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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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 January 14th, 2011

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

A Look Back

Conference play has arrived in the Mid-American Conference, and once again, the MAC has proven to be one of the most competitive and balanced leagues in the country. Check out the following results from just the first few games of the conference season.

  • Western Michigan over Central Michigan, 64-56 (OT)
  • Miami (Ohio) over Ohio, 92-88 (3OT)
  • Bowling Green over Buffalo, 74-71 (2OT)
  • Akron over Kent State, 65-62
  • Miami (Ohio) over Buffalo, 70-67
  • Northern Illinois over Eastern Michigan, 71-69

Midway through the month of January, the MAC has already seen three overtime games, including a classic triple-overtime affair, and three other one-possession games. All told, ten of the league’s twelve teams have already participated in an overtime and/or one-possession game, a sure sign that the MAC should be wide open and competitive throughout the rest of the season.

Star Watch

  • Jarrod Jones of Ball State has continued his season-long run of impressive play during the Cardinals’ current four game win streak. Over the four victories, including two to begin MAC play, Jones made 31 of 53 field goals (58.5%) and averaged 20.3 points, 9.0 rebounds, and 1.3 steals per game. For the season, Jones is fifth in the conference with 16.5 PPG, and second with 8.9 rebounds, while also chipping in 1.2 steals per contest.
  • Elsewhere, Xavier Silas of Northern Illinois continues to lead the MAC in scoring at 23.9 PPG. Second-leading scorer Brandon Bowdry of Eastern Michigan (20.9 PPG) is also first in the MAC in rebounds per game (10.1), and third-leading scorer D.J. Cooper of Ohio (18.8 PPG) has a sizable lead in assists per game (8.1).

Power Rankings (last week’s ranking in parentheses)

1. Ball State (3)
10-4 (2-0), RPI: 86, SOS: 243

The early season loss to Alaska Anchorage seems like a distant memory, as Ball State has won four straight and seven of eight to cement its case as the best team in the Mid-American Conference to date. After a pair of blowout wins over North Carolina A&T and SIU-Edwardsville, the Cardinals opened conference play with a five-point win at Northern Illinois, and a nine-point home win over Western Michigan.

A Look Ahead: Jan. 15 vs. Central Michigan, Jan. 19 at Eastern Michigan, Jan. 22 at Toledo, Jan. 24 vs. Morehead State, Jan. 27 vs. Kent State

2. Kent State (1)
10-6 (1-1) RPI: 95, SOS: 74

A three-game losing streak (at Morehead State, vs. James Madison, and at Akron) was an unexpected setback for the Golden Flashes, but Kent State recovered in its most recent outing, knocking off Bowling Green by 17 points. Kent State will have a chance to regain the top spot in these rankings with a tough upcoming slate: at Ohio, at Buffalo, vs. Miami, at Ball State, four of the top teams in the MAC.

A Look Ahead: Jan. 15 at Ohio, Jan. 19 at Buffalo, Jan. 23 vs. Miami, Jan. 27 at Ball State

3. Miami (Ohio) (6)
7-9 (2-0), RPI: 87, SOS: 4

The time is now to see how well Miami’s grueling non-conference schedule will pay off, and so far, so good for the RedHawks. After finishing the non-conference season with double-digit defeats against Cincinnati, and at Belmont and at Kansas, Miami (Ohio) kicked off conference play with a 92-88 triple-overtime victory at defending champion Ohio, and a three-point home win over Buffalo. The front-line of Julian Mavunga, Nick Winbush, and Antonio Ballard doesn’t get a lot of publicity, but have been and will be the key to Miami’s success.

A Look Ahead: Jan. 16 at Bowling Green, Jan. 19 vs. Akron, Jan. 23 at Kent State, Jan. 27 at Central Michigan

4. Akron (4)
10-6 (1-1), RPI: 115, SOS: 115

The Zips seemingly turned the corner at the start of the new year, winning six out of seven, including a three-point conference-opening win over Kent State, but then dropped a home contest to Ohio by nine points. Akron becomes a very dangerous team when sophomore seven-footer Zeke Marshall is a factor in the offense. Marshall played his best game of the season against Kent State, putting up 20 points, grabbing 11 rebounds, and swatting 3 shots, but against Ohio, Marshall only attempted five field goals.

A Look Ahead: Jan. 16 at Buffalo, Jan. 19 at Miami, Jan. 22 vs. Bowling Green, Jan. 26 at Northern Illinois

5. Ohio (5)
8-8 (1-1), RPI: 189, SOS: 124

Not too many teams can claim to lose a four-overtime game and a three-overtime game in the same season, but over the past month, Ohio has done just that. In fact, three of the Bobcats’ last four losses have been in overtime, beginning with the 4 OT defeat at St. Bonaventure, continuing with a single-OT home loss against Robert Morris, and ending with a 3 OT home loss against Miami. In more encouraging news for Ohio, freshman Nick Kellogg lead the Bobcats with 23 points in the pivotal road win at Akron.

