Welcome to another week of Rounding the Belt, your premier MAC round table. This week has a special surprise, as we have four! esteemed Hustle Belt writers to bring in the holiday. They are: Max Lowe, Mike Karpinski, Keith Scheesseele and the always impregnable Nicolas Lewis. Let's get right to the questions:
The MAC, for the 11th straight year, failed to record a draft pick in the NBA draft. What has to change for the MAC to return to basketball relevance?
Max: Stability at the coaching level. All MAC schools except for Akron and Western Michigan have replaced their basketball coach within the past five years, with some schools going through more than 2 coaches. I'm a firm believer that coaching, staff, and system stability are your primary indicators for long term success at the collegiate level. This especially stands true in college basketball, which has the most player turnover of any major college sport. Similarly to football, the issue faced by the MAC is that any good coach likely uses their MAC job as a stepping school to bigger and occasionally better things (Ohio fans know what I'm talking about). Unless that changes (which I do not foresee), there will remain a good deal of difficulty in attracting NBA level talent to the MAC.
Mike: The MAC as a whole is known for taking guys that no other D1 schools would offer, and in basketball it is true for most of these guys. For the MAC to get back to its glory days, it all starts with recruiting and talent evaluation. I think this is something that the football coaches in the MAC do a great job at; year in and year out there are guys who went under the radar during the recruiting process and in a few years turn out to be stars in the MAC. If the basketball programs are able to model what the football teams have been able to do then I think it could be a quick rise back to relavence for #MACsketball.
Keith: Firstly, and I cannot stress this enough, I will never gauge the success of our conference on the frequency with which we put players into the NBA. Ability to knock off teams in power conferences in non-league play? Fine. Success in March? Ok, I'll hear that argument. That said, as far as returning to relevance, we've got to find a way to as closely as possible emulate the football model. We owe a lot of the increase in national interest on the football field to our willingness to play games on weekday nights. Now, I realize that's harder to do in basketball because of the number of games, but let me throw a crazy idea out at you. What if we played the occasional game in the middle of the day through the week. There may be NCAA rules against this (but then who is following NCAA rules, anyway) but if not, then why not? For our schools with poor basketball attendance, this can only serve to help. I know when I was at Ball State, if there was a game at 11:30 AM on a Wednesday, I ABSOLUTELY would've skipped classes, had some early beers, and hit Worthen Arena. Maybe it's not great for television, but it's obviously not something that would be done on a regular basis. It gives MAC hoops the quirky feel of MACtion on the gridiron, and could pique the interest of those presently unfamiliar with our product.
Nic: I think it also is a matter of exposure. I think that the weeknight attention that football has created for itself has made a big difference in bridging the awareness gap that leads to things like back-to-back top draft picks. #MACsketball could benefit from some similar opportunities.
Our way too early conference previews have begun (patent pending). What's the non-conference football matchup you're most looking forward too. I bet it includes UMass!
Max: I'm a huge fan of high scoring games, so Indiana-Bowling Green on September 13th should be a fun one. Dino Babers should have a field day against Indiana's defensive prowess (or lack thereof), and Indiana has quite a set of offensive weapons and an offensive minded coach in Kevin Wilson. If you're headed to Doyt-Perry that day, it should be a fun one.
Mike: For me it's Northwestern vs. NIU. As everyone is well aware, the Huskies will have a new quarterback this year so that will make things tough. Northwestern has a great running back, Venric Mark who is coming off an injury but should be a star next year. Even though NIU has to break in a new quarterback, they improve at every other offensive position so I think it will make it a smooth transition . Over the past few years Northern Illinois has been without a doubt the most successful and relevant football team in the state of Illinois, and I look for the Huskies to go out and prove that when they take on the Wildcats.
Keith: In my completely biased opinion, it's the first Ball State matchup against Colgate. I can't wait to see what the Cardinal offense looks like with a new quarterback under center. The second non-conference game for Ball State is on the road at Iowa, but I'm under no illusions that the Cardinals can beat the Hawkeyes. Still, a competitive effort would definitely show me that with Pete Lembo sticking around, Ball State will not fall victim to that complete rebuilding process so common when a MAC coach jumps to a power conference. Apart from Ball State, I'm very interested in the Akron/Penn State matchup. Akron's come a long way. Terry Bowden went from 0-8 in league play his first season to 4-4 last year. This season the Zips return quarterback Kyle Pohl, and a very efficient running back in Jawon Chisholm. Akron's thinking bowl game this year, and we'll have an idea of what to expect from them in conference play after the game at Happy Valley.
Nic: I think that everyone's answer here should be exactly the same as mine: Eastern Michigan's home opener against Morgan State because #GREYTURFRULEZ!!
USA moves on to the next round following a stirring 1-0 defeat to Germany, because soccer. Are you yelling for Yedlin?
Max: I was pretty fired up to see Yedlin come in the game, but I don't see him supplanting any of the current starters as of now. I'm worried a bit about Belgium though; they're gonna test Tim Howard quite a bit. It will help a lot if Jozy Altidore can heal in time for next Tuesday, his absence has been apparent out there on a few occasions.
Mike: Yelling? That's an understatement.
Keith: I love seeing successes from MAC boys, regardless of the sport. I'll get into these games in the round of 16 because of Yedlin, and because I love beating other countries at sports they care more about than we do. Be that as it may, as soon as the U.S. is done, I'm checking out. Whether or not they admit it, so will the rest of the country, including ESPN, who covers many of the World Cup games. You're only seeing it on television because the Americans are sticking around. As soon as we are done, regardless of when that is, attention will turn. Where will it turn? Pick your power conference practice. That will be televised over the World Cup.
Nic: I'll be honest, I hadn't gotten to watch a second of the World Cup until just before Yedlin entered against Germany, but HOLY CRAP did you see him? How is he not starting?
Fourth of July is right around the corner. What's your summer BBQ food of choice?
Max: Grilled Chicken.
Mike: I must admit...I'm pretty much a grill master and brats are my BBQ food of choice.
Keith: It's a Boston butt. Be sure to prep the night before. Put that thing on at about 3 AM, smoke it (I prefer mesquite wood) for 12-14 hours, let it sit awhile before you cut into it, and invite the neighbors over. Makes fantastic sandwiches the rest of the week.
Nic: A truly well done potato salad is under-rated. I make mine with freshly smoked ham.
That wraps another week of Rounding the Belt. We're taking a bye week for the holiday because 'Murica, but join us in two weeks when we decide which football players would make the best astronauts, and all the rest Rounding the Belt.