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The View From Pluto: The MAC Tournament and the Battle for the 'Last Slice of Pizza'

a photo of a Kent State basketball player
KENT STATE ATHLETICS
Kent State is hoping for an upset in the MAC Tournament, led by Antonio "Booman" Williams.

College basketball kicks into tournament mode this week, with a chance for teams to punch their ticket to March Madness. The Mid-American Conference announced Tuesday that its tournament will continue at Cleveland’s Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse, but there will be no spectators in the arena due to concerns about a growing coronavirus outbreak.

WKSU sports commentator Terry Pluto says the show must go on.  "TV loves this time of year. It's part of March Madness and that's why they'll play these games in empty arenas if they have to amid the (COVID-19) virus, because this is a big time for TV."

The top seed
The MAC men's and women's tournament quarterfinals begin Thursday at noon with top-seeded University of Akron vs. number 8 Ohio. Kent State, seeded 6th, won its first-round game against Eastern Michigan on Monday to play number 3 Ball State Thursday evening. 

"There is no question in my mind that the best men's team in the MAC Conference is Akron, with John Groce," Pluto said. "Here you are going in to the tournament with a 24-7 record and he had the best record in the MAC at 14-4."

"There's this big party and everyone comes but there's only one slice of pizza available."

But the conference tournaments are designed to put the regular season in the rearview mirror. It's a winner-take-all bid to the NCAA March Madness tournament. And Pluto says former Akron coach Keith Dambrot knows the stakes. "When he had the Zips, he went to the (MAC) championship game nine times. And out of those nine trips, he only won it three times."

"Then, on the flipside, (Akron coach) John Groce was coaching at Ohio in 2012. They were 7-9 in the MAC and they got hot and knocked off Akron in the final game to go to the tournament. So there, it works for you being the underdog, but when you're the favorite, you really feel it."

The underdog
Pluto says right now, Kent coach Rob Senderoff is feeling that underdog hope. "He said, 'We are good enough to get hot at the right time.' And he used a metaphor, 'There's this big party and everyone comes, but there's only one slice of pizza available.'"

Senderoff has been to the NCAA tournament just once (2017) in his eight seasons at Kent. "I've always been grateful that Kent kind of stuck with him during that," Pluto said. His more than 160 wins is the most in program history. As for Akron, John Groce has led a turnaround since he was hired as coach in 2017.