Postseason-Bound, Toledo’s Basketball Future is Bright

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 24th, 2014

A few things become immediately noticeable upon stepping foot in Toledo’s recently-renovated Savage Arena. For one, it’s pretty darn nice — complete with a new Jumbotron, luxury suites and a glass-enclosed dinner lounge, the school’s $30 million investment in 2008 has made the venue an enjoyable place to catch a basketball game. And then there are the banners. Plenty hang from the rafters, sure, but it takes some scanning — past the innumerable NIT and MAC West Division title flags — before your eyes arrive at the centerpiece, just to the right of the Stars and Stripes: ‘NCAA Tournament 1979-80,’ it reads. The fact that it’s been 34 years since Toledo last reached the Big Dance seems genuinely surprising, especially when you consider the current state of the program. Loaded with talent and backed by an energized fan base, the Rockets now look the part of an established MAC powerhouse, poised to compete for league championships and postseason appearances in the coming years. As to whether that multi-decade NCAA Tournament drought comes to an end in 2013-14? That depends on just how far their potent offense can take them.

Head Coach Tod Kowalczyk has turned things around in Toledo. (THE BLADE/DAVE ZAPOTOSKY)

Head Coach Tod Kowalczyk has turned things around in Toledo. (THE BLADE/DAVE ZAPOTOSKY)

Sunday night’s 85-74 victory over Ball State might have perfectly embodied both Toledo’s greatest strengths and most glaring weaknesses so far this season. On the one hand, the Rockets had no problem putting the ball in the basket, scoring 1.27 points per possession and shooting 56 percent from the field. On the other, Tod Kowalczyk’s club allowed one of the worst offensive teams in the MAC its most efficient game yet in conference play. “We didn’t have much energy on defense,” big man Nathan Boothe noted about his team’s effort for a chunk of the contest. But as it’s done so many times this year — it will set the school’s single-season record for wins if it beats Northern Illinois on Wednesday — Toledo’s score-at-will offense simply overpowered its deficiencies on the other end of the court, enabling it to run past the Cardinals in the final three minutes. That firepower is the prevailing reason the Rockets are now 23-4 and currently tied with Western Michigan atop the MAC West standings.

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Morning Five: 03.15.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on March 15th, 2013

morning5

    1. Many of the ideas for fake award teams that get created often try to hard for their own good and end up being something completely useless, but one that always seems to point out the right guys is Seth Davis’ Glue Guy Team. Using the same methodology of selecting “players whose value was lost in the shadows” Seth picked Mike HartKyle AndersonMelvin EjimRoosevelt JonesNate Lubick, and Travis Releford for this year’s version of the team. We are sure that people can come up with a few other players who probably belong (most likely listed in Seth’s honorable mentions), but we think these are all pretty solid representatives and with a little luck for Iowa State we should be seeing all six (#DausterMath) in the NCAA Tournament.
    2. We have been trying to keep the firings as separate points in the Morning Five, but there were just too many yesterday so instead they get grouped together. The list of coaches who were fired yesterday: Chuck Martin from Marist (41-118 overall), Mark Phelps from Drake (77-86 overall), and Billy Taylor from Ball State (84-99 overall). Mike Gillian fared only slightly better as he resigned at Longwood after going 93-214 at the school. While none of these are what we would consider high or even medium-profile jobs they are all jobs at the Division I level, which will probably viewed as stepping stones for coaches at prominent mid-majors who are looking for their break.
    3. College football fans have been inundated with the SEC Speed meme, but somehow that dominance has not translated over to the basketball court. In fact, as Pat Forde points out, the level of play and interest in SEC basketball has been appalling. Obviously there are some very good programs (Kentucky, which could be argued is the standard-bearer in the sport, and Florida, which has been one of the top programs in the country for over a decade), but outside of that the quality of play has mostly been bad. On top of that the fans don’t seem to care as evidenced by the poor attendance across the conference. Forde and SEC Commissioner Mike Slive offer a variety of explanations and proposed solutions, but the heart of the issue is cultural and until the schools and fans start caring about basketball as much as they do football they will continue to be a second-tier conference.
    4. In the wake of the ongoing Miami debacle, the NCAA brought in Johnathan Duncan to replace Julie Roe Lach, who was the scapegoat for identified as having obtained information improperly during the Miami investigation. Duncan may not have had to campaign publicly to get his job, but he will if he hopes to win the public relations battle/nightmare that he has inherited. Duncan has an 18-month window (the duration of his interim term) to turn things around for an organization that is being increasingly vilified with people beginning to talk about dissolving the institution as it is presently constituted. There are plenty of tougher jobs, but there are not many in sports than the one that Duncan is tasked with.
    5. With all the coverage that we have had across the site for the conference tournaments we have tried to stay away from commenting on specific games, but the Richmond meltdown was too ridiculous not to mention here. If you missed the highlights of the game, Richmond led Charlotte 63-60 with 4.7 seconds left when they decided to foul before giving Charlotte a chance to attempt a three-pointer. They were able to execute the first part successfully, but after Pierria Henry made the front end of a one-and-one (now 63-61) Richmond’s Derrick Williams and Charlotte’s William Clayton got tangled up trying to grab the potential rebound and Williams shoved Clayton to the ground resulting in a technical, which resulted in two more free throws. Henry converted the back end of the one-and-one and made both free throws (now they were up 64-63) and still had the ball, which they inbounded and knowing they would get fouled Henry put up a three-point attempt leading to three free throws. The foul call only further incensed Chris Mooney, who picked up two technical fouls for good measure. Henry made four of the seven free throws (now they were up 68-63, which was the final margin). So if you are scoring at home in 1.9 seconds of game time Henry took 11 free throws and made eight of them. This sequence will never be made into a “30 for 30″, but it is probably more surreal than what Reggie Miller pulled in Madison Square Garden.

