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MAC Notebook

January 6, 2004 Conference Notes No Comments

Mid-American Conference Notebook

by Jeremy Speer

There isn’t a Ben Roethlisberger anywhere to be found. There isn’t the striking multitude of Top 25 defeats. There isn’t the increased television coverage.

While the Mid-American conference has jumped onto the national stage through its football exploits, MAC basketball has continued to play in relative obscurity. The MAC’s non-conference months go unhyped and unnoticed by most people outside of the Midwest.

However, just as Central Michigan did last season with Chris Kaman, the MAC is home to a couple of gems who could become household names come March.

Western Michigan has been the story of the season, with its 7-1 record including defeats of USC, Arizona State and UAB. With a high-powered perimeter attack, Toledo has itself a contender. Akron has a little bit of everything including the conference’s leading scorer (Derrick Tarver), a heady coach’s kid (Andy Hipsher) and three talented freshmen (Jeremiah Wood, Romeo Travis, Dru Joyce III). Northern Illinois has struggled in the onset but has the talent and coaching to make a long run. Miami plays the conference’s best defense and Kent State is in a familiar spot atop the MAC East.

Saturday marks the beginning of the brutal MAC schedule. Long a conference with deep parity, expect teams to beat up on one another for much of the next two months, jockeying for position for March’s all-important MAC Tournament in Cleveland.

The next couple of months will tell the story of which MAC school and players will the nation come to know upon the onset of March Madness.

MAC West Notebook

Western Michigan Broncos
Record: 7-1, 0-1
Big Wins: USC, Arizona State, UAB
Loss: Detroit

What this team has done is truly remarkable. Current South Florida coach Reggie McCullum began the program’s turnaround the past two seasons and his efforts have come into fruition under the leadership of first-year man Steve Hawkins.

The Broncos have done it with a winning formula of team play, clutch scoring and stifling defense.

A fully healthy Ben Reed (19.4 ppg) has been the catalyst. Coupled with leading scorer and rebounder Mike Williams (21.5 ppg, 7.3 rpg), it gives Western a dangerous one-two punch.

Bruiser Anthony Kann (11 ppg, 7 rpg) gives the Broncos an inside presence while Brian Snider has been a steady all-around guard in his sophomore season.

They have jumped to the top of the pack and folks in Kalamazoo are hoping they can remain there.

Toledo Rockets
Record: 6-2, 1-0
Big Wins: De Paul, Wright State
Losses: Detroit, Louisville

After finishing in the basement last season, the high-flying Rockets have jumped out to a 6-2 start behind strong guard play.

UT’s three-guard rotation is spearheaded by Keith Triplett (18.9 ppg). Sammy Villegas and freshman Justin Ingram have had strong starts to the season.

Toledo’s problem is its lack of a post presence. Coach Stan Joplin needs either Ricardo Thomas, A.J. Shellabarger, Allen Pinson or Anton Currie to step up in order for the team to make a series tourney run.

Eastern Michigan Eagles
Record 4-4, 0-1
Big Wins: None
Tough Losses: Yale, Illinois State

The 4-4 record is deceiving as the Eagles have beaten nobody. Only one Division I opponent (Marist) appears in the win column, and Eastern has struggled against stronger teams.

The most puzzling story in the conference is guard Ricky Cottrill, who two seasons ago was among the MAC’s leading scorers and shooters. Last season, Cottrill saw his scoring average decrease by more than ten points and his shooting decrease by more than 20 percent. The downward slide has continued this season, as Cottrill nets just four points a game in decreasing minutes.

The inside game has been a bright spot with the emergence of James Jackson (13.5 ppg, 9.4 rpg) and John Bowler (11.9 ppg, 7.8 rpg).

Northern Illinois Huskies
Record: 5-6, 0-1
Big Wins: Illinois-Chicago
Tough Losses: BYU-Hawaii, Baylor

NIU is not a team that should be losing games to the likes of BYU-Hawaii and Baylor.

The Huskies have the MAC’s most talented player in Marcus Smallwood and a deep and diverse supporting cast. However, they have struggled to find their niche in the early going and are surprisingly under .500.

The talent is there, as evidenced in a victory against Illinois-Chicago, a team destined to be this season’s Creighton or Butler. The Huskies need Smallwood (14.5 ppg) to put up more points and P.J. Smith and Todd Peterson to get out of their shooting slumps.

Ball State Cardinals
Record: 3-5, 0-0
Big Wins: Xavier, Butler
Tough Losses: IUPUI, Indiana State

Ball State started the season with a bang, but of late have been more of a fizzle.

The Cardinals opened the year with consecutive victories against Xavier and Butler, but have not been able to capitalize on the momentum. Ball State’s non-conference schedule degree of difficulty was second only to Central Michigan’s, making the team’s 3-5 record better than it looks.

Newcomers Dennis Trammell, Terrence Chapman, Skip Mills and Peyton Stovall have teamed with veterans Robert Owens, Cameron Echols and Matt McCollom to provide a solid seven-man rotation.

