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Happy New Year from the MAC-Laughlin Group

MAC Blogger Round Table
MAC Blogger Round Table

In years past the MAC Bloggers round table took the winter and spring off. Half of the MAC sites out there focused only on football and that made the prospect of MACtion from January to June pretty awkward. Recently though several MAC blogs with a solid all sports focus have emerged.

So this season a subset of your usual MAC-Laughlin group got together and decided to keep the fun going through the long months of winter. This years cast includes:

Falcon Blog:

Falcon Blog has always had strong hoops coverage. Putting up pre and post game features with the depth that you'll find on his site set BJ Fischer apart for years and makes the site a great resource for fans of all MAC teams who might want some insight into not only Bowling Green but also any of their opponents.

Eagle Totem:

Carder Adler's project "Eagle Totem" covers deeper into non revenue sports and University policies than any MAC site bothers to go. Then again if you were pulling for a school who success was so well defined in the non revenue sports you you would focus on track and swimming year round.

Bull Run:

Yours truly has been a bit busy with the new addition but thanks to Brandon Harris the sites hoops coverage this season is eclipsing anything it's managed in the past.

When Bull Run is not hosting I am hoping Brandon will bring that same insight to the table. If not you'll all just have to suffer with more of me.

Hustle Belt:

Matt Susman has been quietly building one of the best conference wide sites on SBNaiton, perhaps as good as any you will find anywhere.

He has built up a small phalanx of authors all of whom bring various insight about the twelve and half teams who play in the Mid-American-Conference. Several authors from the site are all taking part.

Jump Below to see this weeks round table:

1) Only two teams have really stood out this season, Kent or Ohio: who is better and why?

Matt Sussman: Right now it's OHIO. They've had some great road victories and the national writers are starting to take notice by virtue of their rising collection of AP Poll votes. But while Kent State disappeared somewhere in the Logan, Utah Triangle I think we're all clearly aware that the OOC schedule is one season and MAC play is another.

If I put Kent State and OHIO on a neutral court I think Kent wins that game and here's why. They're slightly more experienced, slightly deeper at every position and have historically (the last couple years) been MUCH better at conference play than OHIO. That's the one thing the Bobcats have yet to prove.

Brown and Gold: Ohio. In the MAC, it seems guard play determines winners lately. Who has the best guard in the MAC? Also, if you are looking for conference schedules, Kent State has to go to Central Michigan (my 3rd team in the West), but gets WMU and BSU at home. Ohio gets all three at their place. Ohio is building a resume worthy of an at-large bid: undefeated minus a 5 point loss AT a great Louisville team. Hands down, Ohio.

Brandon Hickey: With Kent's hiccup out in Utah, you have to give the edge to OHIO right now. Even though the Bobcats haven't played consistently good competition, they still have a 12-1 record with 5 of those coming on the road. OHIO's guard play is second to none right now and the January 18th match-up in Kent will be exciting. The only thing that concerns me about OHIO is their frontcourt and overall depth. After Walter Offutt, D.J. Cooper, Nick Kellogg, Ivo Baltic and possibly Reggie Keely, there is not much left as far as talent goes on the Bobcats bench. Freshman Stevie Taylor has given them a spark off of the bench, but they need consistent play from their forwards to keep rolling. Teams that are big inside (Akron and Western Michigan) could give OHIO fits if they cannot find a reliable post presence.

Falcon Blog: The obvious answer so far is Ohio, based on the results this year. They are off to a terrific start. However, Kent's players are battle hardened and used to winning, and I think that both teams start the MAC season for or less even. On the floor of the Q, I'd still take Kent, based on what I have seen to date.

Eagle Totem: By resume, Ohio certainly looks better. The Bobcats are 12-1, with their only loss coming at now-#4 Louisville by just four points, while the Golden Flashes have losses against Cleveland State, at Texas-Arlington, and by 19 at Utah State. On the other hand, when you look at how they did against their one common opponent, both beat Arkansas State 69-54.

Fortunately the BCS doesn’t run college basketball, so the teams will settle the matter on the court. By mid-March, we won’t have to compare resumes and guess at which team is better.

2) Ball State: Every year someone in the west looks legit until the MAC Championship tournament begins. This season Ball state has positioned itself as that team. The cards are receiving votes in the mid major top 25 poll and were ranked 4th in Hustle Belts last MAC power rankings.

Will they be a factor in Cleveland or not?

Matt Sussman: Seems to be that Ball State has a decent favorite at actually winning the regular season title, because they only have to sift through the MAC East once, not twice. This could scooch them right into the semis and I believe Jarrod Jones has actually been the most impressive player in the MAC so far. With all the OHIO/KSU talk they're going to be right in there at the end.

Brown and Gold: Maybe its the Western guy in me, but I'm still not completely sold on Ball State in the West this year. WMU had a rough stretch early on, but has been putting things together as of late, despite injuries throughout the line-up. I guess the answers will be decided January 7 when both teams open MAC play against each other in Muncie.

