David Sanchirico is the RTC correspondent for the MAC.
Kent State 3-0
Bowling Green 1-1
Miami (Ohio) 0-2
Ball State 1-0
Eastern Michigan 1-0
Central Michigan 2-1
Western Michigan 1-1
Northern Illinois 0-2
The MAC continues to struggle during out-of-conference play as potential upsets slipped out of teams’ hands, others succumbed in blowouts, and teams that were expected to win, didn’t.
But there were also some good showings from a few surprise teams, including a club from Oxford, Ohio that almost pulled off the biggest upset in recent memory. The first week of basketball really set the stage for what should be an intense and competitive season in the MAC.
Rush the Court currently does not have a correspondent from the MAC so if you would like to represent the conference and educate the rest of us, please e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Predicted Order of Finish:
Kent State (10-6)
Bowling Green (9-7)
Miami (OH) (8-8)
Ball State (8-8)
Northern Illinois (7-9)
Eastern Michigan (7-9)
Central Michigan (6-10)
Western Michigan (5-11)
David Kool (G), Sr, Western Michigan
Darion Anderson (G), Jr, Northern Illinois
Jarrod Jones (F), So, Ball State
Brandon Bowdry (F), Jr, Eastern Michigan
Zeke Marshall (C), Fr, Akron
6th Man. Brett McKnight (F), Jr, Akron
Impact Newcomer. Zeke Marshall (C), Fr, Akron
What You Need to Know.To begin with this is the MAC not the MAAC. Sienadoesn’t play in this conference so if you came here expecting to see a preview for them you are in the wrong place (at least for a few days). This conference, the MAC, is ridiculously unbalanced. While none of the the teams in the MAC would be considered contenders for a national title there are four good teams in the East that might actually pique some interest when they played a decent BCS school as an “Upset Alert.” There isn’t a single team in the West you could say that about even if they were playing a cellar-dweller in any of the BCS conferences. In fact, last year the last-place team in the East (Ohio) would have been tied for first in the West. The winner of the automatic bid will almost definitely come from the East with Akron and Buffalo being the top contenders. The edge may go to the Zips who lose less of their championship team from last year (only Nate Linhart) and add a 7’0″ center in the middle with Zeke Marshall while the Bulls will not have Greg Gamble and Andy Robinson this year.
Predicted Champion. Akron Zips (NCAA Seed: #13). Coming off a 20-win season and the MAC title/NCAA bid the Zips are loaded by MAC standards. The only significant player they lose is Linhart (the MAC tournament MVP), but the Zips should have more than enough to stay up at the top of the MAC with the McKnight brothers (Chris and Brett) leading the way. Even though Brett came off the bench last year, he still led the team in scoring and figures to do so again although I’m not sure if he will stay on the bench with Linhart’s departure. With the McKnights and Marshall controlling the inside, Daryl Roberts and his 39.6% from beyond the arc should get his fair share of quality looks. With so much returning talent, the key for the Zips will be how quickly Marshall adapts to the college game. Marshall, who FoxSports.com rated as the #13 impact freshman this upcoming season, could give the Zips something the MAC hasn’t seen in a long-time–a legitimate seven-foot center. His presence, even if tips the scales at a relatively svelte 218 lbs, could be just the boost that the Zips need to repeat in the MAC and scare some big-name school in the 1st round.