 

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2012-13 RTC Conference Primers: Mid-American Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 16th, 2012

Ethan Back is the MAC correspondent for RTC.

Top Storylines

  • Will Ohio Be Able to Reach the Sweet Sixteen Again? After an extremely successful season that ended in an overtime loss in the Sweet Sixteen against ACC power North Carolina, Ohio will look to make another deep NCAA Tournament run. The Bobcats have a lot of hype to live up to, as they return all of their significant contributors from a season ago, including standouts D.J. Cooper and Walter Offutt. Not all of the personnel returns from a season ago, however, with former head coach John Groce now at Illinois, but new head coach Jim Christian will look to keep momentum going.

Ohio’s D.J. Cooper Hopes To Follow One Head-Turning Season With Another. (AP Photo/T. Dejak)

  • Toledo’s Postseason Ban: Toledo has a very solid core intact from the 2011-12 season, so it’s a real shame that the Rockets won’t be able to qualify for postseason play due to its academic problems. Luckily for the Rockets, two of its best players (Rian Pearson and Julius Brown) are underclassmen, so they’ll still get a chance to win the MAC Tournament in future years, assuming they stay in school beyond the 2012-13 season.
  • East vs. West: Last season, the East had five teams finish with a winning record, whereas the West had a measly one. This clear imbalance within the MAC doesn’t have serious ramifications, as the conference tournament seeds are not based on division, but for the sake of self-respect, the West will hope to have a better season than it did last year.
  • No More Zeiglers: Winning games hasn’t been an easy task for Central Michigan these past two seasons, as its 12-20 conference record during that span indicates. It won’t be any easier this year after the firing of head coach Ernie Zeigler led to the transfer of his son and the Chippewas’ leading scorer Trey Zeigler to Pittsburgh. New head coach Keno Davis brings great experience to the program, but his first season on the job will likely be a rough one.

Reader’s Take I

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Pac-12 Weekly Honors: Week One

Posted by AMurawa on November 14th, 2011

With one (relatively short) week of college basketball in the books, it’s time to hand out our weekly honors. Every Monday throughout the season, we’ll hand out a Pac-12 Player of the Week, Newcomer of the Week and Team of the Week award for the best performances from schools within the conference. Let’s jump right in with this week’s picks.

Player of the Week

Allen Crabbe, Soph, California – In two games this week, Crabbe has established himself as the Golden Bears’ go-to scorer, something we already suspected after his play during the conference season last year. After opening the season with 24 points, including four three-pointers in 30 minutes in a win over UC Irvine, Crabbe upped his efficiency by going for 21 points and five threes while knocking down eight of his 14 field goal attempts in a Sunday night blowout of George Washington. Crabbe posted a 68.1% true shooting percentage this week, knocking down nine of his 17 three-point attempts. While he has yet to fill up other areas of the stat sheet (he didn’t get to the line once in either game, and only posted seven rebounds, two assists and one steal combined between the two), Crabbe has added some solid man defense and figures to be a constant contender for these honors throughout the season.

Allen Crabbe, California

Allen Crabbe Has Got His Jumper Going Early For The Golden Bears

Newcomer of the Week

Dewayne Dedmon, Soph, USC – While the Trojans needed every minute Friday night to edge Cal State Northridge, Dedmon got his college basketball career off to a flying start. Starting just his fourth year of organized basketball, the rumors of Dedmon’s raw skills have been making the rounds for more than a year now. But the 22-year old junior college transfer from Antelope Valley College got a chance to show off his stuff for real this week. Just a couple minutes into his first collegiate game, he took a no-look pass from point guard Maurice Jones and jammed home the first of his three dunks on the night, winding up with 16 points, eight rebounds, and three blocked shots, all while missing just one shot on the night. While Dedmon still has a long way to go and USC has plenty they still have to work on, it was a great opening night for a great story.

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Pac-12 Morning Five: 11.14.11 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on November 14th, 2011

