Checking in on… the MAC

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 11th, 2011

Alex Varone is the RTC correspondent for the Mid-American Conference.

A Look Back

Could this season’s Mid-American Conference champion be relegated to a Number 16 seed? It’s possible, as current leader Kent State (RPI: 91) is the only team in the league with a RPI of better than 100. ESPN’s Bracketology has Kent State currently penciled in the NCAA Tournament as a No. 15 seed, while Rush the Court’s own Bracketology has the Golden Flashes as a No. 14 seed. What continues to hurt the MAC is not only the relative weakness of the league’s top teams, but the four teams in the West Division with a RPI of over 300. Wins over those teams do nothing to help the profiles of the contenders, while a loss can do a lot of damage.

ESPN’s annual BracketBusters event is back for another year, and the MAC is heavily involved.

  • 2/18 – Kent State at Drexel [16-8 (8-6 CAA)] (ESPNU)
  • 2/19 – Miami (Ohio) at James Madison [18-8 (8-6 CAA)]
  • 2/19 – Buffalo vs. Wisconsin-Milwaukee [13-11 (8-5 Horizon)]
  • 2/19 – Bowling Green at Youngstown State [8-16 (2-12 Ohio Valley)]
  • 2/19 – Ball State at Wofford [13-12 (10-4 Southern)]
  • 2/19 – Akron vs. Creighton [15-11 (7-7 Missouri Valley)]
  • 2/19 – Western Michigan vs. Illinois State [11-14 (3-11 Missouri Valley)]
  • 2/19 – Ohio at Winthrop [11-12 (7-6 Big South)]
  • 2/19 – Northern Illinois vs. Seattle [9-15 Independents]
  • 2/19 – Central Michigan at Niagara [5-20 (2-11 MAAC)]
  • 2/19 – Eastern Michigan vs. Jacksonville State [5-20 (3-11 Ohio Valley)]
  • 2/19 – Toledo vs. Eastern Illinois [8-15 (4-9 Ohio Valley)]

The BracketBusters don’t figure to have too much of an effect on the conference’s NCAA Tournament hopes, as the MAC is going to be a one-bid league regardless. But a few victories could do some good for the league’s RPI woes. Current league leader Kent State gets the only televised game, but Miami (Ohio) has a tough road test at James Madison, and West leader Ball State has an intriguing game at defending Southern Conference champion Wofford.

Star Watch: There hasn’t been much written about Bowling Green in this space this season. The Falcons entered 2010-11 coming off a losing season and featured a roster seemingly devoid of star talent. A 1-8 start was little cause for optimism but Bowling Green has since turned things around, winning 11 of its last 15 games and as of this writing, are only a half-game out of first-place in the MAC East standings at 7-3.  A big reason for that turnaround has been the stellar play of sophomore forward A’uston Calhoun. Over that 1-8 start, Calhoun only averaged 6.4 points and 3.8 rebounds per game, but in the last 15 games, he’s averaged 14.5 points and 6.1 rebounds per contest to up his season numbers to 11.5 points and 5.3 rebounds to solidify his position as Bowling Green’s number two scorer and rebounder.

Power Rankings (last week’s ranking in parentheses)

1. Kent State (2)
16-7 (7-2), RPI: 91, SOS: 158

After a brief hiatus, Kent State is back at the top of the Power Rankings after rolling off five consecutive victories. After a 13-point road win at then-undefeated Ball State, the Golden Flashes feasted on the easiest portion of their schedule, piling up home victories over Toledo, Central Michigan, and Eastern Michigan, the three bottom-feeders of the MAC. Up next, however, is the most grueling portion of Kent State’s schedule, which features four straight road games, including a pivotal East Division showdown at Miami (Ohio) and a BracketBuster at Drexel.

A Look Ahead: 2/12 at Northern Illinois, 2/16 at Miami (Ohio), 2/18 at Drexel (ESPNU), 2/21 at Western Michigan, 2/24 vs. Buffalo

2. Miami (Ohio) (4)
12-12 (7-3), RPI: 101, SOS: 37

Right on Kent State’s heels in the East is Miami (Ohio), winners of its last three games after suffering a tough overtime loss at home against Western Michigan. The current win streak hasn’t come easy, though, as the RedHawks had to rally from nine points down in the second half against Ball State before exploding to a 14-point win. And on the road at Eastern Michigan, Miami trailed by as many as 20 points in the second half before escaping with a two-point victory.
A Look Ahead: 2/12 at Toledo, 2/16 vs. Kent State, 2/19 at James Madison, 2/23 at Akron

