Greg Miller of WPSD Local 6 is the RTC correspondent for the OVC andMAC Conferences.
As 2008 winds down, the MAC is looking more and more like a one-bid league (again).
The league still has yet to beat a ranked team and is 0-17 against the BCS leagues (Pac-10, Big Ten, Big XII, SEC, Big East & ACC).
If there is any good news, despite their stuggles the league still has four teams in the RPI’s top 100; #20 Miami, #85 Buffalo, #88 Bowling Green, #98 Akron.
Unfortunately a deeper look into the numbers shows us there are only two teams that falls in between #100 and #200 (#103 Ohio & #147 Ball State).
The rest of the league falls at #229 or worse.
As expected the East is king in the MAC with five of their six teams in the top 103. The only team outside the top 103 is Kent State, a pre-season favorite. The Flash have played a weak schedule, but should still be a factor come conference play.
Strangely enough, the league is ranked #17 in the RPI and has a #7 strength of schedule ranking. Too bad they don’t have many wins over the strong part of that schedule.
Greg Miller of WPSD Local 6 is the RTC correspondent for the OVC and MAC Conferences.
Reason #182 of “Why the MAC is a one-bid league”: Record vs. BCS opponents in 2008 is 0-14.
That’s right. Thrrough November and very early December, the MAC is a robust 0-14 against teams from the BCS leagues. In fact, their overall non-conference record is a very unimpressive 33-44. The league is having a very hard time picking up big out-of-conference wins. They’ve had some near misses, but those don’t really count come March. A more telling stat, is the MAC is a somewhat impressive 15-7 at home in the non-conference. That only makes their road record of 13-25 even more disturbing. Again, this league needs to do a better job of getting home games in the non-conference. If they can somehow make this happen, you’ll see these records improve and quite possibly see an upset of a BCS team or two. The league did pull off some eye-opening wins the past two weeks.
Greg Miller of WPSD Local 6 is the RTC correspondent for the MAC.
Like most MAC pre-conference seasons, the majority of the league spent the first two weeks beating up on the Sisters of the Worthless Miracle. But there were some MAC teams that took the time to play the big boys with mixed results.
As always, Miami’s schedule is murderer’s row. The Redhawks first six games are on the road, including the 2K Coaches v Cancer Classic at UCLA. Miami gave the #4 ranked Bruins all they could handle before falling 64-59. Michael Bramos (MAC Player of the Year candidate) scored 22 points to surpass the 1000-point mark in his career. The Redhawks left Pauley Pavilion feeling pretty good about themselves after the near-upset. Unfortunately that feeling didn’t last long. Just four days later, the Redhawks were humbled at #6 Pitt 82-53. Bramos had just two points in this loss. Miami was within three early in the second half before the much more physical Panthers just took over. The gauntlet continues for Miami the next two weeks. Road games at Wright State, Xavier and Temple loom. This early season schedule should, without question, have the Redhawks ready to compete in the MAC.
Western Michigan is supposed to challenge in the MAC West. The Broncos’ first three games this year were minor disappointments. They lost to TCU by four, Hofstra by three in OT and then handed SIU-Edwardsville their first-ever division one victory by 11. Not the start the Broncs were hoping for. A silver-lining was David Kool. He averaged over 24 points in those three losses. But it’s obvious, he’s going to need help if WMU is going to be a serious MAC title contender. They did fare better with a 13-point win over Detroit. Road games at talented Sam Houston State and VCU the next two weeks will tell us a lot about this team.
Eastern Michigan suffered a serious setback before the season even started. Senior point guard and pre-season All-MAC performer Carlos Medlock was lost for the season with a broken foot. It’s the same foot he broke during the 2006-07 season. He’ll apply for a medical hardship, but that won’t help the Eagles this year. EMU had high hopes for their first winning season in a long time. Medlock’s departure could hurt those chances. His absence was felt in their blowout loss to Purdue where the EMU point guards combined for 13 turnovers. Eastern would never had beaten Purdue with Medlock, but he certainly was missed. EMU did bounce back nicely with a near upset of Georgia, losing 61-60 after leading by double-digits in the second half. Not sure what this says about Georgia, but it’s certainly a confidence boost for EMU.
Toledo’s dance with the big boys was anything but memorable. The Rockets were rocked by Florida 80-58 and stomped by Xavier 81-65. Good news, Tyrone Kent smoked the Muskies for 37 in the loss.
Northern Illinois is supposed to bring up the rear again this year in the MAC. But a sign of life was found in a win over Missouri Valley foe Indiana State. The Sycamores ain’t exactly SIU or Creighton, but it’s still a nice win for Ricardo Patton’s club.
Ohio, as expected, easliy won their opener over William & Mary. Jerome Tillman picked up where he left off last year notching his sixth straight double-double. Tillman is a serious Player of The Year candidate in the MAC.
Kent, a favorite in the MAC East with Ohio and Miami, is 2-0 under new head coach Geno Ford. They picked up an impressive road win against St. Louis and head coach Rick Majerus 76-74 in overtime. Reigning MAC Player of the Year Al Fisher was tremendous in the win. Fisher tallied 35 points, including 16 of Kent’s 17 overtime points. Oh, and he hit the game-winning layup with less than :02 left. No word on whether he drove the team bus home too.
