Summer School in the MAC

Posted by Brian Goodman on August 11th, 2010


Alex Varone of College Basketball Daily is the RTC correspondent for the Mid-American Conference

Around The MAC:

  • Will Ohio Dance Again?: Three Mid-American Conference teams reached postseason play in the 2010 season, led by the Ohio Bobcats, who shocked the nation by handing third-seeded Georgetown a 14-point loss in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The Kent State Golden Flashes, MAC regular season champions, also represented themselves well by winning a first round NIT contest over Tulsa before falling to Illinois. The Akron Zips were the third team to reach the postseason, qualifying for the College Basketball Invitational (CBI) tournament by virtue of 24 regular season wins.
  • A Different Coach K: The conference’s lone coaching change this offseason took place at Toledo, where Gene Cross resigned amidst allegations of an inappropriate physical relationship. Cross spent only two seasons on the sidelines at Toledo, compiling a meager 11 wins against 53 losses. Tod Kowalczyk takes over at Toledo, and had previously spent the last eight seasons in the Horizon League with Wisconsin-Green Bay, where he posted a 136-112 mark.
  • Top Players: In player news, 2010 MAC Tournament Most Valuable Player Armon Bassett left Ohio after his junior season to enter the NBA Draft. The guard had originally joined the Ohio program after transferring out of Indiana, and averaged 17.1 points per game in his only year as a Bobcat. On the recruiting trail, Central Michigan received national headlines as 6’5 guard and ESPNU Top 100 recruit Trey Zeigler decided to join the Chippewas and play under his father and CMU head coach Ernie Zeigler.

MAC leading returning Xavier Silas hopes to propel Northern Illinois to the top of the West Division (espn.com)

Power Rankings [Division and last season's record in brackets]

  1. Ohio [East, 22-15 (7-9)]: On March 1, 2010, the Ohio Bobcats were a struggling 16-14 (6-9) outfit that many fans felt would be fortunate enough to win a game in the MAC Tournament. Twenty days later, Ohio wrapped up its season with a second round NCAA Tournament loss to Tennessee, a team that would go on to reach the Elite Eight.  So how will the Bobcats respond this season, with the target of being MAC champions on their back? Had Armon Bassett decided not to forgo his senior season and enter the NBA Draft, Ohio would have been a clear-cut favorite to repeat as MAC champs. Even with the losses of Bassett, center Kenneth van Kempen, and the transferring Jay Kinney, Ohio is still in good hands with sophomore point guard D.J. Cooper. The 2010 MAC Freshman of the Year is the likely 2011 MAC Player of the Year favorite if he can improve on last year’s numbers of 13.5 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 5.9 APG, and 2.5 steals per contest. Senior forward DeVaughn Washington (11.3 PPG, 5.4 RPG) and senior three-point marksman Tommy Freeman (10.5 PPG, 97 three-pointers made) are returning contributors from last year’s team that will complement Cooper. With the combination of the returning talent and the experience of last season’s run, Ohio has a solid claim on the MAC’s number one ranking.
  2. Akron [East, 24-11 (12-4)]: Akron was an overtime loss to Ohio in the MAC Tournament final away from reaching the NCAA Tournament for a second consecutive year. Leading scorer and First Team All-MAC performer Jimmy Conyers is gone, but the Zips were hardly a one-man team in 2010. Eight Zips averaged between 16.8 and 27.6 MPG and 5.1 to 10.1 PPG last season, five of whom are back for the 2010-11 campaign. Headlining that group is senior forward Brett McKnight, who averaged ten PPG in just under 20 minutes per contest, numbers which figure to increase this season. Also returning is the senior backcourt duo of Steve McNees (8.3 PPG) and Darryl Roberts (7.3 PPG), both of whom are capable outside shooters. Joining McKnight in the frontcourt will be 6’8 junior Nikola Cvetinovic (6.7 PPG, 4.2 RPG) and 7’0 sophomore center Zeke Marshall (5.1 PPG, 1.7 BPG). Marshall, a 2010 MAC All-Freshman performer, but who weighs in at just 218 pounds, will be an interesting player to watch develop this season. This isn’t a flashy group — nor was last year’s — but Akron has been a MAC Tournament finalist four years running, and is in position to make it five.
  3. Kent State [East, 24-10 (13-3)]: The Golden Flashes were the MAC’s best team during the regular season, but flamed out in the tourney quarterfinals by way of a 17-point loss to Ohio. After a 1-2 start to the MAC season, Kent State reeled off 12 wins in its final 13 conference games, including a No. 1 seed-clinching win at Akron in the season’s final game. Returning from last year’s team is leading scorer and rebounder Justin Greene, a strong post presence who contributed 13.6 PPG and 6.9 RPG as a sophomore. But fifth-year senior guard Rodriguez Sherman (10.6 PPG) is the only other returning starter from last year’s squad, which will have to replace the all-around consistency of First Team All-MAC performer Chris Singletary. Overall, four of the top six scorers from last year’s team are gone, which signals a step back for this program, even with the expected continued development of Greene. Read the rest of this entry »
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Conference Primers: #15 – MAC

Posted by rtmsf on November 6th, 2007

Season Preview Banner 3

Predicted Order of Finish:

East

  1. Kent St. (22-6) (13-3)
  2. Miami (OH) (16-10) (11-5)
  3. Akron (17-12) (9-7)
  4. Ohio (12-15) (7-9)
  5. Bowling Green (12-16) (6-10)
  6. Buffalo (7-19) (4-12)

West

  1. Western Michigan (19-11) (11-5)
  2. Central Michigan (16-11) (10-6)
  3. Toledo (14-14) (9-7)
  4. Eastern Michigan (14-13) (8-8)
  5. Northern Illinois (9-19) (5-11)
  6. Ball St. (6-22) (3-13)

MAC Logo 

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)
  • Western Michigan @ Kent St. (01.27.08)
  • Miami (OH) @ Akron (01.05.08) & Akron @ Miami (OH) (02.19.08)
  • 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.       

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