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MAC Bracketbuster Preview

 

That very special day(s) in February is here again. No, not the one marked with chocolates, roses and that four-letter word love. It’s more likely to be accompanied by possible four-letter words not so friendly, basketballs, and battles on the boards. It’s Bracketbuster weekend, which means a chance to get out of the MAC swing for a game and see how you stack up against a similar squad from another conference.

 

(* RPI projections from CBSSports.com)

Marquee Matchups

 

Drexel at Kent State- Fri. 9pm ESPNU

Team Comparison

Drexel: 17-9, 9-7 Colonial Athletic, Estimated RPI: 74

Kent State: 17-7, 8-2 MAC, Estimated RPI: 87

Common Opponents

JAMES MADISON

Drexel: 60-52 L (Road), 68-54 L (Home)

Kent State: 60-51 L (Home)

 

Key Players

Drexel

Chris Fouch- 15.3 PPG

Samme Givens- 11.5 PPG, 10.1 RPG

 

Kent State

Justin Greene- 15.8 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 49% FG

Rodriguez Sherman- 12.9 PPG, 3.1 APG

What to Watch For

Drexel will be coming off of one of its poorer performances of the season. In a 51-43 loss to UNC-Wilmington Tuesday, the Dragons shot just 26% from the field and were 1-15 from downtown. They looked like a CAA contender beating Louisville in December and starting the season 9-2 but are 8-6 since. The Dragons are a gritty team that wins on defense and the boards. They’re 8 th in the nation in total rebounding and tops in defensive rebounding. They guard the three well, 4 th in DI three-point defense and are best in the CAA in that category, as well as field goal percentage defense.

Neither team is going to light up the scoreboard. Chris Fouch is the Dragons’ leading scorer but a streaky shooter who has taken double attempts in all but five games. In Tuesday’s loss, he was 4 of 20 and was 1 of 13 in a loss last week to JMU.

You may wonder how Kent State will respond after a MAC road loss that knocked it out of the top spot. Well, the Golden Flashes have created a tradition of big Bracketbuster wins. The biggest was 2008’s road win over #23 St. Mary’s when Al Fisher just took over the game. They always seem to be in one of the MAC’s best matchups and have proven the conference well. They’ve won five straight Bracketbuster contests and are 6-2 overall in the games.

Drexel is a strong home team, 10-2 in Philly. More off the charts is its +9.4 rebounding margin. Kent State has a strong rebounding game as well. It will be a slow, plodding game that will be decided by that tussle on the boards and a few defensive possessions.

Prediction: Kent State 63, Drexel 59



Miami at James Madison- Sat. 12pm ESPN3

Team Comparison

James Madison: 19-9, 9-7 Colonial Athletic, Estimated RPI: 80

Miami: 13-12, 8-3 MAC, Estimated RPI: 105

 

Common Opponents

TOWSON

JMU: 99-68 W (Home), 72-61 W (Road)

Miami: 60-57 W (Home)

 

KENT STATE

JMU: 60-51 W (Road)

Miami: 78-57 L (Road)

 

Key Players

Miami

Julian Mavunga- 14.2 PPG, 7.6 RPG

Nick Winbush- 13 PPG, 6.7 RPG

 

James Madison

Denzel Bowles- 18.8 PPG, 9.2 RPG, 58.2 % FG

Devon Moore- 10.7 PPG, 4.1 APG

 

What to Watch For

With the injury to Antonio Ballard, the Redhawks have had to adjust. They’ve done just that, ascending to the top of the MAC after the overtime win over Kent State this week. Charlie Coles always schedules a murderer’s row of out-of-conference opponents, so Miami will not be intimidated by the Bracketbuster challenge.

