Checking In On… the Missouri Valley Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 28th, 2011

Patrick Marshall is the RTC correspondent for the Missouri Valley Conference.   You can also find his musings online at White & Blue Review or on Twitter @wildjays.

Reader’s Take 

 

The Week That Was:

  • Multiple Bid Talk—As the Valley non-conference season comes to a close, there is a lot more talk that the MVC will get more than its one automatic bid this season.  Creighton and Wichita State appear to be the strongest in the league right now, but Indiana State and Northern Iowa are close behind.  These four teams were talked about before the season started and have delivered in non-conference play.  There are some good wins and some bad losses.
  • Creighton Dominating—The Bluejays have received a lot of attention behind the performances of Doug McDermott.  They capped off their non-conference season by defeating Northwestern to go 3-0 against the Big Ten.  Granted, the three teams they beat (Northwestern, Nebraska, and Iowa) may finish at the bottom of the league, but that is still impressive.  McDermott is second in the nation in scoring, while Creighton as a team leads the nation in assists.
  • Jankovich Ejected—It is not uncommon for coaches to get a little emotional in a game to the point that they get a technical foul.  However, it is more rare for the coach to get a second technical foul in a game to get themselves ejected from the game, much less before halftime.  This is exactly what happened to Illinois State head coach Tim Jankovich last week when the Redbirds hosted Arkansas-Little Rock.   Jankovich was ejected by referee Gerry Pollard with 2:31 to go in the first half after a disputed foul called on a Redbird.

It May Not Be Long Before We Start Running Out Of Superlatives For Doug McDermott. (AP Photo/Tom Mihalek)

Power Rankings

Let’s take a look at each team and how they did in the non-conference side of things.

  1. Creighton (10-1)— The Bluejays have probably had the best possible outcome during their non-conference season.  They already have more road wins this season than they did all of last season.  Doug McDermott has been the star for this team scoring over 20 points in the last 10 games.  However, the other bright point of Creighton’s performances have been from Gonzaga transfer Grant Gibbs.  Gibbs had 22 assists over the last two games.  The connection between McDermott and Gibbs has been a key combination for Creighton this season.  As a team they lead the nation in assists.   Things are going so well this season, there are even stories about the dancing grandma in the stands.
  2. Wichita State (9-2)— The Shockers started off a little slow, but have been pretty dominant as they closed out their non-conference season.  They suffered a couple of losses in the Puerto Rico Tip-off tournament, but have rebounded to get wins over UNLV, Utah State and Tulsa.   One thing that will help Wichita State in conference play is depth.  They have nine players averaging ten minutes or more of action a game. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big 12 Thursday Night Preview: Braggin’ Rights and Tricky Road Games

Posted by dnspewak on December 22nd, 2011

GAME OF THE NIGHT

  • Missouri vs. Illinois, 8 p.m. CST in St. Louis (ESPN2)
From 2000 to 2008, Illinois owned Missouri in the Braggin’ Rights series. Year after year, the Tigers found new ways to lose by mishandling a potential game-tying attempt (2006), slipping on watery residue from the Scottrade Center’s hockey rink on the final possession (2007), and shooting 11% from three-point range (2008). One winter, embarrassed MU fans even dumped popcorn on Quin Snyder‘s head. Yes, the series was that ugly. But two years ago, fate shifted to the Tigers’ side. Missouri dominated from start to finish in 2009, and last season, the Tigers edged Illinois thanks to a late-game collapse by Bruce Weber‘s team. The losing streak is a distant memory and the Tigers own this series now.

That brings us to 2011. No matter how confident MU fans may be with their top-10 ranking, undefeated record and two consecutive series victories, the 24th-ranked Illini will provide Frank Haith with his stiffest test of the season. Missouri has not seen size like this before, and it will need to be creative in guarding 7’1” center Meyers Leonard. The Tigers have handled players like Harper Kamp (California) and Mouphtaou Yarou (Villanova), but Leonard is one of the better forwards the Tigers will see all year. He commands respect in the paint, and he’s also a decent passer with the ability to burn Missouri’s double-teams. As usual, Haith’s team will need to use its speed to burn a slower Illinois team. Against one of the fastest rosters in the country, the Illini have to slow the tempo and let Leonard go to work. Bradley transfer Sam Maniscalco, no stranger to Scottrade after visiting the arena four years in a row for the Missouri Valley Conference tournament, will also need to settle this young team down as the point guard. He’s been a difference-maker this season as one of the most experienced players on Weber’s team, and it is imperative for him to lead by example.