The MAC has some big games to make a name for themselves the next two weeks, including match-ups with powerhouses like Kansas, Connecticut, Illinois and Marquette. Here are some games to keep an eye on these next two weeks:
Bowling Green at Ohio State (11/24)
Kent State at the South Padre Invitational (starting vs. Illinois 11/28)
News & Notes. We’d like to take a moment at the beginning of tonight’s ATB to honor former Cal head coach and legendary big man guru Pete Newell, who died today at the age of 93. He led Cal to its only national championship in 1959, won a gold medal as the US Olympic team coach in 1960, and was elected to the basketball Hall of Fame in 1979. Although he was before our time, we’ve heard the stories of his legend and he is considered one of the most influential figures in basketball history. May he rest in peace.
Photo Credit: LA Times
Game of the Night. UAB 64, Santa Clara 61. We’re throwing some love to the mid-majors tonight with this one, but we expected this game to be a dandy, and it was. Santa Clara led most of the game, but UAB made a valiant comeback in the second half to tie the game with three minutes remaining and held on to win Robert Vaden had 23/9 and Paul Delaney III had 20/5 for UAB, who didn’t get much production from anyone else. SC’s John Bryant had a huge 17/15 performance, but it wasn’t enough. In an interesting sidenote, the game tipped off with 100 people in the stands at the McKale Center in Tucson. People are really excited about basketball in Arizona right now.
Upset of the Night. Oakland 82, Oregon 79 (OT). We really feel like you could throw Ernie Kent, Mark Gottfried, John Brady, Dave Odom, and a few others into a jar, shake them up and let them float to any school in America, and you’d end up with the same mediocre programs wherever they land. Not much was expected from the Ducks this year (heck, ATQ doesn’t even have commentary on the game yet), but they could usually count on their home court for the push to win most of their OOC games. No longer. Oakland’s Johnathan Jones dropped 32/7 on the Ducks, (10 in OT, including the decisive bucket with seven seconds left) who were outshot from the floor by their visitors (43% to 39%). Joevon Catron (13/11) and Michael Dunigan (15/10) both contributed double-doubles in the losing effort. So far, the Pac-10 is not looking too impressive.
Preseason NIT Action.
Davidson 99, James Madison 64. Stephen Curry is just ridiculous. 33/9 assts/4 stls on 14-19 shooting. The Wildcats got off to an 11-0 start and never looked back. They’ll face Oklahoma tomorrow night.
Oklahoma 94, Miss. Valley St. 53. This OU team has looked scary in two games thus far. Blake Griffin dominated inside, with 20/19/6 stls. MVSU more than doubled its output from Saturday night against Wazzu, but they looked completely overmatched in this game.
BC 90, Loyola (MD) 57. Vermont transfer Joe Trapani led the Eagles with 20/4 as Tyrese Rice came back from suspension to contribute 16/6 assts. BC might be better than people were thinking, folks – they will play Cornell in round two.
St. John’s 86, Cornell 75. The Johnnies, led by Anthony Mason Jr.’s 24 pts, held off a late Cornell rally that had cut the lead to 80-75. Cornell was led by Ryan Wittman’s 25/4.
Purdue 87, E. Michigan 58. Purdue shook off a slow start to go on a 26-6 run to put this game away by the mid-first half. E’Twaun Moore and Robbie Hummell combined for 35/8/8 assts in the win. Purdue will play Loyola (IL) next.
Loyola (IL) 74, Georgia 53. Let’s just go ahead and fire Dennis Felton right now and avoid this lame duck nonsense for the next four months.
Arizona 75, Florida Atlantic 62. Get used to this – Budinger, Wise and Hill scored 52 of Arizona’s 75 points tonight. The Wildcats never really pulled away from FAU – we remain unconvinced. UAB will beat this team tomorrow night.
Big East Tuneups.
Marquette 106, Chicago St. 87. Are teams hitting the century mark more often this year? Wesley Matthews led Marquette with 26/9/3 assts, but new coach Buzz Williams was largely disappointed with his defense for allowing 51 second-half points to Chicago St.
Villanova 107, Fordham 68. Wow, Dante Cunningham absolutely dominated the interior (31/11) as Villanova rolled up Fordham, shooting a blistering 58% with all five starters reaching double figures.
Georgetown 71, Jacksonville 62. Freshman center Greg Monroe’s debut at Georgetown went well (14/7), even though the Hoyas struggled to put away Jacksonville. Georgetown needs to shore up their three-point shooting (5-23), but their defense was typically solid, holding Jax to 35% for the game.
Pittsburgh 82, Miami (OH) 53. Miami head coach Charlie Coles gave the nod to Pitt as the better team between the Panthers and UCLA at this juncture in the season. Levance Fields is just so important to this team, getting 12/12 assts as every starter reached double figures.
