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2013-14 MAC Post-Mortem

by - Published June 12, 2014 in Columns, Conference Notes
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No more are the days when, in projecting the best teams in the Mid-American Conference, one could eliminate half the deck before even starting their breakdown.

Since the MAC went to divisions in 1997, the East Division has dominated play with few exceptions. That was especially true of late, as East teams Akron, Kent State, Miami (Ohio) and Ohio accounted for all nine league NCAA Tournament appearances from 2005-13. Meanwhile, the MAC West seemed proficient at only being as bad as the East was good. Just one of its teams even qualified for the MAC tourney final in that time (Toledo in 2006), and its weakness was never better displayed than 2007-08 when three teams combined to ‘win’ the West in a three-way tie at 7-9.

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How the conferences shake out as 2014 approaches

by - Published December 31, 2013 in Columns, Your Phil of Hoops
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Non-conference play is just about over at this point. Conference games are ready to take over the rest of the slate, with a few having an “opening day” of sorts, including the Big East with its well-publicized day of five games on Tuesday. A few have already had early conference games, with the West Coast Conference having its opening day on Saturday.

How are the conferences shaping up? Which ones look like we thought and which ones look nothing like what we thought before the season? Here is a look at all 32 conferences as conference play beckons.

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Toledo wasn’t lacking confidence and should have even more now

by - Published November 15, 2013 in Columns, Your Phil of Hoops
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CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. – Tod Kowalczyk told his team that they were the better team.  He wasn’t crazy for saying so, although there are those who would say he was, but his Toledo team proved it on the court Thursday night when they walked out of Conte Forum with a 95-92 win over Boston College.

“I told the guys in a timeout, we’re the better team,” said Kowalczyk, now in his fourth season at the school.  “I thought we played that way coming down the stretch.”

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How the conferences shake out as 2013 approaches

by - Published December 28, 2012 in Columns, Your Phil of Hoops
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Non-conference play is almost over, and it has been quite a stretch. We’ve learned a good deal about a lot of teams, while some are still a mystery for various reasons – injuries, suspensions, ineligibility and a light schedule are all possible reasons. In addition, a few conferences have already seen a game or two mixed in with the non-conference schedule.

Conference play is right around the corner, and while a non-conference resume doesn’t tell the whole story, it does shed some light on teams and conferences. In conference play, there is more familiarity since teams play each other every year, although the changing landscape is starting to diminish that factor a bit. That’s one reason why we see some teams put forth a very good non-conference showing, including some good wins, then go on to have a mediocre showing in conference play.

With that in mind, here’s a look at how every conference in America shapes up.

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If Ohio shores up their defense, watch out in March

by - Published December 20, 2012 in Columns
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AMHERST, Mass. – Ohio University at first glance would seem like an obvious pick to win the Mid-American Conference this season. Their personnel, their experience that includes a run to the Sweet 16 last year, and their coach are all reasons to feel that they are the team to beat. But if their 85-76 loss at UMass on Wednesday night is any indication, there are things that could derail a championship and an attempt to make another run in the NCAA Tournament.

Ohio is unquestionably a veteran team. The Bobcats have no freshmen and are dominated by upperclassmen, with three senior starters, five seniors overall and seven juniors. They have used the same starting lineup in every game thus far, and nine Bobcats average double-digit minutes and another averages 9.3. But those numbers are a bit deceptive, as from a production standpoint there is a pretty good drop-off after the top six players in the rotation.

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At Kent State, Ford Hopes to Make Simpson a Star

by - Published January 16, 2009 in Columns

KENT, Ohio – Wednesday night’s Bowling Green-Kent State game was the first time I’d seen BG in the Louis Orr era, in fact the first time since fairly early in the “Dakich Administration” (and no, I don’t much care for their current Brown uniforms). I had seen Kent State, the preseason favorite in the MAC’s Eastern Division, twice before in this Coach Geno Ford’s inaugural season. Sitting on press row next to a Kent administrator last night, I whispered that play appears down in the MAC from my short tenure with Dakich ten years ago, that BG has nobody on this year’s team like Antonio Daniels, Anthony Stacy or Keith McLeod, and that Kent State has no one the likes of Trevor Huffmann, Demetric Shaw or Antonio Gates. Clearly a fan of major conference basketball (and specifically Duke), that administrator made the case that college ball is down everywhere, implying that result to be the trickle down effect of so many prep players and underclassmen turning pro. The major programs have to take lesser, as do the mid-majors, low-majors, and so on. And I agree. And as a result, Ivy teams this decade remind me of Division III teams when I coached at that level in the early 80s.

But that wasn’t the whole story. Back in the 90s, the MAC was viewed as a strong and improving basketball conference, the best in the Midwest short of the Big Ten (and head and shoulders above the Horizon, then called the Midwestern Collegiate Conference). So good, in fact, that BG’s Antonio Daniels was – apparently – overrated in the 1997 draft, made the fourth pick overall by the then-Vancouver Grizzlies. So good that there was little dispute that Jim Larranaga’s move from BG to George Mason in the spring of 1997 was a downward move. (To Larranaga’s credit, his 11+ years at Mason constitute a primary reason why the Colonial Athletic Association, like the Horizon, is now clearly above the MAC.)

With those observations as a backdrop, it was hardly surprising – and must be attributed to way more than home-court advantage – that in the battle of preseason MAC and Horizon League favorites earlier this season, Cleveland State beat Kent State 67-41, and the Vikings looked like they could name the final score.

Last on this, in sports as in life it often takes excruciatingly long for change to be recognized. For that reason, the MAC still convenes each year for a “big-time” conference tournament at Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena, while the Horizon has yet to “go public,” preferring to play tournament games at separate venues, hosted by higher seeds (and that’s only after protecting the first two seeds with that awful double-bye).