Phil Pressey Will Lead Missouri Against The Illini Tonight

On Missouri’s side, Phil Pressey will have to serve as the catalyst. He’ll never have a strength advantage against any point guard, but he could run into some trouble with Maniscalco (6’0” but strong), Brandon Paul (6’4”) and D.J. Richardson (6’3”). Again, though, his quickness is unmatched by just about everybody in college basketball, and as the Big 12’s assists leader, he can control the game without scoring a point. That’s what Marcus Denmon is for. The senior All-American candidate struggled against William and Mary over the weekend, but he’s allowed an off night every once in awhile. When he’s set, he almost never misses from three-point land, and if he’s on his game, he will be the best player on the floor tonight.

Unless you’ve attended a Braggin’ Rights game in St. Louis, you have no idea how intense the environment is. Haith may have watched last year’s game on tape, but not even he is ready for this atmosphere. There is no non-conference matchup quite like it — the arena is evenly split between Missouri and Illinois fans, and on each basket, one side erupts as if it has won the National Championship. Luckily for the Tigers, they have a more grizzled roster with five seniors, four of whom are now playing in their fourth Braggin’ Rights game.

The key individual matchup is… Meyers Leonard vs. Ricardo Ratliffe. Leonard is the key to this entire contest. Although St. Louis native Tyler Griffey is a starter and key contributor, Leonard is the centerpiece of this team — especially against a smaller opponent in Missouri. If he gets into early foul trouble, Illinois will have a lot of problems since it lacks depth in the frontcourt. Leonard will see double-teams all night when he touches the ball, and Ratliffe will be at least one of those defenders tugging on his jersey for 40 minutes. When Ratliffe has the ball, it will also be interesting to watch how he handles the match-up with Leonard. He scores a lot of his buckets on layups, putbacks and turnaround hook shots off the backboard, but he’s not the kind of player that can always take a 7’1” defender off the dribble and create his own shot. Ratliffe must find a way to utilize his quickness against Leonard, and Phil Pressey must find him on screen-and-rolls since Haith’s offense calls for that play on almost every possession.

Missouri will win if… It scores in transition and forces turnovers. That sounds like a key to the game for a Mike Anderson team, but it’s true for Haith’s team as well. MU is actually converting better in transition than it did a year ago, and that’s what it has to do against Illinois. In his first three wins against Mike Anderson, Bruce Weber did a great job of controlling the tempo and letting his team go to work in the halfcourt. The Tigers don’t utilize full-court pressure anymore, but the basic principles remain: they want to get out and run, and they want to disrupt the opponent defensively. That’s how they dismantled Notre Dame, California and Villanova, and it’s how they must beat Illinois.

Illinois will win if… It makes this game a Big Ten fist fight and stays level-headed. Illinois is bigger and stronger than Missouri at almost every position. It has more physical guards, and it has a more physical frontcourt. If Weber can concoct another game plan to use the shot clock and limit turnovers, the Illini should be able to score at will in the paint and win the rebounding battle. That all hinges on this team’s ability to keep its cool. MU’s defenders will fly all over the place with active hands, trying to deflect every pass in their vicinity. These Illinois guards can counter that by staying poised, and Maniscalco needs to be especially steady here. He’s the guy that everything depends on, even though he’s in his first season playing for Weber. At Bradley, he earned a reputation as a leader and a winner, and he cannot get rattled in the spotlight tonight.