  1. The biggest result of the opening weekend was clearly UCLA’s upset loss to Loyola Marymount on Friday evening, a game in which UCLA looked awful, showing an inability to get their talented bigs involved offensively as a result of poor guard play and non-threatening perimeter shooting. Former Bruin and current Fox Sports analyst Marques Johnson broke down the loss frankly with the Los Angeles Times, perhaps summing it up by saying, “if you have good big guys and average to adequate guard play, you’re going to struggle.” Luckily for Bruin fans, next year’s big recruit, Kyle Anderson, didn’t overreact to the loss, reaffirming his commitment to the school, but one has to wonder how the loss affected UCLA’s chances at its other big recruiting target, Shabazz Muhammad. And then there was Josh Smith’s unfortunate reaction to the loss on Twitter afterwards, making those coaches who ban their players from tweeting seem like they’re on to something.
  2. Just before Washington’s 17-point opening win over Georgia State on Saturday, freshman forward Jernard Jarreau decided that he would be joining fellow freshman Andrew Andrews in taking a redshirt season this year. With five other players on the roster 6’7” or taller, head coach Lorenzo Romar agreed with his decision, noting that the year off would allow the 6’10”, 195-pound forward to add strength and likely earn playing time next year. As for the opener itself, the Huskies were led by five three-pointers from junior wing C.J. Wilcox (one of only three players to redshirt for Romar prior to this season) on the way to a game-high 22 points. Freshman guard Tony Wroten, Jr., also impressed in his debut with 18 points, seven rebounds and three assists in 26 minutes off the bench.
  3. There was some great news on the court this weekend for Pac-12 fans as Arizona junior wing Kevin Parrom returned to practice for the first time on Friday since being shot on September 24. Then, he surprised fans by returning to game action on Sunday in the Wildcats’ 73-63 victory over Ball State, entering the game off the bench to a standing ovation and playing 18 minutes, hitting a crucial three, taking a charge and grabbing four rebounds to go with six points. Teammate Alex Jacobson, a senior center, also participated in the full practice on Friday after having missed most other preseason practices due to a back injury, but still has yet to appear in a game this season. Also of note in the Ball State game was the absence of freshman point guard Josiah Turner from the box score. Head coach Sean Miller indicated after the game that his DNP was not a suspension, but was some sort of punishment for off the court actions.
  4. Colorado kicked off its first season as a Pac-12 member with a 28-point domination of Division II Fort Lewis, and sophomore forward Andre Roberson began his charge for potential All-Pac-12 honors, leading the way with a 13-point and 15-rebound performance. Roberson had 13 points and nine rebounds at the half before a relatively quiet second half in the blowout. Senior forward Austin Dufault also added a double-double for CU (18/10), but the Buffaloes will get a much stiffer test in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off this week, starting with Wichita State on Thursday. The Pac-12’s other new institution, Utah, gets its season underway tonight with a visit from San Diego Christan College.
  5. Finally, we wanted to check in with USC and Dewayne Dedmon’s debut for the Trojans on Friday night. The 7’0” sophomore center who didn’t begin playing basketball until his senior year in high school backed up head coach Kevin O’Neill’s glowing offseason comments about Dedmon’s potential by scoring 16 points (for the record, that’s 14 points more than he scored in his entire high school career) on 7-8 shooting, grabbing eight rebounds, and blocking three shots despite being limited to 25 minutes by leg cramps in SC’s seven-point victory over CS Northridge. However, it was sophomore point guard Maurice Jones who saved the day for the Trojans, leading them back from a four-point deficit with under five minutes to play by scoring eight of the final 12 points for USC on his way to 16 points, despite hitting just two of 13 field goal attempts. Dedmon, however, was back on the court making plays at the end of the game as well, slamming home one of his three dunks on the night and grabbing a couple of rebounds in the final 24 seconds. Iowa-transfer Aaron Fuller was also big in his USC debut, as he was the third Trojan to score 16 points in the game, also grabbing nine rebounds.
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Morning Five: 11.14.11 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on November 14th, 2011

  1. The big game from a media perspective on what was essentially college basketball’s opening night was the Carrier Classic. From what we have seen and heard about the scene, it certainly lived up to the hype even if the game itself was a little disappointing. Of course, this game was more about honoring veterans on Veterans Day (something that honestly should be done more than once a year) as well as showcasing college basketball (also something that should be done more than once a year). We think the event did an excellent job of that and we have heard from quite a few non-college basketball fans (yes, we are forced to interact with them on occasion) who saw some of the game on television and thought that it was a really cool setting. We haven’t heard what the TV ratings were for the game, but we assume they will be outstanding for an early season college basketball game as long as they don’t include the nose-dive that certainly happened as soon as the Five for Fighting concert started.
  2. As you may have heard, Mike Krzyzewski tied Bob Knight‘s Division I record of 902 wins on Saturday with Duke’s win over Presbyterian. If you weren’t aware, you must not have been watching ESPN, which ran this news on its scrolls for much of the past 36 hours. And the hype is just getting started as Krzyzewski will be going for the record outright tomorrow night when Duke plays Michigan State in the opening game of the Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden. While the media is ready to crown Krzyzewski with the title as #1 among the rest, we think that might be jumping the gun a little for two reasons: (1) he is coaching against Tom Izzo, who is pretty good in his own right, and (2) we will be covering the game and Krzyzewski is 0-2 in games at which this editor has been (a ridiculous loss in 2002 to FSU and last season’s blowout loss to St. John’s at Madison Square Garden).
  3. There was some good news and some bad news on the injury front over the weekend. First, we will start with a little good medical news although it doesn’t qualify as an “injury”: Billy Kennedy, who took some time off to adjust to his new diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease, returned to the sidelines yesterday and guided Texas A&M to a 25-point victory over Southern. Arizona also got some good news as Kevin Parrom, who was shot while he was home in New York City in September and also had to deal with his mother passing away less than a month ago, played for the Wildcats for the first time since the incident. While Parrom made an impact on the stat sheet with six points, four rebounds, and two assists in 18 minutes, his presence was probably felt on more of an emotional level during Arizona’s ten-point win over Ball State. On the other hand, Louisville got even more bad news on the injury front as junior guard Mike Marra injured his left knee midway through the second half and had to be carried off the court by two people during its win over Lamar. Marra appeared to be relatively upbeat after the game, but an MRI last night revealed a torn ACL and therefore he will miss the rest of the season.
  4. There were a pair of interesting suspensions late last week. The first comes from North Carolina State where C.J. Leslie is being forced to sit out the first three games of the team’s season due to impermissible benefits he received (using a friend’s car and receiving money from that same friend to help pay for the apartment application fees for Leslie’s half-brother). The other is at Marquette where freshman Juan Anderson was also suspended for three games for accepting a free ticket to a luxury suite at a Milwaukee Brewers playoff game. We have heard quite a few people come to Leslie’s defense saying that it is common for college students to borrow cars, but with college athletes the concept of a “friend” can get blurred very easily and we understand the NCAA’s rationale in cases like this (particularly when you consider the payment for an apartment application fee). We haven’t heard many people jump to Anderson’s defense yet because that is a pretty clear violation to most people, although Anderson could have just as easily said a “friend” had an extra ticket and invited him to the game.
  5. On Thursday, we mentioned Jeff Capel‘s $1.75 million golden parachute from Oklahoma. Well, it turns out that Oklahoma also received a parting gift from the Capel era: three years of probation and $15,000 fine. The punishment is the result of an investigation into the actions of former assistant coach Orlando Taliaferro, who failed to report impermissible benefits given to Tiny Gallon and then lied to NCAA officials during their investigation. Taliaferro was hit with a two-year show cause penalty while the school was primarily hit by reductions in its ability to recruit, but is not prevented from playing in the postseason (unless you factor in the resultant quality of their team).
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RTC Conference Primers: #18 – Mid-American Conference

