The Other 26: Saturday’s Top Five Bracketbuster Games and More…

Posted by IRenko on February 22nd, 2013

other26

This weekend marks the end of the decade-long Bracketbuster era — or experiment, depending on your perspective. Sadly, if appropriately, it looks like the event will go out with more of a whimper than a bang. Not a single game features a top 25 team, resulting in little hype for this year’s slate. But for true mid-major basketball fans, no top 25 ranking, or lack thereof, is going to dissuade them from devouring the late season, inter-conference action among the country’s best, under-the-radar-until-March teams. Here’s a preview of the five Bracketbuster games we’re most looking forward to, followed by an updated Top 10, our weekly honor roll, and the most compelling non-Bracketbuster games of the coming week.

Can Matthew Dellavedova And His Prominent Mouthpiece Lead the Gaels to a Much-Needed Win Over Creighton? (Las Vegas Sun / Sam Morris)

Can Matthew Dellavedova And His Prominent Mouthpiece Lead the Gaels to a Much-Needed Win Over Creighton? (Las Vegas Sun / Sam Morris)

  1. Creighton at St. Mary’s (6 pm, ESPN) — Both teams enter what is perhaps the premier Bracketbuster matchup with a great deal to prove. Creighton’s hot 17-1 start has given way to a rough 5-5 stretch, as the depth of the MVC has taken its toll. In four of those five losses, Creighton’s once unstoppable offense slowed to a pace of less than a point per possession. An at-large Tournament bid remains a safe bet, even with a loss to St. Mary’s, but the Bluejays are no doubt looking to this game to reignite their offense and their season. St. Mary’s, on the other hand, is in desperate need of a quality win for its Tournament resume. Having been swept by Gonzaga, Saturday’s matchup is a virtual must-win for the Gaels. Both teams have highly efficient offenses that rely heavily on the three-point shot. Whichever defense can step up its game may emerge with the win.
  2. Ohio at Belmont (10 pm, ESPN) – This should be a really entertaining game between two teams who love to run and gun. But for the colors of their jerseys, it may be hard to tell the two apart, as the Bobcats and Bruins have remarkably similar statistical profiles. Both are high-possession squads that shoot more than 40 percent of their field goals from three-point range and rank in the top 20 nationally in forcing turnovers. Both have high effective field goal percentages, but rebound poorly and allow their opponents to shoot far more free throws than they do. Toss in a great point guard matchup between seniors D.J. Cooper and Kerron Johnson, and you have the ingredients for a great nightcap to the day’s action. 
  3. South Dakota State at Murray State (8 pm, ESPN2) – Neither team is as good as it was last season, but both returned their star player. And it’s their matchup at the point guard spot, with Nate Wolters squaring off against Isaiah Canaan, that makes this a must-see game. The two players are the heartbeats of their respective team’s offenses. Each uses roughly 30 percent of all possessions, ranking them in the top 50 in the country. Wolters has been on a particularly nasty tear of late, averaging more than 33 points over his last five games, though two of his 30-plus efforts in that stretch were in defeat. Canaan, meanwhile, is coming off his own 35-point outburst in a win over Morehead State.
  4. Detroit at Wichita State (4 pm, ESPN2) — Wichita State has bounced back from a recent three-game swoon with a four-game win streak that includes two close victories over Illinois State and Indiana State this past week. They’ll be the favorites against Detroit, but his game has definite upset potential. Detroit is on the upswing, winning six of their last seven, and developing a potent offensive attack with a multitude of options, from Ray McCallum’s attacking ability to Jason Calliste’s three-point shot to Nick Minnerath’s versatile inside-out game to Doug Anderson’s physical interior play. The Titans will try to push the tempo, while the Shockers will try to slow things down and pound the ball inside to their big men Cleanthony Early and Carl Hall, who may find success against Detroit’s mediocre interior defense.
  5. Denver at Northern Iowa (8 pm, ESPN3) — After a rough 4-6 start to MVC play, Northern Iowa has righted the ship and fought its way back to where we thought it would always be — at the top of the league standings, just a step behind Wichita State and Creighton. They face a Denver team that has flown a bit under the radar, recovering from a slow start to the season to win 13 of their last 14 games. A trip to Cedar Falls will be a test of just how far the Pioneers have come. Expect a low-possession, halfcourt-oriented game, with a steady barrage of three-point shots. The Panthers have a balanced attack, with five players averaging between 9 and 13 points. Denver will turn primarily to Chris Udofia, the versatile forward who is the hub of their Princeton offense.