Connecticut 99, Hartford 56. With 14:30 to go, this was a three-point game. UConn then went on a late 54-12 run to put this one away. AJ Price was on the bench for being a knucklehead with a sprained ankle, but Craig Austrie and Kemba Walker both had 21 to make up the slack. Hasheem Thabeet had a somewhat disappointing 9/8/2 blks.
Other Games of Interest.
Xavier 81, Toledo 65. Xavier enjoyed a comfortable margin throughout the second half, but the story of this game was returning MAC scoring leader Tyrone Kent’s 37 pts. He even went 10-10 from the line – true scorers understand that’s where the easy points are.
Austin Peay 86, Belmont 84. Drake Reed’s two FTs with 0.2 showing on the clock sealed a comeback win for Austin Peay over Belmont. He contributed 24/9 in the win, along with Wes Channels, who put up 25 pts. AP shot 58% in the second half to come back from 12 down at halftime.
Penn St. 74, NJIT 47. NJIT now holds the record for college basketball futility with 35 Ls in a row. Another 26% FG shooting night. Can we send them back to D2 now?
Our new and improved Set Your Tivos is in the format that we expect this feature to take for the rest of the season. It will feature our top games of the week and leave the daily TV schedules to After the Buzzer. Now the top 7 games (add 3 for a few of the late round games in some of the random tournaments to make a top 10 if you want) in reverse order. . .
7) Illinois at Vanderbilt–Thursday, 8 PM on Fox Sports South, ESPN Full Court, and ESPN360.com: Our only featured game involving two unranked teams. We’ll be watching to see if Bruce Weber has recovered from losing out on Eric Gordon, who would have left Illinois by now anyways even if Kelvin Sampson hadn’t stolen him before destroying Indiana’s basketball program. On the other side, Vanderbilt will be trying to recover from last year’s embarrassing first round loss to Siena in the NCAA tournament after a trip to the Sweet 16 the year before that ended with a close loss to Georgetown.
6) Southern Illinois vs. #5 Duke–Thursday, 7 PM on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com:The Salukis look to recover from last year’s 18-15 season after six consecutive NCAA tournament bids against everyone’s favorite villain Duke. I’m sure most of you would like nothing more than seeing Duke lose in Madison Square Garden against a mid-major, but that’s not happening here. Watch it to see if Southern Illinois will be challenging for the MVC title this year and if Duke is going to try to develop an inside game this year.
5) #4 UCLA vs. Michigan–Thursday, 9 PM on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com: The more interesting of the Coaches vs. Cancer games will feature two of the most prestigious programs in the country with one (UCLA) coming into the season with high expectations following 3 straight Final 4 trips while the other (Michigan) has become a source of humor for visitors to this site. Both teams struggled in the early rounds, but the Bruins will be overwhelming favorites and should advance unless the freshman get caught up in the bright lights of MSG and/or start looking forward to playing Duke in the championship game.
4) Kentucky at #1 UNC–Tuesday, 9 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: This game, which was once billed as one of the premier early season games, has lost much of its luster with Kentucky’s opening loss to VMI and the absence of Tyler Hansbrough (and his fellow pool-jumping “Golden God” Bobby Frasor). This game will be more of a barometer for Kentucky than the injury-depleted Tar Heels. A Kentucky win would give Billy Gillispie a temporary reprieve from Wildcat fans who are undoubtedly livid after another embarrassing season-opening early-season loss. If the Wildcats want to do that, they will need to utilize Patrick Patterson much more than they did against VMI.
3) Massachusetts at #12 Memphis–Tuesday/Wednesday at midnight on ESPN and ESPN360.com: Our first look at this year’s Tigers will be a relatively challenging game against John Calipari’s old school. While Tyreke Evans might be one of the top players in this year’s freshman class, he will be a significant drop-off from Derrick Rose. The Tigers may be able to adjust to that, but they will be hard-pressed to replace the veteran leadership and all-around play of Chris Douglas-Roberts. We will be interested to see if the Tigers worked on that small issue of free throw shooting that reared its ugly head at the most inopportune time last year.
2) Miami (OH) at #6 Pittsburgh–Monday, 7 PM on ESPN Full Court and ESPN360.com: While this might not seem like an interesting game to most of you, I think it will give us a good idea of how good/bad UCLA is given the fact they narrowly held off the Redhawks 64-59 and whether or not Doug Gottlieb is an idiot. Given that we think it’s definitely worth watching and should be a good lead-in to Monday Night Football.
1) 2K Sports Classic Championship Game(if it is #4 UCLA vs. #5 Duke)–Friday, 7 PM on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com: As noted this is only if we get our first top 5 (or top 25) match-up of the season. Both teams should be able to navigate their semifinals despite the fact that the Bruins struggled against Miami (OH) last week. Duke will probably win this game as they tend to dominate early season tournaments and the Bruins are still very green, but the Bruins young talent and Darren Collison will give Coach K and the Blue Devils a stiff challenge.
If I missed any good games and I’m sure I did, tell me about it in the comments and I’ll update the list.
