BG has a different lineup but should yield similar results

For any of you who remember last year’s BG News Mid-American Conference Tourney preview, my predicted winner is taking on a very familiar tone.

You guessed it; I’m going with the MAC Player, Freshman and Coach of the Year and taking BG.

Now this wasn’t as easy of a pick as it was last year. In 2007, the Falcons lost only one conference game-an “oops, we lost” game to Ohio in February. Coach Curt Miller had a seven-player rotation that featured five seniors, and those seniors delivered and then some.

It’s almost been a year since that group of talented players, led by forward Ali Mann, won their third consecutive conference championship, and the competition has grown up in both divisions.

Despite their record in 2008, BG didn’t cruise by any means. They were beaten at home by Miami and Western Michigan and were crushed at Ball State. The team went on a three-game conference losing streak for the first time in four years, and opposing teams were starting to smell blood. After years of being on the losing end of the head-to-head matchup, Miami and Ball State players and coaches were on cloud nine after finally beating BG.

After the loss to Western Michigan, I was ready to name Miami as the team to beat in the East. Amanda Jackson was the conference’s leading scorer and the team played solid defense all year.

Then BG showed the rest of the conference that they weren’t ready to cede the title of MAC’s best team. They dismantled Toledo at Savage Hall and never lost another game the rest of the season. The two wins that sealed my pick came in ultra-tough back-to-back weeks on the road against Miami and Ohio. After that, I was sold.

Sure, Miller’s team consists only of two seniors and one junior compared to 10 underclassmen, but they’ve found a way to make it all come together, and they’ve been playing some pretty great basketball for the last month. I think they’re ready to take it to the next level.

Miami presents the biggest challenge to BG, but with Western Michigan and Ball State on their half of the bracket, there’s no guaranteed spot in the final game. While Ohio, Ball State and Eastern Michigan are all solid teams, Ball State was the only one of the three to give the Falcons serious trouble. The final four in the tourney should consist of BG, Miami, BSU and Ohio, whom I think will beat a higher-seeded EMU. Again, don’t overlook Western Michigan.

Teams that I believe will win one game and then get bounced include WMU, Toledo and Northern Illinois. Eastern Michigan will lose to Ohio in the second round, but they also have a bye.

Toledo could do some damage in their half of the braket because they’ll surely be playing with a lot of emotion. UT head coach Mark Ehlen resigned earlier this season and is coaching in his final games after a successful career up North with the Rockets.

Teams that I feel will be first round victims are Buffalo, Akron, Kent and Central Michigan. Combined, the four teams have a total of 17 MAC wins this season, which is just four more than BG.

Enough said, unless you want to rail on that unfortunate bunch some more.

Overall, this should be a very entertaining tournament that could feature a few upsets in the first two days. While BG should win for the fourth year in a row, it won’t be as clear cut as fans have grown accustomed to.