All of that said, the games are still played, and traditional rivalries respected. Perhaps the biggest these last ten years in the MAC’s Eastern Division is that between Miami and Kent State, which will be renewed this Saturday in Kent. Here’s hoping both Kent State-Miami games are great ones in this final season for Miami’s fine coach, Charlie Coles.

Coming into last night’s game against Bowling Green, we all knew what Ford had in his backcourt. Undersized senior second guard Al Fisher was last year’s Player of the Year in the conference, having averaged 14 points (over 16 in conference play), 4 assists, nearly 1.5 steals, and a remarkable 4 rebounds. This year he’s at 15 points, nearly 4 assists, nearly 2 steals, and 3 boards. Three inches bigger, stronger, and a better shooter, much-traveled former big-time recruit Tyree Evans joined Fisher in the backcourt in mid-December, and is averaging 17 points, and shooting 46 percent both in front of and behind the arc. 6-4 broad-shouldered junior Chris Singletary is more of a point guard than the aforementioned Fisher and Evans, like Fisher averages nearly 4 assists, scores 14, grabs 4 rebounds, and is the acknowledged team leader. (Ford calls Singletary “another coach in the huddle.”)

But the forward positions have been more problematic, with 6-9, 270-pound junior Brandon Parks often too low and too slow to help offensively, or on the boards. Lefty senior Julian Sullinger has proven clever near the goal, but while stout he’s closer to 6-3 than to his listed 6-5, and as his coach acknowledged often “too short to grab lots of rebounds.”

Enter newcomer and junior Anthony Simpson, a transfer from Illinois’ Highland Community College. Simpson can run and jump and looked more like a real basketball player than any other forward in the gym last night. This will make the point: I’d seen two of their games from start to finish before last night, had committed the names of six Kent State players to memory, and Simpson wasn’t any of the six. All I knew about him was that there was a JUCO transfer who split time with Sullinger at the power forward spot, who seemed to be taking a few minutes away from Julian, though apparently is more productive off the bench than as a starter. In Sunday’s loss at Ohio opening Kent’s conference season Simpson had played a total of six minutes, missed the only shot he’d attempted, and pulling down just one rebound.

He came into the BG game having started four of Kent’s 15 previous games, averaging 19 minutes, six points, and six boards (actually, six boards in 19 minutes is a terrific total; as a result of watching Cleveland State’s George Tandy, this writer has started to love the phrase – and the statistic I can’t find anywhere for the college game – “rebounds per minute played”). Ford said that he held Simpson to just six minutes at Ohio Sunday because “he couldn’t sustain playing competitively over any more minutes.”

In last night’s first half, Ford played Simpson 13 minutes, playing him more than previously along with Sullinger, largely in place of Parks due to Parks’ two early fouls. Simpson managed to contribute offensively near the goal, scoring eight in that half, on 3-4 shooting. But rather inauspiciously, Simpson managed a total of zero rebounds during those 13 first-half minutes. Combined with just one rebound for Sullinger in 16 first-half minutes, Kent State boasted a total of one rebound from the forward positions for the entire half. As a team BG out-rebounded KSU 23-14 in the half, grabbing 11 offensive boards to Kent’s nine defensive boards, and at halftime the game was tied at 33.

Then a new player came out of the locker room at halftime wearing uniform no. 21, and in a his best half of the season Simpson dominated the paint, scoring another eight points (on 4-6 shooting) and grabbing seven big rebounds. Kent State won the boards in that second half by four, and won on the scoreboard by 24, finishing with a convincing 72-48 win. Fisher contributed 23 points (many in the second half of the second half, after the issue was decided), but the story of the game was Simpson. And not a moment too soon with Miami in town Saturday.

I asked Ford what he said to Simpson at halftime to elicit that kind of play, and he responded only half-kiddingly that “Anthony may not have understood a word I said at halftime.” But Ford acknowledged that he needed that kind of game – that kind of half – from Simpson desperately, that to compete with the better teams in the MAC he needs Simpson to build on that performance, and live up to his “big, strong, athletic body.” And if he does, with the three quality guards we all know about, maybe this Kent group will be good enough to win the Eastern Division this down year in the MAC, maybe even win the MAC Tournament, and in post-season (the NCAA Tournament if they win the conference tourney), just maybe be good enough to give some team from another mid-major conference, one that’s passed the MAC in recent years, a run for its money. At least, that’s Ford’s plan.

A Big East and A-10 Hoops Day with Rocks and Ducks

by - Published January 5, 2009 in Columns

STORRS, CT – Today’s task was to evaluate Rhode Island’s Ryan Center and UConn’s Gampel Pavilion. In addition, I was hoping to get enough material to write some kind of game story.

It was perfect. Akron, a very good MAC team with a coach that always gives me a good quote, coming in to try to steal a win from a strong Rams team from the A-10. That Mid-Major struggle was the early game.

The night cap was the Huskies taking on Big East foe, Rutgers. Sounds like a simple operation. Take care of the URI/Akron game then drive a little over an hour and knock out the late game.

Holy crap, did that plan go south in a hurry.

First off, the Rhode Island women played before the men and that game moved at the pace of some Post Office workers. The men’s game concluded with the Rams pounding Akron.

After the game I finish writing my evaluation then I stuck around and started to get some post-game comments and finally figured out it would take too long. I needed to get on the road to UConn.

The Rhode Island campus in Kinston is a good 10 miles on two-lane roads from I-95. It took me 20 minutes just to get to the highway and the whole trip is supposed to take 75 minutes.

After reaching I-95, it was a 25 mile drive down to the exit to start the cross country journey to Storrs.

I missed the turn off and it took me about 20 minutes to get turned around. Then it was too dark in my car to read the directions without pulling over to stop under a light, which I did every five minutes.

I finally asked a woman coming out of a gas station where UConn was from where we were. She knew, but explaining it to me in concise way was not something she could do easily.

She said, “Drive down this road until you get to the big rocks and turn right, then follow the signs.”

Of course, I wanted to know how far down it was and she explained she was not very good at miles.

