Conference Preview: The MAC is Ohio’s for the taking

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Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To look at the rest of the Top 25, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

The Mid-American Conference went unnoticed for much of the 2011-2012 season but made up for it with Ohio’s magical Sweet-16 run. While head coach John Groce left for Illinois, sensational scoring guard D.J. Cooper returns for his final season, and will lead the Bobcats under new head coach Jim Christian, who served as head coach at Kent State from 2002-2008. The Bobcats return nine players from last year’s team including Walter Offutt and Nick Kellogg, and will be the heavy favorites to repeat as MAC champs in 2012-2013.

While Ohio may be the odds-on favorite to finish atop the MAC standings, they are not the only talented team in the conference. Akron actually finished with a better record last season, and return on of the few MAC players with real NBA potential, senior center Zeke Marshall. This season, the Zips will be shorthanded however. Quincy Diggs, the conference’s Sixth Man of the Year last season, was suspended in October for the entire season for violation the school’s code of student ethics.

Kent State is a difficult team to read in the East division this season. Much of their production is gone from a year ago, including Justin Greene, the team’s leading scorer. High-flying Chris Evans and senior guard Randal Holt lead a Golden Flashes team looking to find an identity.

In the West division things are just as interesting. Toledo is the most talented team in the division, but due to a low Academic Progress Rating (APR) score, the program won’t be eligible for post-season play. It is a real shame too, because this is arguably the most talented team Toledo has fielded since 1980, the last time the Rockets made the NCAA Tournament.

The Eastern Michigan Eagles should be the team that benefits the most from Toledo’s postseason ban. Former-Syracuse assistant Rob Murphy is in his second year as head coach of the Eagles and didn’t arrive to the MAC empty-handed, bringing along DaShonte Riley, a talented big-man who redshirted a year at Syracuse. Having sat out a season at Eastern Michigan, the 7-foot center will be able to impose his will on the rest of the conference this season. No team outside of Akron has a big-man as talented as Riley, and the Eagles should reap the rewards. But Riley isn’t the only transfer that Murphy reeled in. Wyoming’s Daylen Harrison and Arkansas’ Glenn Bryant will also be able to step in right away and provide an instant impact.

The rest of the west is suffering from key transfer losses. Western Michigan saw Matt Stainsbrook, their best big-man, transfer to Xavier, and Central Michigan two of their best players in Trey Zeigler (Pittsburgh) and Austin McBroom (Saint Louis).

All-Conference Team (* denotes Player of the Year)
G D.J. Cooper (Ohio)
F A’uston Calhoun (Bowling Green)
C Zeke Marshall (Akron)
F Javon McCrea (Buffalo)
G Walter Offutt (Ohio)

Predicted Standings – MAC East
1. Ohio
2. Akron
3. Kent State
4. Bowling Green
5. Buffalo
6. Miami (OH)

Predicted Standings – MAC West
1. Toledo
2. Eastern Michigan
3. Western Michigan
4. Ball State
5. Northern Illinois
6. Central Michigan

Troy Machir is the managing editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @TroyMachir

Tom Izzo’s point is valid, but he’s wrong about the new fouling rules

Eron Harris, Tom Izzo
AP Photo/Jae C. Hong
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On Sunday night, after No. 3 Michigan State knocked off No. 23 Providence in the final of the Wooden Legacy, Spartans head coach Tom Izzo made sure to make his feelings known about the new college basketball officiating mandates.

He doesn’t like them.

At all.

“I just think we’re taking the flow of the game away,” Izzo said. “Maybe it’ll change. We’ll play by the same rules everybody else does. But I think I can voice my opinion to say that I don’t agree with it.”

Part of what frustrated Izzo was that, in a matchup between the two best players in college basketball, both Denzel Valentine and Kris Dunn were sent to the bench with foul trouble.

“I didn’t like it either way,” Izzo said. “I didn’t like having Denzel on the bench, and I didn’t even like watching Dunn on the bench.”

“Don’t tweet this now and leave out the officials,” he added, according to CBSSports.com. “It’s not their fault. Because that’s the way they’re mandated to call them. So I am really either blaming the rules committee, which ends up on the coaches somewhat. So I’m looking in the mirror and blaming myself because I should have argued it more maybe. I just don’t think it’s fun to have these guys sitting.”

This is nothing new for Izzo. This was calculated. He basically said the same thing after Michigan State, then No. 1 in the country, beat Oklahoma in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic two seasons ago, when the rules committee tried to implement these same rules. It was his pushback that started the campaign to get rid of the freedom of movement rules.

But here’s the thing: we all knew this was going to happen. We knew there was going to be an adjustment period, for coaches and players and referees alike. In the long run, freedom of movement is good for basketball. It’s part of the reason the NBA is so much fun to watch these days, as their emphasis on the freedom of movement got us out of the days where the Detroit Pistons were winning titles without scoring 80 points.

Physicality is ingrained in college basketball. Coaches teach defense a certain way. Players play defense a certain way. The guys in the NBA are stronger, but the style of play is much more physical in the college game than the pro game. That doesn’t change overnight.

It changes when those rules are enforced and those fouls are called, and, as a result, the players and coaches learn to adjust to them.

Kennesaw State blows eight-point lead in 16 seconds, loses to Elon

Elon Athletics
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Kennesaw State entered Monday night at 1-6 on the season, but with 19 seconds left, it looked like the Owls have their second of the season locked up. Kendrick Ray made a pair of free throws with 19 seconds left to put KSU up 89-81, and all they had to do was avoid a complete meltdown to get out with a win.

They couldn’t.

A Luke Eddy layup with 16 seconds left cut the lead to six, and after KSU’s Nigel Pruitt missed two free throws, Dainan Swoope his a three with seven seconds left to make the score 89-86.

On the ensuing inbounds, Kennesaw State threw the ball away … and then proceeded to foul Eddy when he was shooting a three. This is what that disaster looked like:

Eddy would hit all three threes before, shockingly, KSU turned the ball over again. Elon could not capitalize this time, sending the game to overtime, where the Phoenix outscored the Owls 14-4.

Elon won 104-94.

Here’s what the comeback looked like on the play-by-play:

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