OTHER GAMES TO WATCH
  • Texas Tech at Oral Roberts, 7:05 PM CST
Fresh off a blowout victory at Xavier, Oral Roberts is flying high and should be favored in this game against Tech tonight. ORU is used to knocking off Big 12 foes: in the last decade, it has beaten both Missouri and Kansas. Scott Sutton’s program is the class of the Summit League, and it looks like a contender once against this season at 8-4. Billy Gillispie is still trying to figure things out with this Texas Tech team, as it has failed every test presented to it. Without consistent point guard play and a slump from senior Robert Lewandowski, the Red Raiders must find a way to execute better offensively. Otherwise, it could be a long night in Tulsa.
  • St. Mary’s at Baylor, 9 PM CST in Las Vegas
After winning at BYU, we’re pretty sure Baylor is an elite basketball team. There’s a lot of time for that to change, of course, but Pierre Jackson and A.J. Walton have been lifesavers at the point guard position. This team is finally playing the kind of selfless basketball Scott Drew has been waiting for, and Perry Jones III has lived up to expectations after returning from a suspension. In five games, Jones is averaging more than 16 per game in the scoring department, and he’s shooting nearly 70 percent from the field. If only the Bears could rebound better– BYU’s forwards embarrassed Jones, Quincy Miller and the rest of the crew by grabbing 16 offensive boards. On paper, a team with this size should not allow that to happen. Baylor can redeem itself by keeping Rob Jones off the glass, as he’s averaging 11 rebounds per game for 10-1 St. Mary’s. Jones, the former transfer from San Diego, is undersized at 6’6” but still tenacious on the court. He has grabbed at least 10 boards in all but one game this season, but it’s important to remember that the Gaels’ schedule has not been challenging. They have played only a handful of decent teams: Northern Iowa (win), Denver (loss) and Weber State (win). That’s why this game may actually be more of a test for St. Mary’s than for Baylor.
  • Kansas at USC, 10 PM CST
In a relatively surprising result, USC actually knocked off an improved TCU team by 24 points on Monday, thanks in large part to a 25-point, seven-assist effort by point guard Maurice Jones. With Jio Fontan out for the season, Jones is the most important player on Kevin O’Neill’s roster. Jones is a 5’7” sparkplug with a lot of quickness, so Tyshawn Taylor and his recovering knee better watch out. Still, this Kansas team is too good to lose this game. And the Jayhawks should have a newfound focus after the debacle against Davidson earlier this week. Taylor gets a lot of grief for his high turnover rate this season, but he wasn’t the only problem against the Wildcats. This team just does not execute like most Bill Self teams do, and that has to improve in a Pac-12 road environment tonight. USC does not have a ton of offensive firepower, and it hardly has any threats from beyond the arc. Still, O’Neill’s a good coach who can gameplan against anybody, and his team will have the home crowd in its favor. This won’t be a cakewalk for Kansas.
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Checking In On… the Missouri Valley Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 21st, 2011

Patrick Marshall is the RTC correspondent for the Missouri Valley Conference.   You can also find his musings online at White & Blue Review or on Twitter @wildjays.

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was:

  • The Valley Beats Another Ranked Team: Another week, another set of nice wins in the Valley.  The latest is Indiana State knocking off then #25 Vanderbilt on the Commodores’ home court.  Sophomore R.J. Mahurin came off the bench to get 14 points including 4-7 from three to help lead them to the 61-55 victory.  After going 11-22 against BCS schools last season, this year the MVC is 10-10 so far.  The last time they had a .500 record against those leagues was during the 2007-08 season.
  • Poll Gathering: Creighton continues to stay in the polls, this week at #21 in the Coaches Poll and #23 in the AP poll.  But other MVC teams are starting to get noticed.  Wichita State, Northern Iowa and Indiana State are all getting votes in the AP poll.  The chances of having two teams in the Valley ranked might be going down as conference play starts in about a week.  It may be a battle all season on which MVC team will be ranked in the national Top 25.
  • Sending Out An SOS: While most teams in the MVC are trying to set the bar high to get the conference at a different level and four teams are in the RPI top 52, there are a couple of other teams that are on the other end of the spectrum.  Illinois State is sitting at #292 in the strength of schedule category, while Southern Illinois‘ strength of schedule is at #343 out of 345 teams in D-I.  Evansville is at #305.  While the top of the league is pretty solid, the bottom half of the league still has some work to do.  This could keep the Valley from moving as high as they could in the RPI as a conference later in the season.

The Inconsistent Supporting Cast Around Colt Ryan Keeps The Standout Swingman Under The Radar. (Erin McCracken/Courier-Press)

Power Rankings

  1. Creighton (9-1)— Creighton moves back up to the top spot this week after blowing out Houston Baptist on Saturday at home and Tulsa on the road Monday night.   Grant Gibbs had 18 assists during those two games and Gregory Echenique has had his best performances offensively in those two games.   A lot of the talk over the past few weeks from the national media is Creighton’s suspect defense.  However, that is one thing they are working on fixing.
  2. Northern Iowa (10-2)—Ohio stunned Northern Iowa on Tuesday night to break the Panthers’ nine-game winning streak.  They will have to regroup a bit heading into conference play.  Northern Iowa is all about streaks and they will probably start one again.  But the Panthers will definitely be in the top tier of the conference. The question always lingers—What if they did not let Doug McDermott out of his LOI?  While everyone still ponders that, get an inside look at Ben Jacobson’s office. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking In On… the Missouri Valley Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 14th, 2011

Patrick Marshall is the RTC correspondent for the Missouri Valley Conference. You can also find his musings online at White & Blue Review or on Twitter @wildjays.

