Saturday, March 23, 2019

MAC MBB Check in

So, it's early Saturday afternoon in week one of March Madness and the MAC is down to one team still playing.  UT, CMU, and Kent went down in their tournaments, leaving just the Buffalo Bulls still in play.

And how in play they are.  The Bulls destroyed Arizona State in their first-round game.  I, for one, would love to see the national media find a way to talk about Buffalo for 60 straight seconds without mentioning Bobby Hurley.  Nate Oats can coach and he deserves some credit, not just being mentioned as riding Hurley's temperamental coattails.

The Bulls pulled 1.23 points per possession in an NCAA Tourney game and allowed 1 ppp.  Massinburg, Graves, Harris and Perkins were all incredibly effective for Buffalo.

Look, they are slipping. They beat Arizona by 21 last year in the first round.

That's a joke, son.

The last MAC team to win games in consecutive tournaments was that Kent team they are normally compared to.  Kent did it in the 01 and 02 tournaments and in 02 made the Elite Eight.  If Buffalo wins tomorrow, they will be the first MAC team in the Sweet Sixteen since OU in 2012.

It won't be easy.  Texas Tech is an underrated team if you can be that and win the Big 12 title.  Kenpom gives Texas Tech a 66% chance to win and ESPN has them at 72%.  Vegas has it at 3.5 points.  I believe UB will give them all they can handle...and I think the Bulls are being under-respected a little, even with a 6 seed.  This is the best team UB has played this year and it isn't close, but in no way do I think they will be over-matched.

Last thing.  I keep hearing how Nate Oats is winning "with Hurley's players."  Would you like to know how many points last night were scored by a player who played for Hurley?

The number is zero.

Go get 'em Bulls.  Make us proud.

Monday, March 18, 2019

MAC MBB Post-Season

Four MAC teams are in post-season play.  One in each tournament.

Of course, the one we want to watch is Buffalo.  They have a real shot to get to the Sweet 16 or further, and last year's win over Arizona gives them a great deal of confidence.  That's an experienced, senior-led team.  They were seeded #6, which had some Buffalo fans upset on Twitter.  I think that's a little unreasonable...and it is the highest a MAC team has been seeded since the tournament expanded to 64 teams.  They play Friday at 4 against the winner or AZ State or St. John's.  If it's the Sun Devils, that sets up an interesting match up between Buffalo and their former coach.

Toledo got into the NIT.  Toledo is a #6 seed and will play @ Xavier on Wednesday at 7:00

In the CBI, CMU is @ DePaul, Wednesday at 8 and then would play the winner of Southern Miss-Longwood

Lastly, in the CIT..Kent is @Louisiana-Monroe, Thursday at 8 pm.

As you know, BG opted to not accept any bids once the NIT selected someone else.  I've already said on Twitter that I support the the sense that if the players and coaches don't want it, they shouldn't have to do it.  The tournaments mean nothing and BG left everything they had on the floor at the Q.

Some people have also asked me about not getting into the NIT.  A couple of things.  First, the NIT already has to take every regular-season team that loses their conference tournament and didn't get into the NCAA.  By definition, those are all mid-majors.  The NIT is owned by the NCAA, and that's about all the mid-major they are going to be able to take.

Even assuming decisions are made rationally, BG's losses to Hartford, Detroit and Cleveland State make it tough to get an at-large bid.  BG finished with a kenpom of 106 and the lowest ranked team in the NIT as an at-large was Wichita State at 93.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Falcon MBB Season Has Ended

And there it is.  Presumably, after hearing that BG had not received an NIT bid, the Falcons announced that they would not be playing any further.  Coach Huger had originally said BG would accept a post-season bid that wasn't the NIT, presumably the CIT.  However, given a day to think about it, BG declined the CIT bid.  I saw some interesting comments on twitter from Brent Klassen today...his point was that the players don't want to play in the games and no one cares, so it would be better to let it go.  And, if their heart is not going to be in it, then I don't think it makes sense to go through the motions.

More to come, but it was a great year.  Thanks to the Falcons players, coaches and staff who work so hard.  You gave us a lot of thrills and pleasure.  Thank you.

51 years....

