Conference Primers: #15 – MAC

Posted by rtmsf on November 6th, 2007

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Predicted Order of Finish:


  1. Kent St. (22-6) (13-3)
  2. Miami (OH) (16-10) (11-5)
  3. Akron (17-12) (9-7)
  4. Ohio (12-15) (7-9)
  5. Bowling Green (12-16) (6-10)
  6. Buffalo (7-19) (4-12)


  1. Western Michigan (19-11) (11-5)
  2. Central Michigan (16-11) (10-6)
  3. Toledo (14-14) (9-7)
  4. Eastern Michigan (14-13) (8-8)
  5. Northern Illinois (9-19) (5-11)
  6. Ball St. (6-22) (3-13)

MAC Logo 

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)
  • Western Michigan @ Kent St. (01.27.08)
  • Miami (OH) @ Akron (01.05.08) & Akron @ Miami (OH) (02.19.08)
  • 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.       

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Conference Primers: #21 – Patriot

Posted by rtmsf on October 23rd, 2007

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Predicted Order of Finish:

  1. Holy Cross (19-7) (11-3)
  2. Bucknell (19-8) (10-4)
  3. Lehigh (17-12) (8-6)
  4. American (13-16) (7-7)
  5. Colgate (12-15) (7-7)
  6. Army (12-16) (6-8)
  7. Navy (9-19) (4-10)
  8. Lafayette (6-23) (3-11)

WYN2K. The story of the Patriot League this season, like many other low-major leagues, is that the big dogs are suddenly vulnerable. Holy Cross and Bucknell have combined for six of the last seven Patriot League championships, but with a mass of graduations and injuries between the two, the gap between themselves and the rest of the league is closing. The question is whether the gap in talent returning has closed enough to where we can make a good faith argument that another team will win the Patriot this year. Sadly, we can’t.

Predicted Champion. Holy Cross (#14 seed NCAA). Ralph Willard’s team lost its entire starting backcourt of conference POY Keith Simmons and DPOY Torey Thomas, but guards at the low major level are easier to replace than bigs, and former 2005 ROY Pat Doherty should smoothly take over the reins of the Crusaders (if he can stay healthy). Six other players return from a 13-1 team, but the most intriguing is 6’11 center Tim Clifford. Schools at this level simply do not have the luxury of skilled size, yet Clifford (#42 block% nationally) has shown that he can anchor the post for one of the nation’s most efficient defenses (#5 in defEff and #1 in stl% nationally). The Crusaders have gone 44-1 over the last three seasons in the Patriot League against ABB (anyone but Bucknell), so there is also a psychological advantage here that shouldn’t be understated.

Others Considered. As much as we really enjoy watching Bucknell play in the NCAAs, we fear that their personnel losses are simply too much to justify picking the Bison to win the league this year. Bucknell was already losing three main cogs from its 2005/2006 NCAA squads (Chris McNaughton, Donald Brown & Abe Badmus) before it got news that incumbent forward Darren Mastropaolo tore his ACL over the summer and will likely miss this season as well (all three inside players from the nations #1 offReb% team are now gone). That leaves guard John Griffin as the team’s sole returning starter with a group of talented reserves ready to step up. While we expect Bucknell to take a bit of a step back this year, we really don’t see another team in the Patriot ready to vault into the Bison’s position as a member of the Big Two. If we have to choose one, Lehigh is probably the most viable candidate. The Mountain Hawks return several starters from a 7-7 squad, but their coach Billy Taylor jumped to Ball St. in the wake of the Ronny Thompson fiasco. One knock against this team is that, in a league filled with three-point shooters, Lehigh defends against the three like a sieve (in other words, teams shot 39.2% from three against them last year – #318 nationally). Another team we considered is Colgate, who returns most of its minutes except for leading scorer Jon Simon, but they have a tendency to underachieve (20 wins in two years) and we don’t expect that to change substantially this season.

Games to Watch. Bucknell and Holy Cross are must-watches for this league. They will probably meet three times again this season.

  • Bucknell @ Holy Cross (01.19.08) & Holy Cross @ Bucknell (02.16.08)
  • Patriot League Championship Game (03.14.08) ESPN2

RPI Booster Games. This is the first league we’ve analyzed this year that pulled a complete oh-fer against BCS opponents last season (0-23). Bucknell came closest to pulling out wins, losing in OT to both Wake Forest and Penn St. (the Bison did beat Xavier 68-67). Nevertheless, this is probably a simple anomaly because this league is good enough to get a few wins against BCS teams most years. Out of only fifteen scheduled this year, here are the best opportunities.

  • Army @ Minnesota (11.10.07)
  • Bucknell @ Villanova (11.18.07)
  • Seton Hall @ Navy (11.23.07)
  • Bucknell @ Wake Forest (12.16.07)
  • Colgate @ Syracuse (12.18.07)
  • Lehigh @ Penn St. (12.31.07)
  • Holy Cross @ Maryland (01.08.08)

Odds of Multiple NCAA Bids. None this year, but if Bucknell and Holy Cross continue to grow their programs, there could be a foreseeable future where both of these teams would have good enough overall resumes to get an NCAA bid.

Neat-o Stat. Just how dominant have Bucknell and Holy Cross been in this league over the past three years? Try 80-4 on for size, with a perfect 28-0 record in 2007 against the other six conference members. Is it any wonder that the other six coaches are cautiously optimistic about their chances this season? Of course, in order to have a chance to win this league, the bottomfeeder group of Army, Colgate, Navy and Lafayette are going to have to do better than finishing in the bottom fifty teams nationally in offensive efficiency (cf. with Bucknell – 140th; Holy Cross – 189th).

