Checking in on… the MAC

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 14th, 2011

Alex Varone is the RTC correspondent for the Mid-American Conference.

A Look Back

Conference play has arrived in the Mid-American Conference, and once again, the MAC has proven to be one of the most competitive and balanced leagues in the country. Check out the following results from just the first few games of the conference season.

  • Western Michigan over Central Michigan, 64-56 (OT)
  • Miami (Ohio) over Ohio, 92-88 (3OT)
  • Bowling Green over Buffalo, 74-71 (2OT)
  • Akron over Kent State, 65-62
  • Miami (Ohio) over Buffalo, 70-67
  • Northern Illinois over Eastern Michigan, 71-69

Midway through the month of January, the MAC has already seen three overtime games, including a classic triple-overtime affair, and three other one-possession games. All told, ten of the league’s twelve teams have already participated in an overtime and/or one-possession game, a sure sign that the MAC should be wide open and competitive throughout the rest of the season.

Star Watch

  • Jarrod Jones of Ball State has continued his season-long run of impressive play during the Cardinals’ current four game win streak. Over the four victories, including two to begin MAC play, Jones made 31 of 53 field goals (58.5%) and averaged 20.3 points, 9.0 rebounds, and 1.3 steals per game. For the season, Jones is fifth in the conference with 16.5 PPG, and second with 8.9 rebounds, while also chipping in 1.2 steals per contest.
  • Elsewhere, Xavier Silas of Northern Illinois continues to lead the MAC in scoring at 23.9 PPG. Second-leading scorer Brandon Bowdry of Eastern Michigan (20.9 PPG) is also first in the MAC in rebounds per game (10.1), and third-leading scorer D.J. Cooper of Ohio (18.8 PPG) has a sizable lead in assists per game (8.1).

Power Rankings (last week’s ranking in parentheses)

1. Ball State (3)
10-4 (2-0), RPI: 86, SOS: 243

The early season loss to Alaska Anchorage seems like a distant memory, as Ball State has won four straight and seven of eight to cement its case as the best team in the Mid-American Conference to date. After a pair of blowout wins over North Carolina A&T and SIU-Edwardsville, the Cardinals opened conference play with a five-point win at Northern Illinois, and a nine-point home win over Western Michigan.

A Look Ahead: Jan. 15 vs. Central Michigan, Jan. 19 at Eastern Michigan, Jan. 22 at Toledo, Jan. 24 vs. Morehead State, Jan. 27 vs. Kent State

2. Kent State (1)
10-6 (1-1) RPI: 95, SOS: 74

A three-game losing streak (at Morehead State, vs. James Madison, and at Akron) was an unexpected setback for the Golden Flashes, but Kent State recovered in its most recent outing, knocking off Bowling Green by 17 points. Kent State will have a chance to regain the top spot in these rankings with a tough upcoming slate: at Ohio, at Buffalo, vs. Miami, at Ball State, four of the top teams in the MAC.

A Look Ahead: Jan. 15 at Ohio, Jan. 19 at Buffalo, Jan. 23 vs. Miami, Jan. 27 at Ball State

3. Miami (Ohio) (6)
7-9 (2-0), RPI: 87, SOS: 4

The time is now to see how well Miami’s grueling non-conference schedule will pay off, and so far, so good for the RedHawks. After finishing the non-conference season with double-digit defeats against Cincinnati, and at Belmont and at Kansas, Miami (Ohio) kicked off conference play with a 92-88 triple-overtime victory at defending champion Ohio, and a three-point home win over Buffalo. The front-line of Julian Mavunga, Nick Winbush, and Antonio Ballard doesn’t get a lot of publicity, but have been and will be the key to Miami’s success.

A Look Ahead: Jan. 16 at Bowling Green, Jan. 19 vs. Akron, Jan. 23 at Kent State, Jan. 27 at Central Michigan

4. Akron (4)
10-6 (1-1), RPI: 115, SOS: 115

The Zips seemingly turned the corner at the start of the new year, winning six out of seven, including a three-point conference-opening win over Kent State, but then dropped a home contest to Ohio by nine points. Akron becomes a very dangerous team when sophomore seven-footer Zeke Marshall is a factor in the offense. Marshall played his best game of the season against Kent State, putting up 20 points, grabbing 11 rebounds, and swatting 3 shots, but against Ohio, Marshall only attempted five field goals.

