Alex Varone is the RTC correspondent for the Mid-American Conference.
A Look Back
With the turn of the calendar to a new year comes the meat of the college basketball season: conference play. So, in what is the last Mid-American Conference Check-In of the year 2010, let’s review how the MAC has done in the non-conference portion of the season.
So far, MAC teams have gone a combined 63-82 in non-conference games. That 43.4 winning percentage is further evidence that the overall quality of the MAC is not up to the standard that the league would like to see. Almost by default, Kent State has established itself as the league’s best team (see the Power Rankings below for a quick review of Kent State’s and the other 11 MAC teams’ non-conference performance), and barring a double-digit win streak from the Golden Flashes or someone else, the MAC is a near lock to be a one-bid league come Selection Sunday.
Not to discount the fine performances of the MAC’s top players, including Kent State’s Justin Greene, who at this junction of the season has to be the favorite for MAC Player of the Year, but this week’s Star Watch belongs to Ohio sophomore guard D.J. Cooper, whose stat line against St. Bonaventure on December 18th was nothing short of extraordinary.
In the four-overtime 112-107 loss at St. Bonaventure, Cooper played 55 minutes, made 17 of 41 field goal attempts, scored 43 points, grabbed 8 rebounds, dished out 13 assists, and nabbed 8 steals. The 41 shot attempts were the most by a Division 1 player in the last 15 years, and while Ohio has gotten off to a disappointing start to the season, Cooper has been sensational in posting per game averages of 19.8 points, 6.0 rebounds, 7.2 assists, and 2.9 steals.
Power Rankings (last week’s ranking in parentheses)
1. Kent State (1) 9-4 RPI: 55
Best Win: vs. South Florida
Worst Loss: at Morehead State
The Golden Flashes have the best RPI to date in the MAC thanks not only to the win over South Florida, but under-the-radar victories over Iona, Robert Morris, and Furman. A 17-point loss at Morehead State earlier this week was Kent State’s worst performance of the season, but its three other losses are against teams with a combined record of 30-6 (Cleveland State, UAB, Florida).
A Look Ahead: Dec. 31 vs. James Madison, Jan. 8 at Akron, Jan. 11 vs. Bowling Green
2. Buffalo (3) 7-4 RPI: 144
Best Win: vs. Green Bay
Worst Loss: at Youngstown State
Buffalo has hardly played the nation’s most difficult schedule to date, but credit goes to the Bulls for both picking up some decent wins (vs. Green Bay, at Army, at Canisius) and avoiding a set of crippling losses to start the season. Six of Buffalo’s seven wins have been by double-digits, while the 11-point loss at Youngstown State and an eight-point final deficit against BYU are the Bulls’ only losses by more than four points.
A Look Ahead: Dec. 30 vs. BYU, Jan. 3 at Cornell, Jan. 8 vs. Bowling Green
3. Ball State (2) 6-4 RPI: 74
Best Win: vs. Indiana State
Worst Loss: vs. Alaska Anchorage (non Division 1)
Ball State’s best win so far is a toss-up between a 15-point home win over Indiana State, a 7-point win at Eastern Illinois, or a 2-point win at DePaul. But the Cardinals’ best performance came in a five-point loss to St. John’s in the Great Alaska Shootout. But also taking place in Alaska was Ball State’s worst performance: an 18-point drubbing at the hands of Alaska Anchorage.
A Look Ahead: Dec. 31 vs. North Carolina A&T, Jan. 3 vs. SIU Edwardsville, Jan. 8 at Northern Illinois, Jan. 12 vs. Western Michigan
4. Akron (6) 8-5 RPI: 83
Best Win: at Detroit
Worst Loss: at Dayton
As evidenced with its best win being at Detroit, none of Akron’s non-conference wins stand out on their own merits, but with the exception of a 35-point blowout loss at Temple, all of Akron’s losses have been competitive. The Zips were defeated by thirteen vs. Cleveland State, and by eight points each at Dayton, at Minnesota, and vs. Miami (FL).
A Look Ahead: Jan. 3 vs. Oral Roberts, Jan. 8 vs. Kent State, Jan. 12 vs. Ohio
5. Ohio (5) 7-6 RPI: 136
Best Win: vs. Valparaiso
Worst Loss: vs. Marshall
Inconsistency has defined Ohio in its first twelve games, as the Bobcats have failed to win more than two games in a row at any point this season. Ohio has missed opportunities in winnable contests against Oakland, Marshall, IUPUI, and the aforementioned 4OT loss at St. Bonaventure. And on its biggest stage of the season thus far, the defending MAC Champs lost to Kansas by 57 points.
