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)

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

RTC Live: Ball State @ Butler

Posted by rtmsf on November 20th, 2010

Game #20.  RTC Live is proudly back at Hinkle Fieldhouse to watch the defending national runners-up take on local rival Ball State.

A return home to the friendly confines of Hinkle Fieldhouse will be welcome for Butler Saturday afternoon. After opening the KFC Yum! Center against Louisville this past week, the Bulldogs could use some home cooking. Butler was surprised by an athletic young Louisville team that dominated the Bulldogs in an 88-73 victory. Coach Brad Stevens stated that Butler did not play Butler basketball in the loss, so the Bulldogs will look to return to basics against Ball State.  The Cardinals come in on a modest two game winning streak with victories over Eastern Illinois and Indiana State. Butler has won 16 in a row at Hinkle Fieldhouse, but in-state rival Ball State will be looking to gain the upper hand in what has long been a solid Hooser state rivalry. Sophomore Jauwan Scaife leads the Cardinals, averaging 21.5 points per game. Randy Davis, Jerrod Jones, and Jesse Berry also average in double figures for Ball State.  Join us this afternoon for some Hoosiers-style hoops in the heartland.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

RTC 2009-10 Impact Players: Lower Midwest Region

Posted by zhayes9 on October 13th, 2009

impactplayers

Ed. Note: the previous posts in this series (Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Atlantic South, Deep South and Mid-South) are located here.

It’s time for the sixth installment of our RTC 2009-10 Impact Players series, the group of rust belt and farming states that we like to call the Lower Midwest.   Each week we’ll pick a geographic area of the country and break down the five players who we feel will have the most impact on their teams (and by the transitive property, college basketball) this season.  Our criteria is once again subjective – there are so many good players in every region of the country that it’s difficult to narrow them down to only five  in each – but we feel at the end of this exercise that we’ll have discussed nearly every player of major impact in the nation.  Just to be fair and to make this not too high-major-centric, we’re also going to pick a mid-major impact player in each region as our sixth man.  We welcome you guys, our faithful and very knowledgeable readers, to critique us in the comments where we left players off.  The only request is that you provide an argument – why will your choice be more influential this season than those we chose?

Lower Midwest Region (OH, IN, IL, IA, NE, KS)

lower_midwest

Ed. Note: for the purposes of our analysis in this region, Butler was considered a high-major program.

