This edition of the MAC hoops roundtable was hosted by us. I fired out five questions to some of our MAC bloggers around cyberspace. Our own Akron writer Brandon Hickey, B.J. Fischer from FalconBlog, and Bull Run's Tim Riordan and Brandon Harris. Here our our questions, and here's what they said, bearing in mind some of these responses were prior to Saturday's games:
1. Right now it looks like Akron/Kent State/Buffalo/Ohio are the top four teams. Beyond them who looks the strongest (not necessarily who will have the best record) and seems like a MAC Tournament sleeper?
Hickey: Western Michigan, for sure. They played well against Akron and Kent State, possibly the best two teams in the East. They were close at OHIO without Matt Stainbrook and have been devastated by injuries all year. I would not want to play them in the MAC Tournament.
FalconBlog: To me, the team with the best record is also the team that looks the strongest. Akron appears to be the conference's best team. The are winning and still have 4 home games left in the final 6. They are incredibly balanced...I doubt if any other team in D1 has 7 players averaging between 7 and 10 points a game. They are strong on both sides of the ball and Marshall is really coming into his own. As for a sleeper, in a way it is Kent, but beyond that, I'd like to say my Falcons, but I need to see how they fare against the East first. Teams like EMU can be tough to be in tournaments because they can always play tough D...on the other hand, BG is the only team in the East to fail to get 60 on them.
Bull Run/Harris: Bowling Green is a team to watch out for in March. I know they lost a game versus the west, but they seem to be the only team to consistently have strong games against them and not just squeaking wins out. Their zone seems to always bother Buffalo and Ohio (likely opponents late in the MAC tournament), and the losses to Akron and Kent were by a total of 6 points combined. I know their schedule gets tough with road games against Akron, Buffalo, and Ohio, but they can beat the big boys on any given night.
Bull Run/Riordan: I'm going to have to go with Bowling Green. They have played just about everyone tight and have a couple of quality wins in conference. The only real blemish is the loss to EMU, and I am a bit Bullish (see what I did there) on the scrappy Eagles as being very close to the top half of the conference, so its not a bad loss.
The Good news is that the Falcons play tight enough to jump up and bite some of the top four in the east. The Bad news is that they have to play them all with three of those games on the road down the stretch. If they manage to hold onto a first round home playoff game after that run there is no reason to think that they don't have a better chance than anyone else in the bottom eight.
2. This is the first year MAC Tournament seeding is division agnostic. If it began today the East would have the first five (!) seeds. Can a team from the MAC West get a top-two seed and bye into the semifinals? If not, what's a realistic seed for the West winner?
Hickey: No way. 5 at best. Western desperately need to go 5-0 against the West. That would put them at 9-7 in the conference (assuming a loss at Buffalo), likely propelling them into the lead of the division. Here's how the leaders in the East would have to fare over the next six games for Western to tie them: Akron (0-6), Buffalo (1-5), Ohio (2-4), Kent State (2-4). Is that going to happen? Not a chance.
FalconBlog: No, probably not a top-2 bye but they have a shot at a top 4 bye. The standings are distorted right now because those West teams have a huge advantage coming home in that they get to play each other. EMU is 3 back of a top 2 bye and WMU is 4 back...don't see those flipping, but if EMU (or WMU) makes ground up, they could sneak in. My expectation is that the West could end up with the #5 and #6 seeds just based on a much easier schedule.
Bull Run/Harris: No chance for a West team to get one of the top 2 seeds, but EMU can get the 4 spot. The powers of the East will cause a few losses from one another. That combined with a 4-1 record the second time around against the West (same 4-1 record the first time around) can get them into a spot for the 4 seed.
Bull Run/Riordan: Could they? I suppose that EMU, who is two games and a hand full of tie breakers out of a top four spot, has the best chance. If they manage five wins in their second west swing they will end up 10-6, if they can shock OU this weekend make that 11-5.
11 Wins, and some grace from tie breakers might be enough to get a top four spot if the teams in the east cannibalize themselves, particularly Kent and Ohio who are two off of Akron and one off of Buffalo.
Realistically EMU or BSU might sneak in as a five seed if they dominate their next sweep through the west. Bowling Green is going to have a hard time keeping pace with them due to their trips to Amherst, Athens, and Akron. EMU also holds the head to head tie breaker with Bowling Green.
3. Ernie Zeigler's team up in Central Michigan doesn't seem to be improving. Is he the most likely MAC coach to be fired after the season?
Hickey: He should but won't be this year. I think that he'll be fired after son Trey graduates (on top of another bad season). Central Michigan does not want to lose their leading scorer along with the head coach, because if Ernie is fired I don't think there is any way that Trey comes back to Mt. Pleasant. Charlie Coles is more likely to retire at end of year due to his health problems, and Todd Lickliter looks like he will be the one taking over. All bad teams have new coaches now, so they are on a three year rebuilding plan (unlike Akron Football under Rob Ianello). I don't think anyone will be fired from the MAC after this season, but next year is a different story.
