Javon McCrea, Darren Goodson

2013-2014 MAC Preview: Toledo, West Division looks to narrow the gap

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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To see the rest of the Conference Previews we’ve published, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

In recent years the East Division has dominated things in the MAC, with Western Michigan being the last West Division team to earn the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament back in 2004. With the key departures at both Akron and Ohio, is this the season that the West narrows the gap? One program that will factor into the equation is Toledo, which returns four starters from a team that earned a share of the West Division crown last season.

Head coach Tod Kowalczyk has a squad capable of winning the MAC, with Rian Pearson (17.9 ppg, 6.8 rpg) and Julius Brown (13.1, 6.0 apg) leading the way. Add in Loyola (MD) transfer Justin Drummond and the Rockets have a trio capable of competing with anyone in the MAC.

As for their most likely challenger, Western Michigan has to replace Nate Hutcheson and Darius Paul but the Broncos welcome back a pair of fifth-year seniors in center Shayne Whittington and guard David Brown. And Eastern Michigan returns four of its five starters from last season, including Glenn Bryant, and Duquesne transfer Mike Talley should be an impact player on the perimeter.

But even with the West showing signs of improvement the East’s run of success can’t be ignored. Defending champion Akron lost center Zeke Marshall but head coach Keith Dambrot welcomes back two quality forwards in Nick Harney and Demetrius Treadwell. The Zips have some questions to answer, most notably at point guard, but they once again have the pieces needed to reach the NCAA tournament. Ohio also lost multiple key contributors, most notably point guard D.J. Cooper, but the Bobcats will be a factor provided their young front court rises to the challenge.

And then there’s Buffalo, which has a new head coach in Bobby Hurley but also has the league’s best player in senior forward Javon McCrea. McCrea averaged 18.0 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game last season, and with three other starters returning the Bulls should be a contender. Kent State shouldn’t be overlooked either, with point guard Kris Brewer and forward Darren Goodson expected to lead the way.

PRESEASON MAC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: F Javon McCrea (Buffalo)

McCrea (18.0 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 2.6 bpg) isn’t just one of the most talented forwards at the mid-major level, he’s one of the most talented forwards in all of college basketball.

FOUR MORE NAMES TO KNOW:

  • F Demetrius Treadwell (Akron): Treadwell is the guy that the Zips will lean heavily on with Zeke Marshall and Alex Abreu gone.
  • G Rian Pearson (Toledo): McCrea’s the clear favorite to win POY, with Pearson being the MAC’s second-best player.
  • G Julius Brown (Toledo): With D.J. Cooper gone Brown may be the MAC’s best point guard.
  • C Shayne Whittington (Western Michigan): Whittington made a major jump production-wise last season, earning second team All-MAC honors.

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @HustleBelt

PREDICTED FINISH

East Division
1. Akron
2. Ohio
3. Buffalo
4. Kent State
5. Bowling Green
6. Miami (Ohio)

West Division
1. Toledo
2. Western Michigan
3. Eastern Michigan
4. Ball State
5. Central Michigan
6. Northern Illinois

No. 5 Xavier stumbles at Creighton, lose 70-54

Creighton's Cole Huff (13) and Toby Hegner, left, guard Xavier's Jalen Reynolds (1) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Omaha, Neb., Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
(AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
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Mo Watson went for a career-high 32 points, seven boards and five assists as Creighton jumped out to an early 21-4 lead and never looked back, beating No. 5 Xavier, 70-54, in Omaha on Tuesday night.

 

It was a massive win for the Bluejays, who still have an outside shot at earning an at-large bid this season. (We wrote all about that here.)

As well as Creighton played, the bigger story here may actually be Xavier, who lost for just the third time this season; they had been the only top ten team with just two losses to their name.

The issue for the Musketeers tonight was two-fold, but they both are a symptom of what could be an issue down the road for this team: Xavier doesn’t really have a true point guard.

They certainly didn’t have anyone to stop Watson. By the second half, they had essentially asked Reynolds, who was playing the middle of their 1-3-1 zone to matchup with Watson. It was weird but was actually somewhat effective.