Posted by nvr1983 on October 18th, 2011

This conference primer was prepared by the RTC staff. If you are knowledgeable about the MAC and have an interest in becoming the correspondent for this league, please e-mail us at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

Reader’s Take I

 

Top Storylines

  • The Freshman Grow Up. After having 15 freshman start for MAC teams last year, this year promises a more balanced, less chaotic version of basketball as many of those freshmen will have matured (although we know that is not always the case). With increased experience, the MAC promises to offer a higher quality of basketball with less inconsistency across its teams. It also bodes well for the conference’s futures as many of these players are expected to be four-year players so even if the conference is not loaded this year it has the potential to be very strong in another year or two.
  • Three Team Battle at the Top. While the MAC has traditionally been a wild conference, there appears to be three teams this year — Akron, Kent State, and Western Michigan – as the class of the conference. While the Zips and Golden Flashes return quite a bit of experience and waged a hard-fought game in the conference tournament finals that was decided on a last second block, the Broncos field a young team with plenty of potential. They are probably a step below the other two teams, but this trio is most likely several levels above the rest of the conference.

Can Akron Do It Again? (AP/M. Duncan)

  • Can the MAC Get an At-Large? As mentioned earlier, the conference has traditionally been a wild one, which means that the team that wins the regular season will not necessarily win the conference tournament (Kent State the past two years). The question is whether a team from the MAC can establish a strong enough regular season resume to earn an NCAA at-large bid. The truth is that we aren’t sure, but at least the three teams already highlighted are trying to play good non-conference schedules, which should boost their strength of schedule come Selection Sunday. Western Michigan has the toughest schedule with a home game against Temple (November 17), at Purdue (November 23), at Gonzaga (November 26 listed as a “neutral site” game in Spokane), at Detroit (December 8), at Oakland (December 23), and at Duke (December 30). Akron has games at Mississippi State (November 9), home against Detroit (November 26), at West Virginia (November 28), and at home against Virginia Commonwealth (December 29). Kent State isn’t quite as impressive, but still has games at West Virginia (November 15) and at Utah State (November 22).
  • How Bad Will Toledo Be? We usually don’t like kicking a team when it is down, but the Rockets might end up having one of the worst teams in Division I this year. Last year they were 4-28 overall and 1-15 in the conference while finishing 344th in Division I in scoring and that was before they had their scholarships cut from 13 to 10 due to poor APR scores and they lost their top returning scorer Malcolm Griffin and Hayden Humes to transfer and Justin Moss retired after being diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (an enlarged heart). So basically this team is going to be really, really bad.
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MAC Wrap & Tourney Preview

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 8th, 2011

Alex Varone is the RTC correspondent for the Mid-American Conference. With the MAC Tournament set to tip Tuesday, get up to speed with RTC’s preview and regular season wrap-up.

Postseason Preview

The Favorite: In what was an up-and-down regular season, no one displayed more consistency from start-to-finish than Kent State. Two of the Golden Flashes’ four conference losses were in overtime, and not once did they lose two consecutive league games. Kent State is led by forward Justin Greene, but the strength of this squad is a balance and cohesiveness that is exhibited by the five scorers who average at least 9.4 points per game.

The Sleeper: Ohio came into the season as many expert’s preseason pick to repeat as MAC Champions. The Bobcats never lived up to those expectations and really struggled out of the gate in conference play. But of late, Ohio has looked like the type of team that could win four games to capture the MAC Tournament title. This team has evolved offensively from being the D.J. Cooper Show to a strong, balanced unit that features four double-digit scorers, quality shooters, and a strong inside presence.

Upset Alert: All four teams with first-round byes better be on upset alert, as we saw last year (a No. 9 seed and No. 7 seed both made the semifinals). This year might not see as much parity, but don’t be surprised if anyone seeded 5 through 8 not only pulls off an upset, but wins the whole tournament.

Best Potential Matchup: The beauty of this year’s MAC Tournament is the opportunity for so many great contests that should feature fantastic finishes. An Akron-Miami quarterfinal would be hard-fought, with neither team giving an inch. A Kent State-Western Michigan final would be a lot of fun and a chance for the West to regain some bragging rights. But a Kent State-Ohio semifinal features a number of juicy subplots: two hot teams, last year’s champion vs. this year’s regular season champion, a rematch of last year’s quarterfinal stunner.

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Checking in on… the MAC

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 25th, 2011

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

A Look Back

Overall, Mid-American Conference teams went 5-7 in last weekend’s BracketBusters. Not great, but not bad either. Akron, Western Michigan, Buffalo, Ohio and Eastern Michigan picked up confidence boosting non-conference wins. Amongst the weekend’s losers, Kent State’s seven-point loss at Drexel, and Miami (Ohio)’s one-point loss at James Madison were of the most importance, but likely won’t hurt either team too much in terms of potential NCAA Tournament seeding.

Turning to conference action, Kent State was the first team to reach ten league wins after Thursday’s victory over Buffalo. But every team in the East Division currently has a winning league record, including Miami, who sits one game behind the Golden Flashes, and Akron, the MAC’s hottest team at 8-5. Defending conference champion Ohio also seems to be turning the corner at the right time of year and is a team to watch the rest of the way.

