Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Bring on MAC Hoops

Tomorrow is our last game before the MAC season starts against the Falcons of Notre Dame (OH). This should be an easy win, and then Central comes in a week from tonight for the first MAC game and what should be a win on our floor.

I'm ready to fire up the season. Let's hope we're healthy and getting ready to compete. I'd love to see us surprise the league. As I have written before, the elements are there (barely), and need to come together.

Here's a good MAC blog from a Buffalo fan, though he tries to blog the entire conference. Here's what he has to say about the season to date:

1. Buffalo (9-1) (1) – Bulls needed Calvin Cage, who I think is the MAC POY so far, to save their bacon against Elon in 68-67 squeaker last Wednesday. Coach ‘Spoon’s squad avoided trap game number two and must bust out the rust-oleom once again for trap game numero tres against an athletic and confident Delaware State squad this Friday.

2. Ohio (6-1) (2) – It’s tough to figure these (bob)Cats out. They start off they season by blitzing St. Francis and American, winning on the road against Marist and Rhode Island before getting run by Cinci, after which Tim O’Shea’s squad has sleepwalked through two consecutive games. Leon William needs more touches and to take more shots (he was only 3-of-5 in 56-55 squeaker over Detroit). Kentucky (this Friday at 8:00 PM) is a stiff test for a group that seems badly in need of a hangover spike.

3. Northern Illinois (5-2, 1-0) (5) – Big win for the Huskies over Kansas State last Tuesday, the Huskies second home dubbya over a squad from a BCS league. The recipe for victory for Mick McKinney, the Flash of the MAC, is simple: push tempo and score more than 70 points. San Jose State shouldn’t offer too much resistance this Thursday night but Rob Judson’s squad is 1-2 on the road so far. Could be trap game.

4. Akron (5-3) (6) – The Christmas break came at a bad time for a Zips squad that was rolling, having won two in a row before battling undefeated Clemson for all 40 minutes in 66-59 loss to the Tigers in the finals of the San Juan Shootout. A more balanced and aggressive offensive attack has been the key to Akron’s recent run. Play host to Wright State, who have been the MAC’s bitch so far this season, having gone winless in four games, on New Year’s Eve,

5. Toledo (6-2, 0-1) (4) – Rockets beat a not too good East Carolina squad last time out but that is the sort of game Stan Joplin’s squad has lost this season. Almost as good as getting the dubbya was the continued emergence of sophomore guard Kashif Payne (18 points) as a third scoring option behind Justin Ingram and Keonta Howell. Face Oakland tonight at 7:00 PM in final go-around before league play starts.

6. Ball State (4-3) (7) – Once again, the Cardinals put forth a gritty and determined effort in Peyton Stovall’s absence but came up short, losing 51-56 at Drexel. The kids are playing hard for Tim Buckley but the lack of offense may not be enough to save his job. I’m curious to hear what folks from Muncie think about Buckley. He certainly doesn’t seem to have engendered the sort of animosity that Jim Christian at Ball State has.

7. Eastern Michigan (3-4) (9) – A win 67-62 win over a mediocre Tulsa team may not seem like a big deal but the Eagles are showing real progress under first-year coach Charles Ramsey. They’ve been in just about every game and guys are starting to step-up and support John Bowler, as five players are averaging between 6.6 and 8.9 ppg, to complement the worthy MAC POY candidate.

8. Kent State (6-4) (8) – Golden Flashes fared OK on the Left Coast, hanging on to beat D-III Concordia before losing to St, Mary’s on a last second shot. This team is still too much Jay Youngblood and too little anybody else but Youngblood looks like the type of player that can carry a squad.

9. Miami (4-4, 1-0) (3) – This hurts. The Redhawks went 0-2 last week, losing to a Michigan team I harbor an immense dislike for, which came on the heels of a disheartening loss to Wichita State, of The Valley, which is the league most likely to steal the additional bid or two that would’ve come to us. Why does this hurt? Because not only is the MAC still winless against the MVC but I would’ve liked to have ranked the Redhawks #12 but couldn’t because the bottom feeders weren’t able to pull off any Ratt-like out of the cellar feats.

10. Western Michigan (3-6) (10) –Youthful Broncos had their moments of respectability last week, beating LMU and losing a squeaker to Oregon State. Unfortunately for Steve Hawkins’ squad, the loss to Oregon State and rout at the hands of a mediocre Colorado State team are more indicative of how league plays likely to go than is the win over LMU.

11. Bowling Green (3-6) (12) – Somewhat surprising road win over a middling Troy State team from the Sun Belt last Monday gives this inconsistent squad something to build on as we head to league play. With games against Notre Dame College, Central Michigan, and Western Michigan looming, Falcons could conceivably be 7-6 when they face NIU on January 11th.

12. Central Michigan (2-7, 0-1) (11) – When it comes to the Chippewas, progress is measured in small steps so not getting completely run by East Tennessee State or Southern Illinois in losses last week is a relative accomplishment for Jay Smith’s squad.

Another favorite is, a great blog from a guy writing a book on the MAC. Good sources, loves the MAC. Here's his assessment:

The East

Miami 4-4 overall record 1-0 conference. Charlie Coles has tested his squad often early on and they should be all the better for it. Alabama, Dayton, Xavier, Michigan, Wichita State and Cincinnati – doesn’t get much better than this, particularly when your youngest and most inexperienced guy (Mike Bramos) responds the way he has against real good competition. Miami seems ready for MAC play.

