Tag Archives: Akron Zips

Cleveland State Is a Good Team…In the Future

After Saturday’s 67-57 loss to Akron, one thing was made very clear: Cleveland State, as a whole, is not a bad team. The problem is that this year, the Vikings are going to drive fans utterly insane.

While the preseason expectations have been pretty low, by all accounts, there has been some reason to think that CSU will outperform predictions. Even head coach Dennis Felton is optimistic that his team will overachieve this season.

“We want to be better than we are supposed to be,” Felton said to The Reserve prior to the start of the season. “What that translates to in term of wins and losses, there is no way for me to know that.”

And for the first half of the Zips game, the Vikings absolutely were better, out-hustling, out-muscling and out-playing Akron at every turn. Unfortunately, some of the old Cleveland State bugaboos (poor three-point shooting and foul troubles), along with some new ones (the abysmal 40 percent from the free-throw line) ultimately cost CSU the game.

Then the Vikings ran into Rutgers on Tuesday.

The Scarlet Knights pushed Cleveland State around in the second half. That, coupled with the fact that the Vikings decided that this wasn’t really the game for the offense to show up, led to a 70-38 drubbing.

It’s not hard to see why, two games in, fans are dread what lies ahead. Offensively, the five seniors (Terrelle Hales is currently out) are averaging 24 points per game. The team as a whole is shooting 14.6 percent from beyond the arc, and the free-throw shooting has been even more atrocious.

All of this said, however, this can be viewed less as a failure on Felton’s part to work with what he has and more as an indictment on Gary Waters’ dwindling recruiting prowess in his final years as head coach. With an entire recruiting class (2015) no longer on the team and his 2014 and 2016 classes unable to match their defensive intensity with even a glimmer of offense, Felton’s first year was doomed from the start.

As Cleveland State preps for its home opener against Coppin State, fans have to be wondering what the appeal of this team will be as the season wears on. And while Felton will remain optimistic on his team’s performances in the coming months, the people he’s trying to convince to buy tickets, an already historically cynical bunch, are apt to disagree.

When you go beyond the surface, it looks as if Felton has already taken the frustrations of this season into consideration and has started building the foundation from which he’ll rebuild the program.

If you need any further proof of this, look no further than freshmen Stefan Kenic and Tyree Appleby. Kenic, the 6-9 Serbian, has already landed a spot in the starting lineup, and it isn’t very hard to see why.

With a dearth of offensive options for the Vikings, Kenic, in the first two games, has stepped up to the challenge. In fact, he currently leads the team in three-point shooting. Appleby, on the other hand, has provided a spark off the bench and clearly has shown no fear as it comes to slashing to the basket, as he did on more than one occasion in the first two games.

As freshmen, of course, there is certainly room for improvement for both players. Kenic will need to further develop his presence on the offensive glass, while Appleby will need to boost his free-throw shooting. And as the season wears on, Felton will look for ways to cut down their turnovers (both average three per game).

However, if you’re a casual fan and don’t want to get caught up in the frustration of the roller coaster this season is looking more likely to be, there’s always next year.

The one gift Waters gave Felton was a great deal of flexibility in recruiting. And with only two Waters holdovers (Kash Thomas and Evan Clayborne), that has given Felton opportunities to shape the Viking roster in his own image.

In addition to Kenic and Appleby, you can expect to see more of Northern Illinois transfer Dontel Highsmith once he’s finished completing his three-game suspension for breaking team rules. There’s also freshman Shawn Christian, who has yet to see action. But with offense coming at a premium for CSU, what could it hurt to give him some minutes?

Even before the fall signing period began, Felton had already brought on some size with 6-8 forward Algevon Eichelberger, who will be available next year after transferring from DePaul. Cleveland State has also gotten Wayne (MI) Memorial combo guard Rashad Williams to sign at the beginning of the fall signing period and his AAU teammate, 6-9 forward Deante “Spider” Johnson, signed Wednesday. The Vikings have another verbal commitment Kenic’s Serbian teammate Uros Plavsic, whose 7-1 frame makes him the tallest player CSU will have had since Aaron Pogue.

The future for the Vikings looks far brighter than the present current looks like. Then again, as they say, it’s always the darkest before dawn.