3. Buffalo (3)
15-7 (7-3), RPI: 143, SOS: 273

Buffalo continues to play impressive ball of late, with its only loss in eight games being a recent one-point defeat at Ball State. That loss has continued a season-long trend of near-misses for the Bulls, who have lost five games by four points or less this year. But Buffalo has showed remarkable efficiency on both the offensive and defensive ends this season, and is currently the highest rated team in the MAC, according to Ken Pomeroy’s highly-regarded rankings.
A Look Ahead: 2/12 at Eastern Michigan, 2/15 vs. Ohio, 2/19 vs. UW-Milwaukee, 2/24 at Kent State

4. Bowling Green (5)
12-12 (7-3), RPI: 226, SOS: 266

Bowling Green completes the current four-team logjam at the top of the MAC East standings. Unlike their divisional mates, however, the Falcons can’t be looked at as a particularly efficient team, ranking just 279th in the nation in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency and 164th in adjusted defensive efficiency. So how is Bowling Green sitting at 7-3? The emergence of A’uston Calhoun (see above) bears repeating, and the Falcons have shown a propensity for winning the close game, with five of those seven conference wins being by two possessions or less.
A Look Ahead: 2/12 at Central Michigan, 2/15 vs. Akron, 2/19 at Youngstown State, 2/23 at Ohio

5. Ball State (1)
14-9 (6-4), RPI: 183, SOS: 292

The 13-4 (5-0) start seems like a long time ago, doesn’t it? Seemingly out of nowhere, Ball State has hit the wall, dropping four out of five, with the only win being a one-point squeaker over Buffalo. The Cardinals are still in good position in the weak West Division, but the trio of Jarrod JonesRandy Davis, and Jauwan Scaife need to get back to their consistent play of the early season in order for Ball State to re-emerge as a league title contender.
A Look Ahead: 2/12 at Akron, 2/15 vs. Toledo, 2/19 at Wofford, 2/23 vs. Eastern Michigan

6. Akron (6)
14-10 (5-5), RPI: 171, SOS: 232

Last week’s loss at Eastern Michigan was the latest confounding performance from Akron, which is surprisingly tied for last place in the East despite not having lost a conference game by more than nine points. The schedule gets much tougher over the coming weeks, as the Zips still have one more game against each of the five teams ahead of them in these Power Rankings, in addition to a difficult BracketBuster game against Creighton.
A Look Ahead: 2/12 vs. Ball State, 2/15 at Bowling Green, 2/19 vs. Creighton, 2/23 vs. Miami (Ohio)

7. Western Michigan (7)
12-10 (5-4), RPI: 202, SOS: 268

A pair of impressive road wins at Miami (in overtime) and Bowling Green, combined with Ball State’s collapse, has opened the door for Western Michigan in the West Division. Junior guard Demetrius Ward has been the offensive catalyst lately, scoring at least 15 points in six consecutive games, while freshman Juwan Howard Jr. has contributed some impressive performances, including a 20 point, 10 rebound effort in the win at Bowling Green.
A Look Ahead: 2/12 vs. Ohio, 2/15 at Northern Illinois, 2/19 vs. Illinois State, 2/21 vs. Kent State, 2/23 vs. Toledo

8. Ohio (8)
12-12 (5-5), RPI: 208, SOS: 168

For all the talk earlier in the season about Ohio’s one-man show in D.J. Cooper, the Bobcats now have four players (CooperDeVaughn WashingtonTommy Freeman, & Ivo Baltic) averaging double-figures on the season. Baltic could be the key to Ohio making a late regular season run if the sophomore forward continues to put up 31 point, 9 rebound performances like he did in the win against Northern Illinois.
A Look Ahead: 2/12 at Western Michigan, 2/15 at Buffalo, 2/19 at Winthrop, 2/23 vs. Bowling Green

9. Northern Illinois (9)
7-15 (3-7), RPI: 303, SOS: 274

This week’s game against Kent State will wrap up Northern Illinois’s six-game stretch against East Division foes, in which the Huskies have gone just 1-4 so far, with the only win coming against Akron at home. Northern Illinois will get one more chance to turn its season around over the next few weeks, with five of its next six games at home, including four straight.
A Look Ahead: 2/12 vs. Kent State, 2/15 vs. Western Michigan, 2/19 vs. Seattle, 2/23 vs. Central Michigan