And now on to our updated Top 10 rankings, weekly honor roll, and the (other) games we’re keeping an eye on …

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The Other 26: Niagara Rushes Forth

Posted by IRenko on February 2nd, 2013

I. Renko is an RTC columnist. He will kick off each weekend during the season with his analysis of the 26 other non-power conferences. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.

When you hear the word “Niagara” you’re not likely to think of basketball. But in the shadow of one of the world’s natural wonders, something is percolating on the hardwood. After a thrilling 93-90 overtime win over Iona that included a rally from a late 15-point deficit and a buzzer-beating three-pointer to win the game, Niagara sits atop the MAAC standings at 10-1. A win over Loyola today would cap a tremendous week for the Purple Eagles, giving them a perfect 3-0 record against the next three teams in the standings — Iona, Loyola, and Canisius — over the past seven days.

Juan'ya Green Capped Niagara's Thrilling Win Over Iona With a Last-Second Three-Pointer  in Overtime (James P. McCoy / Buffalo News)

Juan’ya Green Capped Niagara’s Thrilling Win Over Iona With a Last-Second Three-Pointer in Overtime (James P. McCoy / Buffalo News)

Last year, Niagara finished 14-19, the first time in head coach Joe Mihalich’s 10-year tenure that he suffered consecutive losing seasons. Mihalich had taken the Purple Eagles to the NCAA Tournament in 2005 and 2007 and to the NIT in 2004 and 2009, but the team had fallen behind the pack in the MAAC in the three years since. The seeds of a resurgence were planted during last year’s losing campaign, as a host of young players started to find their footing in Division 1 college hoops. Having lost no one to graduation, Niagara was predicted to finish fifth in the MAAC in the preseason coaches’ poll. That seemed a fair, perhaps optimistic, assessment, but the clear light of hindsight makes a mockery of it.

What accounts for the turnaround? Mostly the maturation of Niagara’s all-sophomore backcourt: Juan’ya Green, Antoine Mason, and Ameen Tanksley. Last year, the trio showed that they had talent. This year, they’re showing that they can channel it into efficient offense.  Green is actually averaging fewer points (16.5) than he did as a freshman (17.6), but that’s in part because he’s managed to corral his considerable talents and become a more effective facilitator. Coming out of high school, Green was known for his prodigious scoring ability, but questions lingered about his ability to create for his teammates. He’s answering those questions this year, increasing his assists (5.2 per game) and decreasing his turnovers (2.8 per game). With Green deferring more to his teammates, Mason, the son of former NBA player Anthony Mason, has stepped into the role of lead scorer. He’s upped his per-game average from 15.1 to a team-leading 18.7, but more importantly, he’s become a much more efficient scorer.  He’s increased his field goal percentage from 38.2 to 44.6. He now shoots almost 80 percent from the free throw line, after shooting less than 65 percent last year, a significant development because of his knack for getting to the charity stripe. Tanksley, for his part, has also boosted his field goal percentage, from 38.6 to 45.7 and upped his scoring average into double-digits.