As for the West champ being a contender in Cleveland, that's a toughie. I do think both teams can put together a good enough game to challenge the East powers, but the question is will they. Tough call, but I say they can.

Brandon Hickey: The Cardinals are an interesting team. Jarrod Jones should be considered an NBA talent and has performed well this season, averaging 18.2 points and 8.4 rebounds. But, he needs some help. The only other Cardinal to average more than 10 points per game is Jesse Berry, and that's where the consistency stops. Jauwan Scaife is a good player but has been inconsistent this year and Randy Davis seems comfortable distributing the ball, averaging over 7 assists per game. They did beat a down Butler team, but really can't stack up against the athletes that are in the East Division. I have them going 11-5 in conference (along with Western Michigan), which will probably get them a 4 seed and a date with OHIO or Kent State in the semifinals if they can get past a good potential 5-seed. Unfortunately the Cardinals are just not ready for that yet.

Falcon Blog: No. I don't even agree that they are that legit right now. They have played one of the 20 weakest schedules in D1 and are still only 7-4. No doubt, the Butler win was nice, but they also have a non-D1 win in that 7-4. At best, they are the best team in the West, which doesn't really even matter anymore, and right now, there are four teams in the East who are ahead of them (Ohio, Kent, Akron and Buffalo).

Eagle Totem: I’m going to say "not". With the new tournament format, and straight 1-12 seeding ignoring divisions, it’s more important than ever to be one of the top two teams in the conference. Right now, it’s awfully hard to see that being anyone other than Ohio and Kent State.

3) Speaking of Cleveland what do you think of the MAC new format and revenue sharing for hoops? Will this help elevate the conference or just make the bad teams even worse?

Matt Sussman: No real opinion on the revenue sharing. Haven't looked into it, don't know the specifics, won't opine until I know about it. But I hope the new tournament format lights a fire under the bad teams.

I think the 9-through-12 teams usually knew they didn't have much of a chance to win the automatic bid. Although OHIO did win in 2010, but Armon Bassett was the anomaly of anomalies and proof a hot team can keep winning no matter how deep they are in the rabbit hole. This format will put that much more pressure on those intermediate programs like Buffalo, BG and CMU to not settle for a 9-7 MAC season. It won't make them worse, it'll just diminish their presence in the tournament. And I think that's fine. And if it doesn't work, I hope they're open to changing it back to the old format. There's nothing wrong with trying something new and they seem to tinker with the format all the time; one year ALL first round games are in Cleveland, the next year they're back at higher-seed campuses.

Brown and Gold: I love revenue sharing, period. Sharing the wealth to help even out the playing field, especially when it seems the MAC will only get the auto-bid into the NCAA each year, is a good thing for the conference.

As for the new format, I'm not so big a fan. I love to see underdogs get the chance to make a legit run. Giving the best two teams byes to the semis is a sham. The old format was balanced and gave everyone a chance to win it. Now, if you are the 5 seed, you have to win 5 games to win the MAC title, and you still only have one game at home. The 5 seed isn't bad. We could see a good WMU, Akron, Buffalo, or Ball State team sit there, and not even make the semis because of fatigue. This is purely to give the MAC a higher seeding in the NCAAs, and that rarely makes a difference anyways.

Brandon Hickey: I haven't really looked at this too in depth (I wasn't aware of the revenue sharing). I'm assuming the question was about the new tournament format, which I don't really agree with. Why change something that has worked well in the past (biased Akron fan's opinion of course)? Until the West catches up with the East, there will always be two East teams as the top two seeds. You're basically assuring the top two seeds of getting into the finals, and they supposedly have a better shot of winning an NCAA tournament game. Do they not remember OHIO beating Georgetown when the Bobcats were an 9-seed in the MAC Tournament? I liked last year's format that did away with the 2-seed going to the West champ and don't know why any more changes were necessary.

Falcon Blog: I'm for it. The new format increases the chances that the team that wins the regular season--and is probably the best team--makes the NCAA tournament, hopefully yielding a better seed and then wins a game or two, yielding the MAC some cash (dollar bill, ya;ll). From a competitive level, I like anything that makes the regular season more meaningful, and the new format does. The race for fourth will be competitive, and the teams that survive the rigors of the regular season will be the ones with a solid shot to win.

Eagle Totem: Well, I already made fun of the new format a little bit. While it improves the odds that the MAC champion will truly be the best team, with the best chance of winning a game or two in the NCAA tournament, the format probably works against the MAC getting a second team into the tournament.

