Elton Alexander of the Cleveland Plain Dealer said in Sunday’s
edition, “The wacky MAC is back.” The promos held for the MAC
Tournament in Gund Arena say, “Start March Madness with MAC Madness.”
This is going to be very true. Anyone, and I mean anyone has a shot at
winning it, from leader Kent State, to bottom dweller Buffalo,
everyone has an equal chance. As we move into the second half of
conference play, teams are trying to make runs at getting home court
in the first round, or even a first-round bye. It will be fun to watch
all of this play out in the next month.
The Miami Redhawks have done their part putting themselves right in
the middle of the fray. In my last article, I thought the Redhawks
would be in good shape if they could get to 9-9 overall, 7-2 in the
MAC heading into Kent State last Monday. Well, the Hawks made it to
those marks heading into the M.A.C. Center where the numbers of Trevor
Huffman, Andrew Mitchell, Demetric Shaw, and Eric Thomas were being
retired. In the battle for first in not just the East, but also the
entire conference, Miami came out ready to play, jumping out to a
32-13 lead. The Princeton offense was run beautifully, the defense was
tough, and the crowd was out of the game. However, this only lasted 12
minutes. Once the 3-point well dried out, Miami was able to get some
baskets out of their offense, Chet Mason getting some easy layups on
back cuts, but the Flashes started to find their rhythm, cutting the
lead to 11 by halftime. Early in the 2nd half, Miami extended
their lead to 13, but from the 15-minute mark on, the Flashes really
tightened up their defense, giving Miami nothing. Juby Johnson, who
had 21 points in the first 25 minutes, didn’t score the rest of the
game. Antonio Gates took over for the next 10 minutes, proving yet
uncontainable again (partly due to his bunny hopping), and Eric Haut
finished the job, hitting three crucial 3 pointers down the stretch,
giving Kent the 70-60 victory.
Miami had the rest of the week off before heading to Muncie for a
Sunday afternoon contest at Ball State. Unfortunately for the Redhawks,
Chris Williams was still steamed over his lackluster, 8-point
performance in Oxford. Williams came out, got Johnson, who had shut
him down in the first game, in foul trouble, and scored 22 in the
first half. If not for the play of Danny Horace and Josh Hausfeld, the
38-27 halftime deficit would have been much larger. The second half
started with a quick Miami run to cut the lead to 6, but the Cardinals
responded with a bigger run, and it looked as if the lights would be
turned out early as Ball State’s lead became 18 points. But the
Redhawks fought their way back, led by Johnson and Hausfeld, to tie
the game at 62. It remained close until the last three minutes, when
Williams, who ended the game with 39 points, hit a 15 foot hanger in
the lane to put Ball St. up 6 and seal the deal. The Cardinals went on
to win 78-70.
So, a week that had a lot of promise for Miami has them reeling a
bit. Now at 9-11, 7-4 in the MAC, the Redhawks are still second in the
MAC East, but now 2 games behind, and are fourth overall, 1 game out
of a first-round bye behind co-West leaders Northern Illinois and
Central Michigan. All is not lost; there is still a lot of basketball
to be played, but it depends on where this team’s mindset is after two
tough losses on the road. As positioning goes, the Redhawks aren’t out
of the fight for the third and final first-round bye. Miami still has
Northern Illinois to play at home and the Hawks have already defeated
Central Michigan, so they could have the tiebreaker if they were to
finish tied. The Hawks are still 2 games ahead of would-be fifth seed
Marshall. And the team is not playing terrible. It was encouraging to
see Sunday Miami try and fight back from 18 down in the second half
when they could’ve mailed in the rest of the game, as last year’s team
would’ve done. Except for the first half against Ball St., and some
moments against Kent St., the Princeton offense is hanging in there.
It is a key, as coach Charlie Coles has said, to stay aggressive and
get to the basket. At times, Miami has relied on the 3-point shot too
much, as they did in the first half against Kent St. Once the 3-point
shot was taken away, the Redhawk offense became passive and
one-dimensional, making them easy to guard. The one main concern for
this team is the up and down play of Chet Mason. During the 5-game
winning streak, Chet really settled into the point guard’s role, not
forcing his shot, and taking better care of the ball. But, in the last
2 games, Chet has forced his shot and been more prone to the turnover,
which is why Matt Jameson saw more action Sunday against Ball State.
Chet needs to pick his spots to shoot, more so in transition where he
is the most comfortable. In the half-court, he just needs to run the
offense, spread the ball around, go to the hole when it’s there, and
take the open shot when it’s there. Finally, he needs to realize after
missing four or five shots, to concentrate on other aspects of the
game to find his rhythm, then start looking for his shot again. Of
their last 7 games, 4 are in the road. The Redhawks get another little
breather with no action until Marshall comes to town for a Saturday
afternoon tilt. If Miami can finish 12-6 in the MAC, 13-14 overall, it
should keep them around the top 5 in the league, and put them in a
nice spot for the MAC Tournament.
