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2014-2015 Preseason MAC Men's Basketball: Toledo Rockets

Juice Brown looks to lead the Rockets to another stellar season.

John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

Holy Toledo! While Toledo’s football team continues to do work on the field, their basketball team looks to brush off that ugly MAC Championship Game loss to Western Michigan and get back to winning, basically like they did all last season. 27 wins last year is the most in school history, and while they did not make the NCAA tournament, the season was still a success. This year, the Rockets are heavily favored to return to the MAC Championship Game in Cleveland, as well as make the NCAA tourney for the first time in 35 years.

Last Year

In Tod Kowalczyk’s first year as Head Coach of the Toledo Rockets, his team posted a record of 4-28. That’s a far cry from where his team finished last season at 27-7 in just his fourth season. Tremendous team efforts in come-from-behind wins early in the season against Boston College (the largest deficit was 12 points and Toledo didn’t take the lead until under a minute left in the game) and Detroit (down 16 with less than 10 minutes to play) really showed that this team had the patience and resilience of a group who knew they could win every game.

A big surprise came when Toledo managed to keep pace with Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse, only losing by ten. Not too shabby for a MAC team. After finishing 12-1 out of conference, the Rockets played their way to a conference record of 14-4, tied with WMU for best in the MAC.

Player Changes / Starters

All-MAC player Rian Pearson is the only departing Rocket. Pearson was an All-MAC honoree for three straight seasons, two with the first team. He leaves behind a team that will look to replace their second leading scorer and rebounder. Look for sophomore guard Johnathan Williams to fill the starting role Pearson kept.

Newcomers Dre’ Applewhite, a transfer from Mississippi State, as well as Angel Aparicio, who missed all of last season due to a torn ACL, will help keep Toledo a deep team and will provide scoring off of the bench. With talented freshmen Kurt Hall and Stuckey Mosely coming in as well as sophomores Jordan Lauf and Zach Garber, who saw good minutes as freshmen, Toledo will be the deepest team in the MAC. This will help starters Julius Brown, J.D. Weatherspoon, Justin Drummond, and Nathan Boothe stay fresh for the long season.

With four starters returning from a team that played well all season last year, it’s not farfetched to think that no matter who fills in for Pearson’s starting role this year, the Rockets will do just fine.

Schedule and Big Games

This year, Toledo will take part in the Progressive Legends Classic, which will match them against VCU on November 21 and Oregon November 24, with both games being played on the road and on national television. Most likely the largest game of the year, in terms of opponent prestige, will be played on December 29 when Toledo heads to Durham to face off against Duke on ESPN2.

Toledo will also be hosting a Sub-Regional section of the Progressive Legends Classic, which will include Bucknell, Detroit, and Maryland-Eastern Shore. Games will be played November 24 and 25 between these four teams including Toledo, of course.

Season Outlook

This year shouldn't be too far off from last year. While I don’t believe Toledo will win 27 games again this season, 20+ should be expected with 25 wins being achievable. As far as a conference record goes, matching 14-4 this year would be great and more than likely, Toledo will be within a game+/- of that.

Playing well on the nationally televised games would also help Toledo. This team loves to play on the big stage and wants to prove it’s ready for the big dance. I believe that Toledo will win at least one of the three major games it will play against Duke, Oregon, and VCU, so don’t be too surprised when it happens. All in all, expect another terrific year from Coach Kowalczyk’s Rockets.