Like the first trickles of a flash flood, the verbal barrage about our beloved sport really started picking up this week. There’s a lot more previewing, interviewing, writing, talking and salivating going on around the college hoops blogosphere. Let’s take a look at some of the items that are catching our interest…
Dissecting Duke’s Recruiting. Gary Parrish wrote an interesting article last week about Duke’s recruiting over the past five seasons and we had to comment on it because it fairly accurately depicts what the substantive problem with Duke has been in the postseason (i.e., away from CIS). We’re on record as saying that Duke hasn’t had a true game-changing stud since Luol Deng graced the gothic campus with his presence for one season in 2003-04. This is not to say that Duke has been without very good players during that time. Shelden Williams, JJ Redick and Gerald Henderson all come to mind as great collegians. But none of those players, and certainly none of the laundry list that Parrish mentions as some of K’s other ‘top’ recruits (McBob, Singler, etc.), are the kinds of elite NBA-level talent that gets teams through the regionals and into the Final Four. There are of course notable exceptions (George Mason in 2006 is the most obvious), but this is Duke, and Duke is always taking a team’s best shot. They’re going to be very well coached, but Coach K and his staff know that well-coached moderate talent will lose out to elite talent more often than not. This is why when Parrish says that Duke needs to secure commitments from Harrison Barnes and Kyrie Irving in order to compete with UNC, Kansas and now Kentucky on the national stage again, he’s right. The Jon Scheyers of the world are great to have on your team, and will win you a lot of games over four years; but they’re not the players who can carry a team through rough spots en route to the Final Four. If you don’t believe us, check out who was the MOP of the 2004 Atlanta Regional, leading the team in scoring in both regional games and literally saving the team on more than one occasion with clutch buckets (hint: it wasn’t the more celebrated upperclassmen). Box scores here and here. If Duke is serious about getting back to the big stage again before Coach K retires, he needs players like Barnes and Irving to get it done. Fundamentally, Duke fans probably realize this, which is why each of these visits makes for tense moments in Durham.
Midnight Madness. So we’re only eight days away from the start of basketball practice, and thankfully the NCAA closed the loophole that meant we were having these things all month of October, like last year. But ESPNU will be back with coverage from 9pm to 1am EDT next Friday, with a simulcast from 8:30-9pm EST on ESPN. There will be coverage from nine schools this year, including Kansas’ Late Night in the Phog, Kentucky’s Big Blue Madness, UNC’s Late Night With Roy, and several others (Michigan St., Duke, Washington, Georgetown, UConn and North Dakota St.). RTC will hopefully provide live coverage in some fashion, but we’re still working out what that will be. Make sure to check back early next week for more details.
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.
Welcome back to another edition of Boom Goes the Dynamite. I’m back as your semi-regular host after a day off with John Stevens covering for me. Today is a kind of weird day of basketball with the best games later in the day going head-to-head against the NBA All-Star game. So hopefully everyone will be sticking with us throughout the day and the real basketball fans (the ones who actually like defense and competition) will stay with us into the night.
1:00 PM: Our early games today are Illinois at Indiana on CBS and Clemson at Virginia on ESPN Full Court and ESPN360.com. We’ll be updating you with highlights of those games throughout the day, but like always if there is something going on that we are missing or we make a mistake leave us a message in the comment section.
1:10 PM: Illinois is up 10-7 early. Bruce Weber‘s club must be riding high after their amazing comeback at Northwestern in their last game. Clemson is tied 3-3 in Charlottesville with 15:54 left in the first half. I’m guessing today is Sean Singletary day at UVA today based on the parts of the pre-game that I caught. Singletary, a 3-time 1st team All-ACC player, is one of three players in ACC history (Danny Ferry and Johnny Dawkins being the others) to have 2,000 career points, 500 career assists, and 400 career rebounds.
1:25 PM: Illinois is up 15-7 as we go to a TV timeout. CBS just showed a graphic about Indiana’s tough losses this year by featuring the games they led, but lost. You know the Hooisers are having a bad year when having a lead of 2 points at some point during the game is highlighted as a tough loss. Meanwhile, UVA is up 16-7 with 11:54 as they head into a timeout as well.
1:30 PM: I just noticed the electronic board on the side of the court at Assembly Hall. I guess it’s a nice fan friendly feature and probably generates some revenue through ads, but I think it looks horrendous in this famous arena. I haven’t noticed it at Cameron Indoor, but I think they should avoid it in the historic arenas.
1:40 PM: Jeff Jordan just hit a jumper for Illinois. As we noted before, he was recently was given a scholarship at Illinois. For those of you who haven’t seen him play, we think you might have missed his only big play of the day if his performance this season is any indication of what we can expect today. He’ll probably be out there quite a bit since Indiana is awful so watch for #13 on Illinois.
