2014-15 Season Preview: Toledo looks to end a 35-year NCAA Tournament drought and rep the MAC

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Julius Brown (AP Photo)

Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are rolling out our Mid-American Conference preview.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

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.

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @HustleBelt

PREDICTED FINISH

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

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

Anthony Edwards posterizes Vanderbilt defender

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It took about four months for us to get to this point, but finally, we have video of Anthony Edwards absolutely posterizing someone.

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Anthony Edwards killed a guy.

A post shared by Rob Dauster (@rob.dauster) on

This is pretty much the definition of a poster.

Is it not?

I’d hang this Anthony Edwards dunk up on my wall:

 (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

TCU drops No. 17 West Virginia in overtime

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FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) Desmond Bane didn’t think a foul should have been called against him on the shot that appeared to be a game-winner in regulation for TCU.

The Horned Frogs rendered the whistle moot in overtime.

Kevin Samuel scored six of his 19 points in the extra period and TCU extended No. 17 West Virginia’s Big 12 road woes with a 67-60 victory over the Mountaineers on Saturday.

Bane sent the crowd into a frenzy on a driving layup with 0.9 seconds left, but the senior guard was called for pushing off on Jermaine Haley as he went up for the shot after racing the length of the floor off a West Virginia miss.

RELATED: Latest CBT Bubble Watch | Bracketology

“I mean, I did,” Bane said when asked if he pushed off. “But he bumped me first, for one, and for two, you just don’t call that with 0.9 seconds left. But, it is what it is.”

Jaire Grayer broke the 55-all tie with his only 3-pointer to start overtime, and Samuel hit two buckets and two free throws as the Mountaineers lost their fifth straight road conference game. They beat TCU by 32 at home in January.

“Haven’t made shots,” said coach Bob Huggins, who stayed tied with Dean Smith for sixth on the all-time coaching victories list at 879. “But I mean, we haven’t made shots at home either.”

Derek Culver had 18 points and 12 rebounds, and Taz Sherman scored 16 points for West Virginia (19-8, 7-7).

Samuel made all seven of his shots and had eight rebounds with five blocks, RJ Nembhard scored 16 points and Bane finished with eight points and 10 assists in TCU’s second home victory over a ranked team. The Horned Frogs beat then-No. 18 Texas Tech in January.

“I hope it gives some of the younger guys confidence that it can be done,” said Bane, a senior. “We went out there and got flat out embarrassed in West Virginia. To come back here and beat that team is huge for us. Hopefully we can build off this moving forward.”

West Virginia finished 2 of 17 from 3-point range, including an air ball on an open look for Sean McNeil with the Mountaineers down by three in overtime.

McNeil also had a desperation heave from past half court bounce off the back of the rim when West Virginia managed to get off a shot after the call against Bane.

The Mountaineers missed four straight free throws late before Oscar Tshiebwe made the second of two for a 55-all tie with 1:03 to go. Miles McBride couldn’t finish off a possible three-point play, and Culver missed two free throws.

Culver scored six points and Sherman had the last five on a 15-1 run that put West Virginia up 25-15 in the first half.

TCU later answered with a 19-2 run that carried over halftime, turning a 31-21 deficit into a 40-33 lead when Nembhard hit a 3-pointer.

BIG PICTURE

West Virginia: Tshiebwe, the freshman leading West Virginia in scoring, was held to just one point and has attempted just six shots, with one make, the past two games. The Big 12’s second-leading rebounder wasn’t as much of a factor inside either, finishing with five boards after six straight games with at least eight.

“We sat him most of the first half because he just wouldn’t get back to his man,” Huggins said.

TCU: The slide toward the bottom of the standings has been steady since the Horned Frogs started 3-0 in the Big 12 after getting voted last by league coaches in a preseason poll. But this is quite a boost coming off seven losses in eight games.

ARGENTINE’S CONCUSSION

The Horned Frogs scored the final eight points of the first half, starting with a 3-pointer from guard Francisco Farabello. The only points for the freshman from Argentina came moments before he ended up on the floor holding his head following a scramble for a loose ball. Farabello had to be helped to the locker room and was ruled out with a concussion.