A Look Ahead: Dec. 30 vs. Norfolk State, Jan. 2 vs. Robert Morris, Jan. 9 vs. Miami (Ohio), Jan. 12 at Akron
6. Miami (Ohio) (4) 5-8 RPI: 133
Best Win: vs. Xavier
Worst Loss: at Wright State
Its 5-8 overall record is misleading, as Miami (Ohio) has played the 12th toughest schedule in the nation, which has included losses at Duke, vs. San Diego State, at Ohio State, at Dayton, and vs. Cincinnati. With an upcoming date at Kansas, the RedHawks will have played (and likely lost to) five of the seven remaining unbeatens in college basketball.
A Look Ahead: Jan. 2 at Kansas, Jan. 9 at Ohio, Jan. 13 vs. Buffalo
7. Western Michigan (7) 6-6 RPI: 161
Best Win: at Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Worst Loss: vs. Troy
Western Michigan has already had its share of close contests, going 4-3 in games decided by one possession. The Broncos opened the season with a near miss at Xavier, falling to the Musketeers by just three points, and later suffered a two point loss at Towson, and a three point loss in a neutral site game against Troy, the Trojans only win over a Division 1 opponent to date. Close wins over Detroit, at Georgia State, South Dakota State, and Idaho State have kept the Broncos near .500 all season.
A Look Ahead: Dec. 31 vs. Eastern Illinois, Jan. 9 vs. Central Michigan, Jan. 12 at Ball State
8. Northern Illinois (8) 3-7 RPI: 232
Best Win: vs. Illinois-Chicago
Worst Loss: vs. Boise State
Northern Illinois has only two victories over Division 1 opponents: a two-point home victory over Illinois-Chicago (RPI: 230), and a six-point road win at Maryland Eastern Shore (RPI: 295). The Huskies were easily handled against Northwestern, at Temple, and at Missouri, but nearly won at DePaul and at Bradley.
A Look Ahead: Dec. 31 vs. Utah Valley, Jan. 3 at Iowa State, Jan. 8 vs. Ball State, Jan. 11 at Eastern Michigan
9. Central Michigan (9) 3-10 RPI: 305
Best Win: at Illinois-Chicago
Worst Loss: vs. Detroit
After a season-opening win vs. Cal State Fullerton in Hawaii, the Chippewas lost nine of their next ten games, only notching a ten-point road win at Illinois-Chicago in the interim. The back-to-back West Division champions have largely failed to meet expectations thus far, and only recently picked up their third win of the season in a three-point win over Cornerstone, a non-Division 1 opponent.
A Look Ahead: Jan. 9 at Western Michigan, Jan. 12 vs. Toledo
10. Toledo (11) 3-10 RPI: 259
Best Win: vs. Valparaiso
Worst Loss: at Youngstown State
Heading into this season, Toledo was looking like the clear-cut MAC bottom-feeder, a sentiment that did not change after the Rockets’ 0-9 start. But Toledo was more competitive than expected in losses to Illinois-Chicago, Rhode Island, College of Charleston, and Youngstown State. And over the past two weeks, Toledo looked to be the hottest team in the MAC, defeating Valparaiso, Florida Gulf Coast, and non-D1 opponent Indiana Northwest, but regressed in a blowout loss to UNC Wilmington.
A Look Ahead: Jan. 3 at Alabama, Jan. 8 vs. Eastern Michigan, Jan. 12 at Central Michigan
11. Bowling Green (10) 4-9 RPI: 338
Best Win: vs. Manhattan
Worst Loss: at Howard
Bowling Green has two wins over Division 1 opponents: a pair of convincing, but unspectacular home wins against Florida International (3-7, RPI: 321) and Manhattan (2-10, RPI: 294). Some of the Falcons’ early losses haven’t been encouraging either, including a road defeat at Howard (2-9, RPI: 302), and a neutral site loss vs. Niagara (3-10, RPI: 261).
A Look Ahead: Jan. 1 at Saint Louis, Jan. 8 at Buffalo, Jan. 11 at Kent State
12. Eastern Michigan (12) 2-9 RPI: 341
Best Win: vs. Rochester (non Division 1)
Worst Loss: vs. North Dakota
The “Best Win” being over a non-D1 opponent says it all. Eastern Michigan is one of thirteen teams in the nation without a win over the other 344 Division 1 teams. In fairness to the Eagles, six of their nine losses have been by single-digits, including one possession losses against Monmouth and Detroit. However, Eastern Michigan’s RPI ranks 341st out of 345 teams.
A Look Ahead: Dec. 31 at Samford, Jan. 4 vs. Ferris State (non-D1), Jan. 8 at Toledo, Jan. 11 vs. Northern Illinois