David Sanchirico is the RTC correspondent for the MAC.
Kent State 3-0
Bowling Green 1-1
Miami (Ohio) 0-2
Ball State 1-0
Eastern Michigan 1-0
Central Michigan 2-1
Western Michigan 1-1
Northern Illinois 0-2
The MAC continues to struggle during out-of-conference play as potential upsets slipped out of teams’ hands, others succumbed in blowouts, and teams that were expected to win, didn’t.
But there were also some good showings from a few surprise teams, including a club from Oxford, Ohio that almost pulled off the biggest upset in recent memory. The first week of basketball really set the stage for what should be an intense and competitive season in the MAC.
Rush the Court currently does not have a correspondent from the MAC so if you would like to represent the conference and educate the rest of us, please e-mail us at email@example.com.
Predicted Order of Finish:
Kent State (10-6)
Bowling Green (9-7)
Miami (OH) (8-8)
Ball State (8-8)
Northern Illinois (7-9)
Eastern Michigan (7-9)
Central Michigan (6-10)
Western Michigan (5-11)
David Kool (G), Sr, Western Michigan
Darion Anderson (G), Jr, Northern Illinois
Jarrod Jones (F), So, Ball State
Brandon Bowdry (F), Jr, Eastern Michigan
Zeke Marshall (C), Fr, Akron
6th Man. Brett McKnight (F), Jr, Akron
Impact Newcomer. Zeke Marshall (C), Fr, Akron
What You Need to Know.To begin with this is the MAC not the MAAC. Sienadoesn’t play in this conference so if you came here expecting to see a preview for them you are in the wrong place (at least for a few days). This conference, the MAC, is ridiculously unbalanced. While none of the the teams in the MAC would be considered contenders for a national title there are four good teams in the East that might actually pique some interest when they played a decent BCS school as an “Upset Alert.” There isn’t a single team in the West you could say that about even if they were playing a cellar-dweller in any of the BCS conferences. In fact, last year the last-place team in the East (Ohio) would have been tied for first in the West. The winner of the automatic bid will almost definitely come from the East with Akron and Buffalo being the top contenders. The edge may go to the Zips who lose less of their championship team from last year (only Nate Linhart) and add a 7’0″ center in the middle with Zeke Marshall while the Bulls will not have Greg Gamble and Andy Robinson this year.
Predicted Champion. Akron Zips (NCAA Seed: #13). Coming off a 20-win season and the MAC title/NCAA bid the Zips are loaded by MAC standards. The only significant player they lose is Linhart (the MAC tournament MVP), but the Zips should have more than enough to stay up at the top of the MAC with the McKnight brothers (Chris and Brett) leading the way. Even though Brett came off the bench last year, he still led the team in scoring and figures to do so again although I’m not sure if he will stay on the bench with Linhart’s departure. With the McKnights and Marshall controlling the inside, Daryl Roberts and his 39.6% from beyond the arc should get his fair share of quality looks. With so much returning talent, the key for the Zips will be how quickly Marshall adapts to the college game. Marshall, who FoxSports.com rated as the #13 impact freshman this upcoming season, could give the Zips something the MAC hasn’t seen in a long-time–a legitimate seven-foot center. His presence, even if tips the scales at a relatively svelte 218 lbs, could be just the boost that the Zips need to repeat in the MAC and scare some big-name school in the 1st round.
Ed. Note: the previous posts in this series (Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Atlantic South, Deep South and Mid-South) are located here.
It’s time for the sixth installment of our RTC 2009-10 Impact Players series, the group of rust belt and farming states that we like to call the Lower Midwest. Each week we’ll pick a geographic area of the country and break down the five players who we feel will have the most impact on their teams (and by the transitive property, college basketball) this season. Our criteria is once again subjective – there are so many good players in every region of the country that it’s difficult to narrow them down to only five in each – but we feel at the end of this exercise that we’ll have discussed nearly every player of major impact in the nation. Just to be fair and to make this not too high-major-centric, we’re also going to pick a mid-major impact player in each region as our sixth man. We welcome you guys, our faithful and very knowledgeable readers, to critique us in the comments where we left players off. The only request is that you provide an argument – why will your choice be more influential this season than those we chose?
Ed. Note: for the purposes of our analysis in this region, Butler was considered a high-major program.