A Look Ahead: Jan. 15 vs. Kent State, Jan. 19 at Bowling Green, Jan. 22 vs. Buffalo, Jan. 26 vs. Eastern Michigan

6. Western Michigan (7)
8-7 (1-1), RPI: 172, SOS: 179

After relying offensively on one guy (David Kool) last season, Western Michigan has countered this season with a much more balanced attack, with only two players (Flenard Whitfield and Demetrius Ward) averaging double-figures for the year. So far, it’s working, with the Broncos having won three of four, including a overtime win over Central Michigan to kick off MAC play. Even with a loss at Ball State, Western Michigan has a chance to keep its hot streak going with games against Eastern Michigan and Toledo coming up.

A Look Ahead: Jan. 16 vs. Eastern Michigan, Jan. 19 at Toledo, Jan. 22 vs. Northern Illinois, Jan. 25 vs. Buffalo

7. Buffalo (2)
8-6 (0-2), RPI: 185, SOS: 285

Even with an inexperienced squad, Buffalo rode a manageable non-conference schedule to an impressive start to the season, but the Bulls have come back to earth a bit in the first two conference games, losing by three in double-overtime against Bowling Green, and by three at Miami (Ohio). In the two losses, however, freshman Javon McCrea has been outstanding, scoring 18 points, grabbing 9 boards, and blocking 3 shots against Bowling Green, and following that up with 26 points, 9 rebounds, and 2 blocks against Miami.

A Look Ahead: Jan. 16 vs. Akron, Jan. 19 vs. Kent State, Jan. 22 at Ohio, Jan. 25 at Western Michigan

8. Bowling Green (11)
6-10 (1-1), RPI: 273, SOS: 283

A tremendously disappointing non-conference season for Bowling Green ended on a positive note, with the Falcons finishing with three straight wins over Manhattan, Texas San Antonio, and at St. Louis. Bowling Green carried that momentum into conference play with a double-OT win at Buffalo, before getting beat by 17 points at Kent State. The Falcons still struggle on the offensive end, but sophomore forward A’uston Calhoun has come on of late, averaging 19 PPG and 8.3 RPG over the last three contests.

A Look Ahead: Jan. 16 vs. Miami, Jan. 19 vs. Ohio, Jan. 22 at Akron, Jan. 25 at Toledo

9. Northern Illinois (8)
5-9 (1-1), RPI: 241, SOS: 185

Northern Illinois opened the MAC season with one of its most balanced offensive efforts of the season, featuring four double-digit scorers in what ended up as a five point home loss against Ball State. Three nights later at Eastern Michigan, the Huskies were back to being a one-man show, with Xavier Silas scoring a game-high 31 points, but also committing 7 turnovers, in the two-point win. The lack of a second offensive threat has been well-discussed, but the lack of an interior presence could be what holds the Huskies back over the next several weeks.

A Look Ahead: Jan. 15 vs. Toledo, Jan. 20 at Central Michigan, Jan. 22 at Western Michigan, Jan. 26 vs. Akron

10. Central Michigan (9)
4-11 (1-1), RPI: 291, SOS: 224

Central Michigan got a much-needed win earlier this week over Toledo. The win was the Chippewas’ first over a Division 1 opponent since the day before Thanksgiving. Freshman Trey Zeigler had a big-time performance in the victory, scoring 30 points and hitting five three-pointers to bring Central Michigan its first conference win of the season, after falling in its opener at Western Michigan in overtime.

A Look Ahead: Jan. 15 at Ball State, Jan. 20 vs. Northern Illinois, Jan. 23 at Eastern Michigan, Jan. 27 vs. Miami (Ohio)

11. Eastern Michigan (12)
4-11 (1-1), RPI: 329, SOS: 261

It took until January 8th and the first game of conference play, but Eastern Michigan finally got its first win over a Division 1 opponent in a 23-point blowout win at Toledo. Senior Brandon Bowdry continues to be a double-double machine, posting 19 points and 13 rebounds in the win, and sophomore Derek Thompson emerged with a 31 point performance in a two-point loss against Northern Illinois.

