Your school's basketball program is in good shape when each year it comes in with expectations of nabbing a conference crown and with it, a birth in the NCAA tournament. Though the Toledo Rockets came up short of a MAC championship, not too many folks will frown on a 20-13 (11-7 in-conference) season.
Though Coach Tod Kowalczyk and crew didn't have quite the record heading into conference play that they may have hoped (9-6), it's not safe to say that the season started on a bad note. Losses to VCU and Oregon were nothing to be ashamed about. Losses to Detroit and Oakland might have worried a few Rocket fans but wins in six of their next seven games (and an admirable performance in a loss against eventual national champions Duke), had the squad right back on track and ready for conference play.
Fitting that the Rockets would lose to Central Michigan in the MAC opener, the same team that ended their season. So after that loss and receiving no invite to the NIT, the squad chose to skip playing in the College Basketball Invitational or CollegeInsider tournament.
So you know how Coach Kowalczyk seemingly played the same lineup every game? You noticed that right? Well, your eyes didn't deceive you. The Rockets sported the same starting lineup in every game of the season. Yes, EVERY game. Julius "Juice" Brown, Justin Drummond, Jonathan Williams, J.D. Weatherspoon, and Nathan Boothe started in each of the 33 games that they played in this past season. That type of continuity can sure do wonders for team chemistry and it sure showed in a few offensive performances.
The Rockets unsurprisingly weren't three-point launchers this past season, but they made up for it in other ways. Toledo shot 34 percent better than its foes from the field and 39 percent better from the free throw line on a combined 158 more tries. And wow, could you count on these guys to score consistently. All five of the starters scored at least ten points per game.
Juice Brown - Juice is clutch. The senior guard was an easy selection for first team All-MAC for the second consecutive year and is a consensus baller. That much is confirmed. Some may have expected him to have a bit bigger of a final year in The Glass City, but a stat line of 16 points per game, four assists per game, and 86 percent free throw shooting was enough to make him the most important offensive stud on the team.
J.D. Weatherspoon - Big man 'Spoon used his big body to board better than many of the best of the ballers in the MAC. Weatherspoon utilized his athleticism to grab eight rebounds a game on top of his 13 points per game. His third-team selection to the All-MAC team was warranted for the forward who's play helped the Rockets pick up plenty of wins.
Justin Drummond- The last senior among the starters was often the glue that held this squad together at times. He filled the bucket, grabbed board and made his minutes count. It was an efficient final year for the senior in midnight blue and gold.
Additionally, Nathan Boothe picked up All-MAC honorable mention honors.
Well, for a team that went 27-7 over the 2013-2014 season, this past year has to have been somewhat of a disappointment. For me personally, my expectation was of Toledo running away with the conference regular season title, especially since three starters returning for their senior seasons. With Juice Brown leading the way, it wasn't crazy to think that he alone might put the team on his back and lead them to a MAC championship.
On top of this disappointment, the Rockets struggled to hold on to the ball. They finished with a -1.3 turnover margin and averaged 12 turnovers per game. Three starters had negative assist-to-turnover margins in what was a struggle for the Rockets all year. As noted in an article from The Blade in which Coach Kowalczyk was quoted, "Boy, I don't know. Racked my brain all season long...Our turnovers clearly ended our season."
And outside the talent that this program has in its starting five, the talent dropped off considerably when it came to the next men up on the bench. Jordan Lauf, Stuckey Mosley, Kurt Hall and Zach Garber all played some, but none (other than Lauf) even averaged 13 minutes a game.
Boothe and Williams are back and will have to take the lead next season, but Lauf and Mosley will have to step into a larger scoring role immediately. Boothe will also have to work on scoring consistently in high double-digit figures. Guys like Nick Rogers and Luke Knapke coming in could play immediate minutes, but I imagine that Toledo fans will have to employ a wait-and-see approach.