1:45 PM: UVA is up 22-16 coming out of a timeout with 5:11 left in the first half. Illinois is up 27-13 with a little less than 5 minutes left in the first half. I’ll be focusing on the UVA-Clemson game for now unless the Illinois-Indiana game gets interesting.
1:55 PM: UVA is up 33-25 at half. That 3 by Terrence Oglesby with a little over a minute left in the first half was Clemson’s first of the day after the Tigers missed their first 10 straight. The Cavaliers might have a chance if the Tigers continue to have difficulty hitting from the outside. Trevor Booker has had a big first half with 10 of Clemson’s 25 points, but it wasn’t enough as none of the other Tigers are playing well today. Illinois is up 38-21 at half.
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.
WYN2K. The MAC’s new logo is just a small part of the change that the Mid-American Conference is hoping will push their league to the next level. Seven of the league’s twelve head coaches are either in their first or second year, a sign that it really is a new era in the MAC. The league is hoping to make the leap that leagues such as the Missouri Valley have made over the past decade. It’s been ten long years since the MAC has had two teams in the NCAA Tournament. That was back in 1999 when Kent earned the automatic bid while Miami (OH) picked up the league’s last at-large bid. They proved very worthy as Wally Szczerbiak carried the RedHawks to the Sweet 16. But the MAC has not since been able to recapture the glory of 1999. Yes, they did watch Kent make a run to the Elite Eight in 2002, but it’s been quantity rather than quality that has plagued the MAC in the new century. Since that multiple bid year of 1999, the league has sat back and watched a number of conferences do what they’ve been unable to do. We mentioned the Valley, who has been a multi-bid league eight times in the interim. Additionally, the Mountain West (8), WAC (7), West Coast (5), Horizon (2), CAA (2), Sun Belt (1) and Big West (1) have all been a multi-bid league at least once. In order to make that leap to a multi-bid league, the MAC must schedule better and most importantly take advantage of the opportunities they do get against the major conference teams.
Predicted Champion.Kent (#13 NCAA). As it’s been 7 of the past 10 years, the winner of the MAC will come from the East. Just what team from the East remains to be seen? Miami, Kent and Ohio all should make serious runs at the title, but none would be anything higher than a #12 seed in the Big Dance.
As long as Jim Christian was at Kent, the Flash were guaranteed a 20-win season (ten straight). But Jim Christian left for TCU. Kent assistant coach and former MAC superstar Geno Ford (Ohio ’97) takes over the bench for the Flashes, but he will have some familiar faces to help him in his first season. Guard Al Fisher (13.9 ppg, 4.0 apg) is the first returning MAC Player of the Year since 2002. Fisher leads a group of eight returners that made up 65.1% of the KSU attack. Chris Singletary and Jordan Mincy help Fisher solidify the backcourt. The frontcourt is where Kent will have to fill some holes. Gone are Hamminn Quaintance and Mike Scott, both All-MAC performers who averaged over 23 points and 13 rebounds per game.
Miami (OH) has veteran leadership on their side. Charlie Coles, the dean of MAC coaches, is back for his 13th season with the RedHawks and he returns four starters and eleven letterwinners. The most significant is Michael Bramos, a POY candidate. Bramos (16.3 ppg) is a sharp-shooter who has the ability to light it up at anytime. He went for 30+ points four times last year. His scoring and the RedHawks always-frustrating defense will keep Miami in the hunt all year. Miami has to find someone to replace the production of All-MAC frontcourt star Tim Pollitz.
