The RTC Other 26 Superlatives

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 14th, 2014

From the quiet of November to the clamor of March, several O26 performers and performances stood out from the pack in the regular season. Let’s pass out some awards to the most deserving among them.

O26 Team of the Year

Wichita State's run to perfection was historic. (Peter Aiken)

Wichita State’s run to perfection was historic. (Peter Aiken/USA TODAY Sports)

Wichita State (31-0, 18-0). When the Shockers rolled through their non-conference schedule and entered league play 13-0, people began to talk. Could this team be better than the Final Four squad from a year ago? Then, as they hammered their Missouri Valley challengers game after game, week after week, month after month, an even more profound question began to emerge: Does this team have a legitimate chance to go undefeated? National media attention descended on Wichita, the pressure mounted (or was supposed to) and every time Gregg Marshall’s group took the floor, something historic – but still unlikely – was on the line. Yet it was only when they completed the impossible, finished 31-0 and promptly dominated Arch Madness that an even weightier thought took hold. Will Wichita State go down as one of the best teams of all-time? The mere asking of the question is indication alone that these Shockers are truly special. Only team to win 30-plus games in the regular season without suffering a loss. Most ever wins entering the NCAA Tournament. First team since UNLV in 1990-1991 to enter the Dance undefeated. Regardless of whether or not they wind up in North Texas in a few weeks, those records are enduring, this team’s legacy will be enduring.

Honorable Mentions: San Diego State (27-3, 17-2), Saint Louis (26-5, 13-3), Stephen F. Austin (29-2, 18-0), VCU (24-7, 12-4), Green Bay (24-5, 14-2)
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Conference Tournament Primer: Mid-American Conference

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 10th, 2014

Championship Fortnight continues with yet two more conference tourneys tipping off today, so what better way to get you through the next week of games than to break down each of the Other 26′s postseason events. Today, the MAC and the MEAC get started.

Dates: March 10, 12-15
Site: First Round: Campus sites; Second Round, Quarters, Semis and Championship: Quicken Loans Arena (Cleveland, OH)

MACBracket

What to expect: The MAC’s power pendulum has swung numerous times this season, so it’s difficult to tell which contender has the best shot in Cleveland. Buffalo came on strong in the second half of the year and might boast the league’s most dominant player in Javon McCrea, a double-double machine who recently set the school’s all-time scoring record, while Western Michigan enters the event having won 10 of its last 11 games. Toledo, meanwhile, set a school record with 26 overall wins and will get a triple-bye (yes, a triple-bye) all the way to the semifinals, along with the Broncos. More likely than not, one of those three clubs will emerge as champion. Still, don’t be surprised if one of the conference’s other up-and-down challengers – like recent NCAA Tournament representatives Ohio and Akron – put together a run and leave with a trophy.

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O26 Weekly Awards: Hawaii, Javon McCrea, Leon Rice & Loyola Marymount

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 1st, 2014

Aside from some Diamond Head Classic fun and a solid slate on Saturday, the past week in college basketball was probably the lightest we will see all season, thank goodness — there were two entire days (before and after Christmas Day) that featured zero games. Luckily, the sheer quantity of contests will pick up dramatically as conference play starts up across the country this week. Despite the lack of hoops action, though, there were still several impressive performances and exciting finishes that caught our attention during the holiday week, so let’s ring in the New Year by passing out a few awards to some worthy O26 recipients.

Hawaii had a fine week at the Diamond Head Classic. (AP Photo/Eugene Tanner)

Hawaii had a fine week at the Diamond Head Classic. (AP Photo/Eugene Tanner)

O26 Team of the Week

Hawaii. Maybe because it’s the only thing on at that time, but the Diamond Head Classic has become something of a beloved Christmastime tradition for college basketball fans in recent years. Last season’s tournament featured an awesome, tournament-winning blocked-shot by Arizona, and the two years prior included top-15 upsets against unranked opponents. It’s a fun event. This year, the Classic’s host — a Hawaii team already outperforming expectations in non-conference play — made the most of its home-court advantage, nearly beating eventual runner-up Boise State and then winning back-to-back hard-fought games over quality opponents.

Last Sunday, the Warriors were a Garrett Nevels three-pointer away from knocking off the Broncos, ultimately falling 62-61 to a team that will likely compete for a spot in the NCAA Tournament come March. It was a close-but-no-cigar kind of defeat. So how did Hawaii respond to the disappointment? By coming out the next night and winning an equally close game against Saint Mary’s, another squad with legitimate postseason potential. In a back-and-forth contest throughout, senior forward Christian Standhardinger was the eventual hero, answering a game-tying basket by the Gaels’ Beau Levesque with a baseline jumper of his own to give the Warriors a thrilling 76-74 victory. Then, on Christmas Day, Gib Arnold’s team did what it does best on the defensive end, forcing 17 turnovers and beating Oregon State in decisive fashion — the six-point margin does not indicate how much better Hawaii was — to win the consolation title. The victory was the Warriors’ first over a Pac-12 opponent in seven years and moved their record to 9-3. After handling Norfolk State on Monday night, Hawaii reached double-figure wins before January for the first time since 2001-02… the last season it reached the NCAA Tournament. A program appears on the rise in Honolulu.