A Look Ahead: Jan. 16 at Buffalo, Jan. 19 at Miami, Jan. 22 vs. Bowling Green, Jan. 26 at Northern Illinois

5. Ohio (5)
8-8 (1-1), RPI: 189, SOS: 124

Not too many teams can claim to lose a four-overtime game and a three-overtime game in the same season, but over the past month, Ohio has done just that. In fact, three of the Bobcats’ last four losses have been in overtime, beginning with the 4 OT defeat at St. Bonaventure, continuing with a single-OT home loss against Robert Morris, and ending with a 3 OT home loss against Miami. In more encouraging news for Ohio, freshman Nick Kellogg lead the Bobcats with 23 points in the pivotal road win at Akron.

A Look Ahead: Jan. 15 vs. Kent State, Jan. 19 at Bowling Green, Jan. 22 vs. Buffalo, Jan. 26 vs. Eastern Michigan

6. Western Michigan (7)
8-7 (1-1), RPI: 172, SOS: 179

After relying offensively on one guy (David Kool) last season, Western Michigan has countered this season with a much more balanced attack, with only two players (Flenard Whitfield and Demetrius Ward) averaging double-figures for the year. So far, it’s working, with the Broncos having won three of four, including a overtime win over Central Michigan to kick off MAC play. Even with a loss at Ball State, Western Michigan has a chance to keep its hot streak going with games against Eastern Michigan and Toledo coming up.

A Look Ahead: Jan. 16 vs. Eastern Michigan, Jan. 19 at Toledo, Jan. 22 vs. Northern Illinois, Jan. 25 vs. Buffalo

7. Buffalo (2)
8-6 (0-2), RPI: 185, SOS: 285

Even with an inexperienced squad, Buffalo rode a manageable non-conference schedule to an impressive start to the season, but the Bulls have come back to earth a bit in the first two conference games, losing by three in double-overtime against Bowling Green, and by three at Miami (Ohio). In the two losses, however, freshman Javon McCrea has been outstanding, scoring 18 points, grabbing 9 boards, and blocking 3 shots against Bowling Green, and following that up with 26 points, 9 rebounds, and 2 blocks against Miami.

A Look Ahead: Jan. 16 vs. Akron, Jan. 19 vs. Kent State, Jan. 22 at Ohio, Jan. 25 at Western Michigan

8. Bowling Green (11)
6-10 (1-1), RPI: 273, SOS: 283

A tremendously disappointing non-conference season for Bowling Green ended on a positive note, with the Falcons finishing with three straight wins over Manhattan, Texas San Antonio, and at St. Louis. Bowling Green carried that momentum into conference play with a double-OT win at Buffalo, before getting beat by 17 points at Kent State. The Falcons still struggle on the offensive end, but sophomore forward A’uston Calhoun has come on of late, averaging 19 PPG and 8.3 RPG over the last three contests.

A Look Ahead: Jan. 16 vs. Miami, Jan. 19 vs. Ohio, Jan. 22 at Akron, Jan. 25 at Toledo

9. Northern Illinois (8)
5-9 (1-1), RPI: 241, SOS: 185

Northern Illinois opened the MAC season with one of its most balanced offensive efforts of the season, featuring four double-digit scorers in what ended up as a five point home loss against Ball State. Three nights later at Eastern Michigan, the Huskies were back to being a one-man show, with Xavier Silas scoring a game-high 31 points, but also committing 7 turnovers, in the two-point win. The lack of a second offensive threat has been well-discussed, but the lack of an interior presence could be what holds the Huskies back over the next several weeks.

A Look Ahead: Jan. 15 vs. Toledo, Jan. 20 at Central Michigan, Jan. 22 at Western Michigan, Jan. 26 vs. Akron

10. Central Michigan (9)
4-11 (1-1), RPI: 291, SOS: 224

Central Michigan got a much-needed win earlier this week over Toledo. The win was the Chippewas’ first over a Division 1 opponent since the day before Thanksgiving. Freshman Trey Zeigler had a big-time performance in the victory, scoring 30 points and hitting five three-pointers to bring Central Michigan its first conference win of the season, after falling in its opener at Western Michigan in overtime.

A Look Ahead: Jan. 15 at Ball State, Jan. 20 vs. Northern Illinois, Jan. 23 at Eastern Michigan, Jan. 27 vs. Miami (Ohio)

11. Eastern Michigan (12)
4-11 (1-1), RPI: 329, SOS: 261

It took until January 8th and the first game of conference play, but Eastern Michigan finally got its first win over a Division 1 opponent in a 23-point blowout win at Toledo. Senior Brandon Bowdry continues to be a double-double machine, posting 19 points and 13 rebounds in the win, and sophomore Derek Thompson emerged with a 31 point performance in a two-point loss against Northern Illinois.

