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MAC Out of Conference Wrap and Weekend Preview
It’s the holiday season and you could say that right now all MAC basketball will be getting in its stocking is a lump of coal. Struggles against average or below-average schools and a lack of signature wins have left the MAC in danger of being on Santa’s not-so-nice list. So, let’s see if each team has been naughty or nice so far this season.
* All rankings from Pomeroy Ratings and records are through games played Dec. 13
The Naughty: 80-77 loss to Austin Peay at home
The Nice: 80-68 win vs. Niagara
Result against best opponent: 74-62 loss at Texas A&M
Breakdown: Right now, Akron is spreading its points around. No one is averaging double-digit points. It has four players averaging 8 points or more per game. The touted freshman Zeke Marshall leads the team in rebounding with 6 RPG. The Zips have won almost all of the games they should but for a defending MAC tournament champion, they play a relatively soft out-of-conference schedule, outside NC State, Texas A&M and Rhode Island. They’ve already lost those first two but the Rhode Island game, Akron’s last before MAC season, will be an interesting litmus test.
Ball State (3-4)
The Naughty: 60-58 loss at home to UC Davis
The Nice: 68-63 win at Indiana State
Result against best opponent: 59-38 loss to top 25 Butler
Breakdown: This young Cardinals squad is taking its lumps. The home loss to UC Davis, ranked 290 out of 347, is concerning. Add in another home loss to #248 Tennessee Tech and the picture looks even bleaker. Jarrod Jones and Jauwan Scaife are putting up points but all Ball State fans want for Christmas is some more offense. With defenses able to key in on those top two scorers, the offense needs to find more flow. Jones is a star but the offense is too stagnant right now. They do not play shutdown enough defense to make up for a lack of offensive firepower.
Bowling Green (5-3)
The Naughty: None
The Nice: 58-54 win vs. Canisius
Result against best opponent: 101-57 loss at Xavier
Breakdown: You could say that the Falcons’ loss to Wisconsin-Milwaukee was troubling but I think that’s a bit of an overstatement, as Milwaukee is a better team than Bowling Green right now. The tough opponents will come up in the rest of the schedule with tough A-10 teams Temple and Saint Louis and a road game against solid Detroit. After losing three straight, the Falcons have put together a nice string of victories. They will now have to keep that momentum up. Meanwhile, the play of Otis Polk as an interior threat will continue to be significant in Bowling Green’s outlook.
The Naughty: 73-71 loss to Canisius at home
The Nice: 86-80 win at Niagara
Result against best opponent: 101-65 loss at top 5 Purdue
Breakdown: Outside of its loss at Purdue, its two others were both close. Buffalo should be a team that is once again in the MAC title mix. Rodney Pierce and Calvin Betts are picking up right where they left off. Replacing Greg Gamble looked to be a tall order for the Bulls but John Boyer is stepping in admirably. Boyer’s average stats thus far: 6.8 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 5.4 APG. A good point guard is big in the MAC and really any level of basketball, so Boyer needs to keep the assist/turnover ratio down and spread it around to Buffalo’s plethora of role players. Buffalo will not have much game action in the coming weeks. The Bulls play just two games between now and their January 9 th contest against Miami.
Central Michigan (4-5)
The Naughty: 62-53 loss at Fairleigh Dickinson
The Nice: 59-56 win at South Florida
Result against best opponent: 64-38 loss at Purdue
Breakdown: The Chippewas got the MAC its first real good win in out-of-conference play, against the Big East’s 7-2 South Florida (ranked 35 th). It’s hard to make sense of a team that loses to one of the worst teams in college basketball and then beats a top 50 team three weeks later. Outside of that win, Central’s three others come against mediocre squads. Robbie Harman and Jordan Bitzer have been good but they could use more out of their returning big men, Chris Kellerman and Marko Spica. Still, that pretty shocking win over USF is a building block that could spur the Chippewas.
Eastern Michigan (6-3)
The Naughty: 63-56 neutral site loss to The Citadel
The Nice: 81-77 win at Oakland
Result against best opponent: 111-60 loss at top 25 Ohio State
Breakdown: Though its schedule has not been all that difficult, Eastern has looked much improved. Brandon Bowdry may be the best player in the MAC West not named David Kool. He is averaging a double-double thus far. And he is not just doing it against the easy teams. Bowdry put up 24 points and 10 rebounds against Ohio State. The return of Carlos Medlock and strong early play from Justin Dobbins and Jay Higgins make Eastern a threat. Bowdry, Dobbins and Higgins are all 6-6 or taller and can score, which will bode well for MAC play. However, the Eagles are near the bottom of the conference in scoring defense and field goal percentage defense. In the end, you win the MAC with tough, consistent defense, so Eastern will have to improve that facet to become a real contender.