Reader’s Take 

 

The Week That Was:

  • Teams Being Sneaky: While the focus has been on Creighton by the media for most of the season, a couple of other teams are making some noise without a whole lot of fanfare.  Northern Iowa has won eight games in a row since the loss at St. Mary’s while Wichita State has a five-game winning streak of their own including wins over UNLV, Tulsa and Utah State.  The Bluejays may be slightly favored, but once the MVC gets into conference play, all bets are off.  This could be the year the Valley has been waiting for.
  • An RPI Update: The Missouri Valley Conference has four teams in the top 33 of the RPI this week. Northern Iowa leads the way at #4 followed by Creighton (#16), Wichita State (#32), and Indiana State (#33).  With these top four teams continuing to play well, heads will continue to turn.
  • Southern Illinois at Rock Bottom: After an 11-day break and a chance to regroup with their 1-3 record, the Salukis came out this week and lost at home against Western Kentucky and on the road at Western Michigan in two more uninspiring outings. This once proud team is hitting rock bottom. The bigger question now is whether Chris Lowery will make it through this season. It is possible for SIU to be 1-7 when they head out to Hawaii for the Diamond Head Classic.

Gregg Marshall And The Shockers Are Scooping Up Quality Wins Left And Right.

Power Rankings

  1. Northern Iowa (9-1)—Northern Iowa switched spots with Creighton this week based on their great play and because their only loss was against St. Mary’s who currently ranks atop the RealtimeRPI. The Panthers have quietly had a nice run and have steadily improved over the past three weeks. Their sweep of Iowa and Iowa State make them the state champion among the four Division I Iowa schools. In addition, only Northern Iowa and Kentucky have wins over the Big Ten, Big 12 and Big East this year. Jake Koch is keeping the Koch tradition in being an impact player for Northern Iowa. He came up with 21 points in the win over Milwaukee and has continued to improve as the season has gone along. His brother Adam was the Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year in the 2009-10 season. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking In On… the MVC

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 7th, 2011

Patrick Marshall is the RTC correspondent for the Missouri Valley Conference.   You can also find his musings online at White & Blue Review or on Twitter @wildjays.

Reader’s Take 

 

The Week That Was

  • The MVC/MWC Challenge Runs To A Draw: Over the weekend, the Missouri Valley and Mountain West Conferences played the third annual MVC/MWC Challenge games.  With only eight teams left in the current Mountain West, there were only eight games played.  Although Boise State played two MVC teams in the past few weeks, only one of those games was a part of the Challenge.  The two biggest games involved Creighton and Wichita State.  The Bluejays came back from 17 points down in the first half to escape San Diego State with a victory.   On the other side of the coin, Wichita State destroyed UNLV behind Joe Ragland’s 31 points.  The Challenge will finish out in the 2012-13 season.
  • Valley RPI Rising: The MVC has been having some pretty good non-conference success this year.  So good, in fact, that the Valley heads into this week with the seventh highest conference RPI.  This is quite a difference from sitting at #11 last season at the same time.  With Northern Iowa, Creighton, Indiana State, Wichita State and Missouri State all in the top 41 in the RPI, things are looking great for multiple NCAA bids this year.
  • Creighton In The Top Twenty: With several teams ahead of the Bluejays losing, Creighton moved up to #17 in the USA Today/ESPN Coaches poll and they make their debut in the AP poll sitting at #19.  In the AP poll, this represents Creighton’s first appearance since November 2006 and their highest ranking since March 2003.
  • Ragland Has His Day: Wichita State’s Joe Ragland created a little history in the big win over UNLV.  He was the first Shocker since 2006 that scored more than 30 points in a game.  He was dead-on from behind the arc, going 8-9 against UNLV.  In the two games this week, he was 14-18 from the field and 11-13 from behind the three point line.

Joe Ragland Sliced And Shot His Way To A 30-Point Game In The Shockers' Win Over The Runnin' Rebels Sunday. (MVC-Sports.com)

Power Rankings

  1. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking In On… the Missouri Valley

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 30th, 2011

Patrick Marshall is the RTC correspondent for the Missouri Valley Conference.   You can also find his musings online at White & Blue Review or on Twitter @wildjays.