A Look Ahead: Jan. 16 at Western Michigan, Jan. 19 vs. Ball State, Jan. 23 vs. Central Michigan, Jan. 26 at Ohio

12. Toledo (10)
3-13 (0-2), RPI: 321, SOS: 204

A three-game win streak in the month of December briefly catapulted Toledo out of the power rankings basement, but four consecutive losses, including blowout losses vs. Eastern Michigan and at Central Michigan, two of the league’s worst teams, have brought the Rockets back to the bottom of the MAC. Three of Toledo’s next four games are at home, but the offense (50 PPG in first two MAC games) needs to pick it up to have a chance to be competitive.

A Look Ahead: Jan. 15 at Northern Illinois, Jan. 19 vs. Western Michigan, Jan. 22 vs. Ball State, Jan. 25 vs. Bowling Green

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ATB: New Year’s Weekend Edition

Posted by rtmsf on January 3rd, 2011

The Lede.  Here’s hoping everyone had a very safe and happy New Year’s 2011.  Just typing those numbers makes it hard for us to believe that there are ten-year olds who never experienced the awesomeness of the 1990s.  Speaking of irrelevant references to timing, with the calendar change we’re now heading into the heart of the season.  Frankly, the first two months in some ways seemed interminable, with far too many mismatches merely acting as a prelude for the conference season where the contenders and pretenders will be inevitably ferreted out.  As a case in point, take a look at last year’s AP Top 10 from one year ago today.  Texas, a first-round NCAA loser, was #2; Kansas and Villanova, both second round losers, were #1 and #6, respectively; the #9 team, North Carolina, ended up in the NIT.  The lesson here is that there are no finished products yet — many teams have barely tested themselves, and it wouldn’t be the first time that a school with a lofty pre-conference record collapses after seeing its own blood on the road.  Who will those teams be?  We have some ideas but it’ll have to wait until later this week.

Your Watercooler MomentMemphis Fan Ejected From Game.  This is a no-brainer.  There weren’t all that many great games this weekend, but an incident that took place near the end of Memphis’ 91-86 win over Tennessee State on Sunday is what will be talked about on Monday morning.  After an on-court scrum where a prominent donor’s wife (is she really the spouse of the Lenny’s Sub Shop guy? — someone please confirm) got agitated from the front row and allegedly yelled at one of the TSU players to “choke on” his mouthpiece, the nearby referee Mark Whitehead threw her out of the game.  Yes, you read that correctly, a fan!  And not just any fan, but a middle-aged female fan who quite obviously presented a clear and present danger to the players on the floor, especially considering the way that she was pumping and waving around those blue pom-pons.  (h/t Chris Littman for the video)

Your Watercooler Moment, Vol. II. Dear Ron: Don’t Eff With Jeannine Edwards — Signed, Billy Gillispie.  This has absolutely nothing to do with college basketball per se, but it involves two media personalities who regularly cover the game and it’s hilarious nevertheless.  SportsByBrooks reported over the weekend that ESPN commentator Ron Franklin (he of the Big Twelve games, mostly) condescendingly called reporter Jeannine Edwards “sweetcakes” and “a-hole” during a production meeting prior to the Chick-Fil-A Bowl on New Year’s Eve.  Franklin was allowed to work that game but he was then pulled from the Fiesta Bowl radio broadcast on Saturday night.  We’re not sure if this is a much more common occurrence with female reporters or what, but people seem to enjoy talking down to Jeannine Edwards.  Former Kentucky coach Billy Gillispie of course was widely ridiculed for his treatment of the sideline reporter during an Ole Miss game in 2009, and many people in Wildcat country believe strongly that particular embarrassment was the straw that broke his back as the UK coach.  It’s undetermined what will happen to Franklin as a result of his latest comments, but it should be noted that he had a similar incident five years ago with Holly Rowe and he still remained with the company.  Will Jeannine go two-for-two in her latest battle of the sexes?  Let’s hope so.

This Weekend’s Quick Hits

  • Kansas: Best Team in America. So says Miami (OH) forward Antonio Ballard, whose team has had the privilege to play the top three teams in the polls so far this season.  The Red Hawks lost to Duke by 34, Ohio State by 21, and Kansas by 27, but it was the athleticism of the Morris twins who combined for 38/15 coming off the bench that seemed to make the biggest impression.
  • Illinois Starts off Big Ten 2-0.  The Illini got a key home win on Sunday with its victory over Wisconsin in Champaign.  Combined with a win at Iowa last week, and Bruce Weber’s team crystallizes just how important scheduling is in conference races.  A winnable road game followed by a home game against a team they’ll likely battle all year in the second tier of the conference race.  Contrast this with Minnesota who currently sits at 0-2 as a result of road games to Wisconsin and Michigan State.
  • Syracuse, Cincinnati & St. John’s Do Likewise.  With respect to SU and UC, again, scheduling.  Syracuse feasted on two more home meals with Seton Hall and Notre Dame visiting the Carrier Dome, while Cincy got DePaul and the Hall to visit the Queen City.  The anomaly of this group is Steve Lavin’s Johnnies.  Somehow the same team that lost to Fordham and St. Bonnie managed to get Big East road wins at WVU and Providence last week.  If his team is turning a corner, we’ll find out on Big Monday as they host Georgetown at MSG.
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Checking in on… the MAC

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 4th, 2010

Alex Varone is the RTC correspondent for the Mid-American Conference.

