Rick Osentoski-US PRESSWIRE
Tod Kowalczyk saw a 15-win improvement from Year 1 to Year 2, and only lost one letterwinner for Year 3. Too bad the season ends on March 9.
Tod Kowalyck knew he was getting a project when he took the head coaching job at Toledo, but there's no way he thought he would still be fighting off the ghost of Gene Cross by his third year with the team. That's precisely what happened in the offseason, when the NCAA banned UT from the postseason for poor APR scores during the Cross years. That'll bring an unfortunate full stop to what should be one of the most exciting seasons of Rockets men's basketball we've seen in years; all but one of the letterwinners from last year's 19-17 squad return for this year's campaign, and the new kids fill the holes on the team with skill.
Nearly everybody. Junior G Rian Pearson and Sophomore G Julius Brown were given pre-season All-MAC West honors. Pearson was tied in the conference for scoring at 16.4 ppg, and 3rd in rebounding with 8.3 board per. Brown had 14 games with 7 or more assists last year and 427 points, the most ever scored by a Toledo frosh, which earned him MAC Freshman of the Year in 2011-12. Senior G Dominique Buckley was tops in the MAC from the free throw line at 89.5%, and was always reliable for a few threes a game. Junior forwards Matt Smith and Reese Holliday are also back and expected to contribute, and Sophomore F DeLino Dear doesn't have to fake his way through playing center anymore. The only man not returning is Curtis Dennis, the New Mexico transfer had said he wasn't going to transfer when the ban was announced, but some personal issues pushed him towards transferring to Iona, where he'll be close to his family in the Bronx.
Boy, did all eyes land on Freshman C Nathan Boothe after the exhibition game over Northwestern Ohio (which is a real school, not a bizarro mirror-world team like at the end of Super Dodge Ball). The Gurnee, IL native knocked down 15 points, and Coach Kowalczyk has made it clear that Boothe will see plenty of starts this year (Sorry, Richard Wonnell). G Josh Lemons won't see as much action, but the good news for the young man from Cincinnati is that he's expected to fill in at both the point and as a shooting guard. Aubrey Williams won't be playing this year, a rare luxury for Coach TK to actually hand out a redshirt. But it's not without good reason: Williams is a friggin' genius, having graduated from St. Vincent Pallotti HS in Maryland 2 years early. The forward spent a year at the IMG Academy prep school, where he averaged 17 ppg and 11 rpg. He's only 17 years old now, so riding the pine a year will allow him to... you know... age. Finish reading Great Expectations. Discover girls.
What are they saying?
Postseason bans be damned, the MAC media picked the Rockets to win the MAC West, and with good reason. This squad came out of nowhere last year to make waves in the conference, and had a couple of last second bounces gone their way (and not off a scoreboard), they would have seen an even better record. Losing Curtis Dennis sucks; he averaged 12 points a game coming off the bench for Toledo last year. But with another year on their belt, the rest of the team should be able to absorb that loss.
What am I saying?
If this were a regular season, I'd say at least 20 wins (a feat not accomplished since the 2005-06 season). But losing 3 non-conference games (also a part of the NCAA smackdown) hurts in a big way. Faced with a 28-game season and nothing past that, I'm inclined to say they hit 20 wins on the nose.