Out in the West Division, the two-team race between Western Michigan and Ball State is headed down to the stretch. Both teams currently sit at 8-5, but don’t forget about Central Michigan, which is still two games back at 6-7, but riding a three-game conference win streak into the season’s final games.

Star Watch

One of the key questions surrounding Ohio’s bid to repeat as Mid-American Conference champions was whether the Bobcats had enough scoring punch around Player of the Year candidate D.J. Cooper. Early in the season, it appeared that Ohio would only go as far as Cooper could take it, but lately, senior forward DeVaughn Washington has emerged as a viable offensive threat and one of the conference’s best front line players.  After a slow start to the season, Washington has now reached double-figures in sixteen of Ohio’s last seventeen games. But over the last nine games, in which Ohio is 7-2, Washington has upped his play even further, averaging 15.4 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 1.4 steals per contest.

Power Rankings (last week’s ranking in parentheses)

1. Kent State (1)
19-9 (10-3), RPI: 77, SOS: 152

Kent State emerged from a rough four-game road trip in the middle of February with a 2-2 record, the losses being an overtime affair at Miami and the aforementioned BracketBuster at Drexel. After Thursday’s home victory over Buffalo, the Golden Flashes have the inside track on the East Division title and the MAC’s best overall record. The rest of the schedule isn’t easy, with all three remaining games serving as possible slip-ups, but expect to see Kent State as the MAC Tournament’s number one seed in a couple of weeks.

A Look Ahead: 2/26 vs. Ohio, 3/1 at Bowling Green, 3/4 vs. Akron

2. Akron (6)
18-10 (8-5), RPI: 131, SOS: 207

That’s six straight wins and counting for the MAC’s hottest team. Most impressively, all six of the Zips’ wins have been by at least nine points, including Wednesday’s 72-55 pounding of Miami (Ohio). Forward Nikola Cvetinovic has been one of the biggest reasons for Akron’s late-season surge, as the junior is averaging 13.9 points and 9.6 rebounds per contest over the past month. Akron closes the regular season with a pair of tough road games at Ohio and conference-leader Kent State, but the way this team is playing, no one should want to face the Zips in the MAC Tournament.

A Look Ahead: 2/26 vs. Buffalo, 3/1 at Ohio, 3/4 at Kent State

3. Miami (Ohio) (2)
14-14 (9-4), RPI: 101, SOS: 45

Even with two straight defeats, including a hard-fought one-point BracketBuster loss at James Madison, Miami is right on Kent State’s heels to take the MAC East crown. The RedHawks seem to be at their best when senior forward Nick Winbush is playing well. Winbush, who was named East Division Player of the Week on February 21, had an impressive stretch of games which culminated in a 26 point, 12 rebound performance in a six-point home win over Kent State. But in the aforementioned 17-point loss against Akron, Winbush only hit one-of-seven field goals for just 2 points.

A Look Ahead: 2/26 vs. Bowling Green, 3/2 at Buffalo, 3/4 vs. Ohio

4. Western Michigan (7)
16-11 (8-5), RPI: 195, SOS: 268

The Broncos are in prime position to capture the West Division regular season title thanks to five wins in their last seven league games. Western Michigan will be favored to win its last three games, but must avoid letdowns in road games at Eastern Michigan and Central Michigan. But the game that will decide the West title is the March 2nd clash with struggling Ball State. Junior guard Demetrius Ward continues to impress down the stretch, having scored in double figures in twelve consecutive games.

A Look Ahead: 2/27 at Eastern Michigan, 3/2 vs. Ball State, 3/5 at Central Michigan

5. Buffalo (3)
16-10 (7-6), RPI: 159, SOS: 261

Four losses in six games is a red flag for any team at this time of year, as Buffalo now finds itself in a three-way tie for last place in the highly-competitive East Division. But as I wrote in the last Power Rankings, the Bulls are still one of the most efficient teams in the MAC, especially on the offensive end of the floor. Where the Bulls have hurt themselves is with turnovers, as they rank a dreadful 314th in the nation in turnover percentage. If Buffalo can shore that up over the last few weeks of the season, this team will be a tough out in March.

A Look Ahead: 2/26 at Akron, 3/2 vs. Miami (Ohio), 3/5 at Bowling Green

6. Ohio (8)
15-13 (7-6), RPI: 182, SOS: 171

Don’t look now, but Ohio is quietly playing its best basketball of the season. The Bobcats looked doomed after a 1-4 start to conference play, but have recovered to win six of eight to vault back into relevance, the most notable win being a seven-point road win at Buffalo. The MAC Tournament essentially starts now for Ohio, which finishes its season with a contest against each of the top three teams in these Power Rankings.

A Look Ahead: 2/26 at Kent State, 3/1 vs. Akron, 3/4 at Miami (Ohio)

7. Ball State (5)
16-11 (8-5), RPI: 186, SOS: 282

The more Ball State has descended down these Power Rankings, the more obvious it seems that this team’s hot start had a lot to do with a very easy schedule. The Cardinals’ only win this season over an East Division opponent was a one-point home victory over Buffalo earlier this month. Good news for Ball State fans, all three remaining games are against West Division competition. But the MAC Tournament in a couple of weeks won’t be as easy.

A Look Ahead: 2/26 at Central Michigan, 3/2 at Western Michigan, 3/5 vs. Northern Illinois

8. Bowling Green (4)
12-16 (7-6), RPI: 252, SOS: 257

Just one win in their last six games, combined with the improved play of the rest of the East Division, has Bowling Green staring at a last-place division finish. The remaining schedule won’t do the Falcons any favors, but in many ways, this team has already exceeded expectations. Bowling Green still has a chance to make some noise in the MAC Tournament, but next season should be even better with nearly every key contributor slated to return.