Buffalo 9-1 overall. Have beaten Detroit, Rutgers and Fresno State. Rutgers and Fresno wins were in Buffalo while the Detroit win was in Vegas. Lost at Boston College. Probably face their biggest test since BC coming up at Delaware State (who’s played a murderous schedule). I expected them to beat Rutgers. Beat Elon the other night – by one -- thanks to the brilliance of Calvin Cage. The Bulls should find out quick if they’re ready because the first ten days of MAC play has road dates at Northern Illinois and Toledo sandwiched between home dates with both Eastern and Western Michigan. The Bulls will get after you, but not sure if the four wins against Canisius, Buff State, Niagara and Liberty were worth it. If they can go 3-1 or better in the first four games it definitely would make the schedule a smart move because they’d be sitting pretty at 14-1 (assuming they beat Del St) and looking like they might have a chance for the at-large they missed out on last year. Jury is out, and as much as that might tick Bulls fans off – it probably makes Coach Reggie Witherspoon happy. He wants these guys playing with a huge chip on their shoulder.

Ohio 6-1 overall. Rhode Island, Cincinnati, Detroit and Kentucky. Rhode Island on the road is a good win and looking like it could stay a good win all year. Detroit is a solid team that is being overlooked right now. Obviously the second half against Cincinnati isn’t what these ‘Cats envisioned but the Bearcats are for real and will make noise in the Big East now that they have a legit point guard in Downey. If Ohio can somehow beat resurgent Kentucky – see the whupping they put on Louisville – then Tim O’Shea will have them at 7-1 with a major feather in their cap (Kentucky). This team started their run last year with a win over WMU in Athens. Their first MAC game? Yup, WMU in Athens. This team should be ready for league play provided they understand that the rest of the MAC is going to bring the heat every night against them.

Akron 5-3 overall. Got a big win over Miss St in San Juan, plus got to the final game there in a tournament setting – playing Clemson tough -- which always helps a team later on. Has gone on the road for hard games, pulled out some close ones lost to some big schools. This team understands the toughness of the MAC and has prepared themselves well for the challenge.

Kent State 6-4 overall. The Flashes have gone on the road and battled good teams. They’ve struggled some with injuries and confidence but have also found some help they weren’t sure of before the season started (Omni Smith and Ike Knight). They go to Syracuse Friday night and will enter conference play with ample “quality” game experience to draw from.

Bowling Green 3-6. Biggest MAC win yet over Va Tech. Slowly getting whole team back into playing shape. Almost got a win at FSU. Open with CMUand then go to WMU. Dakich – and Samarco -- will have them ready.

The West

Northern Illinois 5-2 overall 1-0 conference. Already got huge monkey off their back with road win at Toledo. Crushed by Missouri State but has wins over DePaul and Kansas State. Hughes in the middle is a key – if he stays out of foul trouble they could be real scary in the West.

Ball State 4-3 overall. Rocky start for the Cardinals and Indiana is coming up this weekend. Wins are over Oakland City, Wright State, IUPUI and Anderson. Open up league play with Akron at home and Ohio and Kent on the road. It could get ugly fast without Peyton Stovall (out for the year with his second ACL tear).

Eastern Michigan 3-4 overall. Has played quality games and gotten a big win over Cal. ‘Los Medlock is starting to come on for them at point guard while Bowler will challenge for POY in the MAC.

Western Michigan 3-6 overall. Some in Kalamazoo are worried but the Broncos have played a very good schedule and gone on the road to play good teams. They go to South Alabama on the 30th and open up MAC play at Ohio on the 4th. This is a young team that can’t shoot well, but they re-discovered their toughness in Hawaii and seem ready to enter league play.

Toledo 6-2 overall 0-1 conference. Talented group that needs to start games stronger for Stan Joplin – starts @Kent, @ Akron and hosts Buffalo. Ouch.

Central Michigan 2-7 overall 0-1 conference. First four MAC ganes are at BG, hosts Kent, then at Miami and at Ohio. Giordan Watson and Sefton Barrett have to carry them.

Finally, here's a great motivational quote from the hoopfactor site, if you are in to that kind of thing (and when its like this, I can be).

Adversity can be a good thing if the response to it is a renewed spirit and work ethic. To cruise along, without any apparent blemishes, is to risk having those blemishes exposed once it’s too late to correct them. There’s a point where perceived success dulls whatever edge was used to attain it. In the words of a great man – you still have to play the games. So go back to the hardwood and sweat. Don’t worry about the critics – because you should be the one analyzing what’s wrong more than some blowhard with a keyboard. The blowhards are just feeding the machine – why else would there be something as ridiculous as power rankings before anyone has played 10 games, or any rankings at all before the third week of January? Losses happen. Learning from the loss and applying that towards the future is what brings real success. Because at the end of the day only you – and you alone – can look in the mirror and answer the question did I get better today? It’s every person’s challenge in life – not just in basketball -- if they truly want to live it to the utmost. So remember what it feels like to lose badly on another team’s floor. Keep it so close to you that the next time you start to leave the gym on a miss it pulls you back. Stay so connected with the feeling that it doesn’t allow you to half step anything on the court. Set every screen and shoot every shot with that feeling right next to you. Because if you use that feeling to help make your team better – no matter what the final result – you’ll be a success.

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