So I asked how about in driving time. She thought for a few moments and said, “Drive for maybe 20 minutes.”

I then inquired as to what these rocks looked like.

“Not rocks, ducks! It is big ducks”

I said ducks and she said it back to me, only it still sounded a little like she was saying rocks.

So I said ducks again and she said something I could not understand but I thought it was either rocks or maybe ducks. I just couldn’t make it out for sure. I thanked her and proceeded to drive looking for some either big rocks or ducks.

After about 18 minutes I spotted a bridge that had big columns with big stone or cement ducks on top of them. So I guess she said ducks.

There was a sign for UConn and I went in the direction the sign was pointing and 10 miles later the campus appeared. I had no idea where the arena was located but I saw a line of cars and I figured it was in that direction.

So I decided to out-flank those cars by driving around the outside of the campus and coming in the back. I got around the back and there was a line of cars and I got in it. After about 10 minutes I inched up to a policeman and asked him where to find my correct parking lot.

In between directing cars he yelled out, “Up the hill and to the right.”

That was about as concise as telling me to turn at the duck or rock.

Thirty minutes later I inched up to Gumpel and there were no policemen, parking lot attendants or anyone that looked official.

There was a huge line of cars turning in next to the arena, so that looked like where I could park. If it was the wrong lot, I felt pretty confident I could talk my way in for free. I have done that earlier today at Rhode Island, at Butler several million times, UNC, NCSU, UGA, Maryland and a bunch more over the years.

But while I still about 150 feet away someone came out with a couple of barrels and closed off that parking area off to the right of the arena. To make it worse, he walked away.

Now there was nobody to talk into letting me park. I drove around outside the perimeter of the campus again and parked on the street about a mile from Gampel Pavilion and started walking toward the general direction of the arena.

I decided to shave some time off by cutting between two dorms. It was like a maze of dorms. I walked toward my right then back toward my left around another building and then right again and finally left around one more building and then I saw a fence.

That maze came to an abrupt end and I never found the cheese. I just walked 300 yards out of my way in 20 degree cold.

I was boiling mad at this point.

I finally got to Gampel and I was on the opposite side of the building from the gate I was supposed to enter. I walked around the whole building able to see inside the seating bowl each time I passed one of the three gates I had to go by before I got to the west gate.

I walked in still hopping mad and a guard told me I couldn’t bring a case into the building and that I should take it out to my car. You know, that car that is over a mile away on the other side of the maze of dorms.

I informed him it was my computer. He wanted to know why I had a computer. I told him so I could write about this crappy campus and piece of crap arena.

He said, “Oh, I thought you were a fan” I let him know that sports writers could be fat pigs too.

When I got in there was about six minutes left in the first half. I waited until half time and set my computer up. It took me one of the media people 15 minutes to figure how to get me logged on the wireless internet.

At this point I am a broken man. I have a lot of words to write and not much game left to do it.

So let’s see what we have here.

The Rams just took apart Akron. Rhode Island shot 55.8 percent (29-52) for the game and 57 percent from beyond the 3-point line (8-14).

Akron shot just 35 percent for the game and not a single Zip scored in double figures. Rhode Island’s strong defense had a lot to do with how poorly Akron played.

In the night cap, Connecticut beat the tar out of Rutgers 80-49. Rutgers shot just 28.8 percent (15-52) for the game UConn was big and fast. When they pulled down a rebound they shot out a quick pass and they were off to the races

Rhode Island against UConn might have been a better game today

And now for the arena comments.

Gampel Pavilion opened in 1989 and it is pretty underwhelming for a school from a Big Six Conference. It is not a dump, it is well kept, it is just the bare minimum in terms of a basketball venue.

It is a cement structure with a walkway around the inside of the seating bowl and that separates the upper seating section from the lower seating section. The upper seats on the ends are plastic bleachers and the rest are plastic chair backs. There is no outer concourse or lobby. In the four corners on the walkway level there are some concession stands that serve food. The score boards are attached to the wall above the seats. They are standard boards with video boards and player stats. I guess they don’t put more money and effort into making it nice because they play a fair number of games every year at the XL Center in Hartford and that is much bigger. The crowds at Gampel are big time. It holds 8000 and 2000 plus each game are screaming students. It is loud and intimidating.

Now Rhode Island built a much nicer arena. Ryan Center opened in 2002 with a thrilling overtime over USC.

It has a lower seating area with padded seats on the sides and upper seating consisting of plastic chairs with a beautiful carpeted concourse that runs under the upper seating section. The seats go up, rather than out, so the sightlines from the top row are great. It seats 7657 and every seat is a chair back.

Rhode island has pretty good parking nearby and they don’t charge to park I don’t think they have a maze of dorms either.

They just need more fans, it was at most, half-filled today.

So that is my East Coast swing for this year. Any day I can get two games in is a good day even with ducks, mazes and traffic jams.

Hey! Shouldn’t there be a cigar in this story?

Mid-American Preview

by - Published November 3, 2008 in Conference Notes



Mid-American Conference 2008-09 Preview

by Phil Kasiecki

In the Mid-American Conference, multiple bids to the NCAA Tournament remain elusive. Last season, Kent State looked to have the resume to get an at-large bid, but the Golden Flashes won the conference tournament and were the only team to advance. The conference remained well-represented elsewhere, as Akron advanced to the quarterfinals of the NIT and Miami received a bid to the College Basketball Invitational.

The end result masks the excellent basketball in this conference year in and year out. One might say it’s an innocent victim of the tendency to judge how good a conference is by the number of NCAA Tournament teams it produces, a questionable basis to be sure. The conference consistently has multiple teams that win over 20 games and picks up some good non-conference wins, but it’s rare that one or two teams dominate and pull away from the pack with the kind of resume that looks like that of an NCAA Tournament team.