A Look Ahead: 2/26 at Miami (Ohio), 3/1 vs. Kent State, 3/5 vs. Buffalo

9. Central Michigan (10)
9-18 (6-7), RPI: 304, SOS: 288

As disappointing as Central Michigan has been this season, the Chippewas still have a conceivable shot to win the West Division. Three straight conference wins have the Chippewas only two games back of co-leaders Ball State and Western Michigan, with a home date upcoming against each of them. Sandwiched between those games is a very winnable road game against Toledo, the worst team in the conference.

A Look Ahead: 2/26 vs. Ball State, 3/1 at Toledo, 3/5 vs. Western Michigan

10. Eastern Michigan (11)
8-19 (4-9), RPI: 321, SOS: 248

Eastern Michigan is anything but a quality basketball team, but something does need to be said for the Eagles defensive efficiency, which has won this team some games this season. In nearly every one of Ken Pomeroy’s advanced defensive metrics (most notably adjusted defensive efficiency and effective field goal percentage), Eastern Michigan ranks in at least the top half of the entire nation, and near the very top of the conference.

A Look Ahead: 2/27 vs. Western Michigan, 3/2 at Northern Illinois, 3/5 vs. Toledo

11. Northern Illinois (9)
7-19 (3-10), RPI: 319, SOS: 258

A once-promising 2-1 start to conference play feels like a long time ago for Northern Illinois, which has not won a conference game in a month and is just 1-10 in its last eleven games. Even the seemingly unstoppable Xavier Silas has tailed off of late, only scoring 23 points combined in the team’s last three games.

A Look Ahead: 2/26 at Toledo, 3/2 vs. Eastern Michigan, 3/5 at Ball State

12. Toledo (12)
4-24 (1-12), RPI: 328, SOS: 187

In a way, Wednesday’s 68-56 loss at Western Michigan was a microcosm of Toledo’s poor season. Looking to avenge an early loss to Toledo, Western Michigan jumped out to a 43-5 first-half lead over the Rockets (no, that is not a misprint). Toledo rallied to cut the final deficit to only twelve, but Malcolm Griffin, the Rockets’ best playmaker, scored only three points and committed ten turnovers in the contest.

A Look Ahead: 2/26 vs. Northern Illinois, 3/1 vs. Central Michigan, 3/5 at Eastern Michigan

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Checking in on… the MAC

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 11th, 2011

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

A Look Back

Could this season’s Mid-American Conference champion be relegated to a Number 16 seed? It’s possible, as current leader Kent State (RPI: 91) is the only team in the league with a RPI of better than 100. ESPN’s Bracketology has Kent State currently penciled in the NCAA Tournament as a No. 15 seed, while Rush the Court’s own Bracketology has the Golden Flashes as a No. 14 seed. What continues to hurt the MAC is not only the relative weakness of the league’s top teams, but the four teams in the West Division with a RPI of over 300. Wins over those teams do nothing to help the profiles of the contenders, while a loss can do a lot of damage.

ESPN’s annual BracketBusters event is back for another year, and the MAC is heavily involved.

  • 2/18 – Kent State at Drexel [16-8 (8-6 CAA)] (ESPNU)
  • 2/19 – Miami (Ohio) at James Madison [18-8 (8-6 CAA)]
  • 2/19 – Buffalo vs. Wisconsin-Milwaukee [13-11 (8-5 Horizon)]
  • 2/19 – Bowling Green at Youngstown State [8-16 (2-12 Ohio Valley)]
  • 2/19 – Ball State at Wofford [13-12 (10-4 Southern)]
  • 2/19 – Akron vs. Creighton [15-11 (7-7 Missouri Valley)]
  • 2/19 – Western Michigan vs. Illinois State [11-14 (3-11 Missouri Valley)]
  • 2/19 – Ohio at Winthrop [11-12 (7-6 Big South)]
  • 2/19 – Northern Illinois vs. Seattle [9-15 Independents]
  • 2/19 – Central Michigan at Niagara [5-20 (2-11 MAAC)]
  • 2/19 – Eastern Michigan vs. Jacksonville State [5-20 (3-11 Ohio Valley)]
  • 2/19 – Toledo vs. Eastern Illinois [8-15 (4-9 Ohio Valley)]

The BracketBusters don’t figure to have too much of an effect on the conference’s NCAA Tournament hopes, as the MAC is going to be a one-bid league regardless. But a few victories could do some good for the league’s RPI woes. Current league leader Kent State gets the only televised game, but Miami (Ohio) has a tough road test at James Madison, and West leader Ball State has an intriguing game at defending Southern Conference champion Wofford.

Star Watch: There hasn’t been much written about Bowling Green in this space this season. The Falcons entered 2010-11 coming off a losing season and featured a roster seemingly devoid of star talent. A 1-8 start was little cause for optimism but Bowling Green has since turned things around, winning 11 of its last 15 games and as of this writing, are only a half-game out of first-place in the MAC East standings at 7-3.  A big reason for that turnaround has been the stellar play of sophomore forward A’uston Calhoun. Over that 1-8 start, Calhoun only averaged 6.4 points and 3.8 rebounds per game, but in the last 15 games, he’s averaged 14.5 points and 6.1 rebounds per contest to up his season numbers to 11.5 points and 5.3 rebounds to solidify his position as Bowling Green’s number two scorer and rebounder.

Power Rankings (last week’s ranking in parentheses)

1. Kent State (2)
16-7 (7-2), RPI: 91, SOS: 158

After a brief hiatus, Kent State is back at the top of the Power Rankings after rolling off five consecutive victories. After a 13-point road win at then-undefeated Ball State, the Golden Flashes feasted on the easiest portion of their schedule, piling up home victories over Toledo, Central Michigan, and Eastern Michigan, the three bottom-feeders of the MAC. Up next, however, is the most grueling portion of Kent State’s schedule, which features four straight road games, including a pivotal East Division showdown at Miami (Ohio) and a BracketBuster at Drexel.