Reader’s Take

The Week That Was:

  • Creighton Continues Up the Top 25—With a lot of teams in the lower part of the top 25 losing this week, Creighton moved up in the coaches poll from #25 to #23 while also receiving more votes in the AP poll putting them at #26. So far the Bluejays have not disappointed including their 104-81 victory over Campbell and winning the Dale Howard Classic.
  • Valley Stock Rising—The Missouri Valley Conference has had some great success so far in the non-conference season. There are only 27 teams in Division I still undefeated. Only three non-BCS leagues still have undefeated teams. Two of those teams are Creighton (5-0) and Missouri State (4-0). The Valley is 37-16 so far including a 24-4 home mark.
  • Northern Iowa Bounces Back—The Panthers made an impressive showing in South Padre by getting wins against Rice and Providence. Since the loss at St. Mary’s, Northern Iowa has won their last four and are getting good contributions from players like Seth Tuttle, who averaged 11 points and 6.3 rebounds in the last three games. 

Greg Lansing And Jake Odum Have The Sycamores On The Rise. (Matt Kryger/Indianapolis Star)

Power Rankings

  1. Creighton (5-0)— Creighton continues to roll along. In their only game this week, the Bluejays started the game hitting their first 13 shots of the game putting them up 18 points early on Campbell. Creighton continued to blister the nets the rest of the game and set a school record shooting 70.4% from the field for the game. Creighton also dished out 30 assists on 38 baskets for the game. They currently lead the nation in assists while placing third in points per game.
  2. Indiana State (6-1)—The Sycamores continue to build upon last year’s success by playing with a lot of poise during the Old Spice Classic. After beating Texas Tech in the first round, the Sycamores took it to the wire against Minnesota before losing to the Gophers. Indiana State rebounded to get a win over Fairfield to take third place.  Five players finished in double-figures. The balanced scoring right now by Indiana State will keep opponents off balance. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking In On… the Missouri Valley Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 23rd, 2011

Patrick Marshall is the RTC correspondent for the Missouri Valley Conference.   You can also find his musings online at White & Blue Review or on Twitter @wildjays.

Reader’s Take

The Week That Was:

  • Creighton Cracks The Polls—This week, for the first time since March 2007, the Bluejays are ranked in one of the major polls.  They check in at #25 in the USA Today Coaches poll.  The last team from the MVC to be ranked by the coaches was Northern Iowa, which was 13th in the final USA Today Coaches poll at the conclusion of the 2009-10 campaign.  While many saw Creighton as a sleeper this season, they now have a large target on their back.
  • Wichita State Falls Short—Last season, Wichita State faltered in the Maui Invitational by missing some opportunities to get some big name wins and did not have everything completely come together until they won the postseason NIT.  This season, they also struggled to get the wins they need from their exempt tournament, the Puerto Rico Tip-off.  They did beat Colorado, but then lost to Alabama and Temple. The good news is that they probably have a few more opportunities outside of this tournament this season.
  • Seat on Fire In Carbondale—Many knew that Chris Lowery was on the hot seat at Southern Illinois coming into this season.  Three games in, the question is whether he should have been allowed to come back this season after all.  With an 0-3 start, including a loss against Division II Ohio Dominican, this could be another long season in Carbondale.

The McDermotts Have Creighton Crashing The Polls In November.

Power Rankings

  1. Creighton (4-0)—Creighton has started the season on a roll and they appear to have the pieces surrounding Doug McDermott to make it a special year. Creighton won their first three games largely without the need of scoring from center Gregory Echenique, but after beating Iowa on Sunday, Echenique is in the mix now on the offensive end. Grant Gibbs has played like another point guard on the court taking some pressure off of Antoine Young. Right now there is a lot of unselfish play with 56 assists on 66 baskets in the first two games and 86 assists on 125 field goals for the season. Read the rest of this entry »
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RTC Conference Primers: #12 – Missouri Valley Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 25th, 2011

Patrick Marshall of White & Blue Review is the RTC correspondent for the Missouri Valley Conference.  You can find him on Twitter @wildjays.