A Look Ahead: Jan. 16 at Western Michigan, Jan. 19 vs. Ball State, Jan. 23 vs. Central Michigan, Jan. 26 at Ohio

12. Toledo (10)
3-13 (0-2), RPI: 321, SOS: 204

A three-game win streak in the month of December briefly catapulted Toledo out of the power rankings basement, but four consecutive losses, including blowout losses vs. Eastern Michigan and at Central Michigan, two of the league’s worst teams, have brought the Rockets back to the bottom of the MAC. Three of Toledo’s next four games are at home, but the offense (50 PPG in first two MAC games) needs to pick it up to have a chance to be competitive.

A Look Ahead: Jan. 15 at Northern Illinois, Jan. 19 vs. Western Michigan, Jan. 22 vs. Ball State, Jan. 25 vs. Bowling Green

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Checking in on… the MAC

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 18th, 2010

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

A Look Back

Is the Mid-American Conference in the midst of a down year? Early returns to this point in the non-conference season indicate that yes, this league is down. Kent State has been the one team to look like a viable NCAA Tournament squad so far, and while contenders such as Ball State and Miami (Ohio) have shown flashes of quality play, the conference’s bottom-dwellers (see the Power Rankings below) have been a major disappointment and are dragging down the MAC’s overall profile.

For further evidence of the MAC’s struggles early on in the 2010-11 season, check out where the conference has landed in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings and Conference RPI over the past five seasons:

2006-07: 13th (Pomeroy) / 14th (Conference RPI)
2007-08: 12th / 12th
2008-09: 18th / 21st
2009-10: 16th / 16th
2010-11: 19th / 19th (to date)

For context, in the 2008-09 season, only two MAC teams ended up with 20-win seasons, led by Akron’s 23-13 (10-6) mark which landed the Zips into the NCAA Tournament as a one-and-done No. 13 seed.

Star Watch (All advanced metric stats courtesy of Ken Pomeroy)

A quick glance at the national stats leaderboard reveals that Northern Illinois‘s senior guard Xavier Silas is currently leading the nation in scoring at 28.3 points per game. Silas has been brilliant all season, but his performance in a two-point win over Illinois-Chicago was particularly memorable. Coming off his third 34-point game of the season in what was a two-point loss at DePaul, Silas converted 22 of 24 free throw attempts en route to a 40-point outburst. What is perhaps most impressive about Silas is that he isn’t your typical high-volume scorer who accumulates points by taking a ton of shots. Silas is shooting 56.3% from the field, and ranks 21st nationally in effective field goal percentage, and 8th nationally in true shooting percentage.

I’ve briefly mentioned the solid contributions of Ball State’s junior forward Jarrod Jones in these parts before, who has quietly become of the MAC’s top forwards. So far this season, Jones has recorded five double-doubles and has improved his scoring and rebounding per game averages from 12.2 to 14.6 and 7.4 to 9.4, respectively. Jones does his best work on the defensive glass, where he is 9th in the nation in defensive rebounding rate.

Power Rankings (Last week’s ranking in parentheses)

1Kent State (1) 8-3 - So what, if anything, did we learn about Kent State in its two recent losses at UAB and at Florida? Mostly that the Golden Flashes are not quite ready to compete with that level of competition on the road. The most important thing to happen to Kent State over the past week, however, was the five-point win over South Florida that followed those two losses. South Florida was a beatable foe despite being a Big East squad, but that win served as Kent State’s biggest win to date.

A Look Ahead: Dec. 21 vs. Youngstown State, Dec. 28 at Morehead State, Dec. 31 vs. James Madison

2. Ball State (5) 5-3 2-0 –
The quality of Ball State’s five overall wins don’t reveal much about the strength of this team. Two of the five wins have come over Eastern Illinois (once at home and once on the road), and there are also victories over Indiana State, Southern Utah, and DePaul, which is arguably the worst BCS conference team in the country. The upcoming schedule should provide more of the same, with a date at Valparaiso on December 28 the Cardinals’ best chance to pick up a decent win before conference play commences.

A Look Ahead: Dec. 21 vs. Mount St. Joseph (non D-I), Dec. 28 at Valparaiso, Dec. 31 vs. North Carolina A&T

3. Buffalo (6) 6-3 –
The Bulls’ nice start to the season continued with a pair of double-digit home victories over Niagara and Wisconsin-Green Bay. The nightly double-digit scoring and all-around efforts of the guard duo of Byron Mulkey and Zach Filzen has been the key to Buffalo’s success, but the Bulls are at their best when they get balanced scoring and contributions from guys like forward Jawaan Alston (16 points against Niagara) and forward Javon McCrea (13 points, 12 rebounds, and 5 blocks against Green Bay).