As was the case last year, the strength appears to be in the East Division. In this case, the strength isn’t noticeable at the top so much as the bottom, as Bowling Green and Buffalo should be significantly improved, while the bottom teams last year in the West are in rebuilding mode. That could change before long, but for this season at least the East should reign supreme once again.

Three schools have new coaches this season, with two coming as a result of a coach leaving for another head coaching job. Kent State promoted Geno Ford to the top job, succeeding Jim Christian after he left to take over at TCU. Ohio hired John Groce to lead the program after Tim O’Shea took the head coaching job at Bryant University. Toledo fired Stan Joplin after the season, replacing him with former Notre Dame assistant Gene Cross.

Preseason Awards
Player of the Year: Al Fisher, Kent State
Top Newcomer: Julian Mavunga, Miami
Defensive Player of the Year: Jonathan Amos, Toledo
Best NBA Prospect: Al Fisher, Kent State

All-MAC Team
Michael Bramos, Sr. G-F, Miami
Al Fisher, Sr. G, Kent State
David Kool, Jr. G, Western Michigan
Carlos Medlock, Sr. G, Eastern Michigan
Jerome Tillman, Sr. F, Ohio

East Division

Kent State Golden Flashes (28-7, 13-3 MAC)
Projected Starters:

Sr. G Al Fisher (13.9 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 4.0 apg, 1.3 spg)
Sr. G Jordan Mincy (2.2 ppg, 1.1 rpg, 2.5 apg, 1.3 spg)
Jr. G Chris Singletary (10.3 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 1.6 apg, 1.9 spg)
Sr. F Rashad Woods (5.2 ppg, 1.8 rpg)
Jr. F Anthony Simpson (junior college transfer)
Schedule Highlights: Not surprisingly, the Golden Flashes play a challenging non-conference slate, but also include eight home games. Highlighting the home games are Saint Mary’s (return from last year’s BracketBusters) and another BracketBusters game, and they’ll also host UNC Wilmington before traveling south for the remainder of the South Padre Island Invitational. Notable road games include Kansas, Horizon favorite Cleveland State and Temple. In MAC play, they have a stretch where they play five of seven on the road, with Western Michigan by far the toughest game. They get Ball State and Northern Illinois on the road only as inter-division games go.
Outlook: The Golden Flashes may have a new leader in Geno Ford, but this is a solid program and Ford was with the team as an assistant beforehand. Add to that the talent and experience in the backcourt, led by reigning Player of the Year Fisher and mates Mincy and Singletary, and you have the favorite in the conference once again. Woods has never played up to his billing coming out of high school, but has one more chance, and Simpson should anchor the inside. This team isn’t as deep up front with the personnel losses, so repeating their positive rebounding margin may not come easily. But the backcourt experience will help them navigate a tough non-conference schedule and the always challenging conference slate. This is a solid team as part of a solid program, and a coaching change isn’t going to alter that.

Miami RedHawks (17-16, 9-7 MAC)
Projected Starters:

Sr. G Kenny Hayes (12.1 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 1.8 apg)
Sr. G-F Eric Pollitz (5.5 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 1.5 apg)
Sr. G-F Michael Bramos (16.3 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 1.2 apg, 1.5 bpg, 1.3 spg)
Sr. F-C Tyler Dierkers (6.1 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 2.5 apg, 1.2 spg)
Fr. F Julian Mavunga
Schedule Highlights: As is usually the case, the RedHawks’ non-conference schedule features some good challenges. They open in Los Angeles in the 2K Sports Classic with Weber State and could then face UCLA. They also have road games at Pittsburgh, Horizon contender Wright State, Xavier, Temple, West Virginia and Dayton, as well as a BracketBusters game. Only three non-conference games are at home, all in a row: Northwestern State (who they also play on the road), UW-Milwaukee and Valparaiso. Four of their first six MAC games are at home.
Outlook: Although Tim Pollitz is gone, the RedHawks have plenty returning in Charlie Coles’ final season before he calls it a career, and again have recruited well. Bramos will lead the way, with Hayes a good scorer and Eric Pollitz a fine blender as the other guard. Where they’ll miss the elder Pollitz is in the frontcourt, but Dierkers is solid and Mavunga could be the conference’s top freshman. They also have plenty of other bodies up front that are capable, like sophomores Dwight McCombs and Nick Winbush. The frontcourt is the place of most concern since they were out-rebounded last season, while they turned the ball over less than any other MAC team. The RedHawks play good defense and solid basketball, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if they are able to close Coles’ career out on a high note.

Bowling Green Falcons (13-17, 7-9 MAC)
Projected Starters:

So. G Joe Jakubowski (7.8 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 3.0 apg)
Sr. G-F Darryl Clements (7.2 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 2.4 apg, 1.2 spg)
Sr. F Nate Miller (13.2 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 2.7 apg, 1.5 spg)
So. F Chris Knight (10.7 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 1.1 apg)
Jr. C Marc Larson (4.9 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 1.2 bpg)
Schedule Highlights: The Falcons’ non-conference schedule includes six home games, one of which is a BracketBusters game. The most notable of them is against Fordham to close out the non-conference slate. They open with three games in the NABC Classic in Minneapolis, with two tough ones to start in Colonial contender Georgia State and host Minnesota, then later have road dates with Ohio State and Missouri Valley contender Illinois State. Three of the first four MAC games are at home.
Outlook: The Falcons might be the sleeper team in the conference, as Louis Orr has quickly put this team in a position to contend and returns all 10 letterwinners from last season and has a redshirt returning. They are strong up front, with Miller leading a good unit that led the conference in blocked shots last season, led by Larson. Knight had a nice freshman season and looks to be en route to a nice career, and sophomores Otis Polk and Cameron Madlock both have nice potential, especially Madlock as he matures, and they also get back Eric Marschall after he had to redshirt last season. The perimeter is solid and unspectacular, with Jakubowski capably running the show and Clements and senior Brian Moten being the primary scorers on the wing. Moten could start, but had a fine year coming off the bench and thus will likely stay in that role. Though the Falcons led the MAC in blocked shots, they were out-rebounded last season. But their overall defense is good, as they were second in field goal percentage defense. Orr has this program already going in the right direction, and they could be contending as early as this season.

