Western Kentucky would be great fit for MAC

Kurt Snyder

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. – Kent State’s National Invitational Tournament 88-80 overtime loss at Western Kentucky had the intensity of a Mid-American Conference game last night.

Albeit sloppy as the teams combined for 45 turnovers, both teams battled under the basket for rebounds and out at midcourt for steals. Western Kentucky’s home crowd of 4,325 was energized and into the game from start to finish.

“I knew the kind of environment they have here. It’s first-class,” Kent State coach Jim Christian said. “Their fans were into the game. I thought our kids played hard tonight. We just didn’t play smart as we need to play against a basketball team like this.”

A few years down the road, the game could be a MAC matchup. With Marshall leaving the MAC for Conference USA next year, the MAC has been at least discussing expansion depending on what the branches drop when the conference tree is shaken.

Western Kentucky appears to be very much in those discussions. A move likely would not happen until the Hilltoppers’ football stadium is renovated such as adding bleachers to behind the one sideline. But hey, Kent State did not have bleachers on one side in 2002.

From a basketball standpoint, however, the Hilltoppers were ready for the MAC yesterday. Their 7,326-seat E.A. Diddle Arena dwarfs many MAC arenas, including the M.A.C. Center. The Hilltoppers’ play on the court rivals even the Flashes’ recent success as the Hilltoppers are in their fourth postseason tournament in the last five years after making the NCAA Tournament three straight years from 2001-2003.

“They’re 14-1 at home,” Christian said. “We didn’t come into the environment, a place where they’re used to losing.”

Senior point guard Antonio Haynes scored 29 points and said the homecourt advantage was huge.

“We always have a great crowd,” he said. “We just feed off that energy.

Flashes junior guard Jay Youngblood matched Haynes’ 29 points. He compared the atmosphere in the arena to the one the Flashes played in at Marquette in November.

That atmosphere is something the MAC could use now. If the conference is serious about expanding, the Hilltoppers would be a strong choice. Football might be a few years off, but the MAC could use Western Kentucky’s instant credibility and sports-hungry fans to add to a basketball conference that continues to plead with power conferences for respect.

Just maybe Kent State will return to the other Bowling Green for a MAC game in the future.

Contact managing editor Kurt Snyder at [email protected].