Kent State (5-4)
The Naughty: None
The Nice: 72-65 win vs. UAB
Result against best opponent: 77-61 loss at Xavier
Breakdown: Kent State is another team in the middle of the MAC pack of teams that could emerge as a contender. Chris Singletary, Tyree Evans and Rodriguez Sherman provide a formidable trio of guards. They’re all putting up double-digit points. Sophomore Justin Greene has also emerged early on, currently the Golden Flashes’ top scorer. Injuries have been an issue with Singletary just coming back from a knee injury and Randall Holt now out with a torn meniscus for approximately two to four weeks. Kent has some good pieces and the win over UAB was impressive. It just has to get healthy for conference season.
The Naughty: 82-71 loss at Towson
The Nice: 56-55 win vs. Wright State
Result against best opponent: 72-70 loss at top 5 Kentucky
Breakdown: It’s always fun to watch Miami in out-of-conference play. Charlie Coles is one of those coaches who goes out and schedules a number of quality opponents every year. His Redhawks came thisclose to beating top five Kentucky at Rupp. It took the freshman phenom John Wall’s buzzer beater for Kentucky to escape (make sure to watch Coles’ post-game press conference if you haven’t seen it already; it is classic). In that game, Nick Winbush was on fire from three. Him and Kenny Hayes have carried the scoring load. Julian Mavunga has also been a good contributor. Don’t judge Miami by its current record. It played Cincinnati and UK tough and five of its seven losses are against top 100 teams.
Northern Illinois (1-5)
The Naughty: 70-64 loss to Southeast Missouri State at home
The Nice: There’s not much nice to say about just one win over 278 th ranked Tennessee State
Result against best opponent: 80-61 loss at Illinois
Breakdown: In a pivotal year for head coach Ricardo Patton, in which people thought this Huskies squad might turn a corner, it wasn’t the start they could have been hoping for. Sure, it’s only six games but it is not looking good. It is last in the MAC in field goal and free throw percentage and assist/turnover ratio, and 10 th in rebounding margin and turnover margin. That is a disastrous recipe. Yes, two of Northern’s six games have been against the Big 10. But still, the Huskies had to hope to look better. Xavier Silas has played only one game after injuring his shooting hand, so his return should help and guards Jake Anderson and Tony Nixon are playing well. But Mike DiNunno is off to a slow start, averaging just 5.7 PPG, well under his 11.9 last season. He is also turning the ball over more. The Huskies will need more out of DiNunno, as well as 6-11 center Sean Kowal, who is being outrebounded by the 6-2 Anderson.
The Naughty: 68-66 home loss to Austin Peay
The Nice: 81-68 win vs Middle Tennessee State
Result against best opponent: 81-80 loss at Tulsa
Breakdown: Picked to finish 6 th in the MAC East in the preseason poll, many did not expect the Bobcats to be any good. Right now, Ohio is looking like one of the better teams in the MAC. With freshmen being asked to play a bunch of minutes, Ohio started off with a soft non-conference schedule and picked up four wins. Then they started to play the tougher opponents and lost three straight. But they competed in all of those losses. Tulsa is a top 40 team and the Bobcats nearly beat them on the road. The loss to Austin Peay is not a good one but you have to expect hiccups from a team with four freshmen logging double-digit minutes in the rotation. Armon Bassett looked rusty in his first two games but is starting to show why he was recruited to Indiana. Ohio’s guards overall are very talented. D.J. Cooper is one to watch for MAC Freshman of the Year. The Bobcats lead the MAC in scoring offense, steals, turnover margin and rebounding margin. Getting consistent defense and scoring inside is still a concern but Ohio has a lot of potential. Once the young players gain more experience, the Bobcats could be dangerous.
The Naughty: 72-62 home loss to Eastern Illinois
The Nice: 73-72 win vs. IPFW
Result against best opponent: 75-62 loss at top 15 Michigan State
Breakdown: It has been an uphill climb thus far for this young Rockets team. They started off the season 0-6, facing Michigan State, Cincinnati and Drexel on the road. They are the worst in the MAC in scoring defense and turnovers and 11 th in scoring offense. With a young team, it is not all that surprising to see the mistakes. Toledo has had some bright sports though from freshmen, as guard Jake Barnett leads the team in scoring and rebounding and Stephen Albrecht is the only other Rocket averaging double-digit points. Toledo is currently the lowest of any MAC team in the Pomeroy Ratings, at 307. There are going to be plenty of growing pains but Toledo will look to keep getting better in preparation for MAC play.
Western Michigan (3-4)
The Naughty: 60-58 loss at Loyola (IL)
The Nice: 83-67 win vs. VCU
Result against best opponent: 88-53 loss at Illinois
Breakdown: Western has played just seven games, so it’s a bit difficult to get a full judgment yet. Its win over VCU is a good one. MAC Player of the Year preseason favorite David Kool is living up to those expectations. He’s averaging 21.7 PPG, the most of MAC players. Outside of Kool, Western has had offensive trouble. Its field goal percentage is second lowest in the MAC. It is also near the bottom of the conference in rebounding margin. Those two areas must be rectified for the Broncos to have success.
Still a few more weeks remain in this out-of-conference season. Each of the MAC squads will look to bring their fans some holiday cheer before its time to beat up on each other come 2010.
By Connor Kiesel