Email Bob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

Image via CSUVikings.com

Felton’s Debut Season at Cleveland State Will Be Grueling

For as many basketball pundits who have already predicted that Cleveland State, under Dennis Felton, will finish at the bottom of the Horizon League rankings, the Vikings’ new head coach didn’t seem deterred by loading up the non-conference schedule with some tough contests.

Cleveland State will, for its opening months, be facing the likes of Rutgers, Michigan State and Cincinnati. As expected, The Spartans and the Bearcat will provide the Vikings with, quite bluntly, nearly impossible odds of winning, especially given the recent changes in the Cleveland State roster and coaching staff.

Ironically, though, the CSU-Cincinnati game on December 21st will be played at the home of one of Cleveland State’s conference foes, Northern Kentucky. The Bearcats, while their permanent home is being renovated, will take up temporary residence at BB&T Arena, which the Vikings will see one more time later in the season when they face the Norse in Horizon League play.

As for the Scarlet Knights, second-year head coach Steve Pikiell may find some challenges in Cleveland State, which travels to New Jersey as part of the Phil Sellers Showcase, though Rutgers has made some significant improvements to its roster since last year. This showcase will also find the Vikings hosting Coppin State on November 17th, which will be Felton’s home debut, and Central Connecticut State, with a road trip to East Carolina in between.

For the third year, Cleveland State, along with Akron, Kent State and conference foe Youngstown State, will gather for the annual Northeast Ohio Coaches vs. Cancer Classic. This season, the classic will be held in Akron, with the host Zips facing off against the Vikings on November 14th.

Akron will be one of four MAC teams that Cleveland State will face. Toledo will come to the Wolstein Center for CSU’s annual pre-Christmas match on December 23rd, while the Vikings will make the road trip to Kent State (12/2) and Western Michigan (12/6).

In what seems to be a given with Cleveland State and every other mid-major, there will be a non-Division I team on the home slate. This year, it will be Notre Dame College on December 10th. The Vikings will play a second non-D1 team, Cedarville, but this will be a November 2nd exhibition game.

Cleveland State will, in addition to its conference slate, play 14 games in the confines of the Wolstein Center. The Vikings will play host to Arkansas State on November 29th, a return matchup from the trip CSU took to Jonesboro last season.

Of course, the most anticipated game on the schedule may very well be on New Year’s Day, when the Vikings open the year, and the Horizon League, with a home contest against Youngstown State. The duel between new coaches Felton and YSU’s Jerrod Calhoun is probably marked on a few people’s calendars, though it’s a safe bet many of those folks are wearing red and white.

The competition that Cleveland State will face in 2017-18 is some of the stiffest that the Vikings have seen in some time, and you’d be forgiven if you’re not sure what to make of it. With three high-major road trips and an ever-improving Horizon League (IUIPUI notwithstanding), it seems as if CSU will not spend Felton’s opening year trying to ring up wins against low-majors to inflate its record.

At the same time, a slow burn may hinder Felton’s effort to rebuild the fan base. Whether the scheduling will serve as a benefit or deterrent to the Vikings when January 1st rolls around remains to be seen.

Email Bob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

Image via CSUVikings.com

The Disgruntled Cleveland State Fan’s Guide to Finding a New Team to Root For

When you take over a program that already had trouble with transfers, not to mention a serious problem with visibility, perhaps it’s not the best plan to, I don’t know, disappear off the planet?

But that appears to be what new Cleveland State basketball coach Dennis Felton has done, though to be fair, it’s not like he exactly had a choice. Without a coaching staff officially in place, Felton has had to scramble around the country trying to secure recruits for the spring signing period.

Of course, Felton may already have former Northern Illinois assistant Lou Dawkins hired. But it’s really hard to know if that’s official, given that the only indication the hire has happened is from a few tweets, most notably from Garfield Heights High School coach Sonny Johnson.

It may not be fair to Felton, but back-to-back 20-loss seasons, a non-existent fan base and a media landscape with the attention span of a newt should have sparked some sense of urgency. The wait-and-see approach was probably not going to be the best plan.

Instead, Cleveland State decided to do what it does every single off-season, as if somebody didn’t get the memo that Gary Waters retired.