10. Central Michigan (10)
6-17 (3-7), RPI: 306, SOS: 236

Like Northern Illinois, Central Michigan is wrapping up a six-game East stretch with this week’s contest against Bowling Green. As disappointing as the Chippewas have been this season, Central Michigan stands just three games behind West Division leader Ball State with six games to play. Even with two highly capable scorers in Trey Zeigler and Jalin Thomas, the Chippewas can blame their struggles on an abysmal offense which ranks 330th in the nation in Pomeroy’s efficiency rankings.
A Look Ahead: 2/12 vs. Bowling Green, 2/16 vs. Eastern Michigan, 2/19 at Niagara, 2/23 at Northern Illinois

11. Eastern Michigan (11)
6-17 (3-7), RPI: 320, SOS: 235

Eastern Michigan has been more competitive of late, defeating Akron and playing well in losses against Bowling Green, Miami, and Kent State. But at the end of the day, this is still a bad basketball team that relies exclusively on the night-in, night-out strong performances of Brandon Bowdry. Although he doesn’t provide the scoring punch to complement Bowdry that the Eagles so desperately need, sophomore Jamell Harris (2.3 blocks per game) has provided a solid defensive presence.
A Look Ahead: 2/12 vs. Buffalo, 2/16 at Central Michigan, 2/19 vs. Jacksonville State, 2/23 at Ball State

12. Toledo (12)
4-20 (1-9), RPI: 321, SOS: 191

Will Toledo win another conference game this season? If so, don’t expect it to be on the road, as the Rockets have now lost 42 straight contests away from home. Toledo still has three conference home games left, and at home, Toledo has been a much more competitive team, defeating Valparaiso (RPI: 56) and Western Michigan. But of their nine conference losses, only once did the Rockets lose by single digits.
A Look Ahead: 2/12 vs. Miami (Ohio), 2/15 at Ball State, 2/19 vs. Eastern Illinois, 2/23 at Western Michigan

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Checking in on… the MAC

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 4th, 2010

Alex Varone is the RTC correspondent for the Mid-American Conference.

A Look Back

Once again, there appears to be a clear divide between the Mid-American Conference’s East & West Divisions. Four of the East’s six teams (Kent StateOhioAkron, Buffalo) have winning records at this early junction in the season, while a fifth (3-4 Miami (Ohio)) just upset Xavier of the Atlantic 10. Meanwhile, none of the West’s six teams have a winning record, three have fewer than two wins (Eastern MichiganWestern Michigan, Toledo), and the only team without a losing record (Ball State) just lost to Alaska-Anchorage.

Star Watch

  • Justin Greene (19.4 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 1.6 BPG) has continued his fine season for the 6-1 Kent State Golden Flashes, ranking in the top five in the league in points, rebounds, and blocks. Entering the month of December, Greene has been the MAC’s best player. But don’t overlook some of this conference’s other fine talent, including Xavier Silas out of Northern Illinois. The senior guard leads the MAC in scoring at 24.8 PPG, and opened the season with four consecutive 20-point games, including back-to-back 34-point outbursts.
  • Byron Mulkey out of Buffalo has been one of the pleasant surprises of the early season. The senior sat out last season, and has bounced back with some of the MAC’s finest all-around play, averaging 13.2 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 5.5 APG, and 4.3 SPG. Those numbers are comparable with Ohio‘s star D.J. Cooper (17.8 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 6.7 APG, 2.7 SPG), the league’s best guard.

Power Rankings (Last week’s ranking in parentheses)

