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MAC Wrap - State of the Conference - Week 4
Last week, the President gave his first State of the Union Address. So, what better time than now to give my first State of the MAC report? At the halfway point of MAC play, there are certainly some who are pulling ahead in the horse race, while others may be beginning to question their campaigns. I’ll give the yays and nays for each team and some analysis on how to create a more better squad.
Ahead in the Polls
Kent State (16-7, 7-2)
Yay: It’s a return to the glory of…two years ago. Well, the Golden Flashes are not there quite yet but they are topping the MAC and in very strong form. How about Rodriguez Sherman’s unbelievable game-winning three-point play Saturday against Central Michigan? It was a Sportscenter top play and for very good reason. His moxie and aggressiveness is just what that situation calls for.
- The Golden Flashes are on a six-game win streak. While four of those have come at home, they are taking care of business in friendly confines.
- Justin Greene has turned up his play and is becoming one of the best bigs in the leagues. He leads the team in scoring and rebounding and has averaged 15 PPG and 7.8 RPG in Kent’s win streak.
- Kent State is tops in the conference in turnover margin, at +3.68.
Nay: No need for reform here. The Flashes system is working, with four guys providing solid scoring and the defense buckling down if that’s the tone of the game.
Last word: Kent State has the best record and is playing the best basketball in the MAC. It has only lost three games since December 20 and its biggest loss was by six.
Central Michigan (11-9, 6-2)
Yay: The Chippewas are heading the West right now, after a slow start. 4-7 in non-conference play, Central has picked it up in the MAC, going 6-2. The guard duo of Robbie Harman and Jordan Bitzer each average over 13 PPG. The two are also 1-2 in the conference in three pointers made per game
- As you might imagine, with Bitzer’s and Harman’s three-point proficiency, Central Michigan is stroking threes like Reggie Miller in his heyday. Well, that may be an exaggeration, but the Chippewas’ 36.4% three-point percentage is good enough for first in the league.
Nay: While Central is a good three-point shooting team, they are not playing good offense overall. It averages just one more point per game than it gives up. Chris Kellerman is shooting just 36% from the field, under his career averages, which are 40 percent or above.
Last word: Central has the potential with the three ball but if that is not falling it is hard to see where the offense is coming from. This team will go by Harman and Bitzer. If they can get on a roll from out deep, the Chippewas should keep up the winning ways.
Akron (16-7, 6-3)
Yay: The defending tournament champs are very much a contender again. The Zips have hit some blips along the way (home loss to Eastern) but are looking strong otherwise. They are first in the MAC in field goal percentage and second in field goal percentage defense. When you’re first and second in those two categories, it’s usually an indication of a real contender.
-Brett McKnight has taken by far the most shots of any Zip this season (he’s shot 211; the next closest is Humpty Hitchens’ 176). However, McKnight is the only player averaging double-digits points (10.1 per game) and is shooting 40% from the field.
-With Nate Linhart gone and more playing time, Jimmy Conyers has been a pleasant surprise. He is averaging 9.1 PPG and 6.4 RPG. More impressive though is his shot selection. Conyers is hitting 53% of his field goals.
Nay: Akron’s biggest problem right now is at the free throw line. It is 11 th in the conference with a 63% free throw percentage. For a contending team that earned a berth to the NCAA Tournament last year, this is unacceptable. Coach Dambrot needs to fix this problem because if not, it will bite them and it could be in a big game. Missing free throws is a frustrating way to lose a MAC Tournament game when you have the talent that Akron does, so they must right this wrong now, in February.
Last word: The Zips have a lot of depth, with the McKnights, Cvetinovic, Hitchens and Conyers all providing threats that could step up on a given night. Throw in the potential of freshman Zeke Marshall emerging as a bigger component later in the season and the Zips will be even more dangerous.
Ball State (12-9, 6-3)
Yay: The hottest team in the conference, Ball State has won six of its last seven games after starting off 0-2. Ball State is a very good defensive team, holding opponents to 60.5 PPG, best in the MAC.
- Freshman Jauwan Scaife. The first-year player from Muncie has made a big-time impact on the Cardinals. He is averaging 10.4 PPG and shooting 42.7% from downtown. His outside game is key to maintaining a balance with the talented Jarrod Jones on the inside. -The sophomore slump looked like it was taking hold of Jarrod Jones. Then the Miami overtime game happened and Jones turned his game on its head quicker than NBC pulled the plug on Conan O’Brien (sorry Conan). Before Miami, Jones had not scored in double-digits. He scored 21 and pulled down 12 rebounds in the 2OT win. In the subsequent three games, Jones is back on track, with 10 or more points and another double-double on his resume.