Cole Aldrich – Jr, C – Kansas. Much like North Carolina one October ago, Kansas appears to be the unanimous selection to begin the season atop every poll and ranking. One of the main reasons for such accolades is the continued improvement of Cole Aldrich, the Kansas double-double machine in the post. Remember the national semifinals against UNC in 2008 when Aldrich burst onto the scene recording eight points, seven rebounds and four blocks in a then career-high 17 minutes? That was the night college hoops fans first saw what Aldrich can provide for Bill Self and his Jayhawks. In a full season of play, Aldrich and guard Sherron Collins were the anchors behind Kansas’ surprising run to a #3 seed and a Sweet 16 berth in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year. Cole Aldrich and a pretty good player named Blake Griffin were the only players in the Big 12 to average a double-double in 2008-09. Speaking of stats, Aldrich’s triple-double in the second round against Dayton – 13/20/10 blks- was the first recorded triple double in KU’s illustrious basketball history. Aldrich led the conference in blocks with at 2.7 BPG, finished second in rebounding at 12.4 RPG, second in FG% at 60% and tenth in FT% at an impressive 79% for a 6’11 center. Aldrich possesses great length, a high motor and displays the fundamentals under the basket that Self loves. The insane talent around Aldrich this season will only put less of a load on his shoulders as the big man can rely on Collins for the clutch outside shot, Xavier Henry on the wings, Thomas Robinson on the block or Tyrel Reed to knock down the long-range three. But the pressure will be on Aldrich to provide a post presence that simply cannot be matched in the Big 12 (sorry Dexter Pittman). If he achieves his potential, a national POY award isn’t out of the realm of possibility for Kansas’ prized junior center.
Craig Brackins – Jr, F – Iowa St. Craig Brackins won’t get half the airtime this season as any of the other high-major names on this list, but he could end up becoming the best player of the group when it’s all said and done. It’s not as if Brackins came out of nowhere – he was a five-star recruit out of Brewster (NH) Academy in 2007, and he turned down offers from Indiana and Pitt, among others – but, when you play in the Big 12 and your team is generally an afterthought (4-12 in 2008-09), it’s tough to get noticed. But noticed he got on Jan. 24th in a nationally-televised home game against the defending champion Kansas Jayhawks. Brackins sliced and diced the vaunted Jayhawk defense for 42/14 in a losing effort that had Bill Self afterwards stating that the lanky center could be the “best player in the country today.” That single game may have put the Iowa State star on the casual fan’s radar screen, but it’s not like Brackins wasn’t tearing it up against everyone else too: 32/16 against N. Iowa; 28/17 against Jacksonville St.; 38/14 against Houston; 25/13 against Nebraska. The all-Big 12 first teamer nearly averaged a double-double for the season (20.2 PPG and 9.5 RPG) despite seeing hard and fast double-teams every time he touched the ball. It was widely presumed that Brackins would jump into the NBA Draft last summer after such a spectacular season; after all, projections for him of the lottery and mid-first round were prevalent. However, Brackins said that he had some unfinished business to attend to at ISU (meaning, getting the Cyclones to an NCAA Tournament), and he returned to what should be an improved squad with 6’7 juco transfer Marquis Gilstrap’s arrival on the blocks and a solid returning backcourt of Diante Garrett and Lucca Staiger. The only true weakness he has exhibited so far in his career is his 28% from beyond the arc, but with more firepower on the team this year he may be less inclined to feel like he has to do it all (Brackins attempted 37% of ISU’s shots last year). Regardless of how the team’s season plays out in 2009-10, there should be no doubt that Brackins is on the short list of best post men in America. With another year of seasoning under his belt at the collegiate level, however, we could be looking at a top five pick next June. Don’t flip the channel so quickly if you see that Iowa St. is playing on the tube this year – it may be one of your few chances to see one of the best big men in the country.
