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UB men's basketball's pursuit of first-round bye comes down to wire

The University at Buffalo men’s basketball team remains in the hunt for the final first-round bye in the Mid-American Conference Tournament.

The Bulls, however, are in a must-win situation when they finish the regular season at 6 p.m. Friday at Bowling Green.

Akron, Bowling Green and Northern Illinois already have clinched first-round byes, but the top six teams in the MAC are jockeying for seeding on the final day of the regular season.

“It doesn’t surprise me, because I thought that there were a lot of very good players returning, and you could see that after the first month of the season,” UB coach Jim Whitesell said Tuesday after a 75-69 win against Miami (Ohio). “Bowling Green got off to a great start and won so many close games. There’s going to be so many close games. That’s college basketball this year. Everybody seems to be incredibly close, and there’s a lot of parity.”

Even UB’s players expected this year’s playoff chase to go down to the wire.

“I knew there were a lot of good teams and a lot of great players returning,” UB guard Jayvon Graves said. “Each player wants to do whatever they can for their team to win. I knew there’d be a lot of close games.”

Entering the final game of the regular season, the Bulls (19-11, 10-7 MAC) are tied for fourth in the MAC with Ball State (10-7), and the Bulls hold the tiebreaker against the Cardinals by virtue of their win Jan. 28 at Akron. The Bulls are 1-1 against the Zips this season, while the Cardinals are 0-1.

Here’s how UB could finish in MAC Tournament seeding:

Earning the No. 4 seed

The easiest path to the four seed and a bye in the Mid-American Conference Tournament is for UB to win Friday at Bowling Green, combined with a Ball State loss to Northern Illinois (11-6).

The more circuitous route to earning the final first-round bye is if UB loses to Bowling Green (12-5), and Ball State loses, combined with a win by Akron against Kent State, which is currently 9-8 and the sixth seed in the MAC. Kent State plays at Akron at 6:30 p.m. Friday.

The Bulls are 1-1 against Kent State and hold the tiebreaker with the Cardinals, who are 0-1 against the Golden Flashes.

Earning the No. 5 seed

If Ball State defeats Northern Illinois on Friday and Akron beats Kent, it would move Ball State into the No. 3 seed and drop Northern Illinois to the No. 4 seed, and UB would become the fifth seed, even with a win against Bowling Green.

The three teams would be tied for third at 11-7, but Ball State would be 3-1 against Northern Illinois and UB. The Bulls are 1-2 against Ball State and Northern Illinois. Northern Illinois has a win against Buffalo, which would drop the Bulls to fifth.

Ball State is 1-0 against Northern Illinois.

If UB and Ball State lose, and if Kent State wins on Friday, the Bulls become the fifth seed in the MAC Tournament. Ball State is 2-1 against Kent State and UB, while UB is 2-2 against Ball State and Kent State. Kent State is 1-2 against UB and Ball State.

Earning the No. 6 seed

The Bulls would drop to the sixth seed if they lose Friday at Bowling Green, and if both Ball State and Kent State win.

As either the fifth or the sixth seed, the Bulls would host a first-round tournament game Monday at Alumni Arena, either at 7 or 7:30 p.m.

The winner would advance to the MAC quarterfinals on Thursday at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland.

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