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Mid-American Notebook

January 22, 2004 Conference Notes No Comments



Mid-American Conference Notebook

by Jeremy Speer

Forget Wally’s Miami team. Forget Earl’s Eastern squad. Forget Kaman’s Central Michigan group.

This season’s Western Michigan team could possibly be the MAC’s best ever.

With the Broncos 72-63 victory at Eastern Michigan Saturday, Western won its 11th straight game overall and seventh consecutive on the road – its longest streak since the mid 1970’s.

Its no surprise the main production has come from the trio of Mike Williams, Anthony Kann and Ben Reed. Williams netted 18 points on 9-of-11 shooting, while Kann added 15 points and 10 rebounds. Reed chipped in 11 points and five rebounds.

With an RPI creeping into the top echelon of NCAA schools, the Broncos continue to roll up votes in the Top 25 polls. In last week’s polls, Western received 12 votes in the Associated Press Top 25 and five votes in the ESPN/USA Today Top 25. In his first year, coach Steve Hawkins has turned himself as a legitimate candidate for NCAA Coach of the Year.

The Broncos mettle will again be tested this week, with games against top MAC squads Kent State and Ball State.

Rockets and Cardinals just behind

In addition to Western, Ball State and Toledo have turned up the heat in the MAC West.

The Cardinals have been the conference’s other startling surprise. A team that had lost its two best players in Theron Smith and Chris Williams, suddenly finds itself in the midst of a four-game winning streak. The team posted a huge road victory Saturday, defeating Miami 56-50 in Oxford.

Matt McCollom, one of the team’s few veterans, continued his steady play, drilling a three-pointer with a minute left to help seal the deal for Ball State. The win snapped Ball State’s 11-game losing streak at Millet Hall.

Toledo is another team enjoying a solid season. With the MAC’s best backcourt in Keith Triplett and Sammy Villegas, the Rockets have flown to a 4-1 MAC record. They continued their strong play with a 87-79 win against a tough Akron squad, a game in which Triplett had 24 points while Villegas added 18. Tied with Ball State, the Rockets remain just a half game behind Western in the MAC West standings. And with the Broncos brutal schedule this week, both squads will be looking to make the jump.

MAC West deep and talented

It is not just the super three in the MAC West. Bowling Green has begun to turn its season around, and could become a major player in the outcome of the division. The Falcons shot lights out in a 86-61 blowout of Central Michigan Sunday. BGSU fired 64 percent from the field, including a 62 percent clip from three-point range.

After struggling through the early part of the season, the Falcons now have won five of six and are 4-2 in MAC play. John Reimold has asserted himself as one of the conference’s best shooters, and sophomore Ronald Lewis is a budding superstar. Coupled with the post production of Kevin Netter, the Falcons have the makings of a deep and talented squad.

No Kaman, No Problem

Making the biggest output jump this season is Central Michigan center Gerrit Brigitha.

The Chippewas had thought they had a huge hole to fill with the loss of dominant center Chris Kaman to the NBA, but Brigitha has equaled Kaman’s output this season. Through the first five games of the MAC season, Brigitha is posting averages of 26 points and seven rebounds. The problem is that all five of those games were CMU losses.

This can be directly attributed to the inability of CMU’s wing players to hit open shots. The Chippewas are the No. 7 shooting team in the conference, a number elevated because of Brigitha’s 59 percent shooting percentage.

Huskies continue to struggle

The fruit of the teams atop the MAC West may be coming at the expense of Northern Illinois.

The Huskies were blown out 80-59 at home by Ohio, a team predicted to finish near the bottom of the MAC East. A third option is a necessity for the Huskies to win games. Marcus Smallwood and P.J. Smith are quality players, but no one has been able to offer complementary production.

RedHawks rebounding

Despite the Saturday setback to Ball State, Miami had begun to heat up from a slow start with three consecutive victories. The key to the team has been the inside production of Danny Horace, Gene Seals and Chet Mason. The trio gives Miami a distinct rebounding advantage against opposing teams, and help guard Juby Johnson pick up the slack when it comes to scoring. With the conference’s best defensive attack engineered by coach Charlie Coles, Miami hopes to find itself atop the MAC East.

Harris leads Bobcats into win column

The team who had been sleeping at the bottom of the MAC East finally awoke this week, as Ohio notched back-to-back victories against Buffalo and Northern Illinois. Jaivon Harris was the main man in Oxford, connecting for a career-high 25 points against the Bulls and following it up with 16 points against Northern Illinois. Harris drilled nine-triples during the two game span and averaged seven rebounds. The Bobcats have a tough showdown Tuesday at Akron.

Flashes brace for Broncos

The leaders in their respective division will collide Wednesday, when Western travels to Kent State. KSU had its four-game winning streak snapped this past week in a loss to Miami, and is feeling the RedHawks breathing down its neck in the MAC East.

The Flashes want to hold serve on their home court, and it will need the backcourt of DeAndre Haynes and Eric Haut to come up with a strong game in order to earn a victory.

Hamilton heats it up

Marshall senior point guard A.W. Hamilton came up clutch in the Herd’s Saturday victory against Buffalo, scoring 15 of his 17 points in the second half. The victory snapped a three-game losing skid for Marshall. Buffalo, continued its six-game slide despite 17 points from freshman Yassin Idhibi.

     

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