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Ten Tuesday Scribbles: On November Rituals, Head-Scratchers, and More…

Posted by Brian Otskey on November 13th, 2012

Brian Otskey is a regular contributor for RTC. Every Tuesday during the regular season he’ll be giving his 10 thoughts on the previous week’s action. You can find him on Twitter @botskey

  1. In what seems to have become an annual November ritual, fans and members of the media tend to overreact in making bold statements about teams and players after just one or two games have been played. While I recognize that is the nature of the “what have you done for me lately?” society we live in, fans and the media alike must take a step back. While some early season wins may appear to be huge and some losses head-scratching, we all must remember that the college basketball season is a long, evolving process. The NCAA Tournament doesn’t begin for another four months. Most teams will play 12 non-conference games before they begin 16 or 18-game conference schedules.  It’s OK to say something nice about a team that came up with a great early season win or to be skeptical of a school coming off a loss you might never have expected, but making statements such as “Florida State is a bust because it lost to South Alabama!” is just plain foolish. While a loss like that certainly gives you pause, we’ve seen this movie before time and time again in November, especially as the college season has started earlier and earlier over the years. A loss to South Alabama is hardly a definitive indicator of how Florida State will perform in 2012-13. It’s just one of 30+ games the Seminoles will play this season. With that said, I do have a couple of questions about FSU. One, does the team miss the steady point guard presence of Luke Loucks from a season ago (nine assists, 17 turnovers against USA)? Two, is Leonard Hamilton’s defense not as strong as we are accustomed to seeing? South Alabama shot 9-of-15 from deep and Buffalo shot 50% overall from the floor in FSU’s second game on Monday. Those are examples of legitimate concerns, but not affirmative statements about how Florida State’s season will turn out. The Seminoles have plenty of time to come together and fix their weaknesses. Just don’t bury Florida State, or any other team for that matter, before Thanksgiving for crying out loud.

    How Much is FSU Missing Luke Loucks Right Now? (Reuters)

  2. There were quite a few of those aforementioned head-scratchers over the first four days of the season. In addition to Florida State, teams such as Mississippi State, Virginia, Rutgers, South Florida, Purdue, Drexel and Georgia all started the season on the wrong foot. Other schools including Oklahoma State, Texas and Providence struggled with inferior opponents but managed to hang on and win. In some circumstances like those faced at Mississippi State, Virginia, Georgia and Purdue, these are teams rebuilding after critical personnel losses. While it’s unfair to blast their November performance, these losses could be a sign of things to come. On the other hand, you could say a team like Drexel just had a bad night. The Dragons are a talented bunch and the overwhelming favorites in the depleted Colonial Athletic Association. Above all, however, the worst loss of them all belongs to North Texas. The Sun Belt favorites, who boast the talented Tony Mitchell, lost to Division II Alabama-Huntsville on Monday night. What does this mean? Not a whole lot in the grand scheme of things but it underscores how important it is for teams to put forth maximum effort every time out. The instances in which a team can get away with an off night have shrunk over the years due to parity and better talent assembled on non-power six rosters. When trying to analyze a team at this early stage of the season, don’t dismiss a disappointing loss but don’t throw the team under the bus at the same time. There is a very long way to go. Read the rest of this entry »
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The Other 26: And Then There Were Two

Posted by IRenko on March 23rd, 2012


I. Renko is an RTC columnist. He will kick off each weekend during the season with his analysis of the 26 other non-power conferences. Follow him on twitter @IRenkoHoops.

Thirty-three TO26 teams entered the greatest weekend in sports, and just two — Xavier and Ohio — survived to make it to the second weekend.  This is the weakest showing for non-BCS teams since 2005, when only Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Utah made it to the Sweet Sixteen (where they were dispatched by Illinois and Kentucky, respectively). But that’s not to say that it wasn’t an exciting first weekend for the TO26. Indeed, Friday was a historic day, as not just one, but two #15 seeds notched wins. It was mad, it was March, and it was why we — especially those of us who relish the mid-major game as much as the high-major one — love college hoops.