So, in effect, the institution that incentivized the heck out of Felton with six figures worth of bonuses if he performs well saddled him with the same game plan that really didn’t excite anybody inside or outside campus. This basically guarantees that nobody will care what happens to the Vikings this season, unless Felton somehow goes rogue and starts promoting out of the circle of apathy he currently finds himself in.

And with Rob Edwards officially deciding to transfer to Arizona State, the glimmer of a true star has faded away, leaving Felton with a gaggle of role players (save for Kash Thomas and, potentially, Shawn Christian), as well as unknown spring signees.

With yet another year’s worth of unknowns concerning the basketball program and a university that has proven itself completely incapable of drawing and sustaining the attention of anybody to its crown jewel, fans may very well be at their wit’s end with Cleveland State.

And that might mean finding another college hoops team to root for, if you’ve gotten to that breaking point. So, as always, I’m here to help. Here are some potential new schools.

Ohio State

I start with the obvious one, mostly because if you’re a Cleveland State student, you’re already paying way more attention to OSU than the school you actually attend. As far as basketball is concerned, though, this may be a trap. The Buckeyes have been pretty mediocre the last few seasons, to the extent that there’s a legitimate debate as to how much longer Thad Matta will remain as coach. That said, you probably own all kinds of Ohio State gear, so you do you.

Youngstown State

Don’t look now, but Youngstown State has decided it cares about men’s basketball. That much was clear when the Penguins tapped Fairmont State’s Jerrod Calhoun as its new head coach. Calhoun, of course, was widely thought to be a favorite for the CSU gig. But since that didn’t happen, Calhoun is making it his mission to convince Northeast Ohio prep stars to forgo downtown Cleveland and make the trek to the Mahoning Valley. And let’s not forget YSU still has All-Horizon League star Cameron Morse, who scores in bunches.

Kent State

Last year was supposed to be a down year for Kent State, and the Golden Flashes still won 20 games and made it to the NCAA Tournament. Coach Rob Senderoff will be looking to expound on his success from this past season. And even better news, if you’re an active reader of Cleveland.com, Kent State will actually get coverage! The only down side is that the MAC Center is kind of a hike and parking is a nightmare.

Akron

Like Kent State, Akron benefits from Cleveland.com caring about what the Zips do. And it may be quite a bit, seeing as how longtime head coach Keith Dambrot has left for Duquesne. Replacing him was another name that was tossed about during the Cleveland State coaching search, John Groce. It’s probably going to be a rebuilding year for Akron, but at least it will get people’s attention.

John Carroll

If you’ve had it with Division I basketball, you might as well take a look at one of the most successful Division III schools in the area, John Carroll University. Ask Kentucky’s John Calipari about the Blue Streaks, whose player rotation he emulated a few years back. And while legendary head coach Mike Moran has retired, he is being replaced by assistant coach Pete Moran. As a former player (not to mention Mike’s son), the younger Moran will carry his father’s work forward into the future.

If putting together a list of teams to follow instead of Cleveland State is harsh, particularly to those who continue to preach patience, this is where we’re at. It’s almost as if athletics has decided it’s not worth the work to actively seek out new fans, even though the additional revenue would make it look like the program isn’t cool with sponging off of students.

And you’re not off the hook, either, students. In fact, with every passing year, you look more like suckers. Why? Because you spend more money per year on average on something you don’t care about (athletics) than something you go out of your way to complain about everyday (parking)!

The off-season doesn’t mean CSU get to take April through October off promoting men’s basketball, but from an outsider’s point of view, that’s exactly what it looks like.

Listen to the angry fans, for once. And maybe you can start to right the ship.

Email bob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

Image via Cleveland State University

Dennis Felton’s at Cleveland State. Now the Real Work Must Begin.

Well, the hire has been made and the introductory press conference is now in the books. Dennis Felton is now the head men’s basketball coach at Cleveland State. Among the guests at his presser were athletic director Mike Thomas, who chose Felton over, among others, Jerrod Calhoun and Jermaine Kimbrough, and the recently-retired Gary Waters, whom Felton considers a mentor.

Felton, to his credit, has the presence of mind to understand what’s at stake in the coming months as it relates to the CSU program. There are already many questions that will need to be answered before the 2017-18 season tips off in November.