Ohio Bobcats (20-13, 9-7 MAC)
Projected Starters:

Sr. G Michael Allen (4.8 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 3.4 apg, 1.1 spg)
Fr. G Stacey Waters
Sr. F Justin Orr (6.8 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 1.4 apg)
Sr. F Jerome Tillman (13.3 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 1.1 apg)
Jr. C Kenneth van Kempen (2.3 ppg, 1.9 rpg)
Schedule Highlights: The non-conference slate features five home games and has plenty of challenges. They host Tulsa in early December, then close out the non-conference slate with three straight at home that includes Patriot League stalwarts Holy Cross and Bucknell. Road games include early ones at Ohio Valley contender Austin Peay and George Mason, three games in the Marques Maybin Classic at Louisville, Xavier, Colonial contender Delaware, and rapidly improving Marshall. The Bobcats will also go on the road for a BracketBusters game.
Outlook: After Tim O’Shea left to return to New England, the Bobcats hired John Groce, who had been ticketed for a head coaching job for a few years. He’ll inherit a tem with some good veterans and incoming talent, although a clear complement to Tillman doesn’t exist right away. Tillman will anchor the inside alongside van Kempen, who has shown promise in his first two seasons, and Orr is athletic and could break out to be the primary complement offensively. Allen very capably runs the show, while Waters is a solid shooter with an improved game off the dribble. Freshmen Steven Coleman and Frankie Dobbs could also see minutes there, as could holdover Tommy Freeman. With the departure of Leon Williams, they’ll be hard-pressed to post the second-best rebounding margin in the conference again, so it’ll be up to the guards to improve and grow up fast.

Akron Zips (24-11, 11-5 MAC)
Projected Starters:

So. G Steve McNees (5.1 ppg, 1.1 rpg, 1.8 apg)
So. G Darryl Roberts (3.9 ppg)
Sr. F Nate Linhart (8.5 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 1.5 apg, 1.6 spg)
Jr. F Chris McKnight (6.4 ppg, 3.0 rpg)
So. C Mike Bardo (1.5 ppg, 1.7 rpg)
Schedule Highlights: The Zips play six home games in non-conference play, opening with Canisius and Big South favorite Winthrop. They also host a game in the Legends Classic after opening at Pittsburgh, and later host Dayton. Other highlights of the slate include road games with MAAC contender Niagara, Colonial favorite VCU and Rhode Island, as well as a BracketBusters game. MAC play opens with three of four on the road, but a stretch with three of four at home immediately follows. They also got a break in inter-division games, getting Western Michigan and Central Michigan both at home only.
Outlook: The Zips appear to be in for a rebuilding year, but they have some players to start rebuilding around and a deep class of freshmen that they will have to tap into right away. Linhart is one of just two seniors on this team, and he’ll help lead a team that may start three sophomores. McNees and Roberts are the most experienced guards on the roster and could be pushed by four freshmen, especially point guard Anthony Hitchens. Chris McKnight and brother Brett will see time alongside Linhart, and Bardo will need to contribute more with increased minutes or give way to freshman Steve Swiech. Only two teams turned the ball over less than the Zips last season, something which they would do well to repeat if they want to keep up the good run they have going.

Buffalo Bulls (10-20, 3-13 MAC)
Projected Starters:

Jr. G Byron Mulkey (6.8 ppg, 1.7 rpg, 2.4 apg)
Sr. G Andy Robinson (13.1 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 1.3 apg, 1.8 spg)
Sr. G-F Greg Gamble (8.6 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 2.5 apg, 1.4 spg)
So. F Jawaan Alston (3.3 ppg, 2.7 rpg)
Sr. C Vadim Fedotov (5.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg in 14 games)
Schedule Highlights: All five of the Bulls’ non-conference home games come right in a row at the end of November and start of December. Included are games with MAAC contender Niagara, Temple and Connecticut. The Bulls will hit the road for games at MAAC favorite Siena, a BracketBusters game, and three games in the Rainbow Classic. MAC play starts with four of six on the road, with the two home games being tough ones against Ohio and Kent State.
Outlook: The Bulls have more experience this time around and five starters returning, but still plenty of questions up front. The perimeter is fine, although Robinson was suspended during the off-season after posting a message on social networking site Facebook offering to pay someone to read a book and write a paper on questions that were assigned with it. Gamble is a solid do-everything wing and Mulkey is a capable floor leader. There is good depth, with junior Calvin Betts the first player off the bench and classmates Sean Smiley and Rodney Pierce in the mix as well. Betts could start for some teams in this conference. Alston played well at the end of last season, and the hope is that he carries it into this season. Fedotov will be coming back from a torn ACL and Kambi Laleye has shown some promise, but newcomers Mitchell Watt and Titus Robinson could push both. The Bulls led the conference in scoring last season, but did so while shooting just over 41 percent from the field, worse than all but two MAC teams. That negated the impact of forcing more turnovers than all but one team, although they also gave the ball back often. Improved efficiency at the offensive end will go a long way towards moving up in the standings.