A Look Ahead: 2/12 at Northern Illinois, 2/16 at Miami (Ohio), 2/18 at Drexel (ESPNU), 2/21 at Western Michigan, 2/24 vs. Buffalo

2. Miami (Ohio) (4)
12-12 (7-3), RPI: 101, SOS: 37

Right on Kent State’s heels in the East is Miami (Ohio), winners of its last three games after suffering a tough overtime loss at home against Western Michigan. The current win streak hasn’t come easy, though, as the RedHawks had to rally from nine points down in the second half against Ball State before exploding to a 14-point win. And on the road at Eastern Michigan, Miami trailed by as many as 20 points in the second half before escaping with a two-point victory.
A Look Ahead: 2/12 at Toledo, 2/16 vs. Kent State, 2/19 at James Madison, 2/23 at Akron

3. Buffalo (3)
15-7 (7-3), RPI: 143, SOS: 273

Buffalo continues to play impressive ball of late, with its only loss in eight games being a recent one-point defeat at Ball State. That loss has continued a season-long trend of near-misses for the Bulls, who have lost five games by four points or less this year. But Buffalo has showed remarkable efficiency on both the offensive and defensive ends this season, and is currently the highest rated team in the MAC, according to Ken Pomeroy’s highly-regarded rankings.
A Look Ahead: 2/12 at Eastern Michigan, 2/15 vs. Ohio, 2/19 vs. UW-Milwaukee, 2/24 at Kent State

4. Bowling Green (5)
12-12 (7-3), RPI: 226, SOS: 266

Bowling Green completes the current four-team logjam at the top of the MAC East standings. Unlike their divisional mates, however, the Falcons can’t be looked at as a particularly efficient team, ranking just 279th in the nation in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency and 164th in adjusted defensive efficiency. So how is Bowling Green sitting at 7-3? The emergence of A’uston Calhoun (see above) bears repeating, and the Falcons have shown a propensity for winning the close game, with five of those seven conference wins being by two possessions or less.
A Look Ahead: 2/12 at Central Michigan, 2/15 vs. Akron, 2/19 at Youngstown State, 2/23 at Ohio

5. Ball State (1)
14-9 (6-4), RPI: 183, SOS: 292

The 13-4 (5-0) start seems like a long time ago, doesn’t it? Seemingly out of nowhere, Ball State has hit the wall, dropping four out of five, with the only win being a one-point squeaker over Buffalo. The Cardinals are still in good position in the weak West Division, but the trio of Jarrod JonesRandy Davis, and Jauwan Scaife need to get back to their consistent play of the early season in order for Ball State to re-emerge as a league title contender.
A Look Ahead: 2/12 at Akron, 2/15 vs. Toledo, 2/19 at Wofford, 2/23 vs. Eastern Michigan

6. Akron (6)
14-10 (5-5), RPI: 171, SOS: 232

Last week’s loss at Eastern Michigan was the latest confounding performance from Akron, which is surprisingly tied for last place in the East despite not having lost a conference game by more than nine points. The schedule gets much tougher over the coming weeks, as the Zips still have one more game against each of the five teams ahead of them in these Power Rankings, in addition to a difficult BracketBuster game against Creighton.
A Look Ahead: 2/12 vs. Ball State, 2/15 at Bowling Green, 2/19 vs. Creighton, 2/23 vs. Miami (Ohio)

7. Western Michigan (7)
12-10 (5-4), RPI: 202, SOS: 268

A pair of impressive road wins at Miami (in overtime) and Bowling Green, combined with Ball State’s collapse, has opened the door for Western Michigan in the West Division. Junior guard Demetrius Ward has been the offensive catalyst lately, scoring at least 15 points in six consecutive games, while freshman Juwan Howard Jr. has contributed some impressive performances, including a 20 point, 10 rebound effort in the win at Bowling Green.
A Look Ahead: 2/12 vs. Ohio, 2/15 at Northern Illinois, 2/19 vs. Illinois State, 2/21 vs. Kent State, 2/23 vs. Toledo

8. Ohio (8)
12-12 (5-5), RPI: 208, SOS: 168

For all the talk earlier in the season about Ohio’s one-man show in D.J. Cooper, the Bobcats now have four players (CooperDeVaughn WashingtonTommy Freeman, & Ivo Baltic) averaging double-figures on the season. Baltic could be the key to Ohio making a late regular season run if the sophomore forward continues to put up 31 point, 9 rebound performances like he did in the win against Northern Illinois.
A Look Ahead: 2/12 at Western Michigan, 2/15 at Buffalo, 2/19 at Winthrop, 2/23 vs. Bowling Green

9. Northern Illinois (9)
7-15 (3-7), RPI: 303, SOS: 274

This week’s game against Kent State will wrap up Northern Illinois’s six-game stretch against East Division foes, in which the Huskies have gone just 1-4 so far, with the only win coming against Akron at home. Northern Illinois will get one more chance to turn its season around over the next few weeks, with five of its next six games at home, including four straight.
A Look Ahead: 2/12 vs. Kent State, 2/15 vs. Western Michigan, 2/19 vs. Seattle, 2/23 vs. Central Michigan

10. Central Michigan (10)
6-17 (3-7), RPI: 306, SOS: 236

Like Northern Illinois, Central Michigan is wrapping up a six-game East stretch with this week’s contest against Bowling Green. As disappointing as the Chippewas have been this season, Central Michigan stands just three games behind West Division leader Ball State with six games to play. Even with two highly capable scorers in Trey Zeigler and Jalin Thomas, the Chippewas can blame their struggles on an abysmal offense which ranks 330th in the nation in Pomeroy’s efficiency rankings.
A Look Ahead: 2/12 vs. Bowling Green, 2/16 vs. Eastern Michigan, 2/19 at Niagara, 2/23 at Northern Illinois