KNOCKING DOWN THE FREEBIES

Samuel, a 34% shooter on free throws coming into the game, was 5 of 6 from the line. The two in overtime put the Horned Frogs up six with 1:19 remaining.

“Obviously Kevin was terrific, so happy for him, how hard he’s worked on his free throws,” coach Jamie Dixon said. “And to go and knock those down, to be 5 of 6 at the end of the day is a great thing.”

UP NEXT

West Virginia: At Texas on Monday.

TCU: At Iowa State on Tuesday.

For more AP college basketball coverage: https://apnews.com/Collegebasketball and http://twitter.com/AP-Top25

Memphis keeps at-large hopes alive with win over No. 22 Houston

AP Photo/Karen Pulfer Focht
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) Precious Achiuwa scored 10 points, including the go-ahead free throw with 28.2 seconds left, and Memphis beat No. 22 Houston 60-59 on Saturday.

Malcolm Dandridge scored 12 points and Lester Quinones and Tyler Harris had 10 points apiece as Memphis (19-8, 8-6 American Athletic Conference) won its second straight.

Caleb Mills led Houston (21-7, 11-4) with 21 points and Marcus Sasser added 18 points for the Cougars. Mills’ jumper with 4 seconds left was off the mark. Houston missed its last four shots.

Houston was without guard Quentin Grimes, its second-leading scorer at 11.8 points per game. Grimes was dealing with a hip pointer.

The Cougars were forced to play catch-up for much of the game.

RELATED: Latest CBT Bubble Watch | Bracketology

Sasser’s 3-pointer gave Houston the lead with just under seven minutes left. It started a string of nine straight points for Sasser.

The teams exchanged leads down the stretch. Mills converted a pair of free throws with 47 seconds left to tie it at 59. Achiuwa then made the second of two free throws for the final margin.

By the midway point of the first half, neither team was shooting well. Memphis, which struggled early, managed to take the lead.

The Tigers put together enough of an offensive push during the middle stages of the first half to build the lead to eight points on a couple of occasions. Memphis led 27-23 at halftime with Houston shooting 26% from the field.

BIG PICTURE

Houston: The Cougars improved their shooting in the second half, going 12 for 26 (46%), but went cold again in the final minutes.

Memphis: The Tigers needed the win since they are considered outside looking in on the NCAA Tournament. Memphis struggled from the field, especially Achiuwa, Boogie Ellis and Quinones, who combined to go 3 of 24. Dandridge made all five of his shots.

UP NEXT

Houston: Hosts Cincinnati on March 1.

Memphis: At SMU on Tuesday.

More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/Collegesbasketball and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25

Pipkins scores 24, Providence beats No. 19 Marquette 84-72

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) Luwane Pipkins scored 24 points and David Duke had 15 to lead Providence to an 84-72 victory over No. 19 Marquette on Saturday, the Friars’ third straight victory – all over ranked teams.

Markus Howard scored 38 points for Marquette, which lost its third straight game. Howard shot 10 for 25 from the field and had just one assist while committing four of the Golden Eagles’ (17-9, 7-7 Big East) 18 turnovers.

RELATED: Latest CBT Bubble Watch | Bracketology

AJ Reeves added 11 points and three others had 10 for Providence (16-12, 9-6), which held a double-digit lead for all but 39 seconds of the game’s last 26:29. Trailing 71-50, the Golden Eagles scored seven points in a row, but they could get no closer.

Providence led by as many as 17 in the first half thanks to its 3-point shooting (8 for 15) and 17 points from Pipkins. After Marquette cut the lead to nine, 52-43, midway through the second, the Friars scored six straight points.

It was 62-50 when Providence scored nine in a row, the last five on a basket and a 3-point play by Duke.

BIG PICTURE

Marquette: The Golden Eagles dipped into The Associated Press Top 25 at No. 18 on Feb. 10 and have lost three in a row. Though the first two were to higher-ranked teams, the loss at Providence will certainly drop them out of the rankings

Providence: The Friars are fourth in the Big East and the top unranked team in the conference. They are 4-4 against ranked teams this season.

UP NEXT

Marquette: Hosts Georgetown on Wednesday.

Providence: At No. 12 Villanova on Saturday.