Now 51 elapsed years since BG has been in the NCAA tournament.  Here is the company we live with now.  Sadly, this list remains static this year...but maybe a light at the end of the tunnel?

Columbia: Last appeared in 1968
Tennessee Tech: Last appeared in 1963
Maine: Division I since 1962
New Hampshire: Division I since 1962
Dartmouth: Last appeared in 1959
Army: Division I since 1948
Citadel: Division I since 1948
St. Francis (N.Y.): Division I since 1948
William & Mary: Division I since 1948

Proud of Our Boys

So here we are.  It didn't work out.  More on that in a minute.

We may have lost, but we are not beaten.  Those guys had such a year and I was so proud of their performance all year and in this game.  I was proud to clap them off the floor.  Winning would have been great...incredible...and not because we don't respect Buffalo but because we do.  It didn't happen, but we got closer than we have in 17 years and I think we are building a true program and these guys--the guys we have right now--did something pretty cool and I hope they enjoy it for their lives.

Nothing but love here.  What a great year.

BG gave Buffalo all they could handle.  Buffalo made a couple runs and BG always brought it back.  This Bulls team is so good.  The last team in the MAC that was better beat us in the MAC Final that year, too.  Massinburg is two-time POY.  Jeremy Harris?  Are you kidding me?  And Nick Perkins is your third best player.  The Bulls are a machine.  When you turn the ball over, your first thought is they are going to come down and hit a 3 and in the blink of an eye you're down 3 more.

More on the Bulls.  They've won 4 out of the last 5 titles.  That never used to happen.  How good was Akron every year--and yet, it's hard to win that tournament consistently.  Buffalo is on the verge--if they keep it together--of becoming the Gonzaga of the East.  Great program, mid-major conference, win big games in the non-conference...they are on that kind of path.

So here's the thing.  That's how good the MAC needs to get.  You can see it.  We are not there yet but we can get there.  Competition makes us better.

So, with 4:25 minutes left in this exact game, BG was down 3.  That's a one-possession game.  From there on in, UB went 13-2 and put the game away.  That included a 12-0 run that put the game away.  BG obviously had nothing...two turnovers, two blocked shots, one missed front end and two missed shots.  Honestly, in two possessions, the game went from competitive to over.

That's what you have to do to win championships.  In crunch time, Buffalo won every battle.  Tip of that hat.  Against a team that good, two bad minutes can kill you.

There were positives.  UB outshot BG.  The Falcons shot 46% from 2FG and 27% on 3FG.  BG is 1-9 in games where they shot under 30% from 3FG.  Buffalo had a significant advantage on turnovers as well.  The key thing for BG was rebounding, which was considered a big issue coming in.  BG dominated the game on the boards, and if anything failed to convert those offensive rebounds into the easy baskets they are supposed to be.  Lastly, Buffalo was 16 of 21 at the line and BG was 10 of 15.

Overall, BG scored .99 points per possession in the end while UB scored 1.18.  If you could do either one of them, you'd be in good shape.  I have no idea where it was with 4 minutes left, but probably a lot closer.

Individually, Daeqwon Plowden had a huge game--a good portent for the future.  He scored 16 points, shooting 7 of 9 and 2 of 3, 8 rebounds and a steal and a block.  And the top MAC highlight of the year, according to the video board.

Justin Turner also had 16, but he had to work at it.  He shot 5 of 21 and 2 of 7.  He had 3 assists and 3 turnovers.  Demajeo Wiggins had 13 points on 5 of 7 shooting and 10 rebounds--but was 4 of 8 from the turnovers.  Michael Laster had 13 on 5 of 11 shooting and 5 rebounds.

As a team, BG had only 6 assists.

One other note.  Coach did tighten the rotation up.  Wiggins played 35 minutes, for example.  It was his most minutes all year...he played 34 @Ohio U.  Plowden played 32 minutes, his season-high.  Meanwhile, Lillard played 10 minutes and Uju 2--both their lowest of the year....and Sierra played 7, his lowest since the Toledo game.