Below, we take a look at how those 15 seed upsets confounded us and and how they didn’t, the likelihood that Xavier and Ohio will continue to carry the TO26 banner into deeper rounds, and reflect on the surprising and not so surprising first round losses suffered by some of the best TO26 teams.

The Survivors

Can the TO26 makes its mark on the regional final or — gasp — the Final Four?

Ohio — For the second time in three years, D.J. Cooper has taken the NCAA Tournament by storm, scoring 40 points in two wins.  More generally, the Bobcats are a young, athletic, and dangerous team with a surprisingly high talent level for a MAC squad.  Their #13 seed reflects a bit of trouble that they had in the middle of the season, but this team is playing better than that, almost as well as the ’06 George Mason and ’11 VCU teams did when they stormed the Final Four with a #11 seed.

Can John Groce D.J. Cooper, and the Ohio Bobcats Make History?

Still, under normal circumstances, we wouldn’t give them great odds against a North Carolina squad that tends to dominate inside.  But for those of you who just returned to civilization from a one-week absence, be advised that these are not normal circumstances.  Kendall Marshall’s likely absence (or limited ability, at the least) may leave UNC vulnerable to Ohio’s turnover-generating defense and without the ability to run its vaunted transition offense.  If the Bobcats can rattle the Tar Heels and UNC is unable to push the ball effectively, this could be a real contest.  And after that, who knows?  Kansas, with its effective interior game, would be a real challenge, but NC State would be eminently beatable.  It is not inconceivable that the Bobcats could become the first team with a seed higher than 11 to land in the Final Four.

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ACC in the NCAAs: Scouting North Carolina vs. Ohio

Posted by KCarpenter on March 23rd, 2012

Before Kendall Marshall‘s injury, this was a very tough match-up for the Bobcats. With Marshall’s injury, it’s still a tough match-up. There are several things going against Ohio in this match-up, but the toughest to overcome is simply size. Reggie Keely is a big body at 6’8″ and 263 pounds, but the rest of the line-up is shorter and lighter. Against the NBA-caliber size of North Carolina, this will be a problem, particularly for a team that struggles with defensive rebounding as it is. Worse, against the foul-drawing bigs of North Carolina, Ohio may quickly find itself in foul trouble. Ohio is easily the most foul-happy team left in the tournament, and Keely fouls 5.1 times per forty minutes and the rest of the front line posts similar marks. If Ohio can’t hold the interior against North Carolina, there is little to stop Tyler Zeller for going off for the game of his life.

Marshall May Not Play, But How Will Ohio Deal With UNC's Big Men?

Still, despite this distinct mismatch, Ohio comes into this game with a set of skills that could make life miserable for the Tar Heels. As a team, the Bobcats force turnovers on over a quarter of all possessions, and over the season have turned over offenses at the second best rate in the entire country. North Carolina, despite its fast pace, was one of the better ball-control teams in the country this year, and a lot of that credit goes to the masterful generalship of Marshall. Without the team’s 35 MPG point guard (or his back up), the Tar Heel’s of a distinct lack of battle-tested and sure-handed ball-handlers. Stilman White, Justin Watts, and (I suspect) Harrison Barnes are all but certain to endure hellacious ball-pressure as Ohio tries to leverage North Carolina’s inexperienced ball-handler into frequent turnovers and easy fast-break points. The success of both teams likely hinges on the ability of North Carolina to successfully break pressure, play out of traps, and otherwise initiate the Tar Heel offense before the ball hawks of Ohio make the big play.

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NCAA Regional Reset: Midwest Region

Posted by EJacoby on March 21st, 2012

Evan Jacoby is the NCAA Tournament’s Midwest Region correspondent. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter.

The Midwest Regional begins Friday night in St. Louis with with North Carolina vs. Ohio followed by Kansas vs. NC State. Our East Regional Reset and West Regional Reset published Tuesday, while our South Regional Reset will publish later today.Make sure to follow RTCMWRegion for news and analysis from St. Louis throughout the weekend.