Game of the Night.UCLA 64, Miami (OH) 59. Considering there was only one game of consequence tonight (no, Weber St. over Prairie View 78-68 doesn’t count), the GOTN was the second-round battle of UCLA and Miami (OH) in Westwood. We just knew this would be a good game, and although once again, we couldn’t see the damn thing, all indications are that Charlie Coles’ Redhawks gave the Mighty Bruins everything they wanted. Just how close was this game? The largest lead by either team was 5 pts either way, and the majority of the game was played within one possession. Whereas last night UCLA was led by its Fab Five freshmen, tonight the Bruins looked to their upperclassmen to secure the victory. The rooks produced only 10 pts and 5 rebounds, while seniors Darren Collison and Josh Shipp accounted for 32 of the remaining 54 pts (including the last two pairs of FTs to seal the game in the last twenty seconds). This will be a recurring theme for UCLA this year – when the young’uns produce, UCLA will be able to play with anyone in America; when they don’t, things will get dicey for Ben Howland’s club. As for Miami (OH), they were led by Michael Bramos’ 22/4, but they were never able to create enough separation from UCLA to truly put the pressure on the Bruins. We would have loved to have seen this game (leave comments below if you were lucky enough to do so), but we suppose this is a standard-issue Miami team, and they’ll have more than a few more opportunities to frustrate the hell outta some major conference squads in the next two months (@ Pitt, @ Xavier, @ Temple, @ WVU).
CvC Semifinals. The Gazelle Group got the F4 it wanted with the host school ‘top seed’ from each regional advancing to Madison Square Garden for the semifinals on Nov. 20. UCLA will play resurgent Michigan, while Duke will play S. Illinois. Clearly the tourney was set up to get the top five matchup between Duke and UCLA, but we’re not so sure about that. By our calculations, UCLA, for instance, is only 1-2 in the eastern time zone on the eastern seaboard during the Howland era, and the single win was a one-point victory at Drexel a couple of years ago. UCLA just doesn’t seem to travel east very well, and given their struggles tonight against a game Miami (OH) team at home, Michigan might be poised to spring the upset. The UM Hoops blog encourages us to dampen the hype a little, and we get that sentiment given the Wolverines’ recent history, but with UCLA’s seemingly constant offensive struggles, Michigan could ride Manny Harris to a big upset next week. In the other half of the bracket, we don’t expect Duke to have much trouble with S. Illinois simply because those are the types of teams that Duke feeds off of. SIU just doesn’t have the athleticism that is required to close out on Duke’s shooters and finish plays over its defense. Oh well – that’s why they play the games. We’ll talk more about this next week.
On Tap Friday (all times EST) – must-see games in red:
Florida (-23) v. Toledo (ESPNU) – 6pm
Kentucky v. VMI (ESPN FC) – 7pm
Stanford (-12.5) @ Yale – 7pm
Connecticut (-26.5) v. W. Carolina (ESPN360) – 7:30pm
Story of the Night. UCLA’s freshman class. Last year’s freshman class arguably boasted the best player in the country in Kevin Love, but this year’s version, while lacking in equivalent star power, may more than compensate for Love’s loss with its depth and diversity of skills. Jrue Holiday was the only rookie starter tonight in UCLA’s win against Prairie View A&M, but his four classmates (Drew Gordon, Malcolm Lee, Jerime Anderson and J’Mison Morgan) each came off the bench and contributed aplenty. The quintet accounted for 41% of the minutes, 44% of the points, 44% of the rebounds and 43% of the assists tonight in the 82-58 win. Ok, and 54% of the turnovers, but still, not a bad start for this freshman class of Bruins. As for the game itself, it appears that UCLA still knows how to rebound (41-18) and the defense is still stingy – Prairie View was held to a mere 23% shooting in the first half; the fact that they shot 42% for the game indicates that either UCLA lost focus in the second half or Prairie View settled down – we’re leaning toward the former as an explanation. Darren Collison led the way as he hit five threes en route to a 19/3/4 asst night. The Bruins will play Miami (OH) tomorrow night in the second round of the CvC in a game that should combine for about 50 total pts. Once again, ESPN isn’t allowing embedded videos so we’ll have to settle for linked highlights.
Other Games.S. Illinois 80, UMass 73. We thought this would be the best game of the night, and it looks like we were right, as S. Illinois got themselves down nine at halftime to UMass before storming back behind nine threes in the second half to pull away in the last few minutes to win another home game. Bryan Mullins had a huge night for SIU, going for 16/13/4 stls for the home team, but Kevin Dillard’s four threes in the second half didn’t hurt. UMass was led by Ricky Harris with 24/5, but the stat that jumped off the Minutemen’s page was starting PG Chris Lowe’s TEN turnovers (with zero assists). Michigan 76, Northeastern 56. Gotta admit that we thought this game had upset potential, and we couldn’t have been more wrong. Michigan’s Manny Harris followed up his impressive season debut with nearly a trip-dub (26/10/8 assts), as UM held Northeastern to 29% shooting (17% from three) for the game. UM Hoops points out that, if Michigan is going to threaten this year, they’ll need to shore up their work on the boards. Northeastern grabbed twenty offensive rebounds tonight (amazingly, they only had 29 total boards), and with UCLA looming on the horizon next week in MSG (probably), the Wolverines will need to repair that deficiency. Miami (OH) 70, Weber St. 66. So in the other half of the Westwood bracket, Miami (OH) won a game on a three by Kenny Hayes (24 pts) with 1.7 seconds left on the clock, despite losing nearly every major statistical category in the game. The Redhawks were outshot (by 10% FG), outrebounded (by 7), outassisted (by 3), and yet they still prevailed. How? Turnovers, kids. Seven additional TOs by Weber St. gave Miami just enough extra possessions to sneak by. Miami will play UCLA tomorrow night for the right to play at MSG, and we expect Charlie Coles to have something up his sleeve to make this game interesting for a while.