A Look Ahead: Dec. 30 vs. BYU

4. Miami (Ohio) (4) 5-5 –
In its latest non-conference test, Miami (Ohio) briefly had a second-half lead at Dayton, but couldn’t overcome 20 turnovers and poor three-point shooting night in what was an eventual double-digit defeat. After a gimme win over Saginaw Valley St., the RedHawks overcame a nine-point deficit in the final five minutes at home against Troy, and finished the game on a 18-2 run to pick up the seven-point win. The road doesn’t get any easier for Miami (Ohio), with a couple of tough games looming, including a home contest against still-undefeated Cincinnati on December 21.

A Look Ahead: Dec. 18 at Wright State, Dec. 21 vs. Cincinnati, Dec. 30 at Belmont

5. Ohio (3) 6-4 –
The up-and-down mystery that is the 2010-11 Ohio basketball team continues, as the Bobcats lost home contests to Marshall and IUPUI, won at Illinois State, and defeated St. Francis (PA) in what was probably the team’s most complete and balanced performance of the season. After D.J. Coooper’s 1-9, four-point performance in the loss at IUPUI, six Bobcats scored in double-figures in the 29-point blowout of St. Francis (PA). That type of balance had previously been non-existent for the defending MAC champions.

A Look Ahead: Dec. 18 at St. Bonaventure, Dec. 22 vs. Temple, Dec. 30 vs. Norfolk St.

6. Akron (2) 4-4 –
The Zips wrapped up a difficult four game road trip with a pair of losses against Temple and Minnesota. Akron was never a factor in the loss to Temple, falling behind by as much as 40 points, and hitting on fewer than 30% of its field goals. Against nationally ranked Minnesota, Akron put forth a much better effort, leading the Golden Gophers by five at halftime before eventually losing by eight. A big problem thus far for Akron has been a lack of rebounding; the Zips currently rank 336th out of 345 teams in offensive rebounding percentage.

A Look Ahead: Dec. 18 vs. Bethune Cookman, Dec. 21 vs. Arkansas Little Rock (neutral), Dec. 22 vs. Stetson (neutral), Dec. 23 at Miami, Dec. 29 vs. Arkansas Pine Bluff

7. Western Michigan (8) 4-4
- Credit to the Broncos, who have a three-game win streak going, albeit against the likes of non D-I school Alma, followed by a pair of two-point wins over Detroit and Georgia State. One thing we know about this Western Michigan team is that no one player does it all, with all five starters averaging between 12.1 and 8.1 points per game, and 5.1 to 4.1 rebounds per game.

A Look Ahead: Dec. 18 vs. South Dakota St., Dec. 21 vs. Troy (neutral), Dec. 22 at Utah State, Dec. 23 at Idaho St., Dec. 31 vs. Eastern Illinois

8. Northern Illinois (9) 3-4 –
The offensive exploits of Xavier Silas, as mentioned above, have done a nice job in covering up many of the Huskies’ other flaws, namely a lack of any other scoring punch and one of the nation’s worst defenses. No other player averages over eight points per game, and in the two-point win over Illinois-Chicago, Silas scored 40 of Northern Illinois’s 80 points, while no one else had more than eight. Defensively, Northern Illinois is in the bottom ten nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, and in the bottom third nationally in the defensive “Four Factors” stats.

A Look Ahead: Dec. 18 at Temple, Dec. 22 at Southern Illinois, Dec. 27 at Missouri, Dec. 31 vs. Utah Valley

9. Central Michigan (7) 2-7 –
Through the first quarter of the season, there may not be a more inconsistent team in the MAC than Ohio, but up to this point, the most disappointing team in this conference has been Central Michigan. Expectations were high coming into this season for the back-to-back West Division champs, but the Chippewas surprisingly haven’t been a particularly good offensive club, and have also struggled in close games, with six of their seven losses by three possessions or less.

A Look Ahead: Dec. 18 vs. Detroit, Dec. 20 vs. South Dakota St., Dec. 22 vs. Cornerstone (non D-I), Dec. 30 at UNLV

10. Bowling Green (11) 2-8 –
If you’re looking for an explanation for Bowling Green’s recent seven-game losing streak that was just snapped with a home victory over Florida International, it’s simple: the Falcons don’t score efficiently, and more to the point, they are a dreadful shooting team. As a team, the Falcons shoot 36.6% from the field, one of the worst percentages in the country, and even with playing at an average to above-average pace, Bowling Green has not scored more than 62 points in any of its eight losses this season.

A Look Ahead: Dec. 18 at Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Dec. 22 vs. Manhattan, Dec. 30 vs. Texas San Antonio

11. Toledo (12) 1-9 –
Congratulations to Toledo for picking up its first win of the season in a three-point overtime victory over Valparaiso, and for finally escaping the Power Rankings basement (for now). Even with the single victory, Toledo is still one of the nation’s worst teams by nearly every advanced statistical metric, but first-year coach Ted Kowalczyk has the second-most inexperienced team in the country (ahead of only Nevada) fighting hard every game, which should lead to a few more victories.