A Look Back

Once again, there appears to be a clear divide between the Mid-American Conference’s East & West Divisions. Four of the East’s six teams (Kent StateOhioAkron, Buffalo) have winning records at this early junction in the season, while a fifth (3-4 Miami (Ohio)) just upset Xavier of the Atlantic 10. Meanwhile, none of the West’s six teams have a winning record, three have fewer than two wins (Eastern MichiganWestern Michigan, Toledo), and the only team without a losing record (Ball State) just lost to Alaska-Anchorage.

Star Watch

  • Justin Greene (19.4 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 1.6 BPG) has continued his fine season for the 6-1 Kent State Golden Flashes, ranking in the top five in the league in points, rebounds, and blocks. Entering the month of December, Greene has been the MAC’s best player. But don’t overlook some of this conference’s other fine talent, including Xavier Silas out of Northern Illinois. The senior guard leads the MAC in scoring at 24.8 PPG, and opened the season with four consecutive 20-point games, including back-to-back 34-point outbursts.
  • Byron Mulkey out of Buffalo has been one of the pleasant surprises of the early season. The senior sat out last season, and has bounced back with some of the MAC’s finest all-around play, averaging 13.2 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 5.5 APG, and 4.3 SPG. Those numbers are comparable with Ohio‘s star D.J. Cooper (17.8 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 6.7 APG, 2.7 SPG), the league’s best guard.

Power Rankings (Last week’s ranking in parentheses)