Ohio might be the longshot of these three, but don’t sleep on the Bobcats. Like Kent, they have a new head coach in John Groce who comes from Ohio State where he played a big part in the recruiting of Greg Oden and Mike Conley. It will take Groce some time to work his recruiting magic in Athens, but he does have some talent to work with. Jerome Tillman (13.3 ppg, 7.6 rpg) might be the best player in the league. He’s been very solid the past three years for the ‘Cats, posting 18 double-doubles. The only question with Tillman is can he do it without his tag-team partner of the past two years? Gone is Leon Williams, who garnered double and triple teams throughout his career in Athens. Williams opened things for Tillman, but with him gone on the inside, how will Tillman handle the bulk of the attention? The Bobcats also return senior starter Justin Orr in the frontcourt, a player who has yet to tap into his full potential. Michael Allen is the only other senior on the team. He’ll be asked to be a leader on the floor from the point guard spot where he showed flashes of brilliance last year. The Bobcats must find a way to win on the road if they want to be a serious contender. They were 7-1 at home in the MAC, 2-6 on the road last season.
Others Considered. Eastern Michigan hasn’t been dancing since 1998 and hasn’t had a winning season since 1999-00. So why would we mention the Eagles? Well, they could be a darkhorse in the West. All-MAC guard Carlos Medlock returns as well as 2006-07 All-MAC freshman forward Brandon Bowdry who missed all of last year with a stress fracture. The Eagles did finish second in the West last year at 8-8, so a winning season in 2008-09 is not out of the question. Western Michigan will be considered the West favorite thanks to the return of All-MAC guard David Kool. Along with having one of the best names in the MAC, he averaged over 16 points per game. The Broncos will struggle trying to find a replacement for inside workhorse Joe Reitz. In the East, Bowling Green and Buffalo could be sleepers. BG returns almost everyone and has a talented coach in Louis Orr. Buffalo was only 3-13 in the MAC last year, but they return all five starters and ninth-year head coach Reggie Witherspoon has won in this league before.
The MAC does have a number of games against the BCS schools. But overall, the league has done a pretty poor job of scheduling. They’re aren’t nearly enough key games at home. It’s been an ongoing problem for years in the MAC in trying to get bigger schools to come on-campus and play. This year is no different. But with that being said, there are chances to make some noise in the non-conference season. The league plays quite a few mid-majors including a handful of teams from the MVC and Atlantic 10. Here is a list of the top 25 games where the MAC really has a chance to put themselves on the map. The italicized games are the rare times a big school has agreed to play at a MAC school. If the MAC is able to pull a few upsets in these games, then what those teams do in conference will go a long way in earning them a possible at-large bid.
Miami at UCLA (11.13.08)
Toledo at Florida (11.14.08)
Miami at Pitt (11.17.08)
Toledo at Xavier (11.17.08)
Eastern Michigan at Purdue (ESPN2) (11.17.08)
Akron at Pitt (11.21.08)
Bowling Green at Ohio State (11.24.08)
Kent vs. Illinois (South Padre Invitational) (11.28.08)
Kent vs. Texas A&M/Tulsa (South Padre Invitational) (11.29.08)
Miami at Xavier (11.29.08)
Kent at Kansas (ESPNU) (12.01.08)
Central Michigan at Marquette (12.02.08)
UMass at Toledo (12.03.08)
St. Mary’s at Kent (12.04.08)
UConn at Buffalo (12.04.08)
Ohio at Louisville (12.07.08)
Purdue at Ball State (12.09.08)
Ohio at Xavier (12.10.08)
Eastern Michigan at Michigan (12.13.08)
Western Michigan at UNLV (12.14.08)
Southern Illinois at Northern Illinois (12.17.08)
Miami at WVU (12.20.08)
Houston at Toledo (12.20.08)
Western Michigan at Southern Illinois (12.22.08)
Eastern Michigan at Illinois (12.28.08)
Central Michigan at Kentucky (12.29.08)
The league is set up for teams to open with five division games, six cross-division games and then five division games to finish. So we’ll have a good idea of the front-runners in both the East Division and West Division by late January. It also sets up for some potentially big games in late February/early March to decide the division races. On paper, the East Division is again stronger than the West Division. The Michigan directional schools will all get their cracks at the East to prove otherwise in late January.