So if you haven’t heard, tonight is the beginning of college basketball regular season games. What we’re really talking about, though, is two games from Durham as part of the Coaches v. Cancer Tournament (only one televised on ESPNU). In fact, the first game (Houston v. Georgia Southern) starts in about forty minutes.
So we wanted to throw up the brackets again just to remind ourselves of who was playing in this thing, and what we might expect to see in a week or so. Some predictions below the bracket.
Duke Regional. Obviously, Duke will be heavily favored in both games, but Houston is a slight sleeper here. The Cougars won 24 games last season, defeated Kentucky, and played Memphis tough in both of their CUSA contests. They lost their top two players from last year, but return their next four, and Coach Tom Penders’ teams play hard and typically can score with anybody.
SIU Regional. Two easy first round game for S. Illinois and UMass, but that matchup presents an interesting contrast in styles – SIU with their methodical pace and UMass with its breakneck pace (#4 nationally in possessions/game last year). We’d expect SIU to win because they simply don’t lose many nonconference games at home, but it could be an interesting game.
UCLA Regional. Ho-hum. UCLA will have no problem with anyone in this region, but we’d recommend bringing your iced double latte if the Bruins play Miami (OH) in the second round. That game won’t break 100 pts total.
Michigan Regional. It wouldn’t shock us if Michigan lost a second-round matchup with Northeastern here. In fact, this is probably the most likely shot at an upset in the four regionals. Northeastern returns its entire starting lineup from a team that some expect to make some noise in the CAA this year. And while we love John Beilein, he’s probably a couple years away from fully implementing his system in Ann Arbor.
The Picks to go to MSG.Duke, S. Illinois, UCLA, Northeastern.
WYN2K. The MAC’s new logo is just a small part of the change that the Mid-American Conference is hoping will push their league to the next level. Seven of the league’s twelve head coaches are either in their first or second year, a sign that it really is a new era in the MAC. The league is hoping to make the leap that leagues such as the Missouri Valley have made over the past decade. It’s been ten long years since the MAC has had two teams in the NCAA Tournament. That was back in 1999 when Kent earned the automatic bid while Miami (OH) picked up the league’s last at-large bid. They proved very worthy as Wally Szczerbiak carried the RedHawks to the Sweet 16. But the MAC has not since been able to recapture the glory of 1999. Yes, they did watch Kent make a run to the Elite Eight in 2002, but it’s been quantity rather than quality that has plagued the MAC in the new century. Since that multiple bid year of 1999, the league has sat back and watched a number of conferences do what they’ve been unable to do. We mentioned the Valley, who has been a multi-bid league eight times in the interim. Additionally, the Mountain West (8), WAC (7), West Coast (5), Horizon (2), CAA (2), Sun Belt (1) and Big West (1) have all been a multi-bid league at least once. In order to make that leap to a multi-bid league, the MAC must schedule better and most importantly take advantage of the opportunities they do get against the major conference teams.
Predicted Champion.Kent (#13 NCAA). As it’s been 7 of the past 10 years, the winner of the MAC will come from the East. Just what team from the East remains to be seen? Miami, Kent and Ohio all should make serious runs at the title, but none would be anything higher than a #12 seed in the Big Dance.
As long as Jim Christian was at Kent, the Flash were guaranteed a 20-win season (ten straight). But Jim Christian left for TCU. Kent assistant coach and former MAC superstar Geno Ford (Ohio ’97) takes over the bench for the Flashes, but he will have some familiar faces to help him in his first season. Guard Al Fisher (13.9 ppg, 4.0 apg) is the first returning MAC Player of the Year since 2002. Fisher leads a group of eight returners that made up 65.1% of the KSU attack. Chris Singletary and Jordan Mincy help Fisher solidify the backcourt. The frontcourt is where Kent will have to fill some holes. Gone are Hamminn Quaintance and Mike Scott, both All-MAC performers who averaged over 23 points and 13 rebounds per game.
Miami (OH) has veteran leadership on their side. Charlie Coles, the dean of MAC coaches, is back for his 13th season with the RedHawks and he returns four starters and eleven letterwinners. The most significant is Michael Bramos, a POY candidate. Bramos (16.3 ppg) is a sharp-shooter who has the ability to light it up at anytime. He went for 30+ points four times last year. His scoring and the RedHawks always-frustrating defense will keep Miami in the hunt all year. Miami has to find someone to replace the production of All-MAC frontcourt star Tim Pollitz.