Akron ( #13, South, Portland pod)
vs. Gonzaga (#4)
Thurs., 3/19 at 7:25 PM
Vegas Line: Akron, +11.5
General Profile Location: Akron, Ohio Conference: MAC, At-large Coach: Keith Dambrot, 206-110 08-09 Record: 23-12, 10-6 Last 12 Games: 8-4, won 4 straight Best Win: 63-59 at Niagara, December 1 Worst Loss: 83-79, at Northern Illinois, February 15 Off. Efficiency Rating: 101.4, 172nd Def. Efficiency Rating: 92.0; 10th
Nuts ‘n Bolts Star Player(s): Nate Linhart, 10.1 ppg, 6.2 rpg Unsung Hero: Humpty Hitchins, 8.9 ppg, 1.4 rpg, 2.3 apg Potential NBA Draft Pick(s): None Key Injuries: Freshman PG Humpty Hitchins, left ankle sprain. Missed MAC semifinals, but returned (limited) for title game Depth: 36.5% (53th nationally), percentage of minutes played by reserves Achilles Heel: Shooting; avg 41.9% from field (246th nationally) and prone to foul trouble (avg over 20 fouls per game) Will Make a Deep Run if…: Hell freezes over Will Make an Early Exit if…: Gonzaga doesn’t run out of gas in the team bus on the way to the arena
NCAA History Last Year Invited: 1986, lost in 1st round to Michigan 70-64 Streak: N/A Best NCAA Finish: 1986, lost in first round Historical Performance vs. Seed (1985-present): Not enough data (Minimum 8 bids)
Other Six Degrees to Detroit: Akron football team won first-ever MAC football title with win in MAC Championship at Ford Field in Detroit in 2005 Distance to First Round Site: 2470 miles. School’s Claim to Fame: LeBron James is from Akron and played for Zips Head Coach Keith Dambrot at St. Vincent/St. Mary High School. He occasionally goes back to work out with team. School Wishes It Could Forget: Losses in the previous two MAC title games. Lost in 2007 on buzzer-beater by Miami and were beat by 19 by arch-rival Kent last season. Prediction: After getting so close to the postseason the past two years, the Zips finally broke through and won the MAC Tournament for the first time ever. It gets the Zips back to the Big Dance for the first time since 1986 when a guy by the name of Bob Huggins led the Zips through the Ohio Valley Conference and into the NCAA Tournament. Huggins went on to bigger and better things. The Zips floundered for years. Finally Keith Dambrot has them in the tourney, but unfortunately that will be the high point for them. Akron just hasn’t matched up with NCAA tournament-bound programs this year, much like the rest of the MAC. They lost to Pitt by 19, Dayton by 4 and VCU by 4. They also lost by 19 to the A-10’s Rhode Island. Don’t expect much from Akron. Gonzaga should roll in this one. Major RTC stories: Rydell’s Excessively Tinted Windows
Sweet Sixteen Sleeper (#12 seed or lower) Mississippi State, #13, 23-12 Final Four Sleeper (#4 seed or lower) Purdue, #5, 25-9
Carmelo Anthony Award Tyreke Evans, 16.6 pts, 5.5 assts, 3.8 rebs
Stephen Curry Award
Northern Iowa’s Adam Koch, 12.3 ppg, 5.2 rebs – relatively unknown player who can take his team a long way
#4 Washington – 148 miles, #11 Utah State – 293 miles, #1 UConn – 238 miles
Can’t Miss First Round Game #4 Washington vs. #13 Mississippi State, 3/19
Don’t Miss This One Either #6 Marquette vs. #11 Utah State, 3/20
Lock of the Year #6 Marquette upsetting #3 Mizzou and heading to the Sweet Sixteen
Juiciest Potential Matchup – purists #2 Memphis vs. #7 Cal, Second Round – this matchup would be for those who want to see great basketball Juiciest Potential Matchup – media Mike Montgomery (#7 Cal) vs. Gary Williams (#10 Maryland)
We Got Screwed Purdue, #5 – How are the Boilermakers rewarded for winning one of the nation’s toughest conference tournaments? With a five-seed matchup against a dangerous Northern Illinois team… in Oregon. If they move on, they’ll likely draw Washington just a short jaunt from the Huskies’ hometown.
Strongest Pod Portland – #4 Washington, #5 Purdue, #12 Northern Illinois, #13 Mississippi State. Three conference tourney champions and one regular season conference champ.
Wildcard, Bitches Texas A&M had a difficult time in the rough Big XII (9-7), but has shown they can beat good teams and beat UConn if they play above themselves and catch the Huskies napping.
So-Called Experts Memphis. The Tigers showed last season that you can dominate a weak conference and still make it to the title game. Now they carry the nation’s longest winning streak into the tournament and their toughest competition is a talented but flawed UConn team (struggling with the injury to Jerome Dyson).
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.