New Favorite: #2 Kansas (29-6, 16-2 Big 12). How do the Jayhawks become the favorite in this region after nearly being upset last round by #10 Purdue, in a game they should have lost? First of all, the regional semifinals and finals are being played in St. Louis, a much closer destination for KU fans than any of the other teams, making for a solid home-court advantage for the #2 seed. But more importantly, the #1 seed just lost its point guard and floor leader to a broken wrist. Kendall Marshall is arguably the most indispensable player to his team in this entire tournament, and North Carolina has no backup for its star PG. This makes Kansas the favorite going forward in the wacky Midwest.

St. Louis' Edward Jones Dome Hosts the Midwest Regional Finals

Horse of Darkness: #11 NC State (24-12, 9-7 ACC). Don’t let the #11 fool you; NC State is an incredibly talented team from the ACC that has the talent, size, and coaching experience to compete with anyone it matches up against. Despite underachieving for much of the season and barely getting into this tournament, the Wolfpack found that perfect match of offensive firepower and collective defense to take down their first two opponents. It won’t be a shock if this team can give Kansas a game on Friday night. NC State used its size inside (Richard Howell, C.J. Leslie) to hold Henry Sims of Georgetown to just four points last round, and they will look to do the same against Thomas Robinson and Kansas this weekend. Should they advance, the Wolfpack are familiar with conference foe UNC and nearly beat the Tar Heels in the ACC Tournament, and that was with a healthy Kendall Marshall. NC State is a serious dark horse here, despite facing the regional favorite on Friday.

Biggest Surprise, 1st Weekend: #13 Ohio (29-7, 11-5 MAC). We thought that John Groce’s team had a great matchup in the round of 64 against #4 Michigan, a team that plays a similar perimeter style, but it’s still a huge surprise that the #13 seed took down the Big Ten co-champions in a game that it controlled almost the entire way. D.J. Cooper and company then outplayed #12 South Florida in the second half to advance to the Sweet Sixteen, becoming this year’s Cinderella story as the mid-major, double-digit seed to advance to the second weekend. Now Ohio has to match up with powerhouse #1 North Carolina on Friday, but the Bobcats are on a roll and will try to make magic happen once again.

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Night Line: Ohio University and DJ Cooper Deserve Your Attention

Posted by EJacoby on December 21st, 2011

Evan Jacoby is an RTC columnist. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. Night Line will run on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s slate of games.

After another impressive road victory, it’s time to get Ohio University on the national radar. The Bobcats of the MAC improved to 10-1 with Tuesday’s night’s impressive win over Northern Iowa, another one-loss team coming into tonight’s game. Ohio entered the contest as six-point underdogs and left with a 17-point victory. They have now won road contests over Oakland, Marshall, and UNI, and they had a five-point lead at Louisville with under three minutes to play before poor execution down the stretch lead to a late loss. That near-upset remains the Bobcats’ only loss of the season. Ohio has passed all of its major non-conference tests with flying colors, and they certainly look the part of an NCAA Tournament team. Barring a stunning loss in one of their next three home games against weaker opponents, star point guard D.J. Cooper and his team will head into MAC conference play as the league favorite and with a good resume worthy of at-large bid consideration.

DJ Cooper and Ohio Are 10-1 and Nearly Got By Louisville (AP)

Ohio is led by the junior guard Cooper who simply does it all. The 5’11”, 165-pounder doesn’t have the physical make-up of a high major player, but he’s been as productive as any guard in the country. His playmaking skills on both ends of the floor have been remarkable. Cooper led the entire country in total steals as a freshman, not to mention finishing the season with a 13/5/6 APG average that season. As a sophomore, Cooper accumulated the second-most assists in the nation, dishing out 7.5 per game. He’s back at the task this year, contributing across the board with 14.6 points, 6.4 assists, 4.5 rebounds, and 2.5 steals per game. His one struggle is shooting the ball from deep, where he’s made just 30% of his career three-point shots despite attempting over five per game. If he were ever to cut down on his volume of deep shots, then we’d be looking at an even more dangerous player.