So, BG opted to reduce their rotation from 9 to, essentially, 6 or 6.5.  That's a surprise, especially on the third straight night of playing.  I would guess that Coach Huger wanted to match UB's talent level and felt he needed a shorter rotation.  We'll never know, but part of the price might have been the slow close.  Or, if you play a bigger rotation, you're not in the game at the end.  But BG clearly used a different pattern than they did the rest of the year.

So, we await the news about our next step.  We'd expect to be in a tournament.  I don't think we're in the NIT and I don't think UT is a lock.  But, hopefully, we get a shot at one of the other two and Coach says we will accept, which I think is the right call.

More to come on the year as a whole and our matchup, etc.  For now, just appreciation for what was probably our best year since 2002.  Can't wait until November.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Enjoy the ride people

Wanted to check in with the nation. CAN YOU BELIEVE IT??? What a run this has been. How many games have we set through, for 17 years, seasons ending on Mondays in Mt Pleasant?  Here we are. One game from The Big Dance.  Yes, we’re underdogs. But it’s one game and we have  beaten them. Why not?

Beyond that, stop to remember. Remember how it felt after the Cleveland State game. Or when we were picked last. Or, remember how many years we have dreamed of being in this position. Again.

Me?  I was at the first MAC Title game. We lost to Toledo. I was at the one WE LOST ON OUR HOME FLOOR.

One. More. Game.

I’m dying over here. I cannot wait. Let’s back our boys.

Note:  read David Briggs in The Blade for a great column on this.

Let’s back our boys. And enjoy the ride.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Falcon MBB Advances

Quick post here due to time constraints.

BG thrilled their fans last night with a quarterfinal win over Ball State.  Coupled with UT's defeat, there's a clear path to the finals and I think the nation is pretty excited.

A couple thoughts about the game.

First, it was the fastest pace game BG has played all year at 82 possessions.

So, when you see that Ball State scored 86, you have to take that in context. At 1.05 points per possession, it was BG's best defensive game since the Akron win.

That was better in the 2nd half, when BG held the Cards to 35 points.

Meanwhile, BG shot the lights out.  It was their best offensive game and shooting game since the NIU game in DeKalb.  Had BG shot free throws even marginally well they would have broken 100.

I don't know if BG's strategy to winning the tournament is to run and gun.  We shall see.

Both teams had a significant player missing.  KJ Walton was injured in the first half, missed time and never seemed like himself.  Meanwhile, Justin Turner had 2 fouls, missed most of the first half and finished with 10 points and BG still scored 99.

Side note. When it comes to playing guys with 2 fouls in the first half, Coach Huger is one of the most conservative in the country.  Of the 351 coaches, only about 40 are more conservative.

Demajeo Wiggins had his best game in a while.  He tied his season high in points with 22 and had 11 rebounds.  He made 9 of 11 shots.  First time around, he struggled with Ball State, so it was great to see him step up and play the game we need him to.

Dylan Frye, who has really struggled, had his best game in a while, scoring 20 on 5 of 7 and 2 of 3 shooting.  Raise your hand if you expected Frye to score 20 with only 3 3FGA.  Me either.

Anyway, it wasn't perfect but it was good enough and there's only two things in tournament basketball...survive or don't survive.

NIU is next in the late game tonight.  They shocked Toledo last night....check out the video of the post-game presser if you want to see David Briggs get ALL THE WAY under Kowalcyk's skin. 

BG played NIU once this year, beating them by 20 in DeKalb on a game where all the shots went in the basket.  After the UT win, Coach Montgomery noted the difference in his team over the last few games, when they are 5-1.  Those were all MAC West games except for the OU tournament game on Monday.  They beat CMU and Ball State on the road and then OU and UT in the tournament.

Obviously, we all know BG can't sleep on anyone.  Hopefully, the situation itself will keep that from happening.  NIU is going to be riding some momentum, to be sure.  On the other hand, it doesn't get easier.  Eugene German--who would have been on my All-MAC first team--had a big night against UT, making some (in Kowalcyk's words) "unguardable" shots.  Levi Bradley had a good game against UT and has been playing well through this run for the Huskies. 

Tempo will be key.  NIU plays at the 11th ranked pace in the MAC.  If BG can force misses and get the tempo going, I think they should be able to get this one.  If BG plays with energy and tenacity, I think they should get this one.  Even as relieved (let's be honest) as we are not to be playing UT, the Huskies are playing well and are not the same team we saw in February.  We don't want to fall victim to the same thing UT did.

