in league play, and also finished behind the Chippewas in scoring, averaging 75.5 ppg. Julius Brown checked in behind Moss in the conference in scoring, netting 16.4 ppg with 133 assists. The Rockets lost their last two games of the season, and three of their last four overall.
Fifth-seeded Bowling Green opens the tournament with a Monday matchup against 12th-seeded Ball State. Bowling Green finished with an 11-7 record in conference play, but lost its last two games of the regular season. Richaun Holmes led the Falcons with 14.7 ppg and 57 blocked shots for the league's best scoring defense (61.4 ppg allowed). Ball State brings a 16-game losing streak into the postseason, while the Cardinals allow opponents to net 68.3 ppg. The Cardinals ended the season at 2-16 in MAC play.
Eighth-seeded Eastern Michigan had a strong start to the year in non- conference play, and finished the campaign with an 8-10 mark against the league. The Eagles will face ninth-seeded Miami-Ohio, which also finished at 8-10. Raven Lee tied for second in the league in scoring for EMU at 16.4 ppg, while the Eagles collected 69.7 ppg as a unit. Eric Washington netted 14.5 ppg to pace the RedHawks, who allowed opponents to score 69.8 ppg on 45.9 percent shooting.
Defending conference champion Western Michigan, which garners the sixth-seed, faces off against No. 11 Ohio in the first round. WMU finished at 10-8 in league play, while Ohio went 5-13 against the MAC - last in the East Division standings. The Broncos were paced by David Brown's 15.1 ppg, while Connar Tava led the squad in rebounding (6.3 rpg) and assists (110). The Bobcats put a stop to a seven-game losing streak in the regular-season finale. Maurice Ndour led the charge with 15.6 ppg, while Javarez Willis scored 15.0 ppg for Ohio.
The final first-round matchup on Monday pits seventh-seeded Akron against 10th-seeded Northern Illinois. Akron closed out the year at 9-9 in conference play, while the Huskies finished 8-10 and on a four-game win streak. Akron's Pat Forsythe paced the squad in scoring with 10.7 ppg, and Northern Illinois' Aaric Armstead netted 11.1 ppg to lead his team.
The winners of each first-round game will advance to the second round of play on Wednesday, where those victors will all square off. Then the winners of the second-round matchups move on to Thursday's third round to take on Toledo and Kent State. Central Michigan and Buffalo won't play until Friday's semifinal round.
That gives both the Chippewas and Bulls huge advantages, not to mention fresh legs. The Chippewas had a stellar season on the offensive end, and have a great mix of youth and experience. Anything can happen in this tournament, but the Chippewas and Bulls have the best odds to reach the championship.
Sports Network Predicted Champion: Central Michigan