At the forefront is the local ties. During his press conference, Felton mentioned the need to focus on local recruiting to strengthen the ties between Cleveland State and the community. The challenge becomes overcoming his own lack of ties to Northeast Ohio.

The question may inevitably answer itself during Felton’s hiring of a new coaching staff. While nobody is sure if either former assistants Larry DeSimpelare or Jermaine Henderson will be retained, there is certainly at least one slot open, as Cornelius Jackson has accepted an offer to join the Marshall staff.

At this point, the hiring of an assistant with local ties is the highest priority, especially considering with the announcement of Calhoun as the new head coach at Youngstown State, Northeast Ohio will be a major target for him and his Penguins staff.

Helping Felton’s cause are as well the recent shows of support from two of the area’s most prominent names in high school hoops: St. Edwards’ Eric Flannery and Garfield Heights’ Sonny Johnson. In the case of Johnson, the endorsement does seem to indicate that one of his players, CSU signee Shawn Christian, will definitely honor his commitment to the Vikings and be a part of the squad next year.

It’s too early to tell, but any help from the high school ranks would go a long way, especially after Babe Kwasniak, the head coach at Villa Angela-St. Joseph, was openly baffled by Cleveland State’s seeming refusal to give further consideration to Calhoun. This is particularly noteworthy, given that recent CSU player Demonte Flannigan was recruited out of VASJ.

Beyond the incoming recruiting, retaining current players will have to be on Felton’s agenda. And, according to a report from the New-Herald’s David Glasier, sophomore star Rob Edwards is at the top of that list.

As it stands, Felton will already be looking to fill at least seven open scholarship slots for 2018. But before that even happens, he now must worry about the prospects of potentially losing his top playmaker to another school. Felton’s ties to the NBA, a clear aspiration for Edwards, may contribute to providing a compelling argument. But it’s not really clear at this point whether it will work.

Other major questions on the current Cleveland State roster remain as well. Who else is thinking of leaving? What becomes of Derek Sloan? Where does redshirt freshman Andy Lucien fit into all of this? While it’s a situation that Felton has faced in his prior head coaching roles at Western Kentucky and Georgia, there can be little hesitation.

The last, and quite possibly biggest, piece of the puzzle is CSU’s overall standing within the Cleveland sports landscape. Even as Felton’s press conference splashed on the headlines, that news had to compete with both Calhoun’s hire at YSU and the recent announcement at Akron’s Keith Dambrot will be taking over at Duquesne.

Again, from Felton’s own experience, the lack of attention isn’t a new situation for him. One story he related during the press conference was the miniscule crowds that showed up to Western Kentucky games during the early years of his tenure. Upon his departure in 2003, the Hilltoppers averaged more than 5,400 people per home game.

It also probably helped that Felton’s WKU teams didn’t lose a single game at home from 2001 to 2003.

While that may be impressive, as Felton is likely aware, Cleveland is not basketball-hungry Kentucky. CSU not only competes for attention with the Cavaliers, it also has to contend with Akron and Kent State, whose own success can snatch away any Viking media attention in a heartbeat.

The next few months will likely give Felton the opportunity to dispel any concerns that fans and the media (myself included on both counts) have about his hiring. Any misstep along the way either by Felton or Cleveland State could prove costly.

Let’s be honest here. Felton was a safe pick. With the expectations that Thomas would make a home-run hire, the selection of Felton can be considered, at best, a ground-rule double. Sure, the batter made it safely on base, but he’s going to need a lot of help to make it home to score.

Email Bob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

Image via CSUVikings.com

What to Make of Wisconsin

In week one of this young college football season, Wisconsin locked horns with the fifth-ranked LSU Tigers at Lambeau Field. Despite LSU boasting one of the premier running backs in all of college football in Leonard Fournette, the Badgers came away with the win, 16-14. Unranked Wisconsin found themselves rocketing up the rankings after that, all the way to 10th.

After stomping on Akron like any good Power 5 team would, Wisconsin welcomed Georgia State into Madison for a tuneup before Big Ten play started. Just a glorified walkthrough, right? Georgia State was 0-2 coming in. It’s not like North Dakota State was showing up. *cough*Iowa*cough*

Well, the Badgers struggled, and struggled mightily against the Georgia State Panthers.

