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.
WYN2K. If the A-10 wants to lay claim to being one of the premier mid-majors [Note: Hold the e-mails, I’m not putting the A-10 with the big boys yet. If you want to, become an RTC correspondent], they will have plenty of shots against the big boys: Duke (3 times-Rhode Island, Duquesne, and Xavier), Kansas (2 times-UMass and Temple), Memphis (UMass), Tennessee (Temple), Texas (St. Joe’s), and many other less prestigious programs in BCS conferences.
Predicted Champion.Xavier (#4 NCAA). Last year, #3 seed Xavier made it to the Elite 8 before falling to perennial national semifinalist UCLA. While Xavier loses several key seniors, they should be able to remain the dominant team in the A-10 due to their superior depth (6 players last year averaged between 9.7 and 12.4 PPG with 3 of those players returning). The Musketeers return Derrick Brown (10.9 ppg), C.J. Anderson (10.7 ppg), and center Jason Love. The loss of the seniors may also be eased by the addition of 6-11 freshman Kenny Frease, freshman point guard Terrell Holloway, freshman shooting guard Brian Walsh, and Indiana transfer Jordan Crawford. Helping lead the Musketeers will be Sean Miller who became the first Xavier coach to turn down an offer from a bigger name program in quite some time (see: Gillen, Pete; Prosser, Skip; and Matta, Thad). Xavier has a chance to put itself in position for a very high NCAA seed if they can beat Duke in a “neutral site” game in East Rutherford, NJ, on December 20th. Here’s a clip on Xavier’s trip to the E8 last season.
Others Considered. To be perfectly honest, Xavier should run away with the A-10 this year. Their depth makes them resistant to any reasonable expectation of injuries. The only other legitimate contender if Xavier slips up is Temple (NCAA #10). The Owls, coached by Fran Dunphy (still seems weird not to see John Chaney on the sidelines or storming into other coach’s press conferences), will need to replace the all-around output of Mark Tyndale. They return Dionte Christmas, the A-10’s leading scorer, but he will face increased defensive pressure this year. The Owls also lost Chris Clark to graduation so they will need Ryan Brooks, Lavoy Allen, and Sergio Olmos to step up this year if they want to seriously challenge Xavier. We also see Charlotte (NIT) and Dayton (NIT) as postseason teams.
Rhode Island at Duke (11.16.08)
UMass at Memphis (11.17.08)
Virginia Commonwealth at Rhode Island (11.22.08)
St. Joe’s vs. Texas (Lahaina, HI) (11.24.08)
Dayton vs. Marquette (Hoffman Estates, IL) (11.29.08)
65 Team Era. As stated above, the A-10 is often the bridesmaid, never the bride, when it comes to the Final Four. Ok, UMass did have its one shot at glory in 1996, but ten other times an A-10 team has gotten to the Elite Eight only to have its hopes dashed in that round (five times in the last decade). This includes Temple five times, Xavier twice, UMass once, St. Joseph’s once, and Rhode Island once. During the era, the A-10 has gone 63-65 (.492), which puts it right there with CUSA as the top mid-major league over the last quarter century.
Final Thoughts. Despite my cheap shots, the A-10 is one of the top conferences in the country. Last year, they only managed to get three teams into the NCAA tournament, but has the potential to get a couple of more bids. To do this, teams will have to get to 10 wins in this conference since the bottom of the conference is so weak. If a lot of teams end up 9-7 or 8-8 in conference play, those teams will end up in the NIT again.