  1. Kent State (2) 6-1 – Sure, the Golden Flashes don’t have any attention-grabbing wins over teams from high-major conferences, but Kent State has quietly defeated Robert Morris and Lehigh, a pair of NCAA Tournament teams from last season. And Kent State’s only defeat in the month of November was a three-point loss at still-undefeated Cleveland State. Keep an eye on Kent State’s continued performance in close games, as the Golden Flashes have recorded four of their six wins by five points or fewer. The week ahead, with road games at UAB and Florida, may put a dent in Kent State’s fine early record, but those games will go a long way in showing how good this team actually is.
  2. Akron (4) 3-2 – Another year, another quality start for the Zips. Akron’s two losses — at Dayton, vs. Cleveland State — were fairly competitive, and Wednesday’s eight-point win at Detroit was a better win than most realize. Four players are averaging double-figures for Akron, but the development of 7’0 sophomore center Zeke Marshall (14.8 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 3.3 BPG) gives the Zips a dangerous weapon come conference season.
  3. Ohio (3) 4-2 – Ohio has only lost one of its last four games, but what a loss it was. The Bobcats were defeated by 57 points (!) at a neutral site against Kansas. To expect the defending MAC Champs to beat the Jayhawks was unreasonable, but to at least be competitive for 40 minutes wasn’t. Ohio only made 14 field goals against Kansas; half of them were made by Cooper, the team’s only double-figure scorer through six games. This is still a good team, but Ohio needs more consistent scoring from some other players.
  4. Miami (Ohio) (5) 3-4 – The RedHawks’ continued gauntlet of a non-conference schedule paid off this Wednesday with a nice 11-point win at home over perennial A-10 power Xavier. But still looming this week is a trip to Dayton on Saturday. While Miami (Ohio) hasn’t shown much offensive explosion early on in the season, forwards Antonio Ballard and Nick Winbush are capable of notching double-doubles, as is junior Julian Mavunga, who leads the team in points, rebounds, assists, and blocks per game.
  5. Ball State (1) 3-3 – What might have been for Ball State at the Great Alaska Shootout. The Cardinals nearly upset St. John’s before falling by five in overtime, and then suffered a crushing 18-point loss against Alaska Anchorage. So what does that mean for this team? Well, the truth is that Ball State probably isn’t as good as it played against St. John’s, and it probably isn’t as bad as it played against Alaska Anchorage. And for now, that middle ground is still good enough to be the top team in the sorry West Division.
  6. Buffalo (9) 4-2 – Credit to the Bulls, who have been better to this point in the season than it was originally thought. Buffalo’s four wins — home versus Navy and Towson, road at Canisius and Army — aren’t exactly eye-opening, but it’s a nice set of wins over some decent mid-majors in what looked to be a rebuilding year. The Bulls do their best work on the defensive end, ranking in the top 40 nationally (courtesy of Ken Pomeroy) in effective field goal percentage and turnover percentage.
  7. Central Michigan (8) 2-4 – Only two wins so far for Central Michigan, which has two 16 PPG scorers, and two of the conference’s top six scorers, in freshman Trey Zeigler and senior Jalin Thomas, but seemingly little else offensively. A big problem for this team has been getting to the free throw line. Last time, I mentioned that Zeigler had eight attempts from the line in a single game against Hawaii, a number which is now exactly half of his total attempts from the line on the season.
  8. Western Michigan (7) 1-4 – In its first game of the season, Western Michigan blew a seven-point late second half lead in an eventual loss at Xavier; in its latest game, Western Michigan blew a fifteen-point late second half lead in an eventual loss at Towson. As it stands now, the Broncos have only one win — albeit against a tough early schedule — and uncertainty about an offense that’s still trying to replace guard David Kool and his 21.6 points per game last year.
  9. Northern Illinois (11) 2-3 – If there’s one thing to like about Northern Illinois, it’s the aforementioned Xavier Silas. When on, Silas has the potential to carry the Huskies offense for forty minutes. But when a 2-for-9, 9-point performance happens for Silas, as it did against Boise State at home earlier this week, that’s when Northern Illinois only scores 51 points in a 29-point home drubbing and in the process looks like a bottom level MAC team.
  10. Eastern Michigan (6) 1-3 – If you’re looking for a problem with Eastern Michigan through four games, look no further than offensive struggles, beginning with the Eagles’ best player, senior forward Brandon Bowdry. On the surface, Bowdry’s stats (18.5 PPG, 9.3 RPG) are no worse than last year’s (16.3 PPG, 10.0 RPG), but so far this season Bowdry’s field goal percentage is way down (from 48.8% to 39.7%), as is his free-throw percentage (63.6% to 48.3%).
  11. Bowling Green (10) 1-6 – Speaking of offensive troubles, the Bowling Green Falcons have had a tough time scoring, and therefore, a tough time winning. Bowling Green has not yet defeated a Division-I basketball program, and losses to teams like Howard, Niagara, and Albany can be pinned down to an offense that doesn’t have a go-to-scorer, shoots a combined 37.1% from the field, and turns the ball over 16 times per game.
  12. Toledo (12) 0-7 - The winless record doesn’t lie: Toledo is a terrible basketball team. In fact, not only is it the least talented team in the MAC, but it’s also one of the least talented teams in the country overall. But first-year coach Ted Kowalczyk has the Rockets fighting hard each game, see last week’s pair of single-digit road losses at Youngstown State and Illinois-Chicago. However, win number one is still a ways away.

A Look Ahead

Will any of the Mid-American Conference’s top teams take advantage of the December non-conference action to emerge from the pack as a legitimate favorite come conference play? The following games are opportunities for those teams to capture a signature non-conference win:

  • Dec. 4 – Miami (Ohio) at Dayton
  • Dec. 5 -Kent State at UAB
  • Dec. 8- Ohio at Illinois State
  • Dec. 9 -Kent State at Florida, ESPN2
  • Dec. 11- Ball State at DePaul
  • Dec. 12 -Akron at Temple
  • Dec. 15 -Akron at Minnesota

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