The Musketeers also started out ice cold from the floor, missing 11 of their first 13 shots, and those misses led to leak outs from Bluejays, who got layups and open threes in transition to build that 17 point lead. Once Xavier got behind, it turned into scramble mode for Xavier. They forced shots early in the clock and didn’t start pounding the ball into the paint until it was too late. What they needed was someone to be able to settle things, to ensure that offensive would get initiated and sets would get executed when they were able to get the lead down to single digits.

That 1-for-19 shooting performance from beyond the arc certainly didn’t help matters, and neither did the fact that they got just nine field goals all game from players not named James Farr or Jalen Reynolds. The most frustrating part for head coach Chris Mack? They had good shots. It wasn’t like Creighton took away everything that Xavier wanted to do.

The kids just had one of those nights where nothing went down.

Those happen.

And when you combine them with a total inability to contain the opposing team’s point guard, what you get is a 16 point loss on the road against a team that was desperate to get a good win.

Gill’s 16, ‘D’ lead No. 7 Virginia past Virginia Tech, 67-49

Lehigh Virginia Basketball
AP Photo/Andrew Shurtleff
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) Anthony Gill scored 16 points and No. 7 Virginia turned the tables on state rival Virginia Tech with a 67-49 victory Tuesday night, the Cavaliers’ seventh straight.

Isaiah Wilkins added a career-best 14 points and Malcolm Brogdon had 12 for the Cavaliers (20-4, 9-3 Atlantic Coast Conference). Virginia avenged a 70-68 loss to the Hokies in Blacksburg on Jan. 4 in what rates as their worst performance of the season, and extended their winning streak at John Paul Jones Arena to 17 games.

Freshman Justin Robinson scored 16 points and classmate Chris Clarke had 11 in his first action for the Hokies (13-12, 5-7) since breaking his right foot in late December. Virginia Tech’s top two scorers, Zach LeDay (16.0 ppg) and Seth Allen (14.5), were limited to seven and six points, respectively, in part because of foul trouble.

Virginia coach Tony Bennett said his team wasn’t ready to play when it lost to the Hokies earlier, but they have been surging of late and were focused from the outset. They were credited with assists and 14 of their first 15 baskets and forced 10 turnovers in the first half; they forced just eight in the last meeting of the teams.

For most of the game, the Hokies had more turnovers than field goals.

The Cavaliers led 32-20 at halftime and extended their advantage to 47-29 on a three-point play by Mike Tobey with 12:11 remaining. It capped an 11-4 run for Virginia, during which LeDay was whistled for his fourth foul. On Virginia’s next trip down court, it got the ball to Gill inside and LeDay basically backed off and let him score, quickly earning a spot on the bench.

The Cavaliers’ lead never dipped into single digits again.

The Hokies had just eight turnovers and outscored Virginia 26-6 off turnovers in their first meeting. This time, Virginia Tech had 10 turnovers by halftime and the Cavaliers had already turned them into 15 points. Virginia Tech finished with 16 field goals and 15 turnovers.

Already leading 9-6, Virginia got scoring from eight players in a 23-8 run that spanned about 8 1/2 minutes.

Gill started it with a dunk, Brogdon hit a 3-pointer, London Perrantes had a four-point play and Wilkins finished it with two free throws, giving the Cavaliers a 32-14 lead with 2:06 left in the half. They didn’t score again, and the Hokies closed within 32-20 by halftime.

TIP-INS

Virginia Tech: The Hokies shot 57.1 percent (15 of 26) from the field in the second half of their 70-68 victory against Virginia on Jan. 4. … Virginia Tech’s starting five totaled four points in the first half.

Virginia: The Cavaliers have held four consecutive opponents to 50 points or fewer.

UP NEXT

Virginia Tech plays at No. 12 Miami next Wednesday.

Virginia plays at Duke on Saturday.

Follow Hank on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/hankkurzjr

The AP’s college basketball page: http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org