Coaches who are fired from their plum head coaching positions have to end up somewhere, and two former power conference guys who were not quite able to get it done at that level have resurfaced this week at a pair of unusual destinations. First, former rising star Todd Lickliter, the NABC Coach of the Year at Butler in 2007 but a miserable failure subsequently at Iowa with an overall record of 38-57, was formally hired on Wednesday as the new head coach at NAIA school Marian University, located in the same part of Indianapolis as the program he helped put on the college basketball map a decade ago. Lickliter spent last season as an assistant at Miami (OH), but will look to re-legitimize himself in the NAIA before no doubt angling for future D-I head coaching positions.
The other unusual coaching hire this week was former Colorado and Northern Illinois head coach Ricardo Pattontaking a high school gig as the top man at Central High School in Memphis, Tennessee. Patton spent last season as an assistant at Maryland-Eastern Shore, but he has ties to the Memphis area and was interestingly enough a candidate for the Memphis (University of) head coaching position there 15 years ago. The Memphis area churns out top-notch recruits annually so the cynical side of us wonders if Patton is looking for some kind of package deal in the next few years with some future star player he latches on to at Central HS.
An article posited in a recent volume of The Chronicle of Higher Education suggests that conference realignment – at least from the years of 2004-11 – could actually have a significant and measurable impact on the academic standing of the school in addition to the undisputed benefits to the athletic side of things. Really? The authors state that subsequent to realignment colleges became generally more selective, their admissions yield rates were higher, and their incoming college admissions scores were greater. All of those things, if controlled for in the study, make sense, but are we really supposed to believe that Missouri’s move to the SEC or Houston’s to the Big East will make those institutions better academic schools? We’ll wait on the follow-up studies before buying into this one.
Did the ACC recently shoot itself in the foot – either willfully or wantonly – when it decided to include its third-tier media rights in its latest television package with ESPN for an estimated $238 million per year? Forbes’ Chris Smith argues that the league made a grievous error in failing to exclude those properties because it essentially amounts to the conference leaving money on the table and exposes it to future poaching by other leagues (ahem, Big 12) with richer deals. As he puts it, “the ACC is giving away more and getting back less.” Of course, Smith’s analysis fails to take into account the obvious academic benefits, such as BC’s 37% increase in applications after joining the ACC, right?
Big 12 football fans are salivating at the league’s invitation to Texas Christian, which has appeared in two straight BCS bowl games and has cemented itself as a national power during the past decade or so. With 17 conference titles and NFL stars like LaDainian Tomlinson roaming around, the invitation makes logical and economic sense for all parties involved.
Those Are Known as Empty Seats
There’s just one problem, though: the hoops aspect. The addition of TCU looks like a disastrous scenario for the Big 12 in the short-term. Forget for a moment even the lack of history for the Horned Frogs (and, just a warning, there’s not much). The larger problem is the current state of TCU hoops, which, to put it nicely, can only be described as having “fallen on hard times.” In three years, coach Jim Christian has never finished above .500, and his team limped to a 1-15 record in Mountain West play a year ago. As a whole, the program hasn’t made the NCAA Tournament since 1998, back when Billy Tubbs coached the team, and it has not finished with a winning record in its league since 2001.
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)
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.