Here’s a fun fact for you: Akron and LSU quarterbacks combined to go 16-46 for 267 yards and one touchdown. Conner Manning, no relation to Peyton and Eli, went 20-29 for 269 yards and a touchdown.

So, what happened?

Your guess is as good as mine. There weren’t any injuries on defense. Georgia State just picked apart the Badgers with short-range passes. Apparently, LSU should’ve had Brandon Harris miss his targets at close range instead of going downfield.

Now was Wisconsin without their top rusher in Corey Clement, but that only affects the offense. Starting quarterback Bart Houston found himself on the bench and Alex Hornibrook came into the game in the third quarter. Hornibrook managed to lead three scoring drives to help Wisconsin and the Big Ten avoid embarrassment. Looking at you, Iowa…

So, what do we make of Wisconsin?

Are they really the team that toppled an SEC giant and should be ranked in the top ten in the nation?

Or, are they really just the team that struggled with Georgia State?

Well, I can tell you that those of us at Campus Pressbox laughed pretty hard when we saw Wisconsin at 10. They beat an LSU team that quite frankly, isn’t, or at least wasn’t, very good.

I present to you Exhibit A: Quarterback Brandon Harris.

The junior signal caller was benched after just three series in the game following the loss to Wisconsin. He was replaced by Danny Etling, a transfer from Purdue. Yes, that Purdue. The one that is routinely in the basement. Etling wasn’t a player who was really, really good and wanted to play on a winning team, either. He lost the starting spot at Purdue and asked to be released from his scholarship.

So just to recap: the LSU team that lost was captained by a quarterback who lost his job to a guy who couldn’t hold the starter’s spot at Purdue.

I’m not sure that I really need to go on after that.

The jury is probably, at best, split on the Wisconsin defense. They did allow 128 yards to Fournette but come on, everyone does that. They only allowed about 50 more yards than that in the next two games. I think we can call the defense average, at best.

What about that offense, though?

Georgia State was allowing an FBS-worst 394.5 yards rushing per game coming in and gave up just 187 to Wisconsin. Well, there’s two things to consider from that statistic, though. The first is that Wisconsin was without their top rusher. Yes, they do still have a decent stable of them but none of them are Corey Clement. The second thing to consider is that Georgia State played Air Force. Air Force doesn’t ever air out the ball which is a little ironic. They attempted a total of nine passes in that game and ran the ball 83 times. That’s going to skew your numbers a little.

Really the question comes down to the quarterback.

Was Hornibrook a mirage or was he potentially something special? Bart Houston, despite having possibly the most cowboy name ever, was not exactly slinging it all over the field. That doesn’t mean that Alex Hornibrook is for real. Maybe, he was just able to expose Georgia State for the zero-win team it actually is. Quite frankly, even if you combine the two you still don’t have an above-average quarterback.

Right now, with the way things look, Wisconsin doesn’t look better than a seven-win team, at best. Maybe I’m wrong but then again, maybe I’m not. The next three weeks are going to tell us everything we need to know about the Badgers. They go to Michigan State and Michigan and then get Ohio State at home. I don’t think they’ve got the defense, or the offense, to hang with that trio.

The Badgers, after close to a decade of eight or more wins, are about to take a big step back.

 

E-mail Tim at [email protected].

Image courtesy Flickr

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Cleveland State’s 2016-17 Men’s Road Schedule is Great; Home Schedule Needs Some Work, Again

When the 2016-17 Cleveland State men’s basketball schedule was released, in all honesty, there was very little left to the imagination of fans. That’s because, for the most part, the non-conference opponents had already been laid out, thanks to the active tweeting of the D1 Hoops Schedule Twitter account.

In fact, the only mystery prior to the official CSU schedule release was how many non-Division I opponents the Vikings would face this season. As the slate revealed, the answer is just one: A December 19 game against Division II Lake Erie College at the Wolstein Center. The good news is that it’s less than the two non-D1 foes CSU usually faces every season. The bad news is that in spite of recent correspondence to a fan by athletic director John Parry, there will not be 15 home games, as originally planned.

