Checking In On… the MAC

Posted by rtmsf on December 9th, 2011

Bill Hupp is the RTC correspondent for the MAC. Follow him on Twitter (@Bill_Hupp) for his thoughts on hoops, food, Russian nesting dolls and life.

Reader’s Take

The Week That Was

  • Non-Conference MAC MVP? Miami (OH) may be mired at the bottom of the East Division with a 2-4 record, but it’s not because of Julian Mavunga. The 6’8’’ senior forward from Indianapolis is averaging nearly a double-double, and leads the conference in both scoring (21.5 PPG) and rebounding (9.8 RPG).
  • Western Michigan’s Rough Non-Conference Schedule: While the Western Michigan brass deserves some credit for scheduling a rigorous non-conference slate to steel them for the rigors of the MAC, they may have overdone it a bit. The Broncos are 1-7 and still have difficult road games left against Oakland and Duke before MAC play begins. WMU has lost to the likes of Gonzaga, Temple, Purdue and Detroit to start the season. Whether or not this helps them win the West remains to be seen. What is clear, however, is that the Broncos will almost certainly have to win the conference tourney if they have any Big Dance aspirations.
  • Northern Illinois is Awful: There’s really no polite way to say it.  New coach Mark Montgomery probably knew his squad was going to struggle in his first season, but he couldn’t have imagined dropping non-conference games to the likes of Utah Valley State and Nebraska-Omaha. There aren’t a lot of easy answers, either. The Huskies (0-7) are allowing more than 73 points per game and offensively are shooting a dreadful 35% from the field. To make matters worse, NIU turns it over 17 times per game. To be fair, the Huskies are very young. Five of NIU’s 10 regulars are true freshmen. Stud rookie Abdel Nader (10.1 PPG/3.9 RPG) has shown some early promise, but things are looking ugly in DeKalb.

Miami of Ohio's Julian Mavunga is Off to a Tremendous Start This Season (AP/Amy Sancetta)