  • Cole Aldrich – Jr, C – Kansas. Much like North Carolina one October ago, Kansas appears to be the unanimous selection to begin the season atop every poll and ranking. One of the main reasons for such accolades is the continued improvement of Cole Aldrich, the Kansas double-double machine in the post. Remember the national semifinals against UNC in 2008 when Aldrich burst onto the scene recording eight points, seven rebounds and four blocks in a then career-high 17 minutes? That was the night college hoops fans first saw what Aldrich can provide for Bill Self and his Jayhawks. In a full season of play, Aldrich and guard Sherron Collins were the anchors behind Kansas’ surprising run to a #3 seed and a Sweet 16 berth in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year. Cole Aldrich and a pretty good player named Blake Griffin were the only players in the Big 12 to average a double-double in 2008-09. Speaking of stats, Aldrich’s triple-double in the second round against Dayton – 13/20/10 blks- was the first recorded triple double in KU’s illustrious basketball history. Aldrich led the conference in blocks with at 2.7 BPG, finished second in rebounding at 12.4 RPG, second in FG% at 60% and tenth in FT% at an impressive 79% for a 6’11 center.  Aldrich possesses great length, a high motor and displays the fundamentals under the basket that Self loves. The insane talent around Aldrich this season will only put less of a load on his shoulders as the big man can rely on Collins for the clutch outside shot, Xavier Henry on the wings, Thomas Robinson on the block or Tyrel Reed to knock down the long-range three. But the pressure will be on Aldrich to provide a post presence that simply cannot be matched in the Big 12 (sorry Dexter Pittman).  If he achieves his potential, a national POY award isn’t out of the realm of possibility for Kansas’ prized junior center.
  • Craig Brackins – Jr, F – Iowa St. Craig Brackins won’t get half the airtime this season as any of the other high-major names on this list, but he could end up becoming the best player of the group when it’s all said and done.  It’s not as if Brackins came out of nowhere – he was a five-star recruit out of Brewster (NH) Academy in 2007, and he turned down offers from Indiana and Pitt, among others – but, when you play in the Big 12 and your team is generally an afterthought (4-12 in 2008-09), it’s tough to get noticed.  But noticed he got on Jan. 24th in a nationally-televised home game against the defending champion Kansas Jayhawks.  Brackins sliced and diced the vaunted Jayhawk defense for 42/14 in a losing effort that had Bill Self afterwards stating that the lanky center could be the “best player in the country today.”  That single game may have put the Iowa State star on the casual fan’s radar screen, but it’s not like Brackins wasn’t tearing it up against everyone else too:  32/16 against N. Iowa; 28/17 against Jacksonville St.; 38/14 against Houston; 25/13 against Nebraska.  The all-Big 12 first teamer nearly averaged a double-double for the season (20.2 PPG and 9.5 RPG) despite seeing hard and fast double-teams every time he touched the ball.  It was widely presumed that Brackins would jump into the NBA Draft last summer after such a spectacular season; after all, projections for him of the lottery and mid-first round were prevalent.  However, Brackins said that he had some unfinished business to attend to at ISU (meaning, getting the Cyclones to an NCAA Tournament), and he returned to what should be an improved squad with 6’7 juco transfer Marquis Gilstrap’s arrival on the blocks and a solid returning backcourt of Diante Garrett and Lucca Staiger.  The only true weakness he has exhibited so far in his career is his 28% from beyond the arc, but with more firepower on the team this year he may be less inclined to feel like he has to do it all (Brackins attempted 37% of ISU’s shots last year).  Regardless of how the team’s season plays out in 2009-10, there should be no doubt that Brackins is on the short list of best post men in America.  With another year of seasoning under his belt at the collegiate level, however, we could be looking at a top five pick next June.  Don’t flip the channel so quickly if you see that Iowa St. is playing on the tube this year – it may be one of your few chances to see one of the best big men in the country.
Share this story

MAC Wrapup & Tourney Preview

Posted by rtmsf on March 9th, 2009

Greg Miller of WPSD Local 6 is the RTC correspondent for the OVC and MAC Conferences.

What in the world has happened to the MAC?  Check out Monday’s edition of bracketology and you’ll see Bowling Green as Joe Lunardi’s choice to be the MAC’s representative in the NCAA Tournament.  No problem with that, considering they edged Buffalo for the MAC regular season title on Sunday.  The problem lies with where they are seeded.  A #16 SEED!?!?!?  WHAT?!?!?!?  This conference is at maybe it’s lowest point in decades.  Scratch maybe.  This is rock bottom for the MAC.

With that being said, the play has been super-competitive within in the league.  Going into the final four game stretch, every team in the MAC East was alive for the league title.  We’re not even going to touch the West.  They were a flat debacle.  Nobody had a winning record.  Ball State had the most wins in the West and the Cardinals won 13 games.  Just sad.

The league did announce their postseason awards Monday.  Click here to take a look.

The league tournament starts on Tuesday and, if you throw out the West, the tournament should be wide open.

2009-mac-tourney-bracket

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Checking in on the… MAC

Posted by rtmsf on January 13th, 2009

Greg Miller of WPSD Local 6 is the RTC correspondent for the MAC and OVC Conferences.

MAC Standings as of January 12:

EAST CONF. W-L OVERALL W-L

  1. Miami (OH)     1-0     8-5
  2. Bowling Green     1-0     8-6
  3. Ohio     1-0     8-6
  4. Buffalo     0-1     8-5
  5. Akron     0-1     8-6
  6. Kent State     0-1     7-8

WEST CONF. W-L OVERALL W-L

  1. Ball State     1-0     6-7
  2. Northern Illinois     1-0     5-8
  3. Western Michigan     1-0     4-10
  4. Central Michigan     0-1     3-10
  5. Eastern Michigan     0-1     2-13
  6. Toledo     0-1     2-13

Since we’ve last talked, the MAC has officially tipped off conference play.  But before we dive into that, let’s look back at how the league ended non-conference play.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Checking in on the… MAC

Posted by rtmsf on December 21st, 2008

Greg Miller of WPSD Local 6 is the RTC correspondent for the OVC andMAC Conferences.