Survive and advance.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Next Up: Ball State Preview

So, in the late game BG will face the Ball State Cardinals at the Q.  Interestingly, because the MAC doesn't re-seed, BG is playing the lowest seed still in the tournament, which is #11 Ball State.

Ball State had a very rough year.  They were picked to be among the top teams in the West, they entered the MAC season with a top 100 Kenpom and they would appear to have talent on the team.  However, that did not work out.  It was a rough year for them.

Just as an example, when BG beat them by 1 at the Stroh earlier in the year, your first thought was how helpful that would come in tiebreaker season, not that BG would finish six games ahead of them.

Before we get into the preview, let me just say that if BG brings the game they brought against Kent State or others, this is a game they should win.  If BG brings the game it brought against Akron, then Ball State will advance.  In other words, winning or losing is in BG's hands.

Ball State does not enter the tournament playing well.  They have lost five of their last seven.  They made it this far by beating EMU on Monday in Ypsi, an 18-point thumping featuring the two most mercurial teams in the MAC...even the game was that way.  Ball State scored 23 points in the first half and played like a team that would have preferred to be doing anything else, but then in the second half it turned out EMU wanted it even less, scoring 14 points, and 2 in the first 10 minutes of the half.

The first time the two teams played it came right down to the wire.  If you recall, BG had to struggle to get the ball in and Persons hit a buzzer beater to cut the lead to was more of a 4-point difference.  We were very happy to win that game at the time.  

Here's how it went down.  The odd thing is, BG shot terrible.  It was the worst BG shot in a win all year.  The next worst was 47%.  BG saved the game with offensive rebounding and FTs.  BG was 29-33 at the line (an uncharacteristic success rate) and +10 at the line.  Turner scored 26 and Plowden 20 and Wiggins had 15 boards.  For Ball State, Persons had 28 (his MAC season high) and Teague 19.  Trey Moses was held to 3 points.

So, it's been a while, but let's catch up on the Cardinals.  They are more like Akron than other teams.  They are a poor offensive team  (11th in MAC) in one that shouldn't shoot like you see above, but they are very good on defense (3rd).  So, it's a test of who wins out, the team that can score or the team that can't.  Now, look, BSU is underwater--they allow more than they score, which is what you get with an 11th place team...and BG is right side up.  If BG plays anything near its average defensive game, they should be able to win this one.

So, what's the deal with their scoring?  BSU is poor across the board.  They are 11th in shooting, 9th in turnovers and 9th in offensive rebounds.  They are last in the MAC in terms of trying 3FGs and last in terms of making them.  They are better at 2FG, ranked 3rd, so BG needs to defend the paint very effectively.  BG is 9th in the MAC right now in defending the 2FG.

They are also not great at the FT line.  They are 7th in getting to the line and 10th in FT shooting.

Flipping it around, their defensive success is mostly built on stopping the shot, the most important factor.  They are 3rd in the MAC in defending the shot.  They are 2nd defending the 2FG and 4th defending the 3FG.  You'd hope BG gets some stops and gets into transition.  Little hint, if you see BG get frustrated and start jacking 3FGs up, then you can start wondering how Ball State will do in the semi.  The Cards are just typical at the other things...6th against turnovers, 7th on the defensive boards and 6th in allowing FTs.

Ball State has some very solid players.  Their highest profile player is probably overrated.  Tayler Persons leads the team in scoring at 16 PPG.  However, he shoots 42% and 28%.  He leads the MAC in the percentage of his team's shots he takes.  What about assists you ask?  He's only 6th in the MAC with an essentially 1:1 A/T ratio.

Tahjai Teague is a really solid player.  He's scoring 12.9 PPG on 50% and 24% shooting.  He averages 8 RPG, which is 4th in the MAC.  Even tempo-free (the BSU defense does create a lot of missed shots) he's top ten on the defensive end.  He's also 13th in steals and 8th in blocked shots.  He's a good player.

Their other double figure scorer is KJ Walton, who shoots 12.3 PPG.  He shoots 49% and essentially never tries a 3.  He's third in steals and first in steal rate.