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The Other 26: Five Intriguing Championship Week Storylines

Posted by IRenko on March 9th, 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.

With regular season action having wound down, we’ll dispense with our standard format this week in favor of a streamlined focus on five key Championship Week storylines, along with, as always, our updated top 10 rankings.  I joined the RTC Podblast crew on Wednesday for a full-fledged preview of TO26 conference tournament action, talking about the most exciting tournaments, the most anticipated matchups, potential bid stealers, and more. Rather than repeat myself, I’ll refer you to the sweet, dulcet sounds of my voice for more on those big picture topics, and instead offer five less obvious storylines to follow. 

Will Kendall Williams Lead the Lobos to a Number 2 Seed? (Maria Brose / Albuquerque Journal)

Will Kendall Williams Lead the Lobos to a Number 2 Seed? (Maria Brose / Albuquerque Journal)

  1. Will Cinderella Show up Early? — If you love to cheer on Cinderella squads as they try to knock off highly-seeded favorites, there’s no need to wait for the Big Dance. The conference tournaments comprise more than two dozen Little Dances, in which a Cinderella run is as likely as it is later in March. Last year, Western Kentucky managed to snare the Sun Belt’s automatic bid, despite entering the postseason tournament with a #7 seed and an 11-18 record. Can anyone manage the feat this year? Already, we have a great underdog story brewing in the WCC, where Loyola Marymount, which went 1-15 in regular season conference play, has won two tournament games to secure a semifinal berth. It will take a true miracle to overcome their next obstacle — the number one team in the country, Gonzaga — but miracles are what March is for.
  2. Can New Mexico Secure a #2 Seed? – Gonzaga appears poised to plant the TO26 banner on the top seed line, but is it possible that another TO26 team could find itself just one line down? Our latest bracketology hands the Lobos a #2 seed, though many other projections predict a #3 seed. A run through the MW Tournament — on the heels of a two-loss regular season in what is the conference’s deepest, most competitive year in memory — would, one would hope, be enough to give the Lobos their highest seed in school history (they twice notched a #3 seed, including in 2010). And it would be the first time that two TO26 squads landed two of the top eight seeds since 2004, when St. Joseph’s and Gonzaga each managed the feat.
  3. Will Akron Regroup? — A week ago, Akron was riding a 19-game winning streak, was undefeated in MAC play, and was two games clear of Ohio in the East Division standings with three games left. The Zips fell last Saturday in a surprising 81-67 loss to Buffalo, in which they were torched by Javon McCrea for 28 points. But that was a mere bump in the road compared to what happened next. On Thursday, it was announced that junior point guard Alex Abreu had been indefinitely suspended after being arrested on felony charges of marijuana trafficking, and in their first game without him last night, the Zips fell at home to Kent State, 66-61. Worse than blowing their lead atop the East Division (if Ohio wins Saturday, the teams will end the regular season tied), the Zips are now limping into the postseason with little chance of an at-large bid and needing to win three straight MAC tournament games without Abreu to make good on their once-promising March prospects. How important is Abreu to this team? He’s third in scoring, at 10.3 points per game, and shoots a team-leading 39.4 percent from three-point range. But more than that, he is the facilitator that makes Akron’s offense go, notching six assists per game, for which he ranks in the top 20 nationally. Read the rest of this entry »
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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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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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Checking in on… the MAC

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 28th, 2011

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

A Look Back

First, a quick look at the Mid-American Conference Standings (with conference records only).

East

Buffalo                   4-2
Kent St.                  4-2
Miami (Ohio)          4-2
Bowling Green       4-2
Akron                     2-4
Ohio                       2-4

West

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

The conference season is just heating up, but the early returns in league play indicate that this conference is wide-open and full of surprises. This is most true in the East Division, where the preseason favorites were OhioAkron, and Kent State. Only the Golden Flashes have lived up to the promise so far, and are arguably the MAC’s most complete team. With quality talent coming back at Ohio and Akron, both teams were supposed to be right there with Kent State competing for a MAC regular season championship, but now thanks to the surprising strong play of Buffalo and Bowling Green, the Bobcats and Zips might just have a tough time escaping from the cellar of the standings.