West Division

Western Michigan Broncos (20-12, 12-4 MAC)
Projected Starters:

Jr. G David Kool (16.3 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 2.3 apg)
Sr. G Shawntes Gary (8.8 ppg, 5.3 rpg)
Sr. G Michael Redell (4.7 ppg, 1.6 rpg, 3.6 apg)
Fr. F Flenard Whitfield
Jr. C Donald Lawson (2.3 ppg, 1.9 rpg)
Schedule Highlights: Six home games are on tap in non-conference play, including a BracketBusters game. The Broncos will open the season in the Charleston Classic against TCU, then either Clemson or Hofstra in the second of three games. The toughest road games will be at VCU, UNLV and Southern Illinois. In inter-division MAC games, they get Kent State and Ohio at home only, but will have to travel to Oxford for the lone meeting with Miami.
Outlook: With the departure of Joe Reitz and complement Andrew Hershberger, the Broncos figure to be much more perimeter-oriented this season. That should suit them fine since they return an excellent duo in Kool and Gary, with a good complement in floor leader Redell. There’s good depth as well with Andre Ricks as the main holdover and a couple of freshmen who could get some minutes. Whitfield looks to be the best freshman, and he along with Muhammed Conteh could get a lot of minutes right away. Lawson is the main holdover up front and has a chance to be a good inside presence, which is the main thing they will need with the offense the guards will supply. There is additional size among the newcomers with 6’11″ LaMarcus Lowe and seven-footer Luke Adaline. The Broncos led the conference in field goal percentage defense and rebounding margin last season, and repeating the latter is likely to be a challenge. More importantly, they will need to cut down on turnovers after having 117 more of those than assists last season. The division isn’t very strong, so it should be theirs to lose barring a series of injuries and/or off-court issues this season.

Central Michigan Chippewas (14-17, 8-8 MAC)
Projected Starters:

Jr. G Robbie Harman (5.4 ppg, 1.6 rpg, 1.1 apg, 1.2 spg)
So. G Jeremy Allen (7.2 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 1.2 spg)
Jr. G Jordan Bitzer (8.1 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 1.4 apg, 1.6 spg)
Sr. F Chris Kellerman (7.2 ppg, 2.8 rpg)
Fr. F Zach Saylor
Schedule Highlights: The Chippewas have six home games in their non-conference schedule, plus a game against Robert Morris at The Palace in Auburn Hills. The most notable home games are against Horizon contender Wright State, Missouri Valley contender Illinois State, and a BracketBusters game. They also have an unusual exhibition game on January 5 against Northwood. The Chippewas will hit the road to take on Marquette and Kentucky. After opening MAC play at home against Western Michigan, the slate gets very tough: five of the next seven are on the road. They could get off to a tough start to rebound from, even though they have five of the next seven MAC games are at home (the BracketBusters game is mixed in).
Outlook: Expectations were very high for the Chippewas last season, and they never lived up to them. But Ernie Ziegler has the program on a course of improvement, and though Giordan Watson isn’t a small loss, there is some good talent still around. The question on the perimeter is who becomes a floor leader, as Allen and Bitzer can score while Harman was a good reserve that will have to adjust to playing more. Kellerman leads a frontcourt that has a good addition in Saylor, who might now get to start since senior Marcus Van was thrown off the team in late October for a violation of team rules. The Chippewas were one of the worst defensive teams last season despite forcing the most turnovers in the MAC, and they were also out-rebounded.

Eastern Michigan Eagles (14-17, 8-8 MAC)
Projected Starters:

Sr. G Carlos Medlock (14.8 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 4.1 apg, 1.1 spg)
Sr. G Tyler Jones (4.2 ppg, 1.9 rpg)
Sr. F Wendale Farrow (3.9 ppg, 3.9 rpg)
So. F Brandon Bowdry (redshirt)
Jr. F Justin Dobbins (10.2 ppg, 4.4 rpg)
Schedule Highlights: The Eagles will play six non-conference home games, highlighted by a visit from Atlantic 10 contender Temple and a BracketBusters game. Early on, they will play two games in Purdue in the NIT Season Tip-Off, starting with the Boilermakers, then later head to Michigan and Illinois. MAC play begins with two at home, but with inter-division games they didn’t get help in having to play Kent State and Ohio on the road only.
Outlook: Although the Eagles return three starters, they may not have enough complementing Medlock to seriously contend. Medlock is one of the conference’s top players, as he carried the team often last year. Dobbins is a fine complement, but after that the pickings get slimmer. Farrow is the only other returning starter and should be a little better after adjusting from junior college. If Jones can’t hold down the other guard spot, freshman Danny Barnes could grab it instead. Some defensive improvement would certainly help, as just three MAC teams forced fewer turnovers and the Eagles also allowed opponents to shoot over 36 percent from long range last season.

Toledo Rockets (11-19, 7-8 MAC)
Projected Starters:

Sr. G Jonathan Amos (12.1 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 2.3 apg, 2.6 spg)
Sr. G Ridley Johnson (8.9 ppg, 3.6 rpg)
Sr. G Anthony Byrd (4.9 ppg, 2.6 rpg)
Sr. G-F Tyrone Kent (16.9 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 3.0 apg, 1.8 spg)
So. F Mohamed Lo (1.5 ppg, 2.0 rpg)
Schedule Highlights: The Rockets play five home games in their non-conference schedule, highlighted by visits from three Atlantic 10 schools (UMass, Dayton and Rhode Island) and Houston. They open the season at Florida in the CBE Classic, which then takes them to Miami for three more games after a trip to Cincinnati to play Xavier. They’ll also hit the road to take on America East contender UMBC, Horizon contender Wright State and Colonial contender Delaware, as well as a BracketBusters game.
Outlook: New head coach Gene Cross won’t be starting from scratch with this crew, as he inherits a team with four senior starters and all are on the perimeter. Leading the way is Kent, a solid scorer who isn’t selfish, and Amos can run the show and tied for seventh in the nation in steals last season. Johnson is a steady player and always a threat from long range, and Byrd is the complement to the other three. For good measure, their best freshman is a guard in Stephen Albrecht. But where they may need a freshman or two to help is up front, as sophomores Lo and Justin Anyijong didn’t do much last season, although Anyijong mainly needs to gain strength. Zac Taylor and Ian Salter could push both of them, especially since each offers more size. There are several areas for improvement, and a couple won’t come easily as they had the worst rebounding margin and have much of last season’s team back that lacks proven size, and they were also last in field goal percentage and field goal percentage defense.