- Ball State is second in the conference in rebounding margin, at +3.6
Nay: The offense is still a problem. While Jones is looking better, a lack of production again from him will be troublesome. The Cardinals are relying on a freshman for a lot of scoring, which also poses a risk, as they are not tournament tested yet. Otherwise, the offense is not doing a whole lot more. This needs to pick up.
Last word: Coach Billy Taylor does one of the best jobs of getting a lot out of his players. This Cardinals team is averaging fewer points per game than they’re allowing but they still have a winning record. They won two big OT games against East squads and will need the continued strength of the sophomore Jones.
Miami (9-13, 6-3)
Yay: Yes, the Redhawks are under .500 overall but that is the byproduct of the tough scheduling. In the MAC, Miami is above .500 and looking good.
- Good play at Millett. The Redhawks take care of their home court, 5-0 at Millett Hall.
- Julian Mavunga. The sophomore is the real deal. He is a solidified presence in the post in just his second year. Mavunga still has his down games and is turnover prone but he is an important part of Miami’s fate.
- Fifth year senior Kenny Hayes is the clear leader of this team. He takes between 10 and 15 shots in most of the games. However, he is shooting 42.6% from the field and averaging 13.9 PPG. Hayes is obviously the catalyst to Miami wins, providing the veteran presence.
Nay: Only Toledo is worse than Miami in rebounding margin. The Redhawks are at -.8 They are also not creating too many turnovers, falling near the bottom in steals and turnover margin.
- Road woes. The Redhawks got their first road win Thursday night in Kalamazoo. But a 1-10 road record is not a trait of a highly successful squad.
Last word: Charlie Coles always has this team ready to play. This team falls near the upper- middle of the conference and rightfully so. Their shot selection is good and they like to play the grind it out low possession style game. Hayes is the biggest part but contributions from Nick Winbush and Julian Mavunga will help him out.
In Need of an Endorsement
Buffalo (11-9, 4-5)
Yay: Rodney Pierce scores a lot of points for the Bulls and is the MAC’s third leading scorer. Calvin Betts has been an excellent “Pippen” to Pierce, scoring and rebounding. Point guard John Boyer has filled the role very well, distributing the ball and putting up points, as well.
Nay: Buffalo’s defense has been an absolute mess. The Bulls are last in scoring defense and second-to-last in field goal percentage defense
- Pierce scores a lot but does it on a lot of shots. It’s the Allen Iverson school of high point average on high shot totals. Pierce has taken 15 shots or more in all but one of Buffalo’s MAC games. He’s taken as many as 26 in the loss to Western Michigan.
Last word: Buffalo is on a skid, having lost four of five. It gave up 80 or more in three of those losses and even in the win against Northern Illinois in this span, had to score 95. Buffalo has a great scorer in Pierce and nice contributors in Betts, Smiley and Boyer. But the run-and-gun style is not working for them and their defense must improve.
Western Michigan (12-10, 4-5)
Yay: It’s all about David Kool in Kalamazoo. He’s the leading scorer, leader to be MAC Player of the Year and does just about everything well. He is averaging 21.1 PPG but also 1.71 steals and 2.5 assists per game.
- Donald Lawson has provided a solid rebounding presence, with 7.7 per game, second most in the conference.
- Western takes its defense and rebounding seriously. The Broncos are tops in field goal percentage defense and rebounding margin.
Nay: Two close losses to Miami and Kent State have put Western in a tough position. They need to keep games lower scoring and find a way to pull out the close ones.
Last word: David Kool will lead this Western team to a good finish. Defense and rebounding are two characteristics of strong teams. If the Broncos stay strong there, they should move out of the middle of this pack.
Bowling Green (11-10, 4-5)
Yay: Scott Thomas has performed very well in the three spot and given them a scoring touch to get wins. Big Otis Polk is an intimidating presence inside and a good rebounder and shot blocker. Dee Brown has the MAC’s best three point shooting percentage.
Nay: Bowling Green is your typical middle of the pack team. They fall in the middle of most statistical categories; not particularly exceptional in most areas but not particularly bad in any either.
Last word: Louis Orr’s 2-3 zone can be very tough. But Bowling Green is going to need a more consistent offensive game.