Ohio might be the longshot of these three, but don’t sleep on the Bobcats. Like Kent, they have a new head coach in John Groce who comes from Ohio State where he played a big part in the recruiting of Greg Oden and Mike Conley. It will take Groce some time to work his recruiting magic in Athens, but he does have some talent to work with. Jerome Tillman (13.3 ppg, 7.6 rpg) might be the best player in the league. He’s been very solid the past three years for the ‘Cats, posting 18 double-doubles. The only question with Tillman is can he do it without his tag-team partner of the past two years? Gone is Leon Williams, who garnered double and triple teams throughout his career in Athens. Williams opened things for Tillman, but with him gone on the inside, how will Tillman handle the bulk of the attention? The Bobcats also return senior starter Justin Orr in the frontcourt, a player who has yet to tap into his full potential. Michael Allen is the only other senior on the team. He’ll be asked to be a leader on the floor from the point guard spot where he showed flashes of brilliance last year. The Bobcats must find a way to win on the road if they want to be a serious contender. They were 7-1 at home in the MAC, 2-6 on the road last season.
Others Considered. Eastern Michigan hasn’t been dancing since 1998 and hasn’t had a winning season since 1999-00. So why would we mention the Eagles? Well, they could be a darkhorse in the West. All-MAC guard Carlos Medlock returns as well as 2006-07 All-MAC freshman forward Brandon Bowdry who missed all of last year with a stress fracture. The Eagles did finish second in the West last year at 8-8, so a winning season in 2008-09 is not out of the question. Western Michigan will be considered the West favorite thanks to the return of All-MAC guard David Kool. Along with having one of the best names in the MAC, he averaged over 16 points per game. The Broncos will struggle trying to find a replacement for inside workhorse Joe Reitz. In the East, Bowling Green and Buffalo could be sleepers. BG returns almost everyone and has a talented coach in Louis Orr. Buffalo was only 3-13 in the MAC last year, but they return all five starters and ninth-year head coach Reggie Witherspoon has won in this league before.
The MAC does have a number of games against the BCS schools. But overall, the league has done a pretty poor job of scheduling. They’re aren’t nearly enough key games at home. It’s been an ongoing problem for years in the MAC in trying to get bigger schools to come on-campus and play. This year is no different. But with that being said, there are chances to make some noise in the non-conference season. The league plays quite a few mid-majors including a handful of teams from the MVC and Atlantic 10. Here is a list of the top 25 games where the MAC really has a chance to put themselves on the map. The italicized games are the rare times a big school has agreed to play at a MAC school. If the MAC is able to pull a few upsets in these games, then what those teams do in conference will go a long way in earning them a possible at-large bid.
Miami at UCLA (11.13.08)
Toledo at Florida (11.14.08)
Miami at Pitt (11.17.08)
Toledo at Xavier (11.17.08)
Eastern Michigan at Purdue (ESPN2) (11.17.08)
Akron at Pitt (11.21.08)
Bowling Green at Ohio State (11.24.08)
Kent vs. Illinois (South Padre Invitational) (11.28.08)
Kent vs. Texas A&M/Tulsa (South Padre Invitational) (11.29.08)
Miami at Xavier (11.29.08)
Kent at Kansas (ESPNU) (12.01.08)
Central Michigan at Marquette (12.02.08)
UMass at Toledo (12.03.08)
St. Mary’s at Kent (12.04.08)
UConn at Buffalo (12.04.08)
Ohio at Louisville (12.07.08)
Purdue at Ball State (12.09.08)
Ohio at Xavier (12.10.08)
Eastern Michigan at Michigan (12.13.08)
Western Michigan at UNLV (12.14.08)
Southern Illinois at Northern Illinois (12.17.08)
Miami at WVU (12.20.08)
Houston at Toledo (12.20.08)
Western Michigan at Southern Illinois (12.22.08)
Eastern Michigan at Illinois (12.28.08)
Central Michigan at Kentucky (12.29.08)
The league is set up for teams to open with five division games, six cross-division games and then five division games to finish. So we’ll have a good idea of the front-runners in both the East Division and West Division by late January. It also sets up for some potentially big games in late February/early March to decide the division races. On paper, the East Division is again stronger than the West Division. The Michigan directional schools will all get their cracks at the East to prove otherwise in late January.
Kent at Ohio (01.11.09)
Ohio at Miami (01.14.09)
Miami at Kent (01.17.09)
Eastern Michigan at Kent (01.27.09)
Kent at Western Michigan (01.31.09)
Miami at Eastern Michigan (01.31.09)
Eastern Michigan at Ohio (02.07.09)
Ohio at Western Michigan (02.11.09)
Bowling Green at Toledo (02.11.09)
Western Michigan at Miami (02.14.09)
Miami at Ohio (02.16.09)
Ohio at Kent (02.17.09)
Eastern Michigan at Western Michigan (02.18.09)
Eastern Michigan at Central Michigan (02.28.09)
Kent at Miami (03.01.09) (could decide East champion)
Central Michigan at Western Michigan (03.08.09)
Neat-O Stat. If history is any indicator, Kent will be there in the end. They’ve played in the MAC Tournament title game 7 of the last 10 years, winning five of them.