64/65-Team Era. The Patriot actually has one of the worst conference histories of this era (2-16, .111), ranking only ahead of the SWAC (.043) and the Northeast (.042) conferences in terms of NCAA Tourney success (and tied with the OVC and Big South). Part of this is due to its seeding, which has averaged #14.9 over the years. Still, in the last five years with the ascendance of Bucknell and Holy Cross, the league has earned an average seed of #13.2, which, not coincidentally, is the period of the most success of the league. The two wins were both orchestrated by Bucknell in magnificent upsets, the 2005 victory over #3 Kansas 64-63 still resonating in the nation’s heartland (in the form of… joking… joking… these are simple jokes we tell…). Enjoy.

Final Thought. As we’ve gone through the low majors we’ve been a little surprised by just how many dominant programs have risen to the top of these leagues. It’s gotten to the point in several conferences where if you don’t see a particular name such as Belmont (Atlantic Sun), Penn/Princeton (Ivy), Winthrop (Big South), Davidson (Southern), or Holy Cross/Bucknell, etc., then something went seriously wrong. By pure coincidence, Holy Cross and Bucknell are the two Patriot League schools that spent the most money on its hoops programs in 2006 (h/t to Mid-Majority).

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09.17.07 Fast Breaks

Posted by rtmsf on September 17th, 2007

Can’t quite get that image below out of our head…  but we’ll try.

  • Pitt incumbent PG Levance Fields decided no he will not go quietly and in fact, he would rather be tasered, when asked to do so by the Pittsburgh PD last weekend.   
  • Ball St. found no evidence that Ronny Thompson put racially inflammatory notes under Ronny Thompson’s office door while he was still coaching there. 
  • The guy who will be responsible for throwing the ball to OJ Mayo and getting the hell outta the way is now eligible (Angelo Johnson). 
  • Coaching news.  GW’s Karl Hobbs was given an extension to 2012, and FAMU tabbed Eugene Harris (asst. at Georgia St.) to take over for Mike Gillespie. 
  • Haven’t we heard this before?  John Beilein and Bruce Weber (particularly Bruce Weber) can’t recruit. 
  • Digger for Prez.  Haven’t we had enough bumbling around/making no sense/talking in circles for one generation? 
  • UCLA fans are already talking basketball season.  Come on home, friends.  Others (ahem, Louisville, Notre Dame, Michigan, UNC, etc.) are already here.  More to come.
  • SEC Hoops:  Good, Bad & Dirty breaks down and gives predictions for the 12 SEC basketball schedules.  We’ll give odds on Mississippi St. not going 27-3! 
  • Frank Burlison at gives us a viewer’s guide to the best early-season tournaments to watch. 
  • MMAS gives us a list of key transfers to watch out for and teams looking to make the jump in 07-08. 
  • Finally, today Hoopwise has a Q&A with arguably the best college hoops analyst out there – Fran Fraschilla (apologies to Raff, Bilas, Tirico and others). 
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08.17.07 Fast Breaks

Posted by rtmsf on August 17th, 2007

Nothing like 100-degree heat to make you think college hoops, right: 

  • Our future Prez (ca. 2016 unless some redneck jacks him first) was a baller!  Barack Obama starred at D3 Occidental College back in the day (highlights here – let’s hope his FT shooting acumen is not indicative of a lack of concentration under pressure)
  • FAMU head coach Mike Gillespie was fired for stalking his ex-girlfriend – and yes, because you wouldn’t need a girlfriend unless it were so, he is married. 
  • What the hell is going on at Ball St.?  Coach Ronny Thompson (son of JT2) resigned in July, leaving in his wake an athletic dept smeared by his cries of racism and unfairness (also leaving a 9-22 first year record on the table).  The two black Ws – Wilbon and Whitlock – chime in with conflicting viewpoints on the situation, and new head coach Billy Taylor (from Lehigh) is now left with a mess to clean up.  Why couldn’t David Letterman take care of this?   
  • The NCAA says no more Pembroke States and UC-Davises in D1 for four years. 
  • Al Skinner is getting a raise from BC.  He’d better sign that extension quickly because Tyrese Rice by himself probably can’t cash those checks in 2007-08.   
  • Im-ass is getting sued for slander by one of the “nappy-headed hos” at Rutgers.  The conservatorium is up in arms over this, but we’re not really following their logic – are they really saying that this woman (and her teammates) were not defamed by Imus’s comments?  Seriously?   
  • Celebrations ensue in Madison, Columbus and other places midwestern as the Big 10 Network released its 2008 hoops schedule.  We’ve already circled that Feb. 6 tilt between Minnesota and Northwestern on our iPhone. 
  • W4M: ISO orange-clad GOB who won’t be offended by mannish tendencies and spirited versions of Rocky Top.  Must be willing to be dominated in life and bedroom.  Appreciates the nuances and subtleties of women’s sports (read: boring and lame). 
  • ESPN invented a way to air OJ Mayo three times early in the season – create a new Tournament!  The Anaheim Classic features USC and a bunch of mid-majors.  Expect to see The Juice Deux on tv a LOT this upcoming season. 
  • We’ve never heard of an athletic department bailing out the academic side of the shop, but we’ve also never seen an athletic juggernaut like Florida either. 
  • Gary Parrish exposes the seamier side of recruiting in this article.  Wait, there’s a seamier side?  We thought the whole thing was slimy to begin with.
  • MMAS puts forth its summer thoughts in two detailed postings about (mostly) BCS teams, but there are some valuable insights here.  Btw, we agree about the Vols. 
  • The WWL has an interesting piece on how teams push the envelope with the rules to get an edge.   
  • Rivals is well under way with its Top 64 teams of 2007-08. 
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