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.
Share this story

Checking in on… the MAC

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 25th, 2011

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

A Look Back

Overall, Mid-American Conference teams went 5-7 in last weekend’s BracketBusters. Not great, but not bad either. Akron, Western Michigan, Buffalo, Ohio and Eastern Michigan picked up confidence boosting non-conference wins. Amongst the weekend’s losers, Kent State’s seven-point loss at Drexel, and Miami (Ohio)’s one-point loss at James Madison were of the most importance, but likely won’t hurt either team too much in terms of potential NCAA Tournament seeding.

Turning to conference action, Kent State was the first team to reach ten league wins after Thursday’s victory over Buffalo. But every team in the East Division currently has a winning league record, including Miami, who sits one game behind the Golden Flashes, and Akron, the MAC’s hottest team at 8-5. Defending conference champion Ohio also seems to be turning the corner at the right time of year and is a team to watch the rest of the way.

Out in the West Division, the two-team race between Western Michigan and Ball State is headed down to the stretch. Both teams currently sit at 8-5, but don’t forget about Central Michigan, which is still two games back at 6-7, but riding a three-game conference win streak into the season’s final games.

Star Watch

One of the key questions surrounding Ohio’s bid to repeat as Mid-American Conference champions was whether the Bobcats had enough scoring punch around Player of the Year candidate D.J. Cooper. Early in the season, it appeared that Ohio would only go as far as Cooper could take it, but lately, senior forward DeVaughn Washington has emerged as a viable offensive threat and one of the conference’s best front line players.  After a slow start to the season, Washington has now reached double-figures in sixteen of Ohio’s last seventeen games. But over the last nine games, in which Ohio is 7-2, Washington has upped his play even further, averaging 15.4 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 1.4 steals per contest.

Power Rankings (last week’s ranking in parentheses)

1. Kent State (1)
19-9 (10-3), RPI: 77, SOS: 152

Kent State emerged from a rough four-game road trip in the middle of February with a 2-2 record, the losses being an overtime affair at Miami and the aforementioned BracketBuster at Drexel. After Thursday’s home victory over Buffalo, the Golden Flashes have the inside track on the East Division title and the MAC’s best overall record. The rest of the schedule isn’t easy, with all three remaining games serving as possible slip-ups, but expect to see Kent State as the MAC Tournament’s number one seed in a couple of weeks.

A Look Ahead: 2/26 vs. Ohio, 3/1 at Bowling Green, 3/4 vs. Akron

2. Akron (6)
18-10 (8-5), RPI: 131, SOS: 207

That’s six straight wins and counting for the MAC’s hottest team. Most impressively, all six of the Zips’ wins have been by at least nine points, including Wednesday’s 72-55 pounding of Miami (Ohio). Forward Nikola Cvetinovic has been one of the biggest reasons for Akron’s late-season surge, as the junior is averaging 13.9 points and 9.6 rebounds per contest over the past month. Akron closes the regular season with a pair of tough road games at Ohio and conference-leader Kent State, but the way this team is playing, no one should want to face the Zips in the MAC Tournament.

A Look Ahead: 2/26 vs. Buffalo, 3/1 at Ohio, 3/4 at Kent State

3. Miami (Ohio) (2)
14-14 (9-4), RPI: 101, SOS: 45

Even with two straight defeats, including a hard-fought one-point BracketBuster loss at James Madison, Miami is right on Kent State’s heels to take the MAC East crown. The RedHawks seem to be at their best when senior forward Nick Winbush is playing well. Winbush, who was named East Division Player of the Week on February 21, had an impressive stretch of games which culminated in a 26 point, 12 rebound performance in a six-point home win over Kent State. But in the aforementioned 17-point loss against Akron, Winbush only hit one-of-seven field goals for just 2 points.

A Look Ahead: 2/26 vs. Bowling Green, 3/2 at Buffalo, 3/4 vs. Ohio

4. Western Michigan (7)
16-11 (8-5), RPI: 195, SOS: 268

The Broncos are in prime position to capture the West Division regular season title thanks to five wins in their last seven league games. Western Michigan will be favored to win its last three games, but must avoid letdowns in road games at Eastern Michigan and Central Michigan. But the game that will decide the West title is the March 2nd clash with struggling Ball State. Junior guard Demetrius Ward continues to impress down the stretch, having scored in double figures in twelve consecutive games.