Reader’s Take I


Top Storylines

  • Back to Multiple Bids?: The Missouri Valley Conference is getting a little more attention entering this season than in the past, and rightfully so.  Six of the top ten scorers in the league are back along with four of the top five rebounders.  The league is looking to have the impact it had back in the 2005-06 season, when it sent four teams to the NCAA Tournament.  Since then, only the automatic qualifier from the MVC Tournament has advanced to The Dance. With so many talented upperclassmen, there could be an opportunity for The Valley to get closer to that status of six years ago.
  • Kyle Weems or Doug McDermott?: There are a lot of people that have probably forgotten that Kyle Weems of Missouri State was the MVC Player of the Year last season with all the buzz that Creighton’s Doug McDermott received over the summer.  Going into 2011-12, one hotly-debated topic is whether Weems can repeat or if McDermott will build upon his MVC Freshman of the Year performance.  McDermott was only the second freshman in the 100-year-plus history of the MVC to get first team all-conference honors.  Weems tried to lead Missouri State to the NCAA Tournament, but came up just short.  Due to the personnel losses by the Bears, including their coach, and all of the returning players for the Bluejays, can Weems surprise the “experts” and have even better success to repeat?

Kyle Weems May Be The Best Player In A Resurgent MVC This Season. (MVC-Sports.com)

  • New Ford Center: Evansville will start the season in a new downtown arena, the Ford Center.  They open it in style with in-state powers Butler and Indiana visiting to start the season.  This building represents the continual facility improvements for the Missouri Valley Conference member schools.  Creighton started the trend with the Qwest Center (recently renamed CenturyLink Center).  Northern Iowa followed suit with its own basketball building in the McLeod Center.  Missouri State opened JQH Arena a couple years later and in Wichita, a new arena was built to complement Koch Arena as a place where the Shockers can play a game or two a year.  Southern Illinois spent almost $30 million to renovate SIU Arena.  So if you are looking for a conference that keeps upgrading the basketball environment like a major conference, this is where you should go.
  • Scheduling Philosophies: In the past, the MVC member schools would hold back a game on their schedules to try to get a home-and-home series against a high-major school.  Although this has worked out in the past, it sort of backfired this season.  As a result, many of the final games scheduled for each team will come against a non-Division I school, and in other cases, a game was not even scheduled, leaving a gap between the end of the regular season slate and the conference tournament.  Creighton and Illinois State chose to schedule one game fewer than the number of games they could have scheduled while the rest of the schools scheduled the likes of Loras College, Emporia State, Upper Iowa, Maryville and others as a regular season game on the schedule.  With almost 350 teams in Division-I, that isn’t a good sign for a non-major, major conference.

Predicted Order of Finish

  1. Read the rest of this entry »
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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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Taylor Brown Cleared, Will Be Back For Bradley

Posted by jstevrtc on September 21st, 2011

Bradley forward Taylor Brown is back playing basketball. After sitting out all of last season while doctors investigated an issue with his heart, Brown has been cleared to play his senior season.

Brown Had To Willingly Decondition His Body and Heart For His Cardiac Workup

Here’s what’s particularly compelling about Brown’s case: as part of his doctors’ investigation over the last year or so, Brown was told to actually de-condition his heart. Obviously, that doesn’t mean he was told by his docs to start smoking and to commence with an all-lard diet, but it does mean that he was told not only to refrain from playing basketball, but also not to do anything active. In short, he was told by his doctors, quite frankly, to do nothing, to allow himself to get into worse shape, because it would help his physicians reach a diagnosis. That might be fantastic medical advice for certain basketball blog writers — such a directive from one of our doctors would be met with a hearty “Can do!” and an immediate trip to the store for more Doritos — but it’s not the easiest thing for someone in their early 20s to hear, and certainly not for an athlete with a future that was getting brighter with every game he played.

After transferring from junior college in 2008, Brown averaged 3.4 PPG and 3.0 RPG in an average 11.5 MPG for Bradley in 2008-09. That ballooned to 13.5 PPG and 6.8 RPG during his sophomore year, and his 12.9 efficiency rating was the best on his team for 2009-10. After sitting out his junior year for the cardiac workup, he’s had to work hard to re-condition himself after the long period of prescribed de-conditioning, and he’ll be back to help the Braves rebound from a 12-20 (4-14 MVC) mark last year.

Patients are told by their doctors to rest or restrict themselves from certain activities, depending on the malady from which they’re suffering, or because it will aid in the workup of a suspected disorder. But there are incredibly few conditions that would require your physician to say, “We actually need your heart to be in a little worse shape than it is now so we can check into this. That’d help us out a lot. Then we’re going to put you through a bunch of heart tests.” Because the working and final diagnoses of Brown’s case have never been released during this process, we won’t disrespect him here by saying what we think it is, but the fact that he’s been cleared to play is even better news than it seems on the surface. We’re just glad he’s OK and we’re looking forward to him playing hoops this season — but probably not nearly as much as he is.

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