A Look Ahead: Dec. 18 vs. Florida Gulf Coast, Dec. 21 vs. Indiana Northwest (non D-I), Dec. 30 at UNC Wilmington

12. Eastern Michigan (10) 1-8 –
Eastern Michigan settles into the bottom of these rankings with Toledo’s victory, and by virtue of being the only Mid-American Conference team without a win over a Division-I opponent. The Eagles have been unfortunate in close games thus far, with five of their last six losses having been by six points or less, including an overtime loss to Detroit in their last game. But much like Northern Illinois with Xavier Silas, Eastern Michigan is single-handedly relying on Brandon Bowdry, who averages more than 13 points and five rebounds per game more than any other Eagle.

A Look Ahead: Dec. 20 vs. Valparaiso (neutral), Dec. 31 at Samford

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Checking In On… the MAC

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 19th, 2010

Alex Varone is the RTC correspondent for the MAC and the CAA.

A Look Back

The 2010-11 college basketball season is barely underway, and already the MAC is down to just one unbeaten (Ball State). On the whole, it’s been a fairly disappointing start for the league, as the conference’s twelve teams have a combined 12-15 record, with three of those wins coming over non-D1 opponents. Furthermore, in games against teams from the “Power 6″ conferences, MAC teams are 0-5, with none of the five games decided by fewer than 19 points.

Player of the Week

A tough call with so few games played and so many deserving candidates thus far, including Ohio guard D.J. Cooper (21.5 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 7.5 RPG, 5.0 SPG), Eastern Michigan forward Brandon Bowdry (32 points, 15 rebounds at Michigan State), and any one of Ball State’s trio of guard Jauwan Scaife (21.5 PPG), guard Randy Davis (14 PPG, 8.5 APG), or forward Jarrod Jones (13.5 PPG, 10.5 RPG). But the honor this week goes to Kent State forward Justin Greene (18.8 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 1.8 BPG). Through Kent State’s first four games, Greene is leading the Golden Flashes in points, rebounds, blocks, and is hitting on 60% of his field goal attempts.

In Kent State’s season-opening win over Iona, Greene scored 26 points, hauled in 14 rebounds, and blocked three shots. In the game’s final minute, with the score tied at 72, Greene blocked a shot, grabbed a defensive rebound, and hit the game-winning free throw with only one second left.

Power Rankings (pre-season power rankings in parentheses, overall record in brackets)

  1. Ball State (4) [2-0] – The Cardinals top the debut of the in-season rankings mostly on the virtue of being the MAC’s lone unbeaten. Ball State hasn’t faced the stiffest competition in earning that unbeaten record, but easily handled Eastern Illinois and Indiana State at home, and the aforementioned trio of Scaife, Davis and Jones could be as talented as any group within the MAC.
  2. Kent State (3) [3-1] – A three-point loss at Cleveland State is the difference between the Golden Flashes and the number one spot in the rankings. In addition to the season-opening win over Iona, Kent State cruised to a 41-point win over Bryant, and held serve at home against two-time defending NEC champion Robert Morris.
  3. Ohio (1) [1-1] – The defending MAC Champs handled a young Delaware team in the season opener, but were then humbled in a twelve-point home loss against Oakland. It’s hard to criticize Cooper, a guy who nearly posted a quadruple-double against Oakland (18 points, 7 rebounds, 8 assists, 7 steals), but the sophomore turned the ball over seven times, which is far too many for Ohio to be successful.
  4. Akron (2) [1-1] – A 48-point win over Millikin and an eight-point loss at Dayton hasn’t revealed much about the Zips that we didn’t already know. Akron is a balanced offensive team that will feature a lot of different scorers and will win games in a variety of ways.
  5. Miami (Ohio) (6) [1-1] – After a three-point victory over Towson, Miami (Ohio) began its gauntlet of a non-conference schedule with a blowout loss at Duke. Nothing unexpected there, but the RedHawks only made 18 field goals against the Blue Devils, while committing 15 turnovers, which is never a good sign, no matter the opponent.
  6. Eastern Michigan (7) [1-1] – The Eagles were the first, but certainly won’t be the last team to get blown out at Michigan State this season. Bowdry had a great game against the Spartans, but only followed it up with seven points in what was a team-wide lackluster nine-point win against Madonna University.
  7. Western Michigan (10) [0-1] – Many people expected Western Michigan to lose at Xavier, but not many people expected the difference on the scoreboard to be only three points. The Broncos were very impressive in defeat, leading the Musketeers–one of the Atlantic 10 favorites–by as many as eleven in the second half.
  8. Central Michigan (5) [1-2] – The early record isn’t exactly what Chippewas fans had in mind with the arrival of Trey Zeigler, but all three contests were close (two decided by three points, and a seven-point OT loss). As for Zeigler, the freshman has already scored 20 points twice, and impressively got to the free-throw line eight times in Central Michigan’s last game.
  9. Buffalo (11) [1-1] – Perhaps Navy is far worse than most thought, but Buffalo’s 42-point thrashing of the Midshipmen was impressive nonetheless. Unfortunately, the Bulls followed it up with an 11-point defeat at Youngstown State, which probably goes to show that this could be an up-and-down year for the young Bulls.
  10. Bowling Green (8) [1-2] – The Falcons’ lone victory is over a non-Division I opponent, Ohio Dominican, which was sandwiched in between a pair of disappointing performances: a two-point loss at Howard, and a 19-point defeat at Michigan. Bowling Green has issues on offense, which will be tough to overcome in the competitive East Division.
  11. Northern Illinois (9) [0-2] – Northern Illinois was soundly defeated at home against Northwestern, but the Huskies bounced back and showed some grit in a three-point loss at Bradley. A bright spot for the Huskies has been guard Xavier Silas, who is the early leading scorer in the MAC at 23.5 points per game.
  12. Toledo (12) [0-2] – To be fair, Toledo’s first two games (at Illinois, at Temple) were the most difficult of any of the MAC’s twelve teams. But the Rockets were never a factor in either contest, and with this team’s poor collection of talent, Toledo has a stranglehold on the bottom spot in these rankings.