As 2008 winds down, the MAC is looking more and more like a one-bid league (again).

The league still has yet to beat a ranked team and is 0-17 against the BCS leagues (Pac-10, Big Ten, Big XII, SEC, Big East & ACC).

If there is any good news, despite their stuggles the league still has four teams in the RPI’s top 100; #20 Miami, #85 Buffalo, #88 Bowling Green, #98 Akron.

Unfortunately a deeper look into the numbers shows us there are only two teams that falls in between #100 and #200 (#103 Ohio & #147 Ball State).

The rest of the league falls at #229 or worse.

As expected the East is king in the MAC with five of their six teams in the top 103.  The only team outside the top 103 is Kent State, a pre-season favorite.  The Flash have played a weak schedule, but should still be a factor come conference play.

Strangely enough, the league is ranked #17 in the RPI and has a #7 strength of schedule ranking.  Too bad they don’t have many wins over the strong part of that schedule.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Checking in on the… MAC

Posted by rtmsf on December 6th, 2008

Greg Miller of WPSD Local 6 is the RTC correspondent for the OVC and MAC Conferences.

Reason #182 of “Why the MAC is a one-bid league”: Record vs. BCS opponents in 2008 is 0-14.

That’s right.  Thrrough November and very early December, the MAC is a robust 0-14 against teams from the BCS leagues. In fact, their overall non-conference record is a very unimpressive 33-44.  The league is having a very hard time picking up big out-of-conference wins.  They’ve had some near misses, but those don’t really count come March. A more telling stat, is the MAC is a somewhat impressive 15-7 at home in the non-conference.  That only makes their road record of 13-25 even more disturbing.  Again, this league needs to do a better job of getting home games in the non-conference.  If they can somehow make this happen, you’ll see these records improve and quite possibly see an upset of a BCS team or two.  The league did pull off some eye-opening wins the past two weeks.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Unbeaten/Winless Watch (12.25.07)

Posted by rtmsf on December 26th, 2007

We really wanted to do this two weeks ago, but as you know, life got in the way.  So we’ll make do with what’s left.

As of Xmas Day, out of a total 341 D1 teams, there were a total of nine unbeaten teams and only four winless teams remaining (see table below).   Four of the nine unbeatens are unsurprising – #1 UNC, #2 Memphis, #4 Kansas, and #6 Wazzu were all preseason top ten teams.  Pittsburgh wasn’t ranked in the preseason, but they’re always pretty  good, so we’re not shocked by their inclusion (esp. once Levance Fields got himself unTazed).  That leaves us with three shockers from the SEC/ACC and one ridiculous Southland Conference inclusion (although… we had ‘em).

Unbeatens & Winless 12.25.07 v.5

From the SEC there are two unbeatens.  Florida?  Nope.  Kentucky?  Nope.  Tennessee?  Nope.  Mississippi State?  Nope.  Those four teams have about a baker’s dozen number of losses between them.  But if you had Ole Miss and Vandy at 22-0 heading into the last week of 2007, proceed directly to the Bellagio sports book.  Do not pass go.   Do not collect $200.  Ok, so Ole Miss’s 11-0 start smells an awful lot like the annual Clemson torridness (in a somewhat ironic twist, Ole Miss’s best win was at Clemson last week – 85-82), but we have to tip the hat to Andy Kennedy’s squad for beating all comers so far, and setting themselves up for a possible run at the SEC West title and an NCAA bid.  (memo to University of Cincinnati:  how’s bailing on Kennedy working out for ya?  Oh right, losses to Illinois St., Bowling Green and Belmont.  Good luck with that.)  As for Vandy, they’ve probably got a little more upside than Ole Miss due to the addition of a freshman stud who incomprehensibly gets almost no hype, AJ Ogilvy (19/7).  With senior guard Shan Foster, this inside-outside tandem plus Vandy’s home court nearly assures the ‘Dores of an NCAA berth, and given the relative state of the rest of the SEC this year, possible SEC title.