  1. Kent State (2) 6-1 – Sure, the Golden Flashes don’t have any attention-grabbing wins over teams from high-major conferences, but Kent State has quietly defeated Robert Morris and Lehigh, a pair of NCAA Tournament teams from last season. And Kent State’s only defeat in the month of November was a three-point loss at still-undefeated Cleveland State. Keep an eye on Kent State’s continued performance in close games, as the Golden Flashes have recorded four of their six wins by five points or fewer. The week ahead, with road games at UAB and Florida, may put a dent in Kent State’s fine early record, but those games will go a long way in showing how good this team actually is.
  2. Akron (4) 3-2 – Another year, another quality start for the Zips. Akron’s two losses — at Dayton, vs. Cleveland State — were fairly competitive, and Wednesday’s eight-point win at Detroit was a better win than most realize. Four players are averaging double-figures for Akron, but the development of 7’0 sophomore center Zeke Marshall (14.8 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 3.3 BPG) gives the Zips a dangerous weapon come conference season.
  3. Ohio (3) 4-2 – Ohio has only lost one of its last four games, but what a loss it was. The Bobcats were defeated by 57 points (!) at a neutral site against Kansas. To expect the defending MAC Champs to beat the Jayhawks was unreasonable, but to at least be competitive for 40 minutes wasn’t. Ohio only made 14 field goals against Kansas; half of them were made by Cooper, the team’s only double-figure scorer through six games. This is still a good team, but Ohio needs more consistent scoring from some other players.
  4. Miami (Ohio) (5) 3-4 – The RedHawks’ continued gauntlet of a non-conference schedule paid off this Wednesday with a nice 11-point win at home over perennial A-10 power Xavier. But still looming this week is a trip to Dayton on Saturday. While Miami (Ohio) hasn’t shown much offensive explosion early on in the season, forwards Antonio Ballard and Nick Winbush are capable of notching double-doubles, as is junior Julian Mavunga, who leads the team in points, rebounds, assists, and blocks per game.
  5. Ball State (1) 3-3 – What might have been for Ball State at the Great Alaska Shootout. The Cardinals nearly upset St. John’s before falling by five in overtime, and then suffered a crushing 18-point loss against Alaska Anchorage. So what does that mean for this team? Well, the truth is that Ball State probably isn’t as good as it played against St. John’s, and it probably isn’t as bad as it played against Alaska Anchorage. And for now, that middle ground is still good enough to be the top team in the sorry West Division.
  6. Buffalo (9) 4-2 – Credit to the Bulls, who have been better to this point in the season than it was originally thought. Buffalo’s four wins — home versus Navy and Towson, road at Canisius and Army — aren’t exactly eye-opening, but it’s a nice set of wins over some decent mid-majors in what looked to be a rebuilding year. The Bulls do their best work on the defensive end, ranking in the top 40 nationally (courtesy of Ken Pomeroy) in effective field goal percentage and turnover percentage.
  7. Central Michigan (8) 2-4 – Only two wins so far for Central Michigan, which has two 16 PPG scorers, and two of the conference’s top six scorers, in freshman Trey Zeigler and senior Jalin Thomas, but seemingly little else offensively. A big problem for this team has been getting to the free throw line. Last time, I mentioned that Zeigler had eight attempts from the line in a single game against Hawaii, a number which is now exactly half of his total attempts from the line on the season.
  8. Western Michigan (7) 1-4 – In its first game of the season, Western Michigan blew a seven-point late second half lead in an eventual loss at Xavier; in its latest game, Western Michigan blew a fifteen-point late second half lead in an eventual loss at Towson. As it stands now, the Broncos have only one win — albeit against a tough early schedule — and uncertainty about an offense that’s still trying to replace guard David Kool and his 21.6 points per game last year.
  9. Northern Illinois (11) 2-3 – If there’s one thing to like about Northern Illinois, it’s the aforementioned Xavier Silas. When on, Silas has the potential to carry the Huskies offense for forty minutes. But when a 2-for-9, 9-point performance happens for Silas, as it did against Boise State at home earlier this week, that’s when Northern Illinois only scores 51 points in a 29-point home drubbing and in the process looks like a bottom level MAC team.
  10. Eastern Michigan (6) 1-3 – If you’re looking for a problem with Eastern Michigan through four games, look no further than offensive struggles, beginning with the Eagles’ best player, senior forward Brandon Bowdry. On the surface, Bowdry’s stats (18.5 PPG, 9.3 RPG) are no worse than last year’s (16.3 PPG, 10.0 RPG), but so far this season Bowdry’s field goal percentage is way down (from 48.8% to 39.7%), as is his free-throw percentage (63.6% to 48.3%).
  11. Bowling Green (10) 1-6 – Speaking of offensive troubles, the Bowling Green Falcons have had a tough time scoring, and therefore, a tough time winning. Bowling Green has not yet defeated a Division-I basketball program, and losses to teams like Howard, Niagara, and Albany can be pinned down to an offense that doesn’t have a go-to-scorer, shoots a combined 37.1% from the field, and turns the ball over 16 times per game.
  12. Toledo (12) 0-7 - The winless record doesn’t lie: Toledo is a terrible basketball team. In fact, not only is it the least talented team in the MAC, but it’s also one of the least talented teams in the country overall. But first-year coach Ted Kowalczyk has the Rockets fighting hard each game, see last week’s pair of single-digit road losses at Youngstown State and Illinois-Chicago. However, win number one is still a ways away.

A Look Ahead

Will any of the Mid-American Conference’s top teams take advantage of the December non-conference action to emerge from the pack as a legitimate favorite come conference play? The following games are opportunities for those teams to capture a signature non-conference win:

  • Dec. 4 – Miami (Ohio) at Dayton
  • Dec. 5 -Kent State at UAB
  • Dec. 8- Ohio at Illinois State
  • Dec. 9 -Kent State at Florida, ESPN2
  • Dec. 11- Ball State at DePaul
  • Dec. 12 -Akron at Temple
  • Dec. 15 -Akron at Minnesota

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Checking in on… the MAC

Posted by jstevrtc on January 30th, 2010

Matt Giles is the RTC correspondent for the Mid-American Conference.

Standings as of 1/29

West Division

  1. Central Michigan            4-2       9-8
  2. Northern Illinois            4-2       8-10
  3. Ball State                               4-3       9-9
  4. Western Michigan          3-3       11-8
  5. Eastern Michigan            2-4       10-9
  6. Toledo                                     0-6       3-17

East Division

  1. Akron                                      4-2       14-6
  2. Kent State                             4-2       13-7
  3. Buffalo                                    3-3       10-6
  4. Bowling Green                  3-3       10-8
  5. Miami OH                              4-3       6-13
  6. Ohio                                          2-4       11-9

Superlatives

Team of the Week Ohio: After starting the conference season 0-4 against East Division foes, the Bobcats erupted from the three-point stripe in their only two games this week. In wins over Northern Illinois and Toledo, Ohio shot 46.7% from deep and dropped 99 points over both squads (it also helps that NIU and Toledo are two of the weakest defensive teams in conference play). Upcoming road games against Toledo and Eastern Michigan should prove whether Ohio is ready to blitz the conference in February; the road has been the Bobcats’ bugbear all season (3-6).