A Look Ahead

The non-conference portion of the season is just heating up. Here are five key games to watch for over the next week and a half.

  • Nov. 20 – Ball State at Butler
  • Nov. 25 – Ball State vs. St. John’s in Alaska
  • Nov. 26 – Ohio vs. Kansas in Las Vegas
  • Nov. 26 – Miami (Ohio) at Ohio State
  • Dec. 1 – Xavier at Miami (Ohio)

These five games are prime opportunities for the Mid-American Conference to move past its early-season struggles and land a marquee win over a “Power 6″ or nationally-ranked team.

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RTC Conference Primers: #19 – Mid-American Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 17th, 2010

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


Predicted Order of Finish

East Division

  1. Ohio (13-3)
  2. Akron (11-5)
  3. Kent State (11-5)
  4. Miami (Ohio) (9-7)
  5. Bowling Green (7-9)
  6. Buffalo (5-11)

West Division

  1. Ball State (10-6)
  2. Central Michigan (10-6)
  3. Eastern Michigan (8-8)
  4. Northern Illinois (6-10)
  5. Western Michigan (5-11)
  6. Toledo (1-15)

All-Conference Team (key stats from last season in parentheses)

  • D.J. Cooper (G) – Ohio (13.5 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 5.9 APG, 2.5 SPG)
  • Justin Greene (F) – Kent State (13.6 PPG, 6.9 RPG)
  • Brandon Bowdry (F) – Eastern Michigan (16.3 PPG, 10.0 RPG)
  • Brett McKnight (F) – Akron (10.0 PPG, 4.5 RPG)
  • Jarrod Jones (C) – Ball State (12.2 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 1.1 BPG)

Sixth Man

Scott Thomas (F) – Bowling Green – (13.2 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 2.8 APG, 1.6 SPG in 2009-10)

Impact Newcomer

Trey Zeigler, Central Michigan

Reggie Keely, DeVaughn Washington and the Ohio Bobcats famously sent Georgetown packing last March (AP/Elise Amendola)

What You Need to Know

  • Once again, the MAC’s East division was much stronger than the West last season. Four teams from the East finished with a record above .500 (defending champion Ohio was 5th at 7-9), compared to only one team above .500 in the West. In fact, the West Division has not sent team to the NCAA Tournament since 2004.
  • In the much-maligned West division, keep an eye on Ball State and Eastern Michigan. Ball State has a star player in Jarrod Jones to lead a core that returns four of its top five scorers. The Cardinals went just 8-8 in conference play last season, but were a competitive team, playing in five overtime games. Eastern Michigan was the most improved team in the MAC last year, posting a nine-win improvement, and the Eagles feature one of the most talented players in the conference in Brandon Bowdry. Both Ball State and Eastern Michigan are capable of unseating back-to-back West Champion Central Michigan.
  • Keep an eye on how Miami (Ohio) handles a difficult non-conference schedule. Last year, the RedHawks faced Kentucky, New Mexico, Dayton, Temple and Xavier, and despite losing each of those games, Miami (Ohio) rebounded in conference play to the tune of an 8-3 start. This year, games at Duke, home vs. San Diego State, at Ohio State, vs. Xavier, at Dayton, and at Kansas will provide plenty of challenges before the conference season starts.