The last two unbeatens are probably the most surprising of all.  Miami (FL) was 12-20 last season, and the Hurricanes have already matched that win total this year.  A very soft schedule has made this record possible, but two solid road wins (@ Providence and @ Miss. St.) show that this team will be worth watching in the ACC race this year.   The final unbeaten, Sam Houston St., has an early win over Bob Knight and Texas Tech on their resume, but little else.  Still, it’s a great early-season story, and we’ll be rooting for them to keep it up through their west coast trip to SDSU and Loyola Marymount this coming weekend.

As for the four winless teams, we can’t say there are any real surprises.  Furman and Grambling will win soon enough, but we’re not sure about the disasters otherwise known as Ball St. and NJIT.   NJIT, probably the worst offensive team in the nation, has only broken sixty points once this year; and has been under fifty points four other times.  Ball St. is still feeling the aftershocks of the Ronny Thompson fiasco, and there’s no telling when they’ll come out of that tailspin.  Last year’s winless streak leader, Iona, didn’t get their first victory until Feb. 3 (0-22), and we think NJIT has a chance to match or exceed that this year.

Share this story

Maui Invitational Bracket

Posted by rtmsf on November 19th, 2007

Let’s kick off Thanksgiving Week with a little Maui Invitational to go with your turkey and stuffing.

The Maui is easily our favorite pre-conference tourney every year.  There’s something about the endless beach and sunset shots they show us during timeouts, or maybe it’s just Bill Raftery in a Hawaiian print shirt.   Whatever the case, we love it and we can’t take the season seriously until the luau music hits our ears.  Not to mention that most years there’s some excellent basketball to watch.  Our favorite two tourneys right off the top of our head were the year (2001) that Ball St. beat #3 Kansas and #4 UCLA in consecutive nights before finally succumbing to #1 Duke; and the year (2005) that Gonzaga’s Adam Morrison and Michigan St.’s Maurice Ager bombed threes all over the place in a triple-OT thriller.

Our picks for this year are below the bracket.

Maui Invitational Bracket

Day One Picks.   Marquette easily over ChaminadeLSU in a low-scoring slugfest over Oklahoma StDuke runs all over PrincetonArizona St. surprises Illinois.

Semis.  Herb Sendek gives Duke a tough game, but K prevails (9-0 in this event).  Marquette’s guards confound LSU.

Finals.  Duke gets revenge for last year’s loss to Marquette in the finals of the CBE Classic.

Share this story

Conference Primers: #15 – MAC

Posted by rtmsf on November 6th, 2007

Season Preview Banner 3

Predicted Order of Finish:

East

  1. Kent St. (22-6) (13-3)
  2. Miami (OH) (16-10) (11-5)
  3. Akron (17-12) (9-7)
  4. Ohio (12-15) (7-9)
  5. Bowling Green (12-16) (6-10)
  6. Buffalo (7-19) (4-12)

West

  1. Western Michigan (19-11) (11-5)
  2. Central Michigan (16-11) (10-6)
  3. Toledo (14-14) (9-7)
  4. Eastern Michigan (14-13) (8-8)
  5. Northern Illinois (9-19) (5-11)
  6. Ball St. (6-22) (3-13)

MAC Logo 

WYN2K. We went back and forth on where to rank the MAC because conveniently pigeonholing this league into low- or mid-major status is very difficult to do. Historically, the league hasn’t been more than a one-bid league (since 1985 the MAC has received two NCAA bids only five times), but it has consistently done well with the teams that it puts into March Madness, ranking among the top five conferences in terms of exceeding its expected number of NCAA wins (aka overachieving). Using historical measures of success by seed, the MAC (as an average #12.0 seed) should have won only 12.04 NCAA Tournament games over the last 23 years – instead it has won fifteen. So given this dichotomy in its character, we started looking at recent history to gain a deeper understanding of where the MAC should fall on the ladder. We’re probably going to upset the MAC folks out there, but ultimately we were swayed by the fact that the league has been a one-bid league with no first round wins (losing by an average of 8.8 pts) over the last four seasons (despite having a winning record of 192-186 against OOC opponents the last three years). That was enough to convince us to keep the MAC (for now) at the top of the low majors. But it was a very close call.