The surprise guy is Trey Moses.  He was third team all-MAC last year, but scores only 8 a game on 46% shooting to go with 7.6 RPG this year.  He was injured for a couple games.

So, the second season begins.  By seeding, BG should be set to advance.  Having said that, if BG doesn't play well, the Cardinals are capable of closing BG out in a game that would likely be very low scoring.

Oats is MAC Coach of the Year

I know this isn't going to play well in our base, but I'm going to tell you it's probably the right call.

Most years, the Coach of the Year is synonymous with "most improved team."  Based on that measure, Huger wins in a landslide, after being picked last and then finishing #3.

But when you have the coach of the team that has been ranked most of the year, would qualify for an at-large bid and is the best team in 15 or 16 years in this conference, then you have to recognize that guy as a pretty good coach, too.

I don't think you can argue it.  Tip your hat.  Our guy had a good year, too, and might have won most other years.  He gave us a great year when we were competitive and relevant for the first time in a long time.

Looking forward to more.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Turner First Team All-MAC, Wiggins Second-Team

The MAC announced the all-conference teams, and I think it was a fair shake for everyone involved.  From the BG perspective, Justin Turner deserved to be a first-team player and he is.  Note that he's the only non-senior on the first team and there are no juniors.  

It's well deserved.  He's the second most efficient player in the MAC among players who use at least 24% of their team's possessions.  (Side note, you can rack up big efficiency numbers without making a big impact with a few shots.  Combining the measures allows you to make sure you are talking about impact players.  It basically means that he scores a lot without using a lot of possessions through missed shots or turnovers.)

Massinburg and Perkins have to be there.  I'd expect Massinburg to be POTY.  The only first-team guy I have quibbles with is Walker, who led the league in scoring but did it through jacking up a shload of shots.  He was the #42 shooter in the MAC.  To me, that's not a first-team player.  I would have elevated Thompson or German ahead of him.

Wiggins was on track through December to be first-team as well, but his conference play was just not as good.  He was third in rebounding and first in tempo-free rebounding, but only averaged 10.3 PPG in conference play.  He had a great year and certainly earned second-team honors, which he got for the second straight year.

I had hoped Caleb Fields would be all-FR, and I thought he had a better case than Edu, but that would be it.  He is a very solid player who I think will develop at BG and become a really good player.

All-MAC First Team
Justin Turner, G, Bowling Green, R-So.
C.J. Massinburg, G, Buffalo, Sr.
Nick Perkins, F, Buffalo, Sr.
Jaylin Walker, G, Kent State, Sr.
Jaelan Sanford, G, Toledo, Sr.
All-MAC Second Team
Demajeo Wiggins, F, Bowling Green, Sr.
Jeremy Harris, G, Buffalo, Sr.
Larry Austin Jr., G, Central Michigan, Sr.
James Thompson IV, F/C, Eastern Michigan, Sr.
Eugene German, G, Northern Illinois, Jr.
All-MAC Third Team
Tayler Persons, G, Ball State, R-Sr.
Shawn Roundtree Jr., G, Central Michigan, Sr.
Nike Sibande, G, Miami, So.
Jason Carter, F, Ohio, R-So.
Seth Dugan, C, Western Michigan, Sr.
All-MAC Honorable Mention
Daniel Utomi, F, Akron, Jr.
Paul Jackson, G, Eastern Michigan, R-Sr.
Elijah Minnie, F, Eastern Michigan, R-Sr.
Nate Navigato, F, Toledo, Sr.
Marreon Jackson, G, Toledo, So.
All-Freshman Team
Anthony Roberts, G, Kent State, Fr.
Mekhi Lairy, G, Miami, Fr.
Ben Vander Plas, F, Ohio, Fr.
Jason Preston, G, Ohio, Fr.
AJ Edu, F, Toledo, Fr.
All-Defensive Team
Dontay Caruthers, G, Buffalo, Sr.
Davonta Jordan, G, Buffalo, Jr.
Larry Austin Jr., G, Central Michigan, Sr.
James Thompson IV, F/C, Eastern Michigan, Sr.
Darrian Ringo, G, Miami, Sr.