Ball State Cardinals (6-24, 5-11 MAC)
Projected Starters:

Sr. G Brandon Lampley (4.2 ppg, 1.4 rpg, 1.6 apg)
Sr. G Rob Giles (2.9 ppg, 2.4 rpg)
So. F Malik Perry (6.7 ppg, 5.7 rpg)
Sr. F Anthony Newell (16.9 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 1.8 apg)
Fr. F Jarrod Jones
Schedule Highlights: Eight home games are on tap in non-conference play, highlighted by visits from Purdue and Saint Joseph’s, as well as a BracketBusters game. The toughest road games will be at Butler and Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and UC Santa Barbara doesn’t figure to be a cakewalk as well. In MAC inter-division games, they get Kent State and Ohio at home only and Miami and Akron on the road.
Outlook: After the bad ending to the Ronny Thompson era, most figured Billy Taylor’s first season in Muncie would be a very difficult one, and the record just about matched expectations. This season won’t be much better, but there are some building blocks in Perry and Jones to start with. It also wouldn’t be a surprise if a couple of newcomers, Maurice Hubbard and Randy Davis, grab a lot of minutes or even start in the backcourt. Newell joins Perry in the frontcourt and should anchor the front line, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he were to lead the conference in scoring or rebounding. Only Toledo shot the ball worse or was out-rebounded by a wider margin than the Cardinals last season, so there are a couple of areas for a lot of improvement. To their credit, the Cardinals turned the ball over less than all but one MAC team last season, and if they do that again they will get plenty of chance to shoot the ball better.

Northern Illinois Huskies (6-22, 3-12 MAC)
Projected Starters:

So. G Michael Patton (6.8 ppg, 1.0 rpg)
So. G Darion Anderson (12.2 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 2.6 apg)
Fr. G-F Dominique Johnson
Fr. F Tyler Storm
So. C Sean Kowal (transfer from Colorado)
Schedule Highlights: With just three home games on tap in non-conference play, the Huskies will be on the road often. They open in the 100 Club Classic, hosted by Kennesaw State, then close November in the Great Alaska Shootout. The big game in December is a visit to Air Force. Three of the first five MAC games are at home, and the inter-division games are basically a wash as they get Kent State and Akron at home only and Ohio and Miami only on the road.
Outlook: Ricardo Patton’s second season should bring some improvement, but it probably won’t come quickly since the Huskies figure to play newcomers heavily. Anderson and Patton were thrown into the fire last season, and that should help them now that they have a year under their belts. Johnson and Storm are solid additions, the latter being a nice face-up forward with a good touch from long range that can lead to some matchup problems. Kowal is the team’s tallest player and gives them a much-needed injection of size, as no one else is taller than 6’8″. With so many newcomers slated to play a lot of minutes, it’s tough to figure out how this team will look later in the season and at the end, although it’s not a bad bet that the number of wins will be in single digits once again.

Conference Outlook

Although the conference is sure to be quite competitive as usual, with no clear favorites, there is a pattern emerging. Kent State has become a contender every year, as has Western Michigan in the West Division, and one could also put Miami and Ohio in that category as well. The Golden Flashes and Broncos are favored in their divisions again, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if Miami came out on top. Bowling Green is the sleeper, and Akron could surprise if their young talent comes around in time. As has been the case for a while, the East looks to be better than the West, although Central Michigan’s improvement and Toledo hiring Gene Cross, who can recruit the Midwest very well, could have the West challenging the East before long.

     

MAC Tournament Semifinals

by - Published March 17, 2008 in Columns



MAC Semifinals

by Bill Kintner

CLEVELAND – For second time in two days Akron has exacted some revenge against a team that beat them earlier in the season.

Tonight it was Western Michigan that felt the revenge wrath of the Zips as they fell to Akron 73-62.

In a game where Akron (23-9) consistently led and led by double digits starting at the end of the first half, it came down to the Zips’ strong shooting performance. Akron shot a blazing 58.7 percent (27-46) from the field versus 44.7 percent (21-47) for Western Michigan (20-12).

“I think we were able to shoot the ball well. One of the things coach emphasized was sharing the ball. I feel we didn’t run as many plays as we have because we were able to pass the ball around,” said Akron’s Chris Knight.

Akron coach Keith Dambrot thought his team turned up the intensity to pull out the win.

“We matched their intensity,” Dambrot said with a smile after the game.

Another key for the Zips was containing Western Michigan’s David Kool, who scored 24 points in yesterday’s win against Eastern Michigan. Akron managed to hold him under 50 percent (6-13) for the game, although he still got 17 points.

“We used a variety of people (on Kool), mostly (Nate) Linhart, who is very long. I thought the length bothered him,” explained Dambrot. “He gets a lot of points around the rim and at the line. I think Linhart gave him a little more trouble than he’s used to.”

The game started out with Akron’s Cedrick Middleton hitting a three-pointer at the 19:37 mark and the Zips never trailed in the game. Akron finally pushed the lead out to double digits at the 6:32 mark when Chris Mc Knight put in a layup to make it 25-15.

By the half Akron pushed their lead to 13 points at 37-24.

In the second half, the Broncos didn’t cut Akron’s lead to single digits until the 1:31 mark when Kool hit a three-pointer to make it 67-59. The Zips pushed the lead back to 11 by the end of the game at 73-62.

“They shot lights out. It was just too much for us to overcome,” said Western Michigan coach Steve Hawkins. “We showed a lot of fight in the second half, but every time we came back they hit big shots.”

Miami/Kent State

Does history repeat itself? Miami attempted to answer that question in the semifinals against Kent State.

With 2 seconds left Miami inbounded the ball in front of their bench and got the ball to their ace, Tim Pollitz. He got it in the lane, about five feet from the basket, twisted, shot it and it bounced off the rim, and Kent State held on 49-47.

It was just a year ago that Doug Penno hit the game-winner against Akron as time expired to punch Miami’s ticket to the NCAA Tournament.