Predicted Champion. Kent St. (#12 seed NCAA).  The Golden Flashes are our choice to win the MAC this year (again, shamelessly unoriginal).  But what’s not to like with this team?  They return all five starters from a team that went 12-4 in conference last year, and a program under the tutelage of Jim Christian who has never had an under-20 win season at the school (KSU has had nine straight 20 win seasons).  No one player stands out offensively on this defensive-minded club (#22 nationally in defensive efficiency last year), but 6’7 forward Haminn Quaintance is the man shoring up the team D from the inside (#15 in stl% and #33 in blk% nationally).  Kent St. has a difficult, but not insane (see: Miami (OH) for that), nonconference schedule, featuring games against mid-majors Xavier, St. Louis and George Mason at home, while going to Chapel Hill in early January to play UNC. 

Others Considered. We like Western Michigan to win the West Division, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we think they’re the second-best team in the conference.  Like Kent St., the Broncos also return all five starters, but the 2007 version of WMU simply (16-16) wasn’t as good as Kent St. (21-11).  Their ultimate destiny may depend on the offseason development of the most excellently-named guard David Kool, last year’s MAC FrOY, a player who seems to do a little bit of everything.  Last year’s miraculous champion Miami (OH) was also considered simply because they have Charlie Coles still at the helm and you know you’re going to get a hardnosed defensive team (#28 nationally in eFG% defense; MU didn’t allow a single opponent to score 70 pts last seaon) that tests itself with an extremely tough nonconference schedule every year – this year’s includes five NCAA teams, one NIT team + Cincinnati on the road.  Akron getting left out of both the NCAA and the NIT last year despite 26 wins has to still sting coach Keith Dambrot. But if he’s to become vindicated with a MAC championship this year, he’ll have to do so without conference POY (and former Lebron HS teammates) Romeo Travis and team leader PG Dru Joyce. Can the Zips find point guard play to support another run? They do return five of the top 500 most efficient offensive players in the country (contributing to a #12 raw offensive efficiency), so there is a fair chance of another great season.  Another team that is probably still a year away from competing for the MAC title but is worth watching is Central Michigan.  CMU went from 4-24 in 2006 to 13-18 in 2007, and the pieces are beginning to align for former UCLA assistant coach and current head man Ernie Ziegler.  He returns four starters including Giordan Watson, the leading returning scorer (18.8 ppg) in the MAC this season.   Last year’s league regular season champ, Toledo, lost its top three scorers and is expected to drop off somewhat despite returning the league’s DPOY Kashif Payne

Games to Watch.  The MAC has a fair number of televised games this year, so you can actually watch some of these, as opposed to watching for them.  Keep in mind the unbalanced sixteen-game schedule.   

  • Kent St. @ Miami (OH) (01.17.08) & Miami (OH) @ Kent St. (03.04.08)
  • Western Michigan @ Kent St. (01.27.08)
  • Miami (OH) @ Akron (01.05.08) & Akron @ Miami (OH) (02.19.08)
  • Central Michigan @ Western Michigan (01.22.08) ESPNU & Western Michigan @ Central Michigan (03.04.08)
  • ESPNU Bracketbusters (02.23.08)
  • MAC Championship Game (03.15.08) ESPN2

RPI Booster Games.  Like the Big West, the MAC doesn’t play a lot of BCS teams, largely because they want home-and-homes and the higher profile schools aren’t willing to risk a loss when they get a Southland or Sun Belt team to take the one-game lump payment along with their whipping.  Last year the league was 4-25 (.138) against BCS teams, and there are 21 such games on the schedule this year (along with quite a few mid-major games).  Oh, and who does Ohio U. know at ESPN – they’re scheduled to be on the family of networks at least nine times this year!