Northern Illinois (8-13, 4-5)
Yay: Xavier Silas has been absolutely excellent for the Huskies. He came over from Colorado and is the MAC’s second leading scorer. Silas is putting up big point numbers and propelling Northern in its victories.
Nay: Northern has fallen into a very bad five game losing streak after starting 4-0. In this streak, the Huskies’ defense has allowed 76 or more in each game and 90 or more in three of the games. The defense is nowhere near good enough right now. They are also playing sloppy basketball, turning it over an average of 16 per game and struggling from the line.
Last word: Ricardo Patton needs to put this skid to a stop or his seat is going to get even hotter very quickly. This team is not executing well right now and just in a tailspin.
Ohio (12-10, 3-5)
Yay: The guard play from D.J. Cooper and Armon Bassett has carried the Bobcats. Cooper especially, just a freshman, has been exciting to watch for Bobcats fans. He is a good scorer, distributor and defender. He leads the conference in steals and assists per game.
- When the Bobcats get Tommy Freeman the ball, he is again swishing the three-pointers. Freeman is second in the MAC in three-point shooting, at 43.6%
Nay: Ohio was dealt a painful blow when starter Steven Coleman broke his hand. It has left them thin at the three, which has been a problem to defend in Coleman’s absence. The Bobcats miss Coleman as another scoring option, who was poised for a breakout season.
- Blown halftime leads. The Bobcats have led by eight points three times in MAC play. They lost all three of those games, to Miami, Bowling Green and Ball State.
- An interior presence. In his senior season, Kenneth Van Kempen has shown a decent amount of improvement. But it is a lot to ask of him to carry the whole load inside. DeVaughn Washington has been a disappointment and the Bobcats do not have the depth to withstand that.
Last word: Close games have been the albatross of the Bobcats in ’09-’10. They have lost seven of their ten games by five points or less. This is a predominantly young team, so it is not all that surprising to see such a figure. Outside of the 99-point outputs against Buffalo and Northern, the Bobcats’ offense has been sputtering and needs more consistency on the whole.
Eastern Michigan (11-11, 3-6)
Yay: Brandon Bowdry has been all-around awesome for the Eagles. He is putting up 16 points and a MAC-leading 9.8 rebounds per game. He has 11 double-doubles but only three of them come against the MAC.
- Carlos Medlock has picked up right where he left off after missing all of last season due to injury. He has scored ten or more in every one of Eastern’s MAC games, although his 37.5% field goal percentage leaves something to be desired.
Nay: Eastern is not last in many categories but they are in that bottom range. In the past couple games, they have been getting down at half, playing better in the second half but just not able to do enough to make up the deficit. They have trailed at the half in all but two of their MAC contests. One of those was a win against Toledo. In the other, they squandered a nine-point lead to Bowling Green.
Last word: With the talent level of Bowdry, Medlock and Justin Dobbins, you thought this may have been the year for Charles Ramsey’s squad. But they are coming out flat and not looking quite as good as they did against a soft non-conference schedule.
Toledo (3-20, 0-9)
Yay: There’s not much yay for a 3-20 team, though freshman guard Jake Barnett has played well.
Nay: The Rockets are last in field goal percentage offense and defense, as well as free throw percentage. Ouch. But that can’t be a surprise with a team composed of such youth. Justin Anyijong’s numbers are down but he is no longer playing with Tyrone Kent and Jonathan Amos. Add to that an injury to Mohammed Lo and the picture is bleak in Toledo.
Last word: Toledo gave Ohio a fight Thursday night, taking the game to overtime at home before falling short. The Rockets are scrappy and I think they will find a way to win at least one of these MAC games before the end…maybe.
MAC Weekend Forecast
With Super Bowl Sunday upon us, this weekend offers a couple of super matchups between top MAC clubs.
Akron at Ball State-a good matchup. Akron will end Ball State’s hot streak with the McKnights getting the best of Jones
Bowling Green at Western Michigan- two tough defenses play a close, low scoring game that Kool takes over at the end
Miami at Northern Illinois- Miami finally got a road win Thursday against Western Michigan. But are two in a row on the road possible?
Ohio at Eastern Michigan- Ohio will struggle to find someone to matchup with Brandon Bowdry
Buffalo at Toledo- Toledo should be just the right medicine for a reeling Bulls team. But if the Rockets’ offense is ever going to get on track it would be against this defense
Kent State at Central Michigan- the weekend’s best matchup pits the East’s and West’s best against each other. Central Michigan has been very good at home but Kent State will slow the game down and play good defense for a win
By Connor Kiesel