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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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Checking In On… the MAC

Posted by jstevrtc on November 22nd, 2009

checkinginon

David Sanchirico is the RTC correspondent for the MAC.

Current Standings

East Division

Team Record

  1. Ohio   3-0
  2. Kent State   3-0
  3. Bowling Green   1-1
  4. Buffalo   1-1
  5. Akron   0-1
  6. Miami (Ohio)   0-2

West Division

Team Record

  1. Ball State   1-0
  2. Eastern Michigan   1-0
  3. Central Michigan   2-1
  4. Western Michigan   1-1
  5. Northern Illinois   0-2
  6. Toledo   0-2

The MAC continues to struggle during out-of-conference play as potential upsets slipped out of teams’ hands, others succumbed in blowouts, and teams that were expected to win, didn’t.

But there were also some good showings from a few surprise teams, including a club from Oxford, Ohio that almost pulled off the biggest upset in recent memory.  The first week of basketball really set the stage for what should be an intense and competitive season in the MAC.

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2009-10 Conference Primers: #19 – MAC

Posted by nvr1983 on October 18th, 2009

seasonpreview

Rush the Court currently does not have a correspondent from the MAC so if you would like to represent the conference and educate the rest of us, please e-mail us at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

Predicted Order of Finish:

East

  1. Akron (12-4)
  2. Buffalo (11-5)
  3. Kent State (10-6)
  4. Bowling Green (9-7)
  5. Miami (OH) (8-8)
  6. Ohio (7-9)

West

  1. Ball State (8-8)
  2. Northern Illinois (7-9)
  3. Eastern Michigan (7-9)
  4. Central Michigan (6-10)
  5. Toledo (6-10)
  6. Western Michigan (5-11)

All-Conference Team:

  • David Kool (G), Sr, Western Michigan
  • Darion Anderson (G), Jr, Northern Illinois
  • Jarrod Jones (F), So, Ball State
  • Brandon Bowdry (F), Jr, Eastern Michigan
  • Zeke Marshall (C), Fr, Akron

6th Man. Brett McKnight (F), Jr, Akron

Impact Newcomer. Zeke Marshall (C), Fr, Akron

mac logo

What You Need to Know. To begin with this is the MAC not the MAAC. Sienadoesn’t play in this conference so if you came here expecting to see a preview for them you are in the wrong place (at least for a few days). This conference, the MAC, is ridiculously unbalanced. While none of the the teams in the MAC would be considered contenders for a national title there are four good teams in the East that might actually pique some interest when they played a decent BCS school as an “Upset Alert.” There isn’t a single team in the West you could say that about even if they were playing a cellar-dweller in any of the BCS conferences. In fact, last year the last-place team in the East (Ohio) would have been tied for first in the West. The winner of the automatic bid will almost definitely come from the East with Akron and Buffalo being the top contenders. The edge may go to the Zips who lose less of their championship team from last year (only Nate Linhart) and add a 7’0″ center in the middle with Zeke Marshall while the Bulls will not have Greg Gamble and Andy Robinson this year.

Predicted Champion.  Akron Zips (NCAA Seed: #13). Coming off a 20-win season and the MAC title/NCAA bid the Zips are loaded by MAC standards. The only significant player they lose is Linhart (the MAC tournament MVP), but the Zips should have more than enough to stay up at the top of the MAC with the McKnight brothers (Chris and Brett) leading the way. Even though Brett came off the bench last year, he still led the team in scoring and figures to do so again although I’m not sure if he will stay on the bench with Linhart’s departure. With the McKnights and Marshall controlling the inside, Daryl Roberts and his 39.6% from beyond the arc should get his fair share of quality looks. With so much returning talent, the key for the Zips will be how quickly Marshall adapts to the college game. Marshall, who FoxSports.com rated as the #13 impact freshman this upcoming season, could give the Zips something the MAC hasn’t seen in a long-time–a legitimate seven-foot center. His presence, even if tips the scales at a relatively svelte 218 lbs, could be just the boost that the Zips need to repeat in the MAC and scare some big-name school in the 1st round.

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RTC 2009-10 Impact Players: Lower Midwest Region

Posted by zhayes9 on October 13th, 2009

impactplayers

Ed. Note: the previous posts in this series (Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Atlantic South, Deep South and Mid-South) are located here.

