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Mid-American Notebook

December 8, 2001 Conference Notes No Comments



Mid-American Notebook

“What’s wrong with Marshall?”

That was the buzz around the Mid-American Conference, as the Thundering Herd stumbled out of the gate with an 0-3 record.

Since then, however, Marshall has won three straight and has been able to answer the questions about its team with a resounding “We’re fine, thanks for asking.”

But when you dig beneath the surface, there are still some questions about how good the Herd is. Is the team a legitimate contender for the MAC title, or will they struggle with a bunch of ascending teams in the MAC East, especially Bowling Green and Ohio?

First of all, Marshall’s three losses were not exactly to the Little Sisters of the Poor. Opening season losses to George Washington and Kentucky would not send most mid-major coaches screaming that the sky is falling. More disturbing was the 77-72 loss at home to Troy State which followed, breaking a 25-game home non-conference winning streak.

The aforementioned three-game winning streak is nice, but the victims weren’t exactly Murderers’ Row either – Shepherd, Arkansas Monticello and Winthrop.

So until the Herd can beat a quality opponent that question mark is going to be hanging around their collective necks, but there will be chances in the next few weeks. Non-conference games against Auburn (Dec. 15) and a resurgent West Virginia at home (Dec. 29) await.

Maize and blue blues: Beating up on Big Ten teams isn’t exactly the novelty it used to be, but tongues were wagging around Ann Arbor after Michigan lost consecutive road games to Western Michigan and Bowling Green, both among the “second-tier” of MAC teams. After the Bowling Green loss, excited Falcons fans stormed the court at Anderson Arena, according to the Detroit Free Press.

But the losses are less an indictment of a young Wolverines team as they are proof of how tough it is to travel into MAC arenas and win games, regardless of the opponent. And MAC schools wonder why it’s so hard to schedule home-and-home series against Big Ten and C-USA’s schools?

Top 10 hopes?: There’s little rest ahead for road-weary Ball State, which returned from Hawaii as a member of the AP and USA TODAY/ESPN Top 25.

Now ranked as high as 15th in the AP poll, Ball State has a Dec. 8 showdown with Indiana, followed by games against a strong Indiana State team, Butler (which should be ranked in the Top 25) and Oklahoma State.

If they can emerge from those games somehow unscathed, Cardinals fans should start making plans for the Big Dance and a Top 10 national ranking.

That conference-opening contest against Kent State on Jan. 2 is looking bigger and bigger every day.

Jekyll and Hyde Chippewas: Even early in the season, it’s been up and down for Central Michigan, as the Chippewas (3-3) have won all their home contests, but dropped all three road games. With a beefed-up non-conference schedule, some bumps were to be expected, but Chippewa loyalists were hoping for more than moral victories.

CMU has its best team since 1987 when Dan Majerle was draining bomb after bomb en route to the NCAA Tournament, but it looks like Central might have to pin all its hopes on winning the MAC Tournament in March to make the Big Dance, a task coach Jay Smith wanted to avoid.

Under the radar: Kent State (which by the way has recently instructed media to not refer to the university as Kent, after having requested five years ago that the media do exactly that) is putting together an impressive early-season record.

To the uninitiated, the 4-2 record looks rather pedestrian, but the losses are to Kentucky and Hofstra, both of which will likely be NCAA Tournament teams.

Throw in wins against a strong UC-Irvine team and Chattanooga and the Golden Flashes have poised themselves for a strong run through the MAC slate. Key games against Atlantic 10 contenders Xavier and St. Bonaventure also await.

Surprise teams: Well, this isn’t a surprise to Hoopville readers, since we said these teams would be much improved this year, but Ohio and Bowling Green are raising eyebrows around the conference with some big wins.

As mentioned early, Bowling Green added Michigan to a list of vanquished foes which includes Mississippi, and has run its record to 5-1. If you’re looking for a reason for the Falcons’ success, start with them hitting almost 50 percent from the three-point line.

Meanwhile, Ohio is 3-0 after upsetting DePaul in Chicago. Key contests await against Wisconsin and St. Bonaventure however.

Surprise player: Ricky Cottrill has been about the only bright spot for Eastern Michigan, which is getting beaten early and often this season. But Cottrill, a sophomore guard, is averaging 22.7 points per game and shooting the lights out from three-point range.

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