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Kent State's trip to Sweet 16 vindicates MAC

SPECIAL TO ESPN.COM

March 19
On Selection Sunday, the Mid-American Conference got a raw deal when only one league school was chosen to play in the Big Dance. In fact, Kent State wasn't picked -- it earned a berth as the MAC tournament champion.

One advantage the mid-major schools have is that their players return and perform for four years without leaving early.
But now the MAC can celebrate, baby! Kent State has proven itself by making it to the Sweet 16. If you don't believe this team can play, just ask Oklahoma State coach Eddie Sutton or Alabama coach Mark Gottfried. Am I shocked or surprised? No, since I projected on our NCAA Selection Show that the Golden Flashes were capable of beating Alabama. Kent State has great stability on the perimeter, and Trevor Huffman is a star of stars.

Why did the committee pick only one school from the MAC? The league can flat-out play. I've said from day one that this is one of the most underrated conferences in America.

It was no accident that Kent State upset Indiana in the first round last season under former coach Gary Waters (who's now at Rutgers). The program learned about developing a winning tournament mentality then. And Stan Heath, my diaper dandy coach of the year, has taken it one step further. Heath really learned his lesson as an assistant at Michigan State under Tom Izzo.

Andrew Mitchell, a 5-foot-11 senior from Detroit, gives the Golden Flashes outstanding play on the perimeter. Demetric Shaw, a solid 6-3 senior, has contributed positive minutes throughout the tournament. I've also been impressed with sophomore Antonio Gates, who came up big against Alabama.

One of the advantages of the mid-major schools like Kent State, Creighton, Southern Illinois and UNC-Wilmington is that their players return and perform for four years without leaving early. These programs have greater stability and winning experience, and that usually leads to success, my friends.

There's no doubt that the Kent State kids believe they can play. As ESPN's Chris Fowler would say, they took Alabama behind the woodshed and gave the Tide a spanking.

How confident is this club? Kent State has won 20 straight games going into its Sweet 16 showdown vs. Pittsburgh. The last time the Golden Flashes lost was Jan. 9 against Buffalo! This team is now 29-5 and had a 17-1 conference record -- and let me tell you, it isn't easy to win on the road in the MAC.

Kent State is a dangerous team that can compete with the big boys. This might not be the end of the journey. There's a lot left in the Golden Flashes' arsenal.

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