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.
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)
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
Day One Picks.Marquette easily over Chaminade. LSU in a low-scoring slugfest over Oklahoma St. Duke runs all over Princeton. Arizona 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.
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)
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.