Bowling Green Falcons
Record: 4-7, 0-1
Big Win: Detroit
Tough Losses: American, Lamar

While NIU is a chief competitor, Bowling Green gets the distinction of being the MAC’s biggest 2003 disappointment.

They were slated to finish amongst the leaders of the MAC West, but recent losses to American and Lamar leave the team reeling with q uestions.

Preseason All-MAC center Kevin Netter (10.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg) simply has not played to expectations and an injury to sharpshooter John Reimold has hurt.

Sophomore Ronald Lewis continues to score in droves (18.5 ppg), but he cannot do it alone in order for BGSU to have MAC success.

Central Michigan Chippewas
Record: 3-7, 0-0
Big Win: Notre Dame
Tough Losses: Loyola-Chicago, Santa Clara

As if having to play perhaps the most difficult non-conference schedule in MAC history, CMU’s season has been overshadowed by the death of walk-on forward Brent Edwards.

A major bright spot came December 6, when Joe Carr’s last-second three-pointer stunned Notre Dame in South Bend.

Despite this, the Chippewas have lost to Dayton, Ohio State, Purdue and Michigan.

Help is on its way in the form of athletic swingman Marcus Moore, who is cleared academically to play in the second semester. Moore scored 11 points in his debut, a victory against Tri-State.

East Division Notebook

Kent State Golden Flashes
Record: 7-2, 1-0
Big Wins: Detroit, St. Bonaventure
Losses; Rhode Island, Boston College

Kent State did what MAC West heavyweights Western Michigan and Toledo were unable to do and beat Detroit.

The Flashes have rebounded nicely from the loss of powerful forward Antonio Gates to the NFL’s San Diego Chargers (no joke) with a strong non-conference effort.

A balanced attack has been the key, led by sophomore point guard DeAndre Haynes (10 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 5.7 apg), a player on the verge of stardom.

Seven-footer John Edwards (12.2 ppg, 6.9 rpg) is having a solid senior season and Eric Haut (11.4 ppg) continues to shoot lights out.

Akron Zips
Record: 6-2, 0-0
Big Wins: Wright State, Duquense
Losses: North Carolina, Cincinnati

Were it not for the nationally ranked TarHeels and Bearcats, the Zips would be undefeated.

Akron is home to the MAC’s best rookie class, led by forward Jeremiah Wood (10.4 ppg, 9 rpg). Romeo Travis, Dru Joyce III and Matt Futch also have given Akron solid first-year contributions.

But the team revolves around MAC leading scorer Derrick Tarver (23.4 ppg). If he is hot, Akron will win the majority of its games.

Buffalo Bulls
Record: 5-4, 1-0
Big Wins: Niagara, Bowling Green
Tough Losses: Canisius, Fairleigh Dickinson

Fans of the Bulls are not used to seeing above-.500 records, but that is exactly what Buffalo boasts heading into conference season.

The team had won five consecutive games before a recent loss to Fairleigh Dickinson.

Buffalo’s recipe to success: balance, balance and more balance. Senior point guard Turner Battle (13.2 ppg) leads the show, but Mark Bortz, Yassin Idhibi, B.J. Walker, Mario Jordan, Jason Bird, Roderick Middleton and Calvin Cage all average more than six points a game.

Coach Reggie Witherspoon deserves credit into molding his club into a tough MAC opponent.

Marshall Thundering Herd
Record: 4-4, 1-0
Big Win: UAB
Tough Loss: UNC Wilmington

The Herd have been average in Ron Jirsa’s first season, for the most part winning the games they should win and losing the games they should lose.

This team does have some talent, led by athletic forward Marvin Black (12 ppg, 7.3 rpg). Point guard A.W. Hamilton leads the conference in assists while Ronny Dawn (12.1) is one of the MAC’s biggest three-point threats.

Jirsa feels Marshall has the talent to make a run toward the top of the MAC East.

Miami RedHawks
Record: 4-5, 0-1
Big Win: Wright State
Tough Loss: None

Miami’s 4-5 record is deceiving. The RedHawks fell to Cincinnati, Xavier, SMU, Dayton and Western Michigan, all tough opponents.

However, coach Charlie Coles wont use that as an excuse, because he would have liked to see his squad spring at least one upset.

The team still follows Coles’ creed of ball-hawking defense, led by the MAC’s best defender, senior Juby Johnson (13.6 ppg).

Chet Mason and Danny Horace have been tough inside, and Josh Hausfeld gives Miami a defense-stretching long-distance threat.

Ohio Bobcats
Record: 3-7, 0-1
Big Wins: None
Tough Losses: San Francisco, Mercer

It has been rough sailing for the Bobcats, who have been unable to win the close game.

The team is playing like it misses graduated stars Brandon Hunter, Sonny Johnson and Steve Esterkamp, all of whom were among Ohio’s all-time leading scorers.

Someone from a group that includes Jaivon Harris, Thomas Stephens, Jeff Halbert, Delvar Barrett and Diamond Gladney need to step up in order for Ohio to find MAC success.


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