Guard play headlines Mid-American Conference men’s basketball race
Leave the scoring to the smaller guys.
That is what most Mid-American Conference men’s basketball teams have done this season.
Guards have emerged as the MAC’s most dynamic players — nine of the conference’s top 10 scorers reside in the backcourt.
Western Michigan senior shooting guard David Kool — who won last season’s MAC scoring title — leads all of them with a 20.1 average per game.
Kool is joined in the top 10 by veterans such as Buffalo senior shooting guard Rodney Pierce (18.7), Eastern Michigan point guard Carlos Medlock (15.2) and Central Michigan point guard Robbie Harman (14.4).
But several MAC newcomers have made quite the impression.
Two freshmen — Ohio’s D.J. Cooper (Chicago) and Toledo’s Jake Barnett (Wauwatosa, Wis.) — have been tabbed to lead their undermanned teams’ offenses.
Two other newcomers are back in action after transferring. Junior Xavier Silas (Colorado) has Northern Illinois off to a 4-0 MAC start after it finished tied for last in the West Division in 2008-09. In the East, Ohio junior Armon Bassett (Indiana) joins Cooper in the backcourt and averages 13.4 points per game.
Just one team — Northern Illinois (4-0) — has escaped unscathed. Akron, the conference’s favorite to repeat as champion, lost on the road to a Buffalo team that received a rude welcome at Kent State in a 89-54 loss Wednesday.
Teams are continuing last season’s trend of struggling on the road. Teams went 31-65 (.323) away from home last season in the conference and sit at a lowly 6-18 (.250) already this season. Only five of the conference’s 12 teams have won on the road.
It contributed in large part to the West’s subpar finish in 2008-09. CMU (7-9 MAC) shared the division title with Ball State and Western Michigan. No team in the division finished above .500.
But CMU coach Ernie Zeigler said the division has improved.
“I think it definitely will be just as competitive in terms of us beating up on each other but, from a win-loss standpoint, you’re going to have to win 10 or more games to win the (West) division,” he said.
Current record: 10-7, 2-2 MAC
Last season: 10-21, 7-9 MAC; Tie-1st West; lost to Ohio in MAC first round
Coach: Steve Hawkins, seventh year (115-90)
Plays CMU next: Feb. 27 at Rose Arena
Watch out for: Senior guard David Kool, who is liable to score in droves if left unchecked. The 6-foot-4 Grand Rapids native has three 30-plus-point games thus far, and his average of 20.1 per game leads the MAC. Kool also can defend — he is fourth in steals, averaging almost two per game. CMU coach Ernie Zeigler holds Kool in high regard: “I think David Kool is the (MAC’s) best player. He scores in a variety of ways and he’s very difficult to prepare for and try to slow him down.” Kool helps lead the Broncos along with 6-foot-10 senior center Donald Lawson, whose 26 blocks rank second in the MAC.
Last MAC tournament title: 2004
Last NCAA tournament appearance: 2004
Current record: 9-8, 1-3 MAC
Last season: 8-24, 6-10 MAC; 4th West; lost to CMU in MAC first round
Coach: Charles Ramsey, fifth year (51-88)
Plays CMU next: March 4 in Ypsilanti
Watch out for: EMU’s upperclassman trio of senior guard Carlos Medlock (6-foot), junior forward Brandon Bowdry (6-foot-6) and senior forward Justin Dobbins. Medlock’s additional responsibilities include assists (3.6 per game) and steals (1.7), ranking seventh in each.
Last MAC tournament title: 1998
Last NCAA tournament appearance: 1998
Current record: 8-8, 4-0 MAC
Last season: 10-20, 5-11 MAC; 5th West; lost to Kent State in MAC first round
Coach: Ricardo Patton, third year (23-50)
Plays CMU next: 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Rose Arena
Watch out for: Junior guard Xavier Silas, a transfer from Colorado. The 6-foot-5 Silas missed five games after fracturing his right hand in the Huskies’ 77-55 loss at Northwestern to open the season, but he has averaged 19.3 points in 11 games.
Last MAC tournament title: 1982
Last NCAA tournament appearance: 1996 (As member of Midwestern Collegiate Conference, now Horizon League)
Current record: 10-5, 3-1 MAC
Last Season: 21-12, 11-5 MAC; lost to Akron in MAC title game; lost to Wichita State in CBI first round
Coach: Reggie Witherspoon, 11th year (136-176)
Plays CMU next: Feb. 4 at Rose Arena
Watch out for: Rodney Pierce (6-foot-2-inch senior guard), who ranks second in the conference in scoring, averaging 18.7 points per game. Pierce was named MAC East Player of the Week for the past two weeks after two 31-point performances in that span.
