Sunday afternoon’s game between Harvard and No. 6 Virginia was set to be a defensive-battle. After one half of play, it was clear that was one-sided, as the Cavaliers led the Crimson 39-8 at half.
Virginia went on to win 76-27.
Harvard was 1-of-20 from the field as a team, compared to Mike Tobey, who was a perfect 6-for-6 from the field, outscoring the Crimson with 15 points — scoring nine points before the first media timeout. The one made field goal — courtesy of Zena Edosomwan at 16:31 — ties an NCAA record with Northern Illinois for fewest field goals in a half.
While Harvard’s first half woes tie the record for fewest field goals, Northern Illinois still holds the title for fewest points and lowest shooting percentage. The Huskies were 1-of-31 (3 percent) for four first-half points against Eastern Michigan in what turned out to be 42-25 win back on Jan. 26, 2013.
Saturday afternoon was actually the second time this season the Cavaliers limited a team to just eight first half points. Virginia held Rutgers to a single-digit second half in a 45-26 win to claim the Barclays Classic title in Brooklyn less than a month ago.
This weekend has shown the result of defensive prowess mixed with offensive futility. On Saturday, top-ranked Kentucky jumped to a 24-0 lead over UCLA, forcing the Bruins to miss their first 17 shots and opening up a 41-7 halftime lead.
That Northern Illinois team from 2013 went on to finish 5-25. UCLA and Harvard were both ranked to begin the season, and are expected to be back in the NCAA tournament field this March.
The MAC has become known for parity the last few years, but last season saw the emergence of the league’s West Division after many years of dormant activity.
Before last season’s MAC conference tournament title game between Toledo and Western Michigan, the West hadn’t had a team in the league championship game since 2006 as the East Division and teams like Akron and Ohio usually dominated the league’s NCAA Tournament bid.
That changed dramatically in 2013-14 as Toledo won a school-record 27 games but ultimately fell short of making the tournament by falling to Western Michigan.
The Rockets will be favored to make the Big Dance this season, however, as they return four starters, including two of the league’s top-1o scorers in senior point guard Julius Brown and fellow senior Justin Drummond. If Toledo can improve its shaky defense and get more stops on the defensive end, they could be one of the most dangerous mid-major programs in the country this season because they can really put up points in a hurry.
Western Michigan will still have plenty of gas in the tank after only losing All-MAC center Shayne Whittington from a NCAA Tournament team. Senior guard David Brown was granted a sixth year of eligibility and is the league’s returning leading scorer and he’s joined by senior point guard Austin Richie, junior power forward Connar Tava and sophomore forward Tucker Haymond.
Representing the East Division will be Akron, who has reached 20 wins a remarkable nine consecutive years under head coach Keith Dambrot. If league history is any indication, the Zips might be the favorite to make the NCAA Tournament by virtue of always making it during odd-numbered years. Akron reached the NCAA Tournament in 2009, 2011 and 2013, with breaks one-year in between just like this season. Past history aside, Akron returns all-league forward Demetrius “Tree” Treadwell, who is one of the most productive players in the league and the team will have plenty of talent to compete in 2014-15.
With new head coach Saul Phillips at the helm, Ohio should be competitive this season as well. Senior forward Maurice Ndour is a force on the interior and the senior backcourt of Stevie Taylor and Javarez Willis should be steady for the Bobcats.
From there, the MAC is filled with question marks.
Bowling Green has a new head coach in former Wichita State assistant Chris Jans and he inherits a roster filled with experienced players. All-MAC selection Richaun Holmes returns at forward and senior guards Anthony Henderson and Jehvon Clarke can both score as well while junior forward Spencer Parker also averaged double-figures last season.
One of the surprise teams this season in the MAC could be Northern Illinois, as the Huskies improved by 10 wins last season and return plenty of talent. Head coach Mark Montgomery returns plenty of players with starting experience, including senior center Jordan Threloff, forwards Darrell Bowie and Travon Baker and guard Aaric Armstead, but he also gains Kansas State transfer Michael Orris at point guard, Purdue transfer Anthony Johnson at shooting guard and sophomore guard Dontel Highsmith returns from a ACL injury that robbed him of a promising start last season.
Kent State returns its top three scorers in guards Kris Brewer, Derek Jackson and Devareaux Manley, but the Golden Flashes were inconsistent last season and relied too much on perimeter jumpers. Buffalo begins life after MAC Player of the Year Javon McCrea and must replace his stellar production in the front court this season. Eastern Michigan also returns its top three scorers from a 22-win season, but they’ll have to make it over the hump of beating the top teams in the league.
