Alex Varone is the RTC correspondent for the Mid-American Conference.
A Look Back
Once again, there appears to be a clear divide between the Mid-American Conference’s East & West Divisions. Four of the East’s six teams (Kent State, Ohio, Akron, Buffalo) have winning records at this early junction in the season, while a fifth (3-4 Miami (Ohio)) just upset Xavier of the Atlantic 10. Meanwhile, none of the West’s six teams have a winning record, three have fewer than two wins (Eastern Michigan, Western Michigan, Toledo), and the only team without a losing record (Ball State) just lost to Alaska-Anchorage.
- Justin Greene (19.4 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 1.6 BPG) has continued his fine season for the 6-1 Kent State Golden Flashes, ranking in the top five in the league in points, rebounds, and blocks. Entering the month of December, Greene has been the MAC’s best player. But don’t overlook some of this conference’s other fine talent, including Xavier Silas out of Northern Illinois. The senior guard leads the MAC in scoring at 24.8 PPG, and opened the season with four consecutive 20-point games, including back-to-back 34-point outbursts.
- Byron Mulkey out of Buffalo has been one of the pleasant surprises of the early season. The senior sat out last season, and has bounced back with some of the MAC’s finest all-around play, averaging 13.2 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 5.5 APG, and 4.3 SPG. Those numbers are comparable with Ohio‘s star D.J. Cooper (17.8 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 6.7 APG, 2.7 SPG), the league’s best guard.
Power Rankings (Last week’s ranking in parentheses)
- Kent State (2) 6-1 – Sure, the Golden Flashes don’t have any attention-grabbing wins over teams from high-major conferences, but Kent State has quietly defeated Robert Morris and Lehigh, a pair of NCAA Tournament teams from last season. And Kent State’s only defeat in the month of November was a three-point loss at still-undefeated Cleveland State. Keep an eye on Kent State’s continued performance in close games, as the Golden Flashes have recorded four of their six wins by five points or fewer. The week ahead, with road games at UAB and Florida, may put a dent in Kent State’s fine early record, but those games will go a long way in showing how good this team actually is.
- Akron (4) 3-2 – Another year, another quality start for the Zips. Akron’s two losses — at Dayton, vs. Cleveland State — were fairly competitive, and Wednesday’s eight-point win at Detroit was a better win than most realize. Four players are averaging double-figures for Akron, but the development of 7’0 sophomore center Zeke Marshall (14.8 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 3.3 BPG) gives the Zips a dangerous weapon come conference season.
- Ohio (3) 4-2 – Ohio has only lost one of its last four games, but what a loss it was. The Bobcats were defeated by 57 points (!) at a neutral site against Kansas. To expect the defending MAC Champs to beat the Jayhawks was unreasonable, but to at least be competitive for 40 minutes wasn’t. Ohio only made 14 field goals against Kansas; half of them were made by Cooper, the team’s only double-figure scorer through six games. This is still a good team, but Ohio needs more consistent scoring from some other players.
- Miami (Ohio) (5) 3-4 – The RedHawks’ continued gauntlet of a non-conference schedule paid off this Wednesday with a nice 11-point win at home over perennial A-10 power Xavier. But still looming this week is a trip to Dayton on Saturday. While Miami (Ohio) hasn’t shown much offensive explosion early on in the season, forwards Antonio Ballard and Nick Winbush are capable of notching double-doubles, as is junior Julian Mavunga, who leads the team in points, rebounds, assists, and blocks per game.
- Ball State (1) 3-3 – What might have been for Ball State at the Great Alaska Shootout. The Cardinals nearly upset St. John’s before falling by five in overtime, and then suffered a crushing 18-point loss against Alaska Anchorage. So what does that mean for this team? Well, the truth is that Ball State probably isn’t as good as it played against St. John’s, and it probably isn’t as bad as it played against Alaska Anchorage. And for now, that middle ground is still good enough to be the top team in the sorry West Division.
- Buffalo (9) 4-2 – Credit to the Bulls, who have been better to this point in the season than it was originally thought. Buffalo’s four wins — home versus Navy and Towson, road at Canisius and Army — aren’t exactly eye-opening, but it’s a nice set of wins over some decent mid-majors in what looked to be a rebuilding year. The Bulls do their best work on the defensive end, ranking in the top 40 nationally (courtesy of Ken Pomeroy) in effective field goal percentage and turnover percentage.
- Central Michigan (8) 2-4 – Only two wins so far for Central Michigan, which has two 16 PPG scorers, and two of the conference’s top six scorers, in freshman Trey Zeigler and senior Jalin Thomas, but seemingly little else offensively. A big problem for this team has been getting to the free throw line. Last time, I mentioned that Zeigler had eight attempts from the line in a single game against Hawaii, a number which is now exactly half of his total attempts from the line on the season.
- Western Michigan (7) 1-4 – In its first game of the season, Western Michigan blew a seven-point late second half lead in an eventual loss at Xavier; in its latest game, Western Michigan blew a fifteen-point late second half lead in an eventual loss at Towson. As it stands now, the Broncos have only one win — albeit against a tough early schedule — and uncertainty about an offense that’s still trying to replace guard David Kool and his 21.6 points per game last year.
- Northern Illinois (11) 2-3 – If there’s one thing to like about Northern Illinois, it’s the aforementioned Xavier Silas. When on, Silas has the potential to carry the Huskies offense for forty minutes. But when a 2-for-9, 9-point performance happens for Silas, as it did against Boise State at home earlier this week, that’s when Northern Illinois only scores 51 points in a 29-point home drubbing and in the process looks like a bottom level MAC team.
- Eastern Michigan (6) 1-3 – If you’re looking for a problem with Eastern Michigan through four games, look no further than offensive struggles, beginning with the Eagles’ best player, senior forward Brandon Bowdry. On the surface, Bowdry’s stats (18.5 PPG, 9.3 RPG) are no worse than last year’s (16.3 PPG, 10.0 RPG), but so far this season Bowdry’s field goal percentage is way down (from 48.8% to 39.7%), as is his free-throw percentage (63.6% to 48.3%).
- Bowling Green (10) 1-6 – Speaking of offensive troubles, the Bowling Green Falcons have had a tough time scoring, and therefore, a tough time winning. Bowling Green has not yet defeated a Division-I basketball program, and losses to teams like Howard, Niagara, and Albany can be pinned down to an offense that doesn’t have a go-to-scorer, shoots a combined 37.1% from the field, and turns the ball over 16 times per game.
- Toledo (12) 0-7 - The winless record doesn’t lie: Toledo is a terrible basketball team. In fact, not only is it the least talented team in the MAC, but it’s also one of the least talented teams in the country overall. But first-year coach Ted Kowalczyk has the Rockets fighting hard each game, see last week’s pair of single-digit road losses at Youngstown State and Illinois-Chicago. However, win number one is still a ways away.
A Look Ahead
Will any of the Mid-American Conference’s top teams take advantage of the December non-conference action to emerge from the pack as a legitimate favorite come conference play? The following games are opportunities for those teams to capture a signature non-conference win:
- Dec. 4 – Miami (Ohio) at Dayton
- Dec. 5 -Kent State at UAB
- Dec. 8- Ohio at Illinois State
- Dec. 9 -Kent State at Florida, ESPN2
- Dec. 11- Ball State at DePaul
- Dec. 12 -Akron at Temple
- Dec. 15 -Akron at Minnesota