Player of the Week David Kool, Western Michigan: Not only does the 6-foot-3 guard lead the Broncos in PPG (20.1), three-point FG percentage with at least 25 attempts (38.2%) and offensive rating (121.9), the senior now also owns WMU’s career scoring record. In a loss to Akron Wednesday night, Kool dropped 30 and broke Manny Newsome’s 46-year old record. Kool currently has 1,790 points in his career and it’s conceivable he could break the 2,000 point barrier: five of WMU’s final 10 games are against teams allowing more than one point per possession.

Game of the Week Kent State 87, Akron 70: A grudge match between the top two East Division contenders? Check. A nationally televised game? Check. A 17-point loss … what? The last time a game between these two rivals was decided by 17 points or more was in the 2008 MAC championship game (won by the Golden Flashes). The Zips were outmanned on the boards, 38-28, and consequently, in a game where Akron suffered more than a few scoring droughts, Kent State’s 23-11 second chance points were too much to overcome.

Games of the Upcoming Week: Eastern Michigan at Miami, January 30, ESPNU, and Buffalo at Central Michigan, February 4. Central Michigan continues their East Division swing and will want to end the East Division’s dominance of the garnering the NCAA tournaments’ auto bid. A West Division team hasn’t made the Dance since 2005 (Central Michigan). One of the final ESPN-televised games on the MAC slate, the Miami-Eastern Michigan tilt will be the final chance — barring a run through the conference tournament — to see Miami’s Kenny Hayes live in action.

Superlatives: On January 20th, Miami’s Charlie Coles won his 217th game at Miami and is now the MAC’s all-time leader in career conference wins. Coles passed the record previously held by Darrell Hedric, who was a former coach at Miami.

Team Roundups

Central Michigan

Looking Back: The Chippewas had a topsy-turvy week. First, CMU hosted Northern Illinois and managed a win against an intra-divisional foe, 81-75. CMU ‘held’ NIU’s Xavier Silas to 26 points and Robbie Harman continued his impressive three-point turnaround, hitting 3 of 13 from deep. Harman is the best long-range shooter on the Chippewas this season and has upped his percentage from 34% to 42.8%. On Thursday, CMU started their East division swing with intentions of proving they are a contender in the conference, not just in their own division. Falling to Miami didn’t help their plans; CMU has held opponents to a scant 59.7 ppg in 2010 but the RedHawks managed to score 64 points  — four more than their conference average.

Looking Ahead: As previously stated, Central Michigan continues its play against East division foes, taking on Bowling Green, Buffalo, Kent State, Akron and Ohio. Second-place Northern Illinois is on a similar swing so if the Huskies struggle and CMU can finish the six-game trip with at least three wins, they could begin to distance themselves within the division.

Northern Illinois

Looking Back: Xavier Silas continues to rise up the MAC scoring ranks, totaling 57 points in two games (26 against CMU, 31 against Ohio). The junior transfer is now averaging 23.5 PPG – best in the conference – and the 6-foot-5 guard is tops in the conference in percentage of possessions used (32.0%) and percentage of shots taken (33.5%). NIU is not just a one-man team: Darion Anderson is 17th in the conference with a 12.0 ppg and the Huskies could become a dangerous team if sophomore Mike DiNunno emerges as a third option. The 5-foot-11 guard rang up 16 on Ohio. However, if Northern Illinois wants to unseat Central Michigan and run away with the East division title, the Huskies need to step up their defense. Sure, the Huskies are the second best at FG defense but they are the third-worst defensive team in the MAC, allowing opposing teams to drop 71.3 PPG. With Silas in the midst of a hot streak, NIU needs to focus on locking teams down.

Looking Ahead: NIU begins its East division swing and will take on the likes of Buffalo, Kent State, Akron and Miami. Look for at least three of the four games to be offensive affairs: Kent State, Buffalo and Akron all rank in the top five in terms of conference scoring offense while at the same time, ranking in the bottom half in scoring defense. If Silas continues to up his scoring average, he could be the first player to average more than 20 a season since John Bowler (20.1) of Eastern Michigan in 2005-06.

Ball State

Looking Back: For as long as Ken Pomeroy has kept his statistical database running, Ball State has cared little for defensive efficiency. In what technically should be considered Billy Taylor’s second ‘real’ season at the helm (don’t forget, he was dealt a rough hand when he took the job in 2007-08), Taylor has remade the Cardinals into the best defensive team in the MAC and overall as well (21st in the nation). Although their overall and conference records may not reflect their defensive superiority, Ball State has allowed only two teams to score above 70 points this season (Valparaiso and Tennessee Tech). Since scoring a meager 38 points against Central Michigan over two weeks ago, the Cardinals have been on a tear, winning four out of five games through defensive prowess. Just ask Miami and Buffalo (Ball State’s two wins this past week); the Cardinals held both squads under their season FG percentage (Miami 32.2%, normally at 42.6% and Buffalo 36.7%, normally at 41.7%).