Hello, My Name Is…
The league has 7 coaches who are either in their first or second years.
First-Year Head Coaches
John Groce – Ohio
Geno Ford – Kent
Gene Cross – Toledo
Second-Year Head Coaches
Louis Orr – Bowling Green
Ernie Ziegler – Central Michigan
Billy Taylor – Ball State
Ricardo Patton – Northern Illinois
Charlie Coles – Miami (13th year)
Reggie Witherspoon – Buffalo (9th year)
Keith Dambrot – Akron (5th year)
Charles Ramsey – Eastern Michigan (3rd year)
Steve Hawkins – Western Michigan (6th year)
65 Team Era. There’s a reason every coach gets a lump in his throat when the brackets first come out and he sees a MAC team opposite his sqaud, and it’s not necessarily because he thinks they’re going to lose. Rather, if history is any indication, he’s likely to win the first-round game, but he’s in for an all-out war in doing so. Despite an average seed of #11.9 throughout the era, MAC teams play their first-round opponents very tough, losing by 12 pts or less in all but seven of their first-round matchups. The overall conference record of 15-29 (.341) with four trips to the Sweet Sixteen isn’t too shabby either. Unfortunately for MAC fans, however, the conference is on a five-year streak of first-round losses, which is the longest such streak of the era.
While the MAC desperately wants to make the move to the next level and earn multiple NCAA bids, the reality is, this might not be the year for that to happen. The league lost a lot of star power from last year and with a ton of new coaches, it might be a year or two before this league really starts to take off and maybe even return to the form of the late 1990s where they were not just earning NCAA bids, but winning NCAA games. 2008-09 will be like most years in the MAC. Once they get to conference play, it will be an all-out war with teams beating up each other. That makes it tough to earn an at-large out of this league. Despite the top-heavy league records, the MAC is a tough league to win within, especially on the road.
On a more positive note, this league is getting better. You will see some budding coaching stars in Geno Ford, John Groce and Gene Cross. Not to mention a few coaches who have been around the block that know a thing or two about winning like Charlie Coles, Ricardo Patton and Louis Orr. They do have stars to replace, but there are stars ready to shine. Keep an eye on Jerome Tillman (Ohio), Michael Bramos (Miami), Al Fisher (Kent), Carlos Medlock (EMU), Tyrone Kent and Boomer Tucker (Toledo) and David Kool (WMU).
This might not be a league who earns multiple NCAA bids in 2008-09, but they will make noise out of conference. Miami always gives people fits. Ohio is usually good for an upset. Kent has been rock-solid for the last decade. And with the much-improved Bowling Greens, Eastern Michigans and Toledos of the world, the MAC could jump up and surprise a big boy or two if they’re not careful.
We’re only a day from the real start of practice… let’s lace em up!
Something’s going around. SDSU’s all-MWC forward Lorenzzo Wade was indefinitely suspended today by the university for an incident where he was accused of first-degree burglary of an inhabited dwelling. We’re quite certain that Gabby (and resident Aztec fan) over at M2M is drowning himself in some tasty spirits right about now.
WYN2K. We went back and forth on where to rank the MAC because conveniently pigeonholing this league into low- or mid-major status is very difficult to do. Historically, the league hasn’t been more than a one-bid league (since 1985 the MAC has received two NCAA bids only five times), but it has consistently done well with the teams that it puts into March Madness, ranking among the top five conferences in terms of exceeding its expected number of NCAA wins (aka overachieving). Using historical measures of success by seed, the MAC (as an average #12.0 seed) should have won only 12.04 NCAA Tournament games over the last 23 years – instead it has won fifteen. So given this dichotomy in its character, we started looking at recent history to gain a deeper understanding of where the MAC should fall on the ladder. We’re probably going to upset the MAC folks out there, but ultimately we were swayed by the fact that the league has been a one-bid league with no first round wins (losing by an average of 8.8 pts) over the last four seasons (despite having a winning record of 192-186 against OOC opponents the last three years). That was enough to convince us to keep the MAC (for now) at the top of the low majors. But it was a very close call.
Predicted Champion. Kent St. (#12 seed NCAA). The Golden Flashes are our choice to win the MAC this year (again, shamelessly unoriginal). But what’s not to like with this team? They return all five starters from a team that went 12-4 in conference last year, and a program under the tutelage of Jim Christian who has never had an under-20 win season at the school (KSU has had nine straight 20 win seasons). No one player stands out offensively on this defensive-minded club (#22 nationally in defensive efficiency last year), but 6’7 forward Haminn Quaintance is the man shoring up the team D from the inside (#15 in stl% and #33 in blk% nationally). Kent St. has a difficult, but not insane (see: Miami (OH) for that), nonconference schedule, featuring games against mid-majors Xavier, St. Louis and George Mason at home, while going to Chapel Hill in early January to play UNC.
