UB's chances of securing a top-four finish in the MAC were diminishing quickly when the Bulls suffered a three-game losing streak during the middle of February. Since then UB has rattled off four straight wins and gained favorable positioning in the quest to advance straight into the Cleveland portion of the Mid-American Conference Tournament and avoid the dreaded five-game march to a championship.
The Bulls have their fate back in their hands. Win home games Tuesday night against Ohio and Friday night against Bowling Green and UB is guaranteed a top-four finish and a bye at least to the March 12 quarterfinals. But there could be more. Winning out could enable the Bulls (10-6) to overtake either Toledo (11-5) or Central Michigan (11-5) and finish No. 2, which is good for a bye straight into the March 13 semifinals.
Such a leap would require either Toledo (11-5) or Central Michigan (11-5) losing its last two games. It's not far-fetched considering they play each other on Tuesday night. Toledo finishes on Friday with an away game at Eastern Michigan (6-10) while CMU closes Friday on the road at rival Western Michigan (9-7). Toledo beat EMU at home by 24 while CMU won at home by five over WMU. UB must finish ahead one of them outright since both own head-to-head tiebreak edges over the Bulls.
But UB could clinch a top four finish on Tuesday if the Bulls beat Ohio, Bowling Green (12-5) defeats visiting Kent State (10-6) and Akron (9-7) loses at Miami (7-9).
Ohio's visit carries multiple incentives for UB. The Bobcats (4-12) have sputtered but one of their conference wins was over UB, 63-61, on Jan. 24 on a Maurice Daly Ndour dunk at the buzzer. The Bulls shot just 35 percent in that game and were a woeful 4 of 22 from behind the arc. Contrast that with their 8-of-18 long-range performance in Saturday's victory at Kent State.
The play of Shannon Evans has been integral to UB's run and the sophomore guard was honored Monday with his fourth MAC East player of the week award. Evans averaged 17 points, 5 assists and 2.5 steals in a pair of victories. It's the seventh time this season UB has had the MAC East's top performer.
Evans also was named the Big 4 men's player of the week.
On the women's side, UB (9-7) is tied for sixth overall and finishes with road games Wednesday at Bowling Green (2-14) and Saturday at Kent (3-13). Even with two wins the Bulls would need a lot of help to leapfrog two teams into the top four. Ohio (14-2) has locked up a top four. It's followed by Ball State (11-5), then Toledo, WMU and Akron (all 10-6). It's likely UB is looking at playing its first-round MAC Tournament game at home on Monday.
UB's Mackenzie Loesing was named the top performer among Big 4 women for games from last week. She had a career-high 32 points against Ohio and is up to ninth on the school's all-time scoring list with 1,194 points.
In the Atlantic 10, the Bona men sit in a tie for seventh with George Washington (both 8-8) with the Colonels owning the head-to-head tiebreak. They're two games behind sixth-place Richmond and one ahead of Saint Joseph's. The Bonnies end with games at Saint Louis (3-13) Wednesday and home to Fordham (4-12) on Saturday. GW is at George Mason (4-12) and home to UMass (10-6). Saint Joseph's has La Salle (7-9) at home and a visit to Rhode Island (12-4).
If Bona secures the No. 7 seed it will play the No. 10 in the Atlantic 10 Tournament prequarterfinals in Brooklyn at 6:30 p.m. March 12. An eighth seed would pit the Bonnies against the No. 9 at noon that day.
Meanwhile, the Bona women are will face UMass in the first round of the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament at 4:30 Wednesday. Bona is the 12th seed, UMass No. 13.