Looking Ahead: Ball State is definitely the sleeper team in the West division (side note: should it really be surprising though? The Cardinals tied for the West division title in 2008-09) and will get a chance to showcase their defense when the Cardinals visit Ohio on Sunday. The Bobcats recently reeled off consecutive 99 point efforts and are the top scoring team in the conference.

Western Michigan

Looking Back: As we have already detailed, David Kool was RTC’s player of the week in the MAC. His 30-point effort against Akron wasn’t good enough for the win but the senior is on pace to break 2,000 points in his career. Even UA coach Keith Dambrot was impressed, saying he wanted a David Kool Western Michigan jersey. WMU did manage to get a win this week, defeating winless Toledo in Kalamazoo. Although the game was never in doubt, Bronco fans did get a chance to see what 2010-11 starting lineup will be; freshmen Nate Hutcheson scored 15 and Flenard Whitfield scored 11.

Looking Ahead: Western Michigan is in the middle of the pack in the West division and the MAC overall and they better start harvesting those wins quickly. Next season will undoubtedly be a rebuilding year as the Broncos will be losing David Kool, Donald Lawson and Martelle McLemore after this season (aka three of WMU’s top five scorers). If the Broncos want to send those seniors out with a memorable bang, they need to have a strong East division swing that starts Saturday at Kent State followed by a Monday affair at Buffalo.

Eastern Michigan

Looking Back: With Carlos Medlock completely healed from his injury that sidelined the guard the entire 2009 season, EMU was expected to compete in the MAC’s East division. Unfortunately, that hasn’t really happened. Medlock resumed his spot running the offense so EMU’s tempo has risen (62.4 possessions per game to 69.3) but for an experienced team, the Eagles have had their problems on the road – only two of their eight games on the road have been wins. However, since both games this past week were at home, EMU was not affected by the road jitters. Another disturbing trend, though, has emerged and that is the Eagles’ lack of defense. In their loss to Bowling Green, Eastern Michigan allowed the Falcons to connect on 49% of their FGs. In fact, opposing teams have shot well above 40% from the field in most of their nine losses. One positive to take from this past week: Brandon Bowdry is performing like a star. The junior is a rebounding machine, grabbing 28% of opposing teams’ misses and in the two-game span (a win over Ball State and the loss to BGSU), Bowdry averaged 7.1 RPG. The 6-foot-6 Bowdry does need to work on his free throw shooting though; Bowdry is fouled  just over 6 times per game but only shoots 50.4% from the stripe. One has to wonder if the team’s woeful FT percentage (65.9%) has contributed to some of their losses.

Looking Ahead: Eastern Michigan could pick up a few games this week against Miami and Akron. We have already mentioned the rebounding force that is Brandon Bowdry. Miami and Akron both struggle with offensive rebounds and EMU could have a field day thanks to second-chance points as well as quick run-outs after missed shots.

Toledo

Looking Back: According to Ken Pomeroy, the Rockets  — still winless in conference play – have a 40.5% chance of going winless in conference play. That is second-highest percentage among still-winless teams (Fordham leads with a 61% chance). The second half has doomed Toledo all season in conference play and it continued to hurt UT in losses to Western Michigan and Kent State this week. Although Gene Cross’ crew has struggled has never led after the first half either, they were outscored by a combined 15 points in the two games. Toledo is having a tough time breaking out of the cellar in most MAC offensive and defensive categories. The Rockets are last in scoring offense, FT and FG percentages, offensive rebounds, assists, steals, turnover margin and assist-to-turnover ratio. Basically, it has been a bleak winter in Toledo.

Looking Ahead: Tilts against Akron, Bowling Green and Ohio dot Toledo’s upcoming schedule and, barring an unforeseen upset, it doesn’t look like the Rockets will have enough offensive juice to keep these teams. Even Bowling Green, which ranks in the bottom half of scoring offense, still manages to average 12.2 more PPG than Toledo (61.2 to 49.0).

Akron

Looking Back: We have already mentioned that Akron lost this past week to Kent State due to their inability to corral defensive rebounds. In fact, this has been the Zips’ bugbear the entire season. Akron only grabs 22.8 defensive rebounds a game, good for ninth in conference play. Even though Zeke Marshall has helped on the glass, the Zips are still a smaller than average team. However, Akron is a deep team but will only succeed depending on how well the brothers McKnight (Brett and Chris) play. Against Kent State, Chris played well and scored 13 points while Brett struggled, connecting on only 1-6 from the field. In their win against Western Michigan, though, both Chris and Brett scored in double-digits.