A look at the MAC as we come down the stretch (in order of
Kent State: The best team in the league. Tough to guard, and they
guard you tough. With Gates unstoppable one-on-one and Haut tough to
follow screens, zone seems like the way to go. However, the Flashes
lead the nation in 3-point field goal percentage, so zone if you dare.
Marshall: Ronald Blackshear can play, Monty Wright is stepping up
as well, but how well can the inside guys play. Blackshear is the type
of guy that if he gets hot, they can win the MAC Tournament
Akron: If the Zips had a true center, they would be one of the top
3 in the league. Tarver and Hollingsworth are Newcomers of the Year;
they have been the best backcourt tandem in the league. The Zips need
Andy Hipsher’s back to hold up a little longer to give them another
Ohio: The Bobcats have won 2 of their last 3, trying to get back
into the top half of the league. Steve Esterkamp has picked it up,
complementing Brandon Hunter’s outstanding play. OU needs Sonny
Johnson to fill out the Big Three. This is still a dangerous team.
Buffalo: They still haven’t won a league game, but they’ve taken
Kent and Miami among others to the wire. Turner Battle is a good point
guard, and pay attention to Jason Bird. He’s only a sophomore, but he
can shoot the rock.
Northern Illinois: I haven’t been able to see much of these guys,
but they’re obviously the surprise story of the MAC. Marcus Smallwood
and P.J. Smith are providing the leadership, which they’re going to
need with 2 games against Central Michigan still remaining.
Central Michigan: The Chippewas are very impressive, and were
tonight against Western Michigan. Chris Kaman scored 37, but Mike
Manciel and J.R. Wallace did their thing scoring 13 and 11
respectively. They are deep, and they played Kent tough all the way at
their place. This is a team I wouldn’t want to play right now.
Bowling Green: The Falcons have fallen back to the middle of the
pack, their lack of depth and consistent offense from guys such as
Cory Ryan hurting them the last couple of weeks. You can count on
this: BG will be ready to play every night, but do they have enough to
get it done.
Western Michigan: The Broncos are a team you don’t want to play
because of their defense, but they continue to struggle to find
consistency on offense. Robby Collum and Ben Reed need to step up for
this team to make a run.
Ball State: Look out for the Cardinals. Even without Theron Smith,
this team has found itself. Chris Williams is the man, Matt McCollum
finds the open perimeter spot, Robert Owens is the slasher, and Cam
Echols gets it done inside. If this team can remain hot and get a home
game to start out, I wouldn’t want to see them in my half of the
bracket in Cleveland in March.
Toledo: The Rockets have the guard play, but not the inside play.
They have the athletes inside, but not the strength. UT can still do
some damage, especially if they get anything inside that will free
their guards up on the outside.
Eastern Michigan: What a difference a year makes. This is the team
you wanted to play in the MAC Tournament last year. Now, even though
still young and inexperienced, the Eagles can play. They’ve played
everyone for the most part tough. This isn’t a team you can’t afford
to overlook. If you do, you’ll lose.
Marty’s Top 25
Louisville-They’ve been playing like it. I can’t wait for
Louisville-Marquette this weekend.
Arizona-A tough win at Washington. I’m still waiting for this
team to play with purpose instead of just relying on their
superior talent to win games.
Kentucky-Maybe the best half-court defensive team in the
country. They can’t forget about Estill in the middle and they
need to keep shooting well from outside.
Texas-I still like the dynamics of this team. Again, a common
theme, how far they go depends on their frontcourt play.
Florida-The #1 ranking definitely affected the Gators in
Lexington. They’ll be back, and they’ll learn from it.
Duke-Frontcourt play will determine how far they go. Duhon
needs to play like this is the summer, which is when he’s played
Notre Dame-Guess what, frontcourt play will determine how far
they go. The play of Dan Miller will be especially huge.
Oklahoma-Tough loss at Texas. What can you say about Hollis
Price? What a gamer.
Kansas-Overrated here, but they found their way here. It’ll be
interesting to see what happens when Wayne Simien comes back.
Pittsburgh-Ontario Lett scores 4 points, Pitt loses to ND.
Simple as that.
On the verge: St. Joseph’s, Dayton, Butler, Oregon, Butler (it’s
not your fault), Utah
Teams I don’t want to see in March not listed: Manhattan, Boston
U., Weber St, College of Charleston, Gonzaga, Wyoming, Kent State,
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