  • New Mexico St. @ Ohio (11.09.07) ESPN FC
  • Western Michigan @ Oregon (11.10.07) ESPN FC
  • Vanderbilt @ Toledo  (11.13.07)
  • Davidson @ Western Michigan (11.21.07)
  • Central Michigan @ Minnesota (11.24.07) ESPN 360
  • Eastern Michigan @ Notre Dame (12.01.07)
  • Miami (OH) @ Louisville (12.01.07) ESPN FC
  • Ohio @ Kansas (12.15.07) ESPN2
  • Western Michigan @ S. Illinois (12.18.07)
  • Kent St. @ UNC (01.02.08) ESPN 

Odds of Multiple NCAA Bids. There’s always a reasonable shot for the MAC to get multiple bids, but we wouldn’t call those odds good this year.  Looking at what happened to Akron last year suggests that the only team that would have a shot at an at-large would be Miami (OH) if they had a great record and lost in the conference tournament.

Neat-o Stat.  There are three new and somewhat accomplished coaches coming into the MAC this season – Ricardo Patton (Northern Illinois), formerly of Colorado where he took the Buffs to 2 NCAAs and 4 NITs in eleven seasons; Louis Orr (Bowling Green), formerly of Seton Hall where he took the Pirates to 2 NCAAs and 1 NIT in five seasons; and Billy Taylor (Ball St.), formerly of Lehigh who is taking over from the troubled tenure of Ronny Thompson there. 

64/65-Team Era.  As we alluded to above, the MAC can make a reasonable case for inclusion into the mid-major category (we define a mid-major conference as one that consistently competes for and receives at-large NCAA bids, minus the BCS conferences).  Despite overachieving when MAC teams make the NCAA Tourney with four teams making the Sweet 16 or better (Kent St. in 2002), it still only has had five years of multiple bids (two each time – 1985, 1986, 1995, 1998, 1999) in this era.  And as you can see, none have occurred during the 2000s.  For now, let’s enjoy the ending of last year’s MAC Championship game.  Bedlam. 

Final Thought.  The conference is very balanced, as five different programs have tasted the NCAA over the last five years, and only twice has a school had the good fortune to go B2B in winning the conference crown (Ball St. – 1989 & 1990; Kent St. – 2001 & 2002).  So it should be no surprise if someone besides Miami (OH) steps up and takes the title this year.  Befitting a conference that has quality depth, we see no fewer than six teams that could make a legitimate run at the conference championship, and a couple more who could easily act the role of spoilers.  As always, the MAC plays quality basketball and is worth catching when you get a chance.       

Share this story

Conference Primers: #21 – Patriot

Posted by rtmsf on October 23rd, 2007

Season Preview Banner 3

Predicted Order of Finish:

  1. Holy Cross (19-7) (11-3)
  2. Bucknell (19-8) (10-4)
  3. Lehigh (17-12) (8-6)
  4. American (13-16) (7-7)
  5. Colgate (12-15) (7-7)
  6. Army (12-16) (6-8)
  7. Navy (9-19) (4-10)
  8. Lafayette (6-23) (3-11)

WYN2K. The story of the Patriot League this season, like many other low-major leagues, is that the big dogs are suddenly vulnerable. Holy Cross and Bucknell have combined for six of the last seven Patriot League championships, but with a mass of graduations and injuries between the two, the gap between themselves and the rest of the league is closing. The question is whether the gap in talent returning has closed enough to where we can make a good faith argument that another team will win the Patriot this year. Sadly, we can’t.

Predicted Champion. Holy Cross (#14 seed NCAA). Ralph Willard’s team lost its entire starting backcourt of conference POY Keith Simmons and DPOY Torey Thomas, but guards at the low major level are easier to replace than bigs, and former 2005 ROY Pat Doherty should smoothly take over the reins of the Crusaders (if he can stay healthy). Six other players return from a 13-1 team, but the most intriguing is 6’11 center Tim Clifford. Schools at this level simply do not have the luxury of skilled size, yet Clifford (#42 block% nationally) has shown that he can anchor the post for one of the nation’s most efficient defenses (#5 in defEff and #1 in stl% nationally). The Crusaders have gone 44-1 over the last three seasons in the Patriot League against ABB (anyone but Bucknell), so there is also a psychological advantage here that shouldn’t be understated.