Others Considered. We like Western Michigan to win the West Division, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we think they’re the second-best team in the conference. Like Kent St., the Broncos also return all five starters, but the 2007 version of WMU simply (16-16) wasn’t as good as Kent St. (21-11). Their ultimate destiny may depend on the offseason development of the most excellently-named guard David Kool, last year’s MAC FrOY, a player who seems to do a little bit of everything. Last year’s miraculous champion Miami (OH) was also considered simply because they have Charlie Coles still at the helm and you know you’re going to get a hardnosed defensive team (#28 nationally in eFG% defense; MU didn’t allow a single opponent to score 70 pts last seaon) that tests itself with an extremely tough nonconference schedule every year – this year’s includes five NCAA teams, one NIT team + Cincinnati on the road. Akron getting left out of both the NCAA and the NIT last year despite 26 wins has to still sting coach Keith Dambrot. But if he’s to become vindicated with a MAC championship this year, he’ll have to do so without conference POY (and former Lebron HS teammates) Romeo Travis and team leader PG Dru Joyce. Can the Zips find point guard play to support another run? They do return five of the top 500 most efficient offensive players in the country (contributing to a #12 raw offensive efficiency), so there is a fair chance of another great season. Another team that is probably still a year away from competing for the MAC title but is worth watching is Central Michigan. CMU went from 4-24 in 2006 to 13-18 in 2007, and the pieces are beginning to align for former UCLA assistant coach and current head man Ernie Ziegler. He returns four starters including Giordan Watson, the leading returning scorer (18.8 ppg) in the MAC this season. Last year’s league regular season champ, Toledo, lost its top three scorers and is expected to drop off somewhat despite returning the league’s DPOY Kashif Payne.
Games to Watch. The MAC has a fair number of televised games this year, so you can actually watch some of these, as opposed to watching for them. Keep in mind the unbalanced sixteen-game schedule.
Kent St. @ Miami (OH) (01.17.08) & Miami (OH) @ Kent St. (03.04.08)
Central Michigan @ Western Michigan (01.22.08) ESPNU & Western Michigan @ Central Michigan (03.04.08)
ESPNU Bracketbusters (02.23.08)
MAC Championship Game (03.15.08) ESPN2
RPI Booster Games. Like the Big West, the MAC doesn’t play a lot of BCS teams, largely because they want home-and-homes and the higher profile schools aren’t willing to risk a loss when they get a Southland or Sun Belt team to take the one-game lump payment along with their whipping. Last year the league was 4-25 (.138) against BCS teams, and there are 21 such games on the schedule this year (along with quite a few mid-major games). Oh, and who does Ohio U. know at ESPN – they’re scheduled to be on the family of networks at least nine times this year!
New Mexico St. @ Ohio (11.09.07) ESPN FC
Western Michigan @ Oregon (11.10.07) ESPN FC
Vanderbilt @ Toledo (11.13.07)
Davidson @ Western Michigan (11.21.07)
Central Michigan @ Minnesota (11.24.07) ESPN 360
Eastern Michigan @ Notre Dame (12.01.07)
Miami (OH) @ Louisville (12.01.07) ESPN FC
Ohio @ Kansas (12.15.07) ESPN2
Western Michigan @ S. Illinois (12.18.07)
Kent St. @ UNC (01.02.08) ESPN
Odds of Multiple NCAA Bids. There’s always a reasonable shot for the MAC to get multiple bids, but we wouldn’t call those odds good this year. Looking at what happened to Akron last year suggests that the only team that would have a shot at an at-large would be Miami (OH) if they had a great record and lost in the conference tournament.
Neat-o Stat. There are three new and somewhat accomplished coaches coming into the MAC this season – Ricardo Patton (Northern Illinois), formerly of Colorado where he took the Buffs to 2 NCAAs and 4 NITs in eleven seasons; Louis Orr (Bowling Green), formerly of Seton Hall where he took the Pirates to 2 NCAAs and 1 NIT in five seasons; and Billy Taylor (Ball St.), formerly of Lehigh who is taking over from the troubled tenure of Ronny Thompson there.
64/65-Team Era. As we alluded to above, the MAC can make a reasonable case for inclusion into the mid-major category (we define a mid-major conference as one that consistently competes for and receives at-large NCAA bids, minus the BCS conferences). Despite overachieving when MAC teams make the NCAA Tourney with four teams making the Sweet 16 or better (Kent St. in 2002), it still only has had five years of multiple bids (two each time – 1985, 1986, 1995, 1998, 1999) in this era. And as you can see, none have occurred during the 2000s. For now, let’s enjoy the ending of last year’s MAC Championship game. Bedlam.
Final Thought. The conference is very balanced, as five different programs have tasted the NCAA over the last five years, and only twice has a school had the good fortune to go B2B in winning the conference crown (Ball St. – 1989 & 1990; Kent St. – 2001 & 2002). So it should be no surprise if someone besides Miami (OH) steps up and takes the title this year. Befitting a conference that has quality depth, we see no fewer than six teams that could make a legitimate run at the conference championship, and a couple more who could easily act the role of spoilers. As always, the MAC plays quality basketball and is worth catching when you get a chance.