Miami is 8 th in the MAC in field goal percentage defense (44.9 percent), not quite as strong as usual. James Madison is 2 nd in the CAA in field goal percentage (45.6 percent). Denzel Bowles is one of the conference’s best shooters and overall players. He’s second in scoring, number one in field goal percentage (58.2 percent) and also third in rebounding (9.2 RPG). The 6-10 Bowles will square off with Miami’s Julian Mavunga in what should be an excellent duel to watch.

While those two are the top scorers and rebounders, it will be the contributors around them who decide this one. For Miami, it’s guys like Nick Winbush and Orlando Williams who have stepped up more in the absence of Ballard. The Dukes have a plethora of scorers. Julius Wells, Devon Moore and Rayshawn Goins all average double digits points. And a familiar face to MAC fans will be on the floor for the Dukes. Former Zip Humpty Hitchens is now with James Madison, averaging 8.7 PPG and shooting 40 percent from three. Miami will need to control the pace but the James Madison scoring punch may be too much.

Prediction: James Madison 69, Miami 58

 

 

Filling out the field

Illinois State (11-16) at Western Michigan (14-10), 2 PM

The Redbirds have struggled immensely in the Valley this season. After an 8-3 out-of-conference start, they’ve gone 3-13 in conference games. They lost to Ohio by two, who Western Michigan beat by two. The Broncos are at home and rebounding, among other areas, will prove to be tipping points.

Prediction: Western Michigan 68, Illinois State 57

 

Central Michigan (8-17) at Niagara (7-21), 2 PM

Niagara has played against two MAC clubs, a four-point win over Bowling Green in the Legends Classic and an 18-point trouncing at Buffalo. So which Niagara team shows up in its third MAC tilt? Central Michigan goes as its freshman guard Trey Ziegler goes. He has propelled the Chippewas to two straight victories, scoring 18 and 24 and shooting over 50 percent in both. But Ziegler’s road shooting performances have been less than stellar and the Chippewas’ record away from Mount Pleasant…1-11.

Prediction: Niagara 61, Central Michigan 56

 

Seattle (9-16) at Northern Illinois (7-17), 4 PM

The skidding Huskies (six straight losses) really need a win of any sort, MAC or not. A home game against the 2-11 on the road Redhawks marks a pretty good opportunity to do that. Seattle is an independent in the midst of a five-year transition from Division II to Division I that will be complete in 2012-13. Seattle’s Aaron Broussard has scored in double-digits in the last eleven games and is averaging 15 points and 8 rebounds a game on the season. Xavier Silas needs to bounce back from one of his worst games of the season, a 7-point, 3-11 shooting night in the Tuesday loss to Western Michigan.

Prediction: Northern Illinois 77, Seattle 70

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Northern Illinois at Miami

Last time out: Xavier Silas scored 25 but it was with just six made field goals. The Huskies could not overcome a first half where the offense looked cold and out of sync in their loss to Ohio. Miami escaped on the road against Eastern Michigan. The Redhawks shot an abysmal 18 percent from the field in the first half and were down as many as twenty and by 13 at the final TV timeout. But then it was an 18-6 Miami run punctuated with Jon Harris’ three at the buzzer to complete the comeback win.

What to expect: Northern Illinois’ size is a problem and Julian Mavunga creates a matchup problem to the detriment of the Huskies. Miami feeds off the emotion of its weekend win and gets one again, in a lot less agitating fashion.

Prediction: Miami 75, Northern Illinois 69

 

Eastern Michigan at Kent State

Last time out: After a trouncing at the hands of Buffalo, it has been Kent State doing the dominating. The Golden Flashes have won their last four by double digits. That includes their win over Central Michigan, in which Rodriguez Sherman scored 17 and the Flashes shot lights out in the second half. The win put Kent State on top of the MAC East. Eastern Michigan had that collapse at home to Miami where they hemorrhaged a 20-point lead. It was sour ending to another strong performance by Brandon Bowdry who had 19 points and 11 rebounds.

What to expect: Kent State is on a tear and its hard to see Eastern Michigan going on the road and even giving much of a challenge. Justin Greene will neutralize Brandon Bowdry and that takes away Eastern’s real big advantage.