FalconBlog: I would think so. He has a pretty thin track record...yes, there are a couple of West Division titles in there, but that isn't worth very much. They have never been in the Top 5 of the conference, and now are in the bottom 5. They are young...but they also have the best recruit to come to the MAC in many years and they still can't produce. The issue is, if Zeigler goes, what does Trey do? Hard to see him staying in Mt. Pleasant. I can't imagine any other MAC Coach getting the boot.
Bull Run/Harris: I personally give coaches the benefit of the doubt that they'll keep their jobs, but its not looking so good for him. They have such a young team that an objective fan would love to see him stick around for an extra year or 2 to see if they can really cause some havoc, but its hard to keep him around when his team consistently under performs. One thing he has going for himself is that firing him would mean his sons departure as well. Losing both of them would set this program back another 2-3 years, so I'll say he keeps his job.
Bull Run/Riordan: You may risk a Zach Maynard type of situation with his son if you do that. He has a redshirt to burn and firing 'Dad' may be enough to make him pass on helping to rebuild in Mount Pleasant. But if you're CMU how do you not fire him? Bringing Trey in was a lifeline that has done nothing for the chips through two years. EMU is making more progress than Central Michigan and there is a lot less talent in Ypsi right now.
NIU, EMU, and Toledo all look to at least be taking some baby steps in the right direction. WMU and Ball State have been floating above the Chips for a bit so if you don't do something soon you could end up in the cellar of the West.
4. WMU coach Steve Hawkins gave two of his starters, Matt Stainbrook and Mike Douglas, one-game suspensions for key road games, Ohio and Kent State, respectively. They lost both games but barely. Let's play "Scruples." If you're coaching your favorite team and one of your key players broke team rules, would you have them sit out a big game?
Hickey: Yes, it's the principle of the thing. The way a coach handles their players reflects on the program itself, and if a coach is looking out for the best interests of the program, he/she would suspend the player. Kent State, however, would make sure the violator started the next game and played the most minutes (jokes!).
FalconBlog: I think you have to. It isn't an easy thing to do, but I think when the players get the feeling that there isn't any control on them, they can make poorer decisions and it shows up in games. Case in point, in my mind, is Tom Amstutz (which is another sport, I know). Also, if you are going to suspend key guys, do it for a road game. Is the scrupulous?
Bull Run/Harris: Mid-majors rarely get to the NCAA tournament based off of overwhelming talent, nor do they make it solely because of the coach. They get there by creating a culture and getting the right set of guys believing in one another and understanding that they'll only reach the ultimate goal by sticking together. Showing your players that none are above the rest of the team is the best way of achieving long term/big goals. Sitting them is absolutely the right call.
Bull Run/Riordan: In divisional play? Yes! I have no doubt I would lose a spot in the MAC seeding to prove an ethical point to my players. Doing it for a post season game? That takes a backbone and while I think I would it all depends on the rule broken and the players propensity for breaking the rule.
5. Jason Arkley of the Athens Messenger brought up a neat discussion on Twitter the other day. He talked about Ohio Bobcats players in recent memory who were not very liked by his own fans, D.J. Cooper being one of them. Who from your team did you consider unpopular during his playing days?
Hickey: Only having been at Akron for four years, this is a tough decision. I would honestly say that fans for the most part have "liked" all of the players during Keith Dambrot's tenure. But, if I would have to pick the most frustrating, it would be Nikola Cvetinovic. He has had great games, but also some clunkers (like against Western). Zips fans all see the potential in Cvetinovic. That's why they get frustrated when he misses layups, constantly travels, and doesn't box out. Cvetinovic has caused Akron supporters to rip their hair out when he shoots threes, which happens all too often. Cvetinovic has been a great guy to have in this program and is constantly bringing energy to the floor. But, his little mistakes make the Zips faithful cringe at some moments.
FalconBlog: That's a really, really good question. I have been wracking my brain trying to figure out who it might be...the best I came up with is Kevin Netter...Marc Larson...
[sidenote as a BG person: Kevin Netter is the correct answer.]
Bull Run/Harris: There was only one player at UB who I talked to consistently, so to say I disliked one because I knew them as a "bad guy" would be unfair. That being said, Rodney Pierce rubbed me the wrong way the few times I spoke to him. He acted like he was better than everyone else, and several people told me he would never look anyone in the eye when they spoke to one another. That shows me he had no interest in what that other person was saying, so I considered him unpopular in his UB days.
Bull Run/Riordan: Buffalo fans are too fickle to pick on just one player for the whole season, we hate anyone having a cold night.
One thing about coach Witherspoon is he does a great job on developing the kids who enter UB hoops into the Men that will represent the institution well. I know it's cliche but he really does look for class kids and makes sure to nurture that as their careers develop at UB. That's why he gets so much slack from a large segment of the fan base despite a ten plus year career and no dance tickets to show for it.
I honestly can't think of one Buffalo basketball player I have ever thought of as cocky or classless. Sure some of the guys have a little swagger, and in the case of Pierce maybe a bit too much swagger, but that's all just second hand stuff to me.