Kent at Ohio (01.11.09)
Ohio at Miami (01.14.09)
Miami at Kent (01.17.09)
Eastern Michigan at Kent (01.27.09)
Kent at Western Michigan (01.31.09)
Miami at Eastern Michigan (01.31.09)
Eastern Michigan at Ohio (02.07.09)
Ohio at Western Michigan (02.11.09)
Bowling Green at Toledo (02.11.09)
Western Michigan at Miami (02.14.09)
Miami at Ohio (02.16.09)
Ohio at Kent (02.17.09)
Eastern Michigan at Western Michigan (02.18.09)
Eastern Michigan at Central Michigan (02.28.09)
Kent at Miami (03.01.09) (could decide East champion)
Central Michigan at Western Michigan (03.08.09)
Neat-O Stat. If history is any indicator, Kent will be there in the end. They’ve played in the MAC Tournament title game 7 of the last 10 years, winning five of them.
Hello, My Name Is…
The league has 7 coaches who are either in their first or second years.
First-Year Head Coaches
John Groce – Ohio
Geno Ford – Kent
Gene Cross – Toledo
Second-Year Head Coaches
Louis Orr – Bowling Green
Ernie Ziegler – Central Michigan
Billy Taylor – Ball State
Ricardo Patton – Northern Illinois
Charlie Coles – Miami (13th year)
Reggie Witherspoon – Buffalo (9th year)
Keith Dambrot – Akron (5th year)
Charles Ramsey – Eastern Michigan (3rd year)
Steve Hawkins – Western Michigan (6th year)
65 Team Era. There’s a reason every coach gets a lump in his throat when the brackets first come out and he sees a MAC team opposite his sqaud, and it’s not necessarily because he thinks they’re going to lose. Rather, if history is any indication, he’s likely to win the first-round game, but he’s in for an all-out war in doing so. Despite an average seed of #11.9 throughout the era, MAC teams play their first-round opponents very tough, losing by 12 pts or less in all but seven of their first-round matchups. The overall conference record of 15-29 (.341) with four trips to the Sweet Sixteen isn’t too shabby either. Unfortunately for MAC fans, however, the conference is on a five-year streak of first-round losses, which is the longest such streak of the era.
While the MAC desperately wants to make the move to the next level and earn multiple NCAA bids, the reality is, this might not be the year for that to happen. The league lost a lot of star power from last year and with a ton of new coaches, it might be a year or two before this league really starts to take off and maybe even return to the form of the late 1990s where they were not just earning NCAA bids, but winning NCAA games. 2008-09 will be like most years in the MAC. Once they get to conference play, it will be an all-out war with teams beating up each other. That makes it tough to earn an at-large out of this league. Despite the top-heavy league records, the MAC is a tough league to win within, especially on the road.
On a more positive note, this league is getting better. You will see some budding coaching stars in Geno Ford, John Groce and Gene Cross. Not to mention a few coaches who have been around the block that know a thing or two about winning like Charlie Coles, Ricardo Patton and Louis Orr. They do have stars to replace, but there are stars ready to shine. Keep an eye on Jerome Tillman (Ohio), Michael Bramos (Miami), Al Fisher (Kent), Carlos Medlock (EMU), Tyrone Kent and Boomer Tucker (Toledo) and David Kool (WMU).
This might not be a league who earns multiple NCAA bids in 2008-09, but they will make noise out of conference. Miami always gives people fits. Ohio is usually good for an upset. Kent has been rock-solid for the last decade. And with the much-improved Bowling Greens, Eastern Michigans and Toledos of the world, the MAC could jump up and surprise a big boy or two if they’re not careful.
Story of the Night. Our preseason F4 picks are UNC, UCLA, Indiana and Gonzaga, so it’s no surprise that we really like the Zags this season. Imagine our own surprise, however, when we learned just before tipoff of today’s #16 Gonzaga-Montana game that Josh Heytvelt will miss the next 4-6 weeks with a stress fracture in his foot. Given what we know about these sorts of things, we wonder just how effective he’ll be when he gets back. Obviously, without Heytvelt, the Zags have no chance to reach their first F4. Or do they? Heytvelt’s replacement, 6’10 freshman forward Austin Daye, put on a show in his first game, going for 20/10/2 blks on 8-13 shooting and 2-2 from long range. Daye’s performance along with Jeremy Pargo’s high-wire act (he totally went B-Diddy on one of his dunks) and 17/5/5 asts were more than enough as Gonzaga put down Montana without much of a problem. If Heytvelt can come back healthy in January, this team is going to be a major player next March. (Gonzaga 77, Montana 54). One other comment from this game’s coverage on FCS Pacific – commentator Craig Ehlo needs to go back to guarding MJ or something; dude is terrrrible.