PRESEASON MAC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Julius Brown, Toledo
The senior point guard known as “Juice” returns to a 27-win team after averaging 14.9 points and a MAC-leading 6 assists per game last season. The 5-foot-10 Brown is the engine that makes the Rockets’ potent offense run and his scoring average increased to 16.2 points per game during MAC play last season.
THE REST OF THE PRESEASON ALL-MAC TEAM:
David Brown, Western Michigan – The 6-foot-4 senior was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA after a career filled with medical issues and the Broncos will be pleased because he’s the MAC’s returning leading scorer at 19.1 points per game.
Richaun Holmes, Bowling Green – One of the MAC’s best athletes, the 6-foot-8 Holmes averaged 13.3 points and 7.7 rebounds per game as a junior while also leading the conference in blocks.
Demetrius Treadwell, Akron – The 6-foot-7, 235-pound forward is coming off of a first-team All-MAC appearance after averaging 15.2 points and 8.6 rebounds per game last year.
Maurice Ndour, Ohio – The 6-foot-9 senior with a 7-foot-5 wingspan put that to good use last season, averaging 13.8 points, 7 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game, good for top-10 in all three categories in the conference.
On Tuesday night, the Northern Illinois athletic department tweeted out this photo of the basketball team’s new floor. Leading up to the official unveiling, NIU had posted portions of the floor, using the hashtag #NIUCourtPuzzle. It appears to be inspired by Central Florida’s design from last summer. The Knights approved the new look:
After a season which saw a 10-win increase from the previous season, Northern Illinois opted to extend the contract of head coach Mark Montgomery through the 2017-18 season, according to a release from the school.
Montgomery is 25-68 in three seasons at the helm at Northern Illinois, but the 2013-14 season saw a tremendous improvement as the Huskies went 15-17 and improved by 10 wins over Montgomery’s previous high mark for win total. Montgomery also led the Huskies to their most non-conference wins (six) since 1999-2000 and most home wins (10) since 1994-95.
“I’m excited about the direction of our men’s basketball program under Mark and his staff,” Northern Illinois Athletic Director Sean Frazier said in the release. “He has changed the culture of the program and that’s not easy to do. I feel confident that under his direction, and with the support of our fans and community, we’ll continue to take this program where we want it to be, which is to the top of the MAC and beyond.”
With only two seniors on the roster during the 2013-14 season, Northern Illinois will look to build on last season’s success and make a run at a postseason appearance.
In recent years the East Division has dominated the MAC, with the last nine winners of the automatic bid coming from that division. But the power was in the West this year, with Western Michigan and Toledo finishing with matching 14-4 conference records. As a result those two get byes to the semifinals, with three-seed Buffalo and four-seed Akron getting byes into the quarterfinals. The other eight teams begin play on Monday, and there could be a few surprises along the way to determining the league’s NCAA tournament representative.
The Rockets made some noise during non-conference play, winning their first 12 games before dropping a tough 93-83 decision at Kansas on December 28. Four starters are averaging double figures led by guards Julius “Juice” Brown and Justin Drummond and forward Rian Pearson. Toledo’s a very good offensive team but if there’s a concern entering the conference tournament it’s the fact that they’re 11th in the MAC in field goal percentage defense and tenth in defensive efficiency.
And if they lose?: Western Michigan
Few expected Steve Hawkins’ Broncos to grab the top seed in the conference tournament, but WMU managed to do just that. Shayne Whittington is one of the MAC’s best front court players and senior guard David Brown’s scoring 19.1 points per game. Western Michigan enters the tournament playing well, as they’ve won ten of their last 11 games with the lone defeat coming at Toledo on March 1. A possible concern for WMU: rebounding, with the Broncos ranked 11th in defensive rebounding percentage.
Buffalo: Senior forward Javon McCrea’s been one of the MAC’s best, and they’ve won five of their last six games.
Ohio: The Bobcats finished third in the MAC East, but they pick up a 66-50 win at Akron on February 22.
Akron: You can’t count out Keith Dambrot’s Zips, who have reached the last seven MAC tournament title games.
Studs: (three or four best players)
Javon McCrea, Buffalo: The preseason pick to win Player of the Year, McCrea’s averaging 18.9 points and 9.8 rebounds per game.
David Brown, Western Michigan: Brown’s averaging a MAC-best 19.1 points per game, and he also leads the conference in made three-pointers per game (2.7).
Demetrius Treadwell, Akron: Treadwell’s averaging 16.1 points and 9.4 rebounds per game in conference play, and he’s also posted ten double-doubles against MAC foes this season.
CBT Prediction: Toledo outlasts Akron in the title game, avoiding what would be an excruciating wait to see if they can get into the NCAA tournament field as an at-large.