The MAC Report, presented by SportsTime Ohio

By Dave DeNatale

We are now getting into one of my favorite times of the year in sports.  Yes, I know the Browns are done and the Cavaliers are wobbling right now, but this is MAC hoops season!  Time for the race to the Q to really get underway as conference matchups are set to begin this weekend.  It’s been an interesting seven or eight weeks of non-conference play to this point.  Here’s a snapshot of where we stand with all of the squads heading into this weekend’s action:

East Division:

Akron is well on its way to another 20-win season after being victorious in five of their last six games to stand now at 9-5.  The Zips had six players score in double figures in their win over Oral Roberts on Monday, the first time that’s happened since the ’09 MAC Tournament.  The scoring is there for Akron, especially beyond the three-point arc.  Head Coach Keith Dambrot just would like a little more toughness on the defensive side of the floor.

Just down the road, Kent State also finds themselves at 9-5 after the non-conference portion of their schedule.  The Flashes have gotten tremendous play from Rodriguez Sherman of late and Justin Greene has the capability for a double-double every single night.  Kent hasn’t played since a disappointing loss to James Madison on New Year’s Eve, so you know they’re eager to get MAC play started.

Probably the biggest surprise of the season so far in the MAC is the play of the Buffalo Bulls, who come in at 8-4.  Buffalo might have the best backcourt in the league with Zach Filzen and Byron Mulkey plus they are second in the conference in both scoring and fewest points allowed.

The defending MAC Tournament champions from Ohio University come into the start of conference play with a somewhat surprising record of only 7-7.  The Bobcats have struggled a little bit at the Convo, traditionally one of the toughest places to win in the MAC, as Ohio fell to IUPUI, Temple, and more recently Robert Morris.  But this is a team loaded with talented players like D.J. Cooper, Devaughn Washington, and Tommy Freeman so you have to think they’ll pick up their performance.

The team playing some of the best ball in the MAC right now is Louis Orr’s Bowling Green Falcons.  After a dismal 1-8 start, BG has won three in a row and four of their last five.  The key has been getting different players not named Scott Thomas stepping up.  Dee Brown just won the MAC East player of the week award, while Jordon Crawford, Cameron Black, Joe Jakubowski, and A’uston Calhoun have all played key roles during their winning stretch.

On the other hand, Miami has lost four straight and have not tasted a victory since December 11th (playing teams like Kansas and Cincinnati in that stretch doesn’t help matters).  But you know Charlie Coles will get the most out of his players and he’s got three of the Redhawks averaging in double figures in Julian Mavunga, Nick Winbush, and Antonio Ballard.

West Division:

The Ball State Cardinals are off to their best start in 11 years as they check in with an 8-4 record.   It’s not an accident.  Billy Taylor has his guys playing lights-out defense so far as they are limiting the opponents to only 39.9% shooting from the field and 27% from beyond the three-point arc.  Jarrod Jones is averaging 16 points and nine rebounds per game and is getting plenty of help from Jauwan Scaife, Randy Davis, and Jesse Barry.

Western Michigan comes into conference action playing very well as they’ve won six of their last eight games to stand now at 7-6.  The Broncos already had talented players like Flenard Whitfield and Demetrius Ward, but what’s scary is that suddenly freshman Juwan Howard, Jr. is starting to figure things out.  The son of the NBA veteran and Fab-Fiver just won the MAC West player of the week after posting his first career double-double in a win over Eastern Illinois.

The Mid American Conference’s top scorer (and arguably, top player) to this point has been Xavier Silas from Northern Illinois.  All that the senior guard has done so far is average 24 points per game but the Huskies are just 4-8 to this point.  A big problem has been the defense, or lack of it, as NIU is allowing a league-worst 78 points per game.

Another of the league’s best players is Brandon Bowdry from the Eastern Michigan Eagles.  Bowdry checks in averaging 21 points per game, second only to Silas and a MAC-best 10 rebounds per contest.  The  3-10 Eagles are probably just happy to get into league play after losing nine of their last eleven games.

Central Michigan also checks in at 3-10 coming into the start of MAC play.  The Chippewas enjoyed the benefit of playing in Hawaii for three games in November, but lost seven of eight games in December.  CMU needs to find some help for Trey Zeigler and Jalin Thomas, both of whom are averaging 15 points per game.

Toledo is hoping that their kiddie corps of freshmen and sophomores have grown up during their non-conference schedule.  The Rockets are 3-11 but are encouraged by how well first-year players Reese Holliday, Delino Dear, and redshirt freshman Hayden Humers are meshing into Tod Kowalczyk’s program.

I’m looking forward to tracking the MAC every week with this blog.  I’m also very excited to remind you all that our partner, SportsTime Ohio, is your home for the very best coverage of Mid-American Conference basketball.  STO will have three games on the schedule coming up this weekend, including two men’s games.  Saturday at noon, it will be Ohio at Akron in a women’s basketball clash. Saturday night, STO will stay at James A. Rhodes Arena for the great rivalry of Akron versus Kent State in men’s basketball.  My friend and colleague Michael Reghi will be on the call for that matchup.  Coverage will begin at 7 P.M.

Then on Sunday, Reg and Steve Mix will head down to Athens as Ohio University will play host to Miami.  The Bobcats will hang their 2010 MAC Tournament Championship banner prior to the game so you know it will be a great environment at the Convo.  STO’s coverage of Miami at Ohio will come your way starting at 2 P.M.

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