But tonight it was not to be for Miami.

With 34 seconds remaining in the game Miami’s Kenny Hayes put in a layup to tie the game 47-47.

After a Kent State (27-6) timeout, they began working the ball around the perimeter and they finally got it to Al Fisher. He drove down the lane, spun to his right and shot a floater over the out-stretched hand of Tyler Dierkers to put Kent State up 49-47 and that was stake the landed in Miami’s heart.

Fisher said he just was looking to get any shot when he got the game winner.

“We were just looking to get a shot up,” said the junior guard. “It’s easier when your coach and teammates have a lot of trust in you. It takes off a lot of the pressure.”

Miami actually out-shot Kent State 42.2 percent (19-45) to 35.8 percent (19-53) but Kent State coach Jim Christian thought it was experience and maintaining intensity that did the trick.

“We’ve been in many of these situations before. We’ve won many close games,” he said. “There is something to be said of the will to win. You have to be intense the whole time.”

Miami (17-15) scored the first basket a little over two minutes into the game on a layup by Hayes to go up 2-0. Aside from a brief one-point lead a little over two minutes later, Kent State led the whole first half and went into halftime up 25-23.

The second half was more back and forth with the biggest lead being four by the Golden Flashes at the 4:25 mark on a jumper by Rodriquez Sherman. The game was tied 12 times and there were nine lead changes.

A tired acting Miami coach Jermaine Henderson thought his team played hard and just came up short.

“I think we played hard and left it all out there,” he said after the game. The right guy got a shot off but it came up a little short.”

Notes

  • I mentioned yesterday that Keith Dambrot is a great coach; he is also entertaining to watch during the game. His favorite position on the sidelines is bent over with his hands on his knees; with his tie hanging down like an outfielder waiting for the pitch to be delivered. Sometimes he runs the length of the bench clapping his hands. Bottom line, if you take a look over at the Akron bench there is a good chance Drambot will entertain you.
  • Yesterday I ranked Ohio’s dance team as the best looking team in the MAC. Upon further review I would rank Western Michigan’s as number two and Akron’s as number three. There you have it, the MAC Hot Dance Team rankings.
  • Former Miami great and current Cleveland Cavalier Wally Szczerbiak was in attendance for the Miami/Kent State game, sitting in the front row across from the Miami bench.
  • The clock crew has had a tough tournament. They have consistently screwed up starting and stopping the clock at the proper time. I hope this is not the crew that works the clock for the Cavaliers’ games.

     

MAC Finals Recap

by - Published March 16, 2008 in Columns



MAC Final Recap

by Bill Kintner

CLEVELAND – It came down to two nearby rivals and a packed Quicken Loans Arena in the Mid-American Conference Championship, but in the end the No. I seed pounded the No. 3 seed as Kent State cruised by Akron 74-55.

Kent State (28-6) was the dominant team in the MAC this year and the Golden Flashes dominated Akron by almost every measure.

They out-shot Akron (23-10) from the field 50.9 percent (27-53) to 30.8 percent (18-52) and from the foul line 88.9 percent (16-18) to 54.3 percent (18-33). Both teams shot poorly from three-point land, but the Golden Flashes won that one, too, 33 percent (4-12) to 27.7 percent (5-22). Kent State also out-rebounded the Zips 36-27.

This year Kent State won the East Division title, they had the player of the year, the coach of the year and the best defensive player, Haminn Quaintance, who was chosen tournament MVP. Tonight he scored 16 points, pulled down six rebounds and had a blocked shot.

Kent State has an RPI of 21 and most likely would have been in the NCAA Tournament regardless of what happened tonight. This game was probably for seeding purposes and the Golden Flashes made their case in convincing fashion.

For the second straight year, the Zips saw their Big Dance dreams shattered as they again lost in the championship game. Last year it was a buzzer-beater by Miami’s Doug Penno that sunk them.

It was a relatively tight game until Akron hit a dry spell toward the end of the first half that allowed Kent State to close out the first half on a 16-1 run that sent the Zips into the locker room at halftime down 13 points at 33-20.

In fact, a dry spell is putting it mildly. Akron went the final 7:46 without scoring, missing their last nine shots and three free throws to end the half.

Akron coach Keith Dambrot thought that his team’s poor shooting hurt them at the other end of the court.

“I think our offensive performance affected our defense,” said Dambrot. “I think we got inside on them better than we ever have. We got it at point-blank range, we just couldn’t make it, which is difficult.”

“We just wanted to put pressure on the ball and give them a hard time getting into their offensive sets. We wanted them to chance what they wanted to do,” explained Kent State guard Al Fisher.

In the second half Akron did make a run, cutting the Kent State lead to 10 points at 51-41 at the 8:20 mark on a basket by Nate Linhart. Kent State’s Mike Scott responded by making a jump shot. Right after that he was intentionally fouled on a steal play. He sunk both foul shots.

Then Kent State’s Chris Singletary converted a three-point play, but was knocked down after making the final foul shot by Linhart who backed into him.

Kent State coach Jim Christian had some choice words for Linhart after everyone got untangled.

“Singletary is a key person for us when putting pressure on the ball because he is so strong. That was a key for us to have an option like him to go to,” said Christian.

When the final horn sounded, Fisher, the MAC Player of the Year, provided an exclamation point on a good night by doing a back flip in front of the Kent State bench.

Notes

  • LeBron James of the Cavaliers and Akron’s most famous native son was in attendance for tonight’s game.
  • Tonight’s meeting was the 125th meeting between the two programs. Kent leads the all-time series 65-60. Akron won last year’s three games and Kent won this year’s three games.
  • This is the seventh time in the past 11 years that Kent has played in the MAC Championship game. Kent has won five of those seven games.
  • The all-tournament team:
    Joe Reitz, Western Michigan
    Jeremiah Wood, Akron
    Al Fisher, Kent State
    Mike Scott, Kent State
    Haminn Quaintance, Kent State

     

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