11. Eastern Michigan (11)
6-17 (3-7), RPI: 320, SOS: 235

Eastern Michigan has been more competitive of late, defeating Akron and playing well in losses against Bowling Green, Miami, and Kent State. But at the end of the day, this is still a bad basketball team that relies exclusively on the night-in, night-out strong performances of Brandon Bowdry. Although he doesn’t provide the scoring punch to complement Bowdry that the Eagles so desperately need, sophomore Jamell Harris (2.3 blocks per game) has provided a solid defensive presence.
A Look Ahead: 2/12 vs. Buffalo, 2/16 at Central Michigan, 2/19 vs. Jacksonville State, 2/23 at Ball State

12. Toledo (12)
4-20 (1-9), RPI: 321, SOS: 191

Will Toledo win another conference game this season? If so, don’t expect it to be on the road, as the Rockets have now lost 42 straight contests away from home. Toledo still has three conference home games left, and at home, Toledo has been a much more competitive team, defeating Valparaiso (RPI: 56) and Western Michigan. But of their nine conference losses, only once did the Rockets lose by single digits.
A Look Ahead: 2/12 vs. Miami (Ohio), 2/15 at Ball State, 2/19 vs. Eastern Illinois, 2/23 at Western Michigan

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The Other 26: Week 12

Posted by KDoyle on February 4th, 2011

Kevin Doyle is an RTC contributor

Introduction

Parity is a great thing in sports. Not many enjoy watching a league where one team consistently dominates the competition and all the others are simply happy to compete with the top team. In the West Coast Conference this was the case for years. Gonzaga would roll right on through league play, win the conference championship, and then head onto the NCAA Tournament. Sure the ‘Zags would be upset on occasions, but those occasions were few and far between. This year, that is hardly the case in the WCC. St. Mary’s is the current leader, but there are a few other teams that are capable of knocking off the Gaels—Portland already has. The WCC is not the only conference where there is parity. How about the wacky Conference USA? It seems that every team in that conference has a shot to win it. The Atlantic 10 and CAA both have a couple teams at the top, but there are several others right below them that are just waiting for the right time to pounce on the top dogs. The MAC is the perfect instance of parity this year. You may call it mediocrity, but you cannot say that 11 teams with records ranging from 3-5 to 6-2 is not parity.

One can argue that parity is essentially synonymous with hope. Fans of every team that is right in the thick of things within their conference have legitimate hope that their guys will pull through and be the last one standing come the conclusion of their conference tournament.

Parity…Hope…Sports

The Other 26 Rankings

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The 10 BracketBuster Games You Don’t Want to Miss

Posted by KDoyle on February 1st, 2011

Kevin Doyle is an RTC Contributor.  His weekly column, The Other 26, explores the minutiae of the twenty-six Division I conferences outside the BCS sextet. 

One of the best weekends of the year prior to Championship Week and, of course, the NCAA Tournament, is when the BracketBusters are played. It provides a nice break from conference play, and some of the top mid-major teams in the country have an opportunity to strut their stuff, build up that all-important resume, and have a last opportunity of picking up a quality non-conference victory. Because many of the top games are televised, it is also a great chance for all you guys out there that solely pay attention to the BCS teams around the country to gain some insight of who may have a shot at upsetting a higher seed and advancing a round or two when filling out your Tournament bracket next month. Here are my top 10 BracketBuster game, from tenth to first:

10.   Kent State at Drexel—February 18, 9PM (ESPNU)

Neither team is in the running for an at-large bid, but obtaining additional confidence heading into their respective conference tournaments is what both will play for. Drexel is just a step below the top teams in the CAA, while Kent State is right in the mix for the MAC crown as there has not been one team that has truly distinguished themselves. The Flashes, led by Justin Greene’s 16 points and 7.5 boards a night, are one of the more balanced teams in the MAC as five players average nine points or more. Chris Fouch, arguably Drexel’s top player, will really test Kent State’s backcourt.

9.   Austin Peay at Fairfield—February 19, 1PM (ESPNU)

Fairfield has been flying under the radar playing in the MAAC this year—not as much attention has been given to the league due to Siena’s return to mediocrity after a great run under Fran McCaffery—and they are one of the hottest teams in the nation. Aside from a tough one point loss at Loyola (MD) in mid-January, Fairfield has not lost since November 23 against St. Joseph’s. They are currently the favorite to win the MAAC, but there are a host of teams nipping at their heels. The Stags will take on an Austin Peay squad that sits atop their league—the Ohio Valley Conference—as well. The game will feature two of the better point guards in the land of mid-majors as Derek Needham for Fairfield averages 14 points and 5 assists, and Caleb Brown for Austin Peay is second in the OVC in assists.

8.   Hofstra at Wright State—February 19, 11AM (ESPNU)

Hofstra and Wright State are both teetering on the edge of becoming legitimate contenders in their respective leagues. The Pride got out to a quick 5-0 start in the CAA, but have gone 3-3 in their last six to fall behind Virginia Commonwealth and George Mason. In the crazy Horizon League this year, it is anyone’s best guess who will be the last one standing. Cleveland State with Norris Cole looks to be the current favorite, but Wright State is not far behind. The storyline for this game will undoubtedly revolve around Charles Jenkins who has a legitimate shot of hearing his name called by David Stern on NBA Draft night, but don’t be surprised if Vaughn Duggins for Wright State steals the show. The fifth-year senior has scored in double figures in every game save two, and is the fourth leading scorer in the Horizon League.

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