Things We Saw. We got to see pieces of five other games today, and here were our impressions. #4 Kansas once again showed just how good they can be, while never actually showing us how good they are. We never had a moment where we thought they were playing all that well, and yet they still won by 23. There were four missed dunks by the Jayhawks during the game, tons of missed foul shots (16-31), and still… UMKC was never really a threat to win in Allen Fieldhouse. Mario Chalmers was the lone bright spot, going 8-13 (6-9 from three) for 23 pts, but Bill Self said they have to get better at many phases of the game if they expect to do anything significant this year (Kansas 85, UMKC 62). Another game we watched was #11 Oregon v. Pacific. Judging by tonight, if there was any doubt as to whether Tajuan Porter can take over for Aaron Brooks, let that notion be put to rest. Porter was scintillating with 28 pts on 10-15 shooting (5-8 from three) and acted as much a leader as we had previously seen from him. Malik Hairston added 20/6 and Maarty Leunen contributed 17/10 in a well-balanced attack against a Pacific team that hung in there. We’re expecting big things from the Ducks this year (Oregon 80, Pacific 64). The Pittsburgh-St. Louis game was a little boring, but it showed us (once again) just how good of a coach Rick Majerus is, as the Panthers didn’t put the game away until a minute to go. If SLU can play like this all season, they’ll be a factor in the A10 race (Pittsburgh 69, St. Louis 58). We didn’t catch as much of the #17 Stanford-UCSB game as we would have liked, but we noted that Stanford once again handled business without much sweat, as Anthony Goods (23/6) outplayed Gaucho star Alex Harris (18/2) in the battle of the guards (Stanford 67, UCSB 48).
Upset Alert. Two minor ones. Nevada will need to win these games if it expects to make it back to the NCAA Tournament for the fifth straight time (UCF 63, Nevada 60). And Cincinnati dropped its second home game in a week tonight – the Bearcats are a long way from “Big East competitive” at this point (Bowling Green 69, Cincinnati 67).
Line of the Night. Michael Beasley (Kansas St.). Again. Only 30/14 tonight in a 29-minute, 5-foul performance against Pittsburg St., a D2 team. It should be noted that K-State was down 40-38 at halftime to this team, though.
On Tap Today (all times EST). 43 games, including Indiana’s debut and a solid test for Duke at home (i.e., not NC Central).
Indiana (-24) v. Chattanooga 7pm – Eric Gordon makes his long-awaited debut.
Duke (-17) v. New Mexico St. (ESPN2) 7pm – if Duke is playing with a chip this year, they’ll win this by 30.
Syracuse (-15.5) v. Siena (ESPNU) 7pm – looking forward to seeing freshmen Flynn and Greene(oh wait, we don’t get ESPNU).
LSU (NL) v. SE Louisiana (ESPN FC) 8pm – Anthony Randolph, anyone?
Missouri (-14.5) v. Central Michigan (ESPN FC) 3pm – year 2 of 40MoH begins.
Oklahoma (NL) v. Alcorn St. (ESPN FC) 8pm – more Blake Griffin.
Texas (NL) v. Texas-San Antonio (ESPN FC) 8pm – DJ Augustin is our favorite PG.
Ohio St. (-15.5) v. Wisconsin-Green Bay (ESPN2) 9pm – first game since the Findlay debacle.
Oregon (NL) v. W. Michigan (ESPN FC) 10:30pm – third game in three nights – any tired legs?
UCLA (-28.5) v. Youngstown St. (ESPN2) 11pm – first chance to watch K-Love’s superb outlet passing – haven’t you heard?
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.