A league that’s been a one-bid conference for the last several years isn’t suddenly going to become a four- or five-bid conference in one season. Realistically, the MAC’s immediate goals are to win an NCAA game or two and to get a second bid. A second bid is going to obviously go to the best team that doesn’t win the tournament, and it’s probably only going to go to one of the top two seeds. So the question then becomes whether, if either of the top two seeds are on the bubble for an at-large bid, the new format helps or hurts their chances. With one fewer game to play to win, they also each have one fewer game to win if they lose the tournament.

On the other hand, if any of the teams seeded #5 or worse have a chance for an at-large bid (extremely unlikely!), the new format helps their chances by giving them extra games to play.

4) When, if ever, will NIU turn things around?

Matt Sussman: Look at what Toledo did and replicate the answer in DeKalb. Tod Kowalczyk did a COMPLETE roster reset in two years (all new players, nobody's there who played in 2009-10) and they have a halfway decent record but cannot last 40 minutes against better teams — and likely won't until next year.

NIU has essentially a collection of eight freshmen with some Ricardo Patton leftovers. Abdel Nader is playing the best of them all right now but others can potentially blossom in two years. So 2013-14, the third year of the Mark Montgomery era, is your best case scenario for a truly competitive team.

Brown and Gold: 7 years. I'm calling it now. How? I have no clue. But every program is bound to turn their luck around somehow. I have faith that the Huskies can tap into the Chicago talent and get a few hidden gems, with the only key being they have to keep the kids under control. Tough, but not impossible.

Brandon Hickey: Unfortunately, Xavier Silas isn't walking through that door. Mark Montgomery is a good coach that will eventually win some games in DeKalb, but this season is a mess. They may not win more than 2 games. Scoring has been a major problem for the Huskies as they rank 342nd in the nation in points per game. Freshman Abdel Nader will be a very good MAC player, and Antone Christian is also talented. Montgomery is a Tom Izzo disciple, so he knows the importance of rebounding and good defense. He has strong ties to the fertile recruiting grounds of Chicago and will continue to find good players there. Give him a couple years and the Huskies will be competitive in their division once again.

Falcon Blog: They will. I think they got a good coach and it will take some time. Has to be painful around there this year, though

Eagle Totem: Hopefully never; with Northern Illinois as bad as they are, EMU should be confident in not finishing last in the league!

Seriously, though, EMU has been there in football, and not only is it no fun as a fan, it’s also not good for the conference. There’s a reason the Northern Illinois administration fired Ricardo Patton, and while it can be done faster in basketball than in football, it does still take some time to turn around a program. Fortunately for the Huskies from a PR perspective, they have a streak-stopper scheduled for January 2, in the form of the Roosevelt University Lakers, an NAIA team in only their second season of play.

5) What has to happen in conference play for the MAC to crack an at-large bid?

Matt Sussman: Based on RPI right now it seems like OHIO would have to do quite well (perhaps a 13-3 year in the MAC) and then lose in the tournament. I don't think Kent State or Ball State have resumes sparkling enough to catapult them into a list of the 30-35 best non-autobid teams in the country. If the Bobcats win the MAC it'll be another one-bid season, but one season closer to returning to the top-heavy depth enjoyed in the late '90s.

Brown and Gold: This year could be the year. Simply put: Ohio has to win their non-conference games, most of their conference games, and grab the #1 seed in the MAC, and make the tourney final. Then, Kent State (I'll use them as they are probably the only team the NCAA would let Ohio lose to and make the tourney still) has to win a chunk of their conference games, grab the 2-seed, and beat Ohio in a fairly close game in the MACC game. Ohio, with 1 non-conference loss and 1-2 conference losses would be hard to pass up, especially with DJ Cooper still there from the Georgetown upset 2 years ago.

Brandon Hickey: The only way that the MAC has any potential of getting an at-large bid is if Kent State and Ohio each go 15-1 or 14-2 in conference play. They are really the only teams that have "buzz" in the media right now and Kent's win over West Virginia combined with last year's NIT run will help if they falter in Cleveland.

I really don't foresee this is going to happen, as MAC teams tend to beat each other up usually. Akron could have been in this conversation as well, but bad losses deriving from inconsistent play (and an inconsistent roster) have hampered their chances. The MAC's best win is still Akron over Mississippi State but there hasn't been enough other "remember us in March" moments for a MAC team to get an at-large bid.

Falcon Blog: Expansion to 96 teams? I only joke a little. The MAC is a one-bid conference, and I think we're pretty much locked in there. What we would need would be for a team to be clearly dominant--meaning quality non-conference wins and then something like a 14-2 record in conference--and then lose in the final of the MAC tournament. Even then I would have my doubts.

Eagle Totem: This is an easy one, but there are two parts to it. First, a MAC team has to have such a compelling regular-season resume that they can qualify without the MAC’s auto-bid, and second, that team has to not win the MAC tournament. Right now, the only teams that could do it this year are Ohio, Kent State, Buffalo, and Ball State, with the latter three needing to come through the season with no more than three conference losses each.