Others Considered. As much as we really enjoy watching Bucknell play in the NCAAs, we fear that their personnel losses are simply too much to justify picking the Bison to win the league this year. Bucknell was already losing three main cogs from its 2005/2006 NCAA squads (Chris McNaughton, Donald Brown & Abe Badmus) before it got news that incumbent forward Darren Mastropaolo tore his ACL over the summer and will likely miss this season as well (all three inside players from the nations #1 offReb% team are now gone). That leaves guard John Griffin as the team’s sole returning starter with a group of talented reserves ready to step up. While we expect Bucknell to take a bit of a step back this year, we really don’t see another team in the Patriot ready to vault into the Bison’s position as a member of the Big Two. If we have to choose one, Lehigh is probably the most viable candidate. The Mountain Hawks return several starters from a 7-7 squad, but their coach Billy Taylor jumped to Ball St. in the wake of the Ronny Thompson fiasco. One knock against this team is that, in a league filled with three-point shooters, Lehigh defends against the three like a sieve (in other words, teams shot 39.2% from three against them last year – #318 nationally). Another team we considered is Colgate, who returns most of its minutes except for leading scorer Jon Simon, but they have a tendency to underachieve (20 wins in two years) and we don’t expect that to change substantially this season.

Games to Watch. Bucknell and Holy Cross are must-watches for this league. They will probably meet three times again this season.

  • Bucknell @ Holy Cross (01.19.08) & Holy Cross @ Bucknell (02.16.08)
  • Patriot League Championship Game (03.14.08) ESPN2

RPI Booster Games. This is the first league we’ve analyzed this year that pulled a complete oh-fer against BCS opponents last season (0-23). Bucknell came closest to pulling out wins, losing in OT to both Wake Forest and Penn St. (the Bison did beat Xavier 68-67). Nevertheless, this is probably a simple anomaly because this league is good enough to get a few wins against BCS teams most years. Out of only fifteen scheduled this year, here are the best opportunities.

  • Army @ Minnesota (11.10.07)
  • Bucknell @ Villanova (11.18.07)
  • Seton Hall @ Navy (11.23.07)
  • Bucknell @ Wake Forest (12.16.07)
  • Colgate @ Syracuse (12.18.07)
  • Lehigh @ Penn St. (12.31.07)
  • Holy Cross @ Maryland (01.08.08)

Odds of Multiple NCAA Bids. None this year, but if Bucknell and Holy Cross continue to grow their programs, there could be a foreseeable future where both of these teams would have good enough overall resumes to get an NCAA bid.

Neat-o Stat. Just how dominant have Bucknell and Holy Cross been in this league over the past three years? Try 80-4 on for size, with a perfect 28-0 record in 2007 against the other six conference members. Is it any wonder that the other six coaches are cautiously optimistic about their chances this season? Of course, in order to have a chance to win this league, the bottomfeeder group of Army, Colgate, Navy and Lafayette are going to have to do better than finishing in the bottom fifty teams nationally in offensive efficiency (cf. with Bucknell – 140th; Holy Cross – 189th).

64/65-Team Era. The Patriot actually has one of the worst conference histories of this era (2-16, .111), ranking only ahead of the SWAC (.043) and the Northeast (.042) conferences in terms of NCAA Tourney success (and tied with the OVC and Big South). Part of this is due to its seeding, which has averaged #14.9 over the years. Still, in the last five years with the ascendance of Bucknell and Holy Cross, the league has earned an average seed of #13.2, which, not coincidentally, is the period of the most success of the league. The two wins were both orchestrated by Bucknell in magnificent upsets, the 2005 victory over #3 Kansas 64-63 still resonating in the nation’s heartland (in the form of firebillself.com… joking… joking… these are simple jokes we tell…). Enjoy.