It’s time for the sixth installment of our RTC 2009-10 Impact Players series, the group of rust belt and farming states that we like to call the Lower Midwest.   Each week we’ll pick a geographic area of the country and break down the five players who we feel will have the most impact on their teams (and by the transitive property, college basketball) this season.  Our criteria is once again subjective – there are so many good players in every region of the country that it’s difficult to narrow them down to only five  in each – but we feel at the end of this exercise that we’ll have discussed nearly every player of major impact in the nation.  Just to be fair and to make this not too high-major-centric, we’re also going to pick a mid-major impact player in each region as our sixth man.  We welcome you guys, our faithful and very knowledgeable readers, to critique us in the comments where we left players off.  The only request is that you provide an argument – why will your choice be more influential this season than those we chose?

Lower Midwest Region (OH, IN, IL, IA, NE, KS)

lower_midwest

Ed. Note: for the purposes of our analysis in this region, Butler was considered a high-major program.

  • Cole Aldrich – Jr, C – Kansas. Much like North Carolina one October ago, Kansas appears to be the unanimous selection to begin the season atop every poll and ranking. One of the main reasons for such accolades is the continued improvement of Cole Aldrich, the Kansas double-double machine in the post. Remember the national semifinals against UNC in 2008 when Aldrich burst onto the scene recording eight points, seven rebounds and four blocks in a then career-high 17 minutes? That was the night college hoops fans first saw what Aldrich can provide for Bill Self and his Jayhawks. In a full season of play, Aldrich and guard Sherron Collins were the anchors behind Kansas’ surprising run to a #3 seed and a Sweet 16 berth in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year. Cole Aldrich and a pretty good player named Blake Griffin were the only players in the Big 12 to average a double-double in 2008-09. Speaking of stats, Aldrich’s triple-double in the second round against Dayton – 13/20/10 blks- was the first recorded triple double in KU’s illustrious basketball history. Aldrich led the conference in blocks with at 2.7 BPG, finished second in rebounding at 12.4 RPG, second in FG% at 60% and tenth in FT% at an impressive 79% for a 6’11 center.  Aldrich possesses great length, a high motor and displays the fundamentals under the basket that Self loves. The insane talent around Aldrich this season will only put less of a load on his shoulders as the big man can rely on Collins for the clutch outside shot, Xavier Henry on the wings, Thomas Robinson on the block or Tyrel Reed to knock down the long-range three. But the pressure will be on Aldrich to provide a post presence that simply cannot be matched in the Big 12 (sorry Dexter Pittman).  If he achieves his potential, a national POY award isn’t out of the realm of possibility for Kansas’ prized junior center.
  • Craig Brackins – Jr, F – Iowa St. Craig Brackins won’t get half the airtime this season as any of the other high-major names on this list, but he could end up becoming the best player of the group when it’s all said and done.  It’s not as if Brackins came out of nowhere – he was a five-star recruit out of Brewster (NH) Academy in 2007, and he turned down offers from Indiana and Pitt, among others – but, when you play in the Big 12 and your team is generally an afterthought (4-12 in 2008-09), it’s tough to get noticed.  But noticed he got on Jan. 24th in a nationally-televised home game against the defending champion Kansas Jayhawks.  Brackins sliced and diced the vaunted Jayhawk defense for 42/14 in a losing effort that had Bill Self afterwards stating that the lanky center could be the “best player in the country today.”  That single game may have put the Iowa State star on the casual fan’s radar screen, but it’s not like Brackins wasn’t tearing it up against everyone else too:  32/16 against N. Iowa; 28/17 against Jacksonville St.; 38/14 against Houston; 25/13 against Nebraska.  The all-Big 12 first teamer nearly averaged a double-double for the season (20.2 PPG and 9.5 RPG) despite seeing hard and fast double-teams every time he touched the ball.  It was widely presumed that Brackins would jump into the NBA Draft last summer after such a spectacular season; after all, projections for him of the lottery and mid-first round were prevalent.  However, Brackins said that he had some unfinished business to attend to at ISU (meaning, getting the Cyclones to an NCAA Tournament), and he returned to what should be an improved squad with 6’7 juco transfer Marquis Gilstrap’s arrival on the blocks and a solid returning backcourt of Diante Garrett and Lucca Staiger.  The only true weakness he has exhibited so far in his career is his 28% from beyond the arc, but with more firepower on the team this year he may be less inclined to feel like he has to do it all (Brackins attempted 37% of ISU’s shots last year).  Regardless of how the team’s season plays out in 2009-10, there should be no doubt that Brackins is on the short list of best post men in America.  With another year of seasoning under his belt at the collegiate level, however, we could be looking at a top five pick next June.  Don’t flip the channel so quickly if you see that Iowa St. is playing on the tube this year – it may be one of your few chances to see one of the best big men in the country.
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