When I think of Matt Smith this is the first thing I think of:
(Fast forward to 45 seconds)
Yup, that's Matt Smith hitting the jumbotron with an inbounds pass in a tie game. If you're curious, Loyola Illinois scored as time expired and won the game.
We're not here to pile on Matt Smith though. There's good reason why he's #21 in our MAC Top 25 countdown.
Smith started his career at Wisconsin-Green Bay where he played for current Toledo head coach Tod Kowalcyzk. After Kowalcyzk took the Toledo job, Smith and Rian Pearson followed the guy they signed up to play for. That turned out to be a smart decision as both of their careers have thrived. Pearson is quite possibly the best player in the conference and Smith has the potential to end up higher than his preseason ranking.
Smith is one of the most underrated players in the conference. Not only does he hardly get any consideration as one of the better players in the conference, he hides in the shadow of teammates Pearson and point guard Julius Brown. Smith was just inside the top-30 in scoring in the conference last year and finish fifth in free throw percentage.
What's most surprising is that Smith, a 6'7" power forward, led the conference in three-point percentage (44.4%). And he didn't just go 4-10; almost half of his total field goals came from beyond the arc. He actually was better two years ago, hitting 45.5% of his three pointers. It's certainly something that defenses have to watch out for and it's what makes him such a tough matchup. Normally someone 6'7" in the MAC would be down in the post. Smith will float around, look for his shots, and isn't afraid to shoot from deep.
The one knock on Smith would be that he could be more active on the glass. He averaged just three and a half boards per game and only had four games with over five rebounds. The Rockets have two solid rebounders in Rian Pearson (6.8), and Nathan Boothe (5.2), but could really use one more. Toledo ranked in the middle of the pack in rebounds per game last season, which is something they need to improve on to be in serious consideration for the MAC title.
Toledo has a really good shot of winning the conference this year and Smith needs to take the next step forward to help out Pearson and Brown. Smith (and others) need to make up for the losses of Dominique Buckley (graduation) and Reese Holliday (transfer), both solid contributors. Smith, Pearson and Brown could become the three-headed monster that lead the Rockets to the Big Dance for the first time in a long time.
Coming tomorrow: #20