Out West, Ball State has taken control of the division without much resistance. Overall, this was supposed to the season where the West narrowed the gap between itself and the East, but the bottom of the West is as weak as ever. Meanwhile, three-time defending West regular-season champ Central Michigan stumbled out of the gate and hasn’t recovered to this point. Considering the expectations surrounding the Chippewas this season, Central Michigan has been as disappointing as any team in this conference.

Star Watch

Buffalo’s surge to the top of the MAC East standings can be attributed to the surprising play of Javon McCreaByron Mulkey and Zach Filzen. The freshman McCrea is third on the Bulls in scoring at 10.7 PPG, and his 67.8% field-goal percentage is good for third in the nation. The senior Mulkey is second on the Bulls in scoring at 14.3 PPG, and his 3.0 steals per game is the sixth-best total in the country.

But Buffalo’s leading scorer is junior Zach Filzen (14.8 PPG), who has emerged as one of the top offensive threats in the MAC after only playing just over seven minutes per game last season. In the Bulls’ last two wins, Filzen has made 11 three-pointers, and on the season, Filzen is shooting 42.2% from three-point range and his mark of 62 treys on the campaign pace the conference and ties him for tenth in the nation.

Power Rankings (last week’s ranking in parentheses)

1. Ball State (1)
13-6 (5-1), RPI: 139, SOS: 316

The excitement of a seven-game win streak and a 13-4 (5-0) start has worn off a little after Ball State’s current two-game losing streak, which includes a sloppy two-point non-conference home loss to Morehead State, and a discouraging 13 point home loss to Kent State. The two losses don’t change the fact that the Cardinals have been the best team in the Mid-American Conference to date and should still cruise to a West Division title.

A Look Ahead: Jan. 29 vs. Ohio, Feb. 1 at Miami (Ohio), Feb. 5 vs. Buffalo, Feb. 9 at Bowling Green

2. Kent State (2)
13-7 (4-2), RPI: 83, SOS: 84

After establishing itself as the top team in the MAC during the non-conference season, Kent State struggled through a perplexing three-game losing streak to ring in the new year. The Golden Flashes have since rebounded with four wins in five games, culminating in the most impressive conference win of the season by a MAC team–a 13-point win at previously unbeaten Ball State. Kent State has a chance to put some distance between itself and the rest of the East Division with home games coming up against three of the worst teams in the MAC.

A Look Ahead: Jan. 30 vs. Toledo, Feb. 2 at Western Michigan, Feb. 5 vs. Central Michigan, Feb. 9 vs. Eastern Michigan

3. Buffalo (7)
12-6 (4-2), RPI: 130, SOS: 228

After a pair of three-point losses against Bowling Green and Miami (Ohio) to open the conference season, Buffalo responded with a three-point victory of its own against Akron. Buffalo also rolled over Kent State by 24 points, and won road games at Ohio by five points and at Western Michigan by eleven points. Four straight wins have vaulted Buffalo into contention, and with home games coming up against bottom-feeders Northern Illinois, Toledo, and Central Michigan, the Bulls should remain near the top of the East Division standings.

A Look Ahead: Jan. 29 vs. Northern Illinois, Feb. 2 vs. Toledo, Feb. 5 at Ball State, Feb. 8 vs. Central Michigan

4. Miami (Ohio) (3)
9-11 (4-2), RPI: 100, SOS: 8

A 21-point road loss at Kent State this past Sunday was not a good sign for Miami (Ohio), but the RedHawks got a much-needed road win Thursday night at Central Michigan to snap a win-loss-win-loss streak that has occurred over their previous four games. After a tough schedule to start MAC play, the RedHawks’ slate finally gets a little easier over the next couple of weeks, with games against Eastern Michigan, Northern Illinois, and Toledo coming up.

A Look Ahead: Jan. 29 vs. Western Michigan, Feb. 1 vs. Ball State, Feb. 5 at Eastern Michigan, Feb. 9 vs. Northern Illinois

5. Bowling Green (8)
9-11 (4-2), RPI: 249, SOS: 281

Is Bowling Green really the fifth-best team in the MAC? Probably not. But Bowling Green is playing as well as anyone in the conference lately, having won eight of its last ten games. The Falcons recently defeated Miami (Ohio) and Ohio by comfortable margins before suffering a five-point setback at Akron. Bowling Green avoided a further letdown by beating lowly Toledo on the road by six points. With three of their next four at home, the Falcons have a chance to continue its climb into contention.