Prediction: Kent State 78, Eastern Michigan 65

 

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Creighton (17-11) at Akron (16-10), 7 PM

Freshman and coach’s son Doug McDermott leads the Blue Jays in both scoring and rebounding. They’ve also got one of the MVC’s best point guards in Antoine Young. He averages 4.7 APG and leads the conference in that category, total assists and assist/turnover ratio. Those numbers put Creighton inside the top 100 nationwide in that area. It’s also a proficient shooting squad, hitting 45% of field goals. Akron’s doing even better distributing the ball, 65 th in assists but is not as good overall offensively. Both teams are balanced though which will make for a close game.

Prediction: Creighton 79, Akron 75

 

Wisconsin-Milwaukee (16-11) at Buffalo (15-9), 7 PM

The Panthers are on a tear. Seven straight wins have them just a game out in the very competitive Horizon league. Milwaukee has beaten Bowling Green but lost to Western Michigan back before the New Year. On the other side, Buffalo is not so hot, having lost three of four following a six-game win streak. Buffalo has a 14-point win over the Horizon’s Green Bay but a loss to bottom-feeder Youngstown State. The Bulls are one of the country’s best field goal shooting teams. If Zach Filzen, Byron Mulkey and Javon McCrea are firing on all cylinders it will be a long afternoon for the Panthers. The matchup between two proficient shooters, McCrea and Milwaukee’s Anthony Hill could be key.

Prediction: Wisconsin-Milwaukee 75, Buffalo 69

 

Eastern Illinois (8-18) at Toledo (4-22), 7 PM

Toledo started the season with nine straight losses against out-of-conference opponents. Now the Rockets have lost eight straight in conference and twelve of thirteen. If looking for an opponent with a resume as lackluster of late, look no further than Eastern Illinois, also losers of eight straight. Neither team averages even 60 PPG, so this could be an ugly game that may just be decided by who turns the ball over less.

Prediction: Toledo 63, Eastern Illinois 55

 

Ohio (13-13) at Winthrop (12-14), 7 PM

Both are hovering at or around .500. It has been an up-and-down flow that has left Ohio there. The Bobcats will have to keep the 6-7 Charles Corbin in check, as they should be able to use Nick Kellogg and company to control the Winthrop guards. This will depend on which side’s strength wins out. Winthrop allows 40 percent FG shooting, while the Bobcats shoot over 43 percent from the field. Ivo Baltic will need to keep up his recent strong play for Ohio to match the Eagles.

Prediction: Winthrop 72, Ohio 66

 

Ball State (15-10) at Wofford (15-12), 7 PM

Wofford’s Noah Dahlman will be a challenge for the Cardinals. He’s the Southern Conference’s third leading scorer, averaging 20.3 PPG, and second best in field goal percentage at a whopping 62.8 percent. Wofford also has the conference’s top rebounder, Tim Johnson. He’ll have a battle on the boards with Jarrod Jones, the MAC’s second best rebounder. Ball State’s a pretty good defensive team but will have a tough test in the Terriers’ 26 th best in the nation field goal shooting attack. The tough Terriers have beaten George Mason and took Xavier to three overtimes before losing.

Prediction: Wofford 80, Ball State 66

 

Bowling Green (12-14) at Youngstown State (8-18), 7:05 PM

Youngstown State is making its rounds through the MAC. Bowling Green will be its fifth MAC opponent of the season. They’ve split their first four, wins against Buffalo and Toledo, losses to Akron and Kent State. Bowling Green has lost three of four but it has been much worse for the Penguins who have lost all but two of their 16 conference games thus far. This is one of those ones the MAC should probably get in its win column but you can just see going strikingly wrong.

Prediction: Youngstown State 64, Bowling Green 62

 

By Connor Kiesel
VandelaySports.com MAC Basketball Correspondent