A Look Ahead: 2/27 at Eastern Michigan, 3/2 vs. Ball State, 3/5 at Central Michigan

5. Buffalo (3)
16-10 (7-6), RPI: 159, SOS: 261

Four losses in six games is a red flag for any team at this time of year, as Buffalo now finds itself in a three-way tie for last place in the highly-competitive East Division. But as I wrote in the last Power Rankings, the Bulls are still one of the most efficient teams in the MAC, especially on the offensive end of the floor. Where the Bulls have hurt themselves is with turnovers, as they rank a dreadful 314th in the nation in turnover percentage. If Buffalo can shore that up over the last few weeks of the season, this team will be a tough out in March.

A Look Ahead: 2/26 at Akron, 3/2 vs. Miami (Ohio), 3/5 at Bowling Green

6. Ohio (8)
15-13 (7-6), RPI: 182, SOS: 171

Don’t look now, but Ohio is quietly playing its best basketball of the season. The Bobcats looked doomed after a 1-4 start to conference play, but have recovered to win six of eight to vault back into relevance, the most notable win being a seven-point road win at Buffalo. The MAC Tournament essentially starts now for Ohio, which finishes its season with a contest against each of the top three teams in these Power Rankings.

A Look Ahead: 2/26 at Kent State, 3/1 vs. Akron, 3/4 at Miami (Ohio)

7. Ball State (5)
16-11 (8-5), RPI: 186, SOS: 282

The more Ball State has descended down these Power Rankings, the more obvious it seems that this team’s hot start had a lot to do with a very easy schedule. The Cardinals’ only win this season over an East Division opponent was a one-point home victory over Buffalo earlier this month. Good news for Ball State fans, all three remaining games are against West Division competition. But the MAC Tournament in a couple of weeks won’t be as easy.

A Look Ahead: 2/26 at Central Michigan, 3/2 at Western Michigan, 3/5 vs. Northern Illinois

8. Bowling Green (4)
12-16 (7-6), RPI: 252, SOS: 257

Just one win in their last six games, combined with the improved play of the rest of the East Division, has Bowling Green staring at a last-place division finish. The remaining schedule won’t do the Falcons any favors, but in many ways, this team has already exceeded expectations. Bowling Green still has a chance to make some noise in the MAC Tournament, but next season should be even better with nearly every key contributor slated to return.

A Look Ahead: 2/26 at Miami (Ohio), 3/1 vs. Kent State, 3/5 vs. Buffalo

9. Central Michigan (10)
9-18 (6-7), RPI: 304, SOS: 288

As disappointing as Central Michigan has been this season, the Chippewas still have a conceivable shot to win the West Division. Three straight conference wins have the Chippewas only two games back of co-leaders Ball State and Western Michigan, with a home date upcoming against each of them. Sandwiched between those games is a very winnable road game against Toledo, the worst team in the conference.

A Look Ahead: 2/26 vs. Ball State, 3/1 at Toledo, 3/5 vs. Western Michigan

10. Eastern Michigan (11)
8-19 (4-9), RPI: 321, SOS: 248

Eastern Michigan is anything but a quality basketball team, but something does need to be said for the Eagles defensive efficiency, which has won this team some games this season. In nearly every one of Ken Pomeroy’s advanced defensive metrics (most notably adjusted defensive efficiency and effective field goal percentage), Eastern Michigan ranks in at least the top half of the entire nation, and near the very top of the conference.

A Look Ahead: 2/27 vs. Western Michigan, 3/2 at Northern Illinois, 3/5 vs. Toledo

11. Northern Illinois (9)
7-19 (3-10), RPI: 319, SOS: 258

A once-promising 2-1 start to conference play feels like a long time ago for Northern Illinois, which has not won a conference game in a month and is just 1-10 in its last eleven games. Even the seemingly unstoppable Xavier Silas has tailed off of late, only scoring 23 points combined in the team’s last three games.

A Look Ahead: 2/26 at Toledo, 3/2 vs. Eastern Michigan, 3/5 at Ball State

12. Toledo (12)
4-24 (1-12), RPI: 328, SOS: 187

In a way, Wednesday’s 68-56 loss at Western Michigan was a microcosm of Toledo’s poor season. Looking to avenge an early loss to Toledo, Western Michigan jumped out to a 43-5 first-half lead over the Rockets (no, that is not a misprint). Toledo rallied to cut the final deficit to only twelve, but Malcolm Griffin, the Rockets’ best playmaker, scored only three points and committed ten turnovers in the contest.

A Look Ahead: 2/26 vs. Northern Illinois, 3/1 vs. Central Michigan, 3/5 at Eastern Michigan

Share this story

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

Share this story