A Look Ahead: Jan. 29 vs. Eastern Michigan, Feb. 2 at Northern Illinois, Feb. 5 vs. Western Michigan, Feb. 9 vs. Ball State

6. Akron (4)
11-9 (2-4), RPI: 153, SOS: 165

With only one win in its last five games, Akron has suddenly turned into one the MAC’s biggest mysteries. During this slump, the Zips have struggled on the defensive end, allowing 79 points in a home loss to Ohio, 73 points at Buffalo, 84 points at Miami (Ohio), and 83 points at Northern Illinois. The next four games will be crucial to Akron’s season, as all four are winnable contests against the league’s worst teams. But a couple of losses could put the Zips in a hole that it won’t be able to climb out of.

A Look Ahead: Jan. 30 vs. Central Michigan, Feb. 2 at Eastern Michigan, Feb. 5 at Toledo, Feb. 9 vs. Western Michigan

7. Western Michigan (6)
10-9 (3-3), RPI: 218, SOS: 249

All season, Western Michigan has shown flashes of being a quality team and the type of team that could challenge Ball State in the West Division. A 17-point thrashing of Eastern Michigan and an 82 point offensive outburst against Northern Illinois are recent evidence of that, but each of those wins was followed up with an equally disappointing loss. A 13 point loss at Toledo and a 11 point home loss against Buffalo could haunt the Broncos later in the year.

A Look Ahead: Jan. 29 at Miami (Ohio), Feb. 2 vs. Kent State, Feb. 5 at Bowling Green, Feb. 9 at Akron

8. Ohio (5)
9-11 (2-4), RPI: 209, SOS: 127

As has been documented in this space previously, Ohio has been victimized by some uncharacteristically tough losses. That stretch of close losses continued with a one-possession loss to Kent State, and was followed by losses at Bowling Green and vs. Buffalo that dropped the Bobcats to 8-11 (1-4) and last place in the East Division, a place that most Bobcat fans didn’t expect to see their team this season. Ohio bounced back with a double-digit win over Eastern Michigan, but this team needs to get on a hot streak soon, otherwise the Bobcats might have to once again win the MAC Tournament as a No. 9 seed (or worse).

A Look Ahead: Jan. 29 at Ball State, Feb. 2 at Central Michigan, Feb. 5 vs. Northern Illinois, Feb. 9 vs. Toledo

9. Northern Illinois (9)
7-11 (3-3), RPI: 277, SOS: 278

If you watch a Northern Illinois basketball game, chances are it’s going to be a close contest. Just over a week after defeating Eastern Michigan by two points, the Huskies lost on the road at Central Michigan and at Western Michigan by a single basket each. Northern Illinois did manage to pick up its third conference win of the season in a comfortable nine-point win over Akron that once again showcasedXavier Silas’s outstanding scoring ability. Silas scored 39 points in the victory, his sixth 30-point game of the season, to lift his average to 24.4 points per game (tied for second in the nation).

A Look Ahead: Jan. 29 at Buffalo, Feb. 2 vs. Bowling Green, Feb. 5 at Ohio, Feb. 9 at Miami (Ohio)

10. Central Michigan (10)
5-14 (2-4), RPI: 309, SOS: 263

Central Michigan’s disappointing season continues, as the Chippewas have now squandered multiple opportunities to win important games. After getting to 2-2 in MAC play with a win over Northern Illinois, Central Michigan dropped an ugly 41-38 affair at Eastern Michigan that saw the Chippewas only score 13 points in the first half. Thursday night’s home loss to Miami (Ohio) leaves Central Michigan gasping for air and with a very difficult upcoming slate, which includes three of the next four games on the road, all against quality MAC opponents.

A Look Ahead: Jan. 30 at Akron, Feb. 2 vs. Ohio, Feb. 5 at Kent State, Feb. 8 at Buffalo

11. Eastern Michigan (11)
5-14 (2-4), RPI: 331, SOS: 273

Eastern Michigan manages to stay out of the basement of the Power Rankings thanks to the aforementioned 41-38 victory over Central Michigan. But in the victory over Central Michigan, Eagles leading scorer and double-double machine, Brandon Bowdry, only contributed 6 points, and only followed that up with 8 points in a 14 point loss at Ohio.

A Look Ahead: Jan. 29 at Bowling Green, Feb. 2 vs. Akron, Feb. 5 vs. Miami (Ohio), Feb. 9 at Kent State

12. Toledo (12)
4-16 (1-5), RPI: 325, SOS: 216

Much as it did during the non-conference season, Toledo continues to compete in every game, which may not be enough to win often, but occasionally it will lead to a double-digit victory, as it did when Toledo defeated Western Michigan. Sophomore Malcolm Griffin shone brightly in that victory, as he has for the past four games, where he has averaged 25.8 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 4.5 assists per contest.

A Look Ahead: Jan. 30 at Kent State, Feb. 2 at Buffalo, Feb. 5 vs. Akron, Feb. 9 at Ohio

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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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