Final Thought. As we’ve gone through the low majors we’ve been a little surprised by just how many dominant programs have risen to the top of these leagues. It’s gotten to the point in several conferences where if you don’t see a particular name such as Belmont (Atlantic Sun), Penn/Princeton (Ivy), Winthrop (Big South), Davidson (Southern), or Holy Cross/Bucknell, etc., then something went seriously wrong. By pure coincidence, Holy Cross and Bucknell are the two Patriot League schools that spent the most money on its hoops programs in 2006 (h/t to Mid-Majority).

Share this story

10.16.07 Fast Breaks

Posted by rtmsf on October 16th, 2007

An absolute ton of newsworthy stuff to catch up on from the weekend…

  • 2008 #1 player Greg Monroe committed to Georgetown after his visit there this weekend.  It couldn’t have had anything to do with that now-ubiquitous Jerry Rice dance, could it?  “Hoops” Weiss has the definitive take on how Monroe will impact the Hoyas.  Above the Rim writes that Duke (who was hot-n-heavy for Monroe) isn’t used to losing out on these guys. 
  • Making the Dance reports that after Georgetown (who obviously had the best MM weekend), Illinois (Bruce Weber can recruit after all?!?!), Indiana, Louisville and several others had good weekends. 
  • Lots of Midnight Madness and practice coverage from the weekend…
    • Huggins taking over the reins at his alma mater.  (there’s an amusing wmv file floating around where Huggins is giving a speech to some WVU booster club – it’s longwinded and rambling, but the DerMarr Johnson payoff is funny) 
    • A general roundup of MM from Lexington to Lawrence.
    • Catching up with Tubby in Minnesota. 
    • Pat Forde takes in the scene at UK with Billy Gillispie.  Apparently Goodman did the same.   
    • Andy Katz checks in on the hype surrounding Memphis. 
    • Goodman also took a road trip to Saluki country to report on the best mid-major not named Gonzaga, while en route to seeing Pitino in Louisville
    • Wake’s first practice without Skip Prosser
    • Dave Odom tries to save his job with transfers at South Carolina.
    • Pitt has XXXL expectations for DeJuan Blair
    • The defending champs (2x) start the rebuilding process.
  • Sad news that former Georgia star and current surgeon Alec Kessler died of a heart attack last weekend. 
  • Injuries, suspensions and dismissals:
    • Gonzaga’s Josh Heytvelt was reinstated on Friday but will miss the first week of practice due to shroom farming foot pain.
    • Louisville’s Juan Palacios injured his ankle and may have to redshirt his senior season. 
    • Brandon Rush reports that he’s on target for his Dec. 1 return to Kansas.
    • Georgia suspended three players for not attending classes, including top two scorers Takais Brown (9 games) and Mike Mercer (15 games).  Seriously, fellas?  SEC Hoops:TGTBTD has the take on how this will affect the Bulldogs.
    • Northwestern’s best player Kevin Coble is taking a leave of absence to be with his sick mother. 
    • Ball St. coach Billy Taylor booted two more players off the team, making a total of six since he was hired in August. 
  • More Preseason goodies:
    • Gary Parrish and Ben Howland converse about whether the Pac-10 will have the most first round picks ever this year.
    • Pitino bitches about the difficulty of the unbalanced league schedule Louisville is being forced to play. 
    • MMAS continues its comprehensive review with its non-BCS top 25
    • Seth Davis asks us 20 questions, then he answers them. 
    • Gary Parrish lists his start-of-practice top 26.  Memphis, eh?
    • The Fanhouse wonders if Memphis is even the best team in its own state.
    • Jeff Goodman takes a realistic look at Duke’s expectations for this season.
    • ESPN plans on showing a grand total of TWO Pac-10 games this year!  Up from zero last year. 
    • The Big 12 handed out its preseason awards – DJ Augustin is the projected POY. 
    • Shawn Siegel lists his top 25 Big 12 players and top 25 Big 10 players for 07-08. 
Share this story