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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