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Checking In On… the MAC

Posted by rtmsf on December 9th, 2011

Bill Hupp is the RTC correspondent for the MAC. Follow him on Twitter (@Bill_Hupp) for his thoughts on hoops, food, Russian nesting dolls and life.

Reader’s Take


The Week That Was

  • Non-Conference MAC MVP? Miami (OH) may be mired at the bottom of the East Division with a 2-4 record, but it’s not because of Julian Mavunga. The 6’8’’ senior forward from Indianapolis is averaging nearly a double-double, and leads the conference in both scoring (21.5 PPG) and rebounding (9.8 RPG).
  • Western Michigan’s Rough Non-Conference Schedule: While the Western Michigan brass deserves some credit for scheduling a rigorous non-conference slate to steel them for the rigors of the MAC, they may have overdone it a bit. The Broncos are 1-7 and still have difficult road games left against Oakland and Duke before MAC play begins. WMU has lost to the likes of Gonzaga, Temple, Purdue and Detroit to start the season. Whether or not this helps them win the West remains to be seen. What is clear, however, is that the Broncos will almost certainly have to win the conference tourney if they have any Big Dance aspirations.
  • Northern Illinois is Awful: There’s really no polite way to say it.  New coach Mark Montgomery probably knew his squad was going to struggle in his first season, but he couldn’t have imagined dropping non-conference games to the likes of Utah Valley State and Nebraska-Omaha. There aren’t a lot of easy answers, either. The Huskies (0-7) are allowing more than 73 points per game and offensively are shooting a dreadful 35% from the field. To make matters worse, NIU turns it over 17 times per game. To be fair, the Huskies are very young. Five of NIU’s 10 regulars are true freshmen. Stud rookie Abdel Nader (10.1 PPG/3.9 RPG) has shown some early promise, but things are looking ugly in DeKalb.

Miami of Ohio's Julian Mavunga is Off to a Tremendous Start This Season (AP/Amy Sancetta)

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The 2011-12 ProZach Awards

Posted by zhayes9 on November 8th, 2011

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court. Follow him on Twitter @zhayes9.

Every August, ESPN college football guru Kirk Herbstreit releases his Herbie awards, a grab bag of honors and predictions about the upcoming season covering everything from quickest running back to hardest-hitting linebacker. The Herbies are so popular they even resulted in their own half-hour show hosted by Herbstreit and Erin Andrews. With no equivalent in the hoops world, I volunteered to step up to the plate. Some of these awards are Herbie knock-offs, some are 100% original and all are intended to be fun. Whether they look ridiculous by March…well, the jury is out. Here are this year’s Pro-Zach awards, passing out happy pills since 2011:

Washington's Terrence Ross is ready to make the leap

All-Next Chapter

  • Team Irreverence: Players Who Don’t Get Enough Respect – GOLD: Rodney McGruder (Kansas State), SILVER: Kent Bazemore (Old Dominion), BRONZE: Doug McDermott (Creighton)
  • Shhh, Don’t Tell: Best Kept Secrets – GOLD: C.J. McCollum (Lehigh), SILVER: Alex Young (IUPUI), BRONZE: Dominique Morrison (Oral Roberts)
  • Forwarding Address: Top Transfers – GOLD: Mike Rosario (Florida), SILVER: Royce White (Iowa State), BRONZE: Brandon Wood (Michigan State)
  • Fresh Approach: Top True Freshmen – GOLD: Anthony Davis (Kentucky), SILVER: Austin Rivers (Duke), BRONZE: Andre Drummond (Connecticut)
  • Off and Running: Ready To Take It To The Next Level – GOLD: Terrence Ross (Washington), SILVER: Keith Appling (Michigan State), BRONZE: Michael Snaer (Florida State)

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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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