Power Rankings

  1. Kent State (6-1) – Not surprisingly, Kent State appears to be the class of the conference. New coach Rob Senderoff debuted in fine fashion as KSU snapped West Virginia’s 36-game non-conference home winning streak with a 70-60 road victory.  The Golden Flashes rely on a stingy defense that ranks in the nation’s top-10 in steals (10.1 per game) and is third in the MAC in field goal percentage defense (37%). Outside of their loss to Cleveland St., Kent St. has also shot the ball well and features a balanced offensive output, with five players averaging between 9.6 and 11.9 points per game. Really the only negative thing to say about the Golden Flashes thus far are those unfortunate gray road uniforms. Last time I checked, KSU’s colors were gold and navy blue.
  2. Ohio (6-1) – The Bobcats earned one of the MAC’s best road wins of the season when they went up to Oakland this week and ended the two-time defending Summit League champions’ 11-game home winning streak with an 84-82 triumph. The Bobcats’ only defeat thus far was a five-point road loss at then-No. 7 Louisville. Returning first-team All-MAC point guard D.J. Cooper leads the conference in steals (2.6 SPG), is second in assists (6.3 APG) and ninth in scoring (14.1 PPG). They aren’t exactly blowing opponents out (five of their six wins were by less than double digits), but you better believe Ohio will take 6-1 out of the gate.   
  3. Buffalo (5-2) – You might be able to run with the Bulls, but few teams have been able to rebound with them yet this season. Buffalo leads the conference in defensive rebounding and is snatching an impressive nine more boards per game than their opponents. Senior sharpshooter Zach Filzen (16.9 PPG/3.7 RPG) is knocking down a conference-best four triples a game to lead a team that has averaged 73.7 points per game (third in the MAC). Last season’s MAC Freshman of the Year, 6’7’’ Javon McCrea, is among the conference leaders in points (15.0 PPG) and rebounds (8.0 RPG).
  4. Toledo (6-2) – A team that was expected to be one of the worst in the country has instead raced out to a nice start in 2011-12. The Rockets just had a six-game winning streak interrupted by Temple, but are atop the West by winning some close games and being productive offensively. Toledo leads the conference in both scoring average (76 PPG) and field goal percentage(47.0%). Rian Pearson , a 6’4’’ sophomore, is fourth in the conference in scoring (17.3 PPG) and rebounding (8.0 RPG).
  5. Ball State (5-2) – The Cardinals are currently on a five-game winning streak, and they’ve accomplished that with defense, rebounding and taking care of the basketball. Nobody has shut opponents down this season in the MAC like the Cardinals, who hold opponents to a conference-low 55.9 PPG.  They also have one of the best rebounding margins and the lowest assist-to-turnover ratios in the conference. 6’9’’ senior Jarrod Jones is second in the MAC in scoring (19.9 PPG) and rebounding (9.3 RPG) and in the early conference MVP talk.
  6. Akron (3-4) – Like Western Michigan, the Zips have loaded their non-conference schedule with the likes of West Virginia, Mississippi State, Valpo, Detroit and VCU.  Even Middle Tennessee St. has proven to be a tough opponent this year (ask UCLA). That said, it’s a little troubling that Akron is coming off of consecutive 20-plus point losses. Four of the next six games are soft before MAC play begins, so the Zips still have time to work out the kinks. 6’8’’ senior Nikola Cvetinovic (8.7 PPG/6.6 RPG) was thought to be a Player of the Year candidate in the pre-season, but he’s only been decent thus far. Akron needs him to raise his game if they hope to contend with Kent State.
  7. Bowling Green (5-3) – Perhaps no team in the MAC can boast more impressive non-conference wins than BGSU. The Falcons have notched early-season home victories over Austin Peay, Detroit and Temple. Led by experienced 6’7’’ forwards Scott Thomas (11.4 PPG/6.5 RPG) and A’uston Calhoun (10.9 PPG/6 RPG). BGSU has done well this season by forcing turnovers and taking care of it when they are on offense.
  8. Central Michigan (4-3) – It appears Trey Zeigler has avoided the dreaded “sophomore slump.” He’s on track for a first-team All-MAC selection by ranking third in the conference in both points (17.9 PPG) and boards (8.6 RPG). Outside of a puzzling blowout loss to New Mexico State, the Chippewas have started the season as expected, and should be able to challenge Akron and Ball State for the West Division title.
  9. Miami (OH) – (2-4) – Their record may not look like much, but the Redhawks have battled tough with in-state rivals Dayton, Xavier and Cincinnati.  Julian Mavunga has been an absolute force in the post, but he hasn’t gotten much help from his teammates.  A look ahead at the rest of the non-conference schedule reveals games against Belmont, Ohio State and Vanderbilt before conference play begins with Akron and Kent State back-to-back.  Yeesh.
  10. Eastern Michigan (4-5) – Outside of guard Darrell Lampley (16.8 PPG), the Eagles have struggled to put the ball in the basket. Sure, playing Syracuse and Michigan State doesn’t help, but that doesn’t completely explain ranking at or near the bottom of the MAC in every team offensive category.
  11. Western Michigan (1-7) – As previously noted, the Broncos loaded their schedule with difficult road games, so their record isn’t completely shocking at this point in time. The more troubling sign is that WMU has been blown out by more than 20 points in a few of those contests. The Broncos are having problems getting stops, ranking at or near the bottom of the conference in scoring defense, three-pt field goal percentage defense, field goal percentage defense and steals. 6’9’’ senior center Rian Stainbrook has been a bright spot, averaging 15. 9 points per game and 7 rebounds per game.
  12. Northern Illinois (0-7) – Given his Michigan State roots, one of the hallmarks of a Mark Montgomery-led team should defense and rebounding. NIU has rebounded the ball well enough, but they are one of the worst on defense. They rank dead last in the MAC in shooting percentage, scoring offense, turnovers and turnover margin. That’s a recipe for a 0-7 start. Certainly, the few recruits bailing over the summer hurt the Huskies.

Looking Ahead

  • 12/13 – Central Michigan at Minnesota – The cliché is that big-time players make big-time plays on big-time stages. This isn’t necessarily one of those times, but Williams Arena is pretty cool, and Minnesota will be Central Michigan’s best opponent this season. Can Trey Zeigler rise to the occasion?
  • 12/20 – Ohio at Northern Iowa – The Bobcats have been one of the conference’s surprise teams thus far, but they have a tough task heading to Cedar Rapids to take on the red-hot Panthers. Since splitting their first two games, Northern Iowa (8-1) has won seven in a row, including a clean sweep of their in-state rivals Iowa and Iowa State. To have a chance for a road upset, the Bobcats will have to stop NIU guard Anthony James, who is averaging almost 15 points per game.
  • 12/22 – Eastern Michigan at Virginia Tech – Anytime a MAC team plays on the road against an ACC squad, it’s a tall order. Seth Greenburg appears to have another squad that is solid and will battle for one of the last at-large spots in March. The Eagles are in a brutal stretch of road games and as a result, have lost five straight.
  • 12/23 – Western Michigan at Oakland – If Western Michigan wants to be taken seriously as a threat to win the MAC, winning an in-state rivalry game on the road is a good place to start.

Caught On Film

This clip comes courtesy of our friend Rob Dauster over at Ballin’ Is a Habit. Kent State’s convincing road win over West Virginia featured substance and style as junior guard Randal Holt threw an alley-oop from half-court to junior Chris Evans for the emphatic slam.

rtmsf (3964 Posts)

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