Looking Ahead: According to Coach Dambrot, the MAC is becoming a balanced conference as well as developing into a much more competitive league. That being said, Akron’s next three games (against Toledo, Eastern Michigan and Northern Illinois) are all at the James A. Rhodes H&PE Building so a four-game winning streak (counting last week’s win over WMU) is definitely not out of the question.

Kent State

Looking Back: Across the board, Kent State is a very good team. Whether it’s scoring (fourth in the MAC with 70.2 PPG) or defending the goal (third with 60.7 PPG), Kent State seems like an early favorite to make the MAC tournament championship game. A 87-70 win over Akron – a top team – confirmed that an auto bid could be waiting for the Golden Flashes after the season as they pounded the glass to a tune of 34-27. Then, Kent State handled Toledo, 60-49 – a team it should beat but could have become a trap game (especially after the big win over Akron).

Looking Ahead: Kent State is the second-best team in the MAC from the field, connecting on 44.6% in conference play. However, a Monday tilt against Northern Illinois could snakebite the Golden Flashes. Although we have noted NIU is not a good defensive team, they are the second-best team in field goal percentage defense, allowing opponents to shoot a meager 39%.

Buffalo

Looking Back: Although Buffalo may not be the most offensively efficient team in the MAC (100.8 points per possession), the Bulls have phenomenal ball-handling skills. Buffalo leads the conference in assists (15.17) and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.15) and is second in steals (8.0) and turnover margin (+1.83). So how did they lose both games (Ohio, 99-77 and Ball State, 75-69) this past week? The loss to Ohio is easy to explain: the Bulls turned the ball over 15 times (second most TOs by Buffalo in a conference game in 2010) and the fast play of the game also meant that leading scorer Rodney Pierce (18.1 PPG) would take a lot of shots. Problem is, he attempted 20 and only made six of them. Against Ball State, Buffalo didn’t turn the ball over nearly as much (six times) but apparently, on the way home from Athens, they forgot how to play defense. Ball State skewered Buffalo’s man D and connected on 55.5% of their shots.

Looking Ahead: The Bulls travel to Northern Illinois on Saturday and if UB against forgets how to play defense, it could be a long afternoon (and one guaranteed to keep the statisticians at the Convocation Center busy for a full two hours).

Bowling Green

Looking Back: It’s a miracle Bowling Green was able to pull out a win at Eastern Michigan (64-61). The Falcons have been the MAC’s best free throw shooting team in conference play (76.7%) but against EMU, their shaky FT shooting almost doomed them: 8-13 from the line. The 64-52 loss to Miami offered BGSU fans a glimpse of the future as sophomore Dee Brown scored 17 points off an impressive 3-5 shooting from deep. Three-point shooting has become Bowling Green’s forte; in 2009, the Falcons were third in conference play while in 2010, they have moved to first thanks to Joe Jakubowski (55%) and Brown (52.4%).

Looking Ahead: Expect a plethora of threes when Bowling Green matches up with Central Michigan on Saturday. The Falcons are eighth in the conference in guarding the long ball at 35.3% (but strangely, are the best when it comes to shooting from deep with a 40.4%) while the Chippewas shoot 37.5% from deep. If the statistics prove correct, CMU’s Robbie Harman, Brown and Jakubowski could all have career days. If BGSU does fall to CMU, at least they have Toledo next on the schedule.

Miami

Looking Back: Two wins and a loss are nice but even better was the milestone coach Charlie Coles reached. In a conference that is one of the oldest in college basketball, Coles’ feat is a testament to one of the better coaches in the game today whose teams continually thrive against BCS conferences.

Looking Ahead: Under Coles, Miami is a very good team at blocking shots. They lead the conference with over four per game and their block percentage is ranked 113th in the country (10.1%). Miami’s next two opponents, Eastern and Western Michigan, conversely, get blocked a lot (EMU 8.8% and WMU 10%) so the next two games should be fun times for Antonio Ballard and Adam Fletcher, who both rank in the MAC’s top ten for blocked shots.

Ohio

Looking Back: Ohio was RTC’s team of the week in the MAC and we have already detailed the offensive juggernaut that the Bobcats have become. If their offensive onslaught continues, Ohio and Ball State could wind up the teams in the MAC tournament no one wants to face.

Looking Ahead: On Sunday, opposing basketball strategies will collide. The top ranked offensive team (Ohio) will take on the top ranked defensive team (Ball State) in what should be a widely-watched game … if only the game was televised.

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