Last MAC tournament title: None
Last NCAA appearance: 1982 (D-III)
Current Record: 9-9, 0-4 MAC
Last Season: 15-17, 7-9 MAC; Lost to Bowling Green in MAC quarterfinals
Coach: John Groce, second year (24-26)
Plays CMU next: Feb. 11 in Athens, Ohio
Watch out for: Freshman point guard D.J. Cooper (5-foot-11), who averages 13.2 points per game. He also distributes and defends the ball, ranking second in MAC assists (5.4 per game) and first in steals (2.8 per game). A McDonald’s All-America nominee from Chicago, Cooper has led the team in points in three of the Bobcats’ four MAC games.
Last MAC tournament title: 2005
Last NCAA appearance: 2005
Current record: 3-15, 0-4 MAC
Last season: 7-25, 5-11 MAC; 6th West; lost to Akron in MAC first round
Coach: Gene Cross, second year (10-40)
Plays CMU next: Feb. 14 at Rose Arena
Watch out for: Freshman guard Jake Barnett. The 6-foot-5-inch shooting guard is the conference’s early favorite for Freshman of the Year honors as his 14.3 points per game ranks sixth. The Rockets are a young bunch — they start three freshmen on a regular basis and their roster includes eight freshmen. Barnett is the go-to guy, but fellow freshman Malcolm Griffin is averaging 11.3 points per game in conference play.
Last MAC tournament title: 1980
Last NCAA tournament appearance: 1980
Current record: 8-8, 2-2 MAC
Last season: 14-17, 7-9 MAC; Tie-1st West; lost to Buffalo in MAC semifinals
Coach: Billy Taylor, third year (27-39)
Plays CMU next: Feb. 17 in Muncie, Ind.
Watch out for: Juwan Scaife, another freshman guard who might take the conference by storm in the next few seasons. The hometown sensation from Muncie, Ind., has taken some of the scoring load away from sophomore forward Jarrod Jones, last season’s Freshman of the Year. Scaife averages 10.8 points per game in conference play to lead the team and scored a career-high 20 in a win Sunday against Toledo.
Last MAC tournament title: 2000
Last NCAA tournament appearance: 2000
Current record: 8-8, 3-1 MAC
Last season: 12-19, 7-9 MAC; Tie-1st West; lost to Ball State in MAC quarterfinals
Coach: Ernie Zeigler, fourth year (46-62)
Watch out for: The hot-shooting backcourt of senior guards Jordan Bitzer and Robbie Harman. Bitzer dropped a career-high 28 points Wednesday against EMU, while Harman added 15.
Last MAC tournament title: 2003
Last NCAA tournament appearance: 2003
Current Record: 13-5, 3-1 MAC
Last Season: 23-13, 10-6; T-3rd East; MAC tournament champions; lost to Gonzaga in NCAA first round
Coach: Keith Dambrot, sixth year (111-47)
Plays CMU next: Feb. 9 in Mount Pleasant
Watch out for: Simply put, the entire team. Only one player, 6-foot-7-inch senior forward Brett McKnight, is averaging double-figure points per game this season (10.4). However, the Zips have seven players who average at least seven points per game. Senior forward Jimmy Conyers (6-foot-5) has led the team in points in three of the team’s four MAC games this season.
Last MAC tournament title: 2009
Last NCAA appearance: 2009
Current Record: 9-7, 2-2 MAC
Last Season: 19-14, 11-5 MAC; T-1st East; lost to Akron in MAC semifinals; lost to Creighton in NIT first round
Coach: Louis Orr, third year (41-38)
Plays CMU next: Jan. 30 in Bowling Green, Ohio
Watch out for: Scott Thomas (6-foot-6 sophomore guard), who leads a balanced Falcon scoring attack, averaging 11.4 points per game. Thomas is one of three main BGSU scoring options. Dee Brown (6-foot-3-inch sophomore guard) averages 10.5 points per game and Otis Polk (6-foot-9-inch senior center) is averaging 9.7. Polk is third in the MAC in rebounding, averaging eight per game.
Last MAC tournament title: None
Last NCAA appearance: 1968
Current Record: 11-7, 2-2 MAC
Last Season: 19-15, 10-6 MAC; Lost to Buffalo in MAC semifinal; lost to Oakland in Collegeinsider.com Tournament first round
Coach: Geno Ford, second year (30-22)
Plays CMU next: Feb. 6 at Rose Arena
Watch out for: Sophomore forward Justin Greene (6-foot-8), who ranks 11th in the MAC in scoring and 10th in rebounding, averaging 12.8 points per game and 5.9 rebounds. Greene played in Italy last summer, scoring nine points and seven rebounds per game.
Last MAC tournament title: 2008
Last NCAA appearance: 2008
Current Record: 5-12, 2-2 MAC
Last Season: 17-13, 10-6 MAC; Lost to Akron in MAC quarterfinals
Coach: Charlie Coles, 14th year (234-191)
Plays CMU next: Thursday in Oxford, Ohio
Watch out for: Kenny Hayes (6-foot-2-inch senior guard), the lone RedHawk averaging double-figure points per game this year (14.2). Hayes is leading the conference in minutes played per game, averaging 35.8. The senior was forced to sit out last season because of injury.
Last MAC tournament title: 2007
Last NCAA appearance: 2007
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