More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/Collegebasketball and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25

Dominant Doke leads No. 3 Kansas past No. 1 Baylor

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Udoka Azubuike wasn’t hard to find this time around.

The 7-footer put together the best performance of his college basketball career on Saturday afternoon, going for 23 points, 19 boards and three blocks while shooting 11-for-13 from the floor as No. 3 Kansas went into the Ferrell Center and staked their claim to the title fo the best team in college basketball with a 64-61 win over No. 1 Baylor.

After Baylor scored the first five points of the game, Kansas answered with a 9-0 run and never looked back. The Bears were only able to draw level once for the remainder of the game, and while Ochai Agbaji managed to make things interesting down the stretch with a late turnover against Baylor’s pressure, the Jayhawks were more or less in control throughout.

RELATED: Latest CBT Bubble Watch | Bracketology

And the reason for that is simple: Udoka Azubuike.

The first time that these two teams squared off back in January, when Baylor landed the program’s first-ever win in Phog Allen Fieldhouse, Azubuike was invisible, especially offensively. He finished with just six points on 3-for-6 shooting from the field largely due to the fact that Baylor’s defense is uniquely designed to take away players in the post. The Bears fronted Azubuike, they played off of non-shooters on the weak side of the floor and they dared Kansas to beat them from the perimeter.

It did not go well.

But giving Bill Self four days to devise and implement a game-plan is never going to work out well for anyone, and Baylor learned that the hard way.

And the tweak, truthfully, really quite simple:Mi

Middle ball-screens.

This had an impact on two things on that end of the floor. For starters, it made it difficult for Baylor to influence which way the ball-handler would come off of the screen. You can’t ‘ice’ a ball-screen in the middle of the floor. You can ‘weak’ it — forcing the ball-handler to come off of the screen going to his weak hand — but this is risky, especially with a point guard that is as quick as Dotson is. He was allowed to get a full head of steam going with only Freddie Gillespie between him and the rim. That’s a good thing for Kansas.

The other part of this is that since the ball is in the middle of the floor, and since Baylor cannot make the offense go the way they want them to go, it’s harder to sell out as a helper. This creates open lanes for Azubuike to run to the rim, and there is no one in college basketball that is a better lob-catcher in traffic than Azubuike.

“He was great and controlled the paint,” Self told reporters after the game. “That was about as well overall as I’ve seen him play.”

And he’s not wrong.

Azubuike was a titan on the offensive end of the floor.

But he was just as good defensively.

Baylor’s guards were never able to get into a rhythm on Saturday afternoon. MaCio Teague hit a couple of threes, but for the most part, he was a non-entity. Matthew Mayer scored eight straight points in the first half but was invisible outside of that run. Devonte Bandoo took one shot. Davion Mitchell shot 2-for-11 from the floor, and while Jared Butler went for 19 points and six assists, he needed 18 shots to get there.

Much of the credit there belongs to the perimeter defenders on this Kansas roster. Marcus Garrett is a walking, talking, ball-hawking demolition derby. He’ll take the soul of someone that is careless with their dribble, and Mitchell learned that the hard way. Devon Dotson more than held his own, while Ochai Agbaji, Isaiah Moss and Christian Braun did just enough to keep whoever they were guarding from getting a clean look. The Jayhawk ball pressure was, throughout the game, something else.

But the reason that ball-pressure was possible is because of the human eraser at the five. Doke owned the paint. He only finished with three blocks, but that’s because Baylor opted to settle for jumpers instead of trying to challenge the big fella. His ability to move his feet eliminated Baylor’s ball-screen offense:

All told, when you factor in both ends of the floor, this was one of the single-most dominant performances that I can remember seeing this season.

Kansas is going to enter this upcoming week as the biggest talking point in the sport.

Is this the best team in the country?

Can the Jayhawks win a national title this year?

Are they actually the favorite to cut down the nets?

And the reason that the answer to all three of those questions is ‘yes’ is the presence of Udoka Azubuike.

The more interesting question that we should be having has less to do with Kansas as a team and more to do with Udoka Azubuike: Is he, and not Dotson, the All-American on this Kansas team?

And where should he factor in the Player of the Year race?