One of the other surprises that was revealed before Cleveland State’s official schedule announcement was the slate of non-conference opponents that the Vikings would host at Quicken Loans Arena. While the December 7 contest against Western Michigan had already been posted, the second game will be December 3 against Bethune-Cookman.

The scheduling of B-C has likely been a long time coming, given that their head coach is Gravelle Craig, whose resume when he played at Cleveland State was a highly impressive one. However, with the 2015 agreement between Quicken Loans Arena and CSU in mind, the Bethune-Cookman contest would probably had been better suited at the Wolstein Center.

And that may be the one head-scratcher related to the entire schedule. All of the high-profile Viking opponents, including Kentucky, Purdue, Belmont, Kent State and Ohio, are all on the road. In the case of the Bruins and Bobcats, they are return games from when both team visited Cleveland last season. And the Golden Flashes are CSU’s Northeast Ohio Coaches vs. Cancer opponent this season at Youngstown State.

The home slate, on the other hand, is one of the thinnest in recent memory. Akron and Toledo, mentioned by head coach Gary Waters on his radio show in February, never materialized. And there was clearly no way that a non-Division I foe would ever make it to the Quicken Loans Arena slate. Finally, the appeal of the Q has still not sufficiently persuaded power-conference schools to sign up to make the trek to Cleveland. All of these factors had to have led to the decision to opt for Bethune-Cookman to be the opponent at the home of the Cavaliers.

One of the chief issues that Cleveland State season ticket holders have expressed in the off-season is the decision by the Cavs to push early renewals, with those signing up late incurring additional fee hikes. Now, it would appear that even early season ticket renewals cost more per game than last year, with only 13 games on the home slate, as opposed to 15.

In addition, the long-running problem the Vikings have had in scheduling opponents that would appeal to the masses still dogs them. Moreover, what exactly is the plan to sell a game like Bethune-Cookman to the masses? While Craig was a great Cleveland State player, the memory of his performances have, in all likelihood, long faded from the casual fan’s memory.

This is to say nothing about scheduling conflicts between CSU and the Cavs that couldn’t be avoided. For instance, the November 15 game between the Vikings and Canisius runs up against the Cavs and Raptors, while the Horizon League opener versus conference tournament champ Green Bay on December 29 will bump up next to the Cavs-Celtics.

From a competitive standpoint, Cleveland State should fare far better than the disastrous 9-23 campaign last season. In fact, it can be argued that the Vikings have a shot in all but the tilts against Kentucky and Purdue during the non-conference schedule, and only Valparaiso, widely regarded as the favorite to win the Horizon League, and possibly Oakland and Green Bay present stumbling blocks for them.

But where is the push to get people, both inside and outside of Cleveland State, excited about this season? What is the plan to generate interest to get people to the games, particularly at the Wolstein Center?

These are questions that haven’t been sufficiently answered in at least the past two seasons (possibly longer) and there doesn’t appear to be much in the way of an answer coming for this year.

E-mail Bob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

Image courtesy of CSUVikings.com

The Final Week of Basketball MACtion!

Get ready for the last week of #MACtion.

As the regular season starts to enter its final week in the Mid-American Conference the top seeds are starting to fall into place.

The standings are flipped from the 2014-2015 season. Last year’s bottom-feeders, Ball State, are sitting at number three in the standings (first in the West). Ohio, which last year was the 11 seed last year in front of only Ball State, finds itself in second place going into the final week of play. Akron, which last year finished .500 in the MAC at 9-9 and got the seventh seed in the 2015 conference tournament, sit atop the standings. But as you know, anything can happen in college basketball. Each of the 12 teams have two games left. That’s plenty of time for someone to gain ground on the Zips.

On deck on Tuesday are some key games.

The first game starts at 7:00 p.m. in Muncie, Indiana as Ball State takes on Central Michigan. In the 2014-15 season Central was on fire, finishing 12-6 in the conference and securing the top seed in the 2015 MAC Tournament. However, in spite of bringing back all five starters and shooting well from beyond the arc as last year (hence being dubbed 3MU), the Chippewas have not had the same success they did a year ago. In fact, in their losses poor three-point shooting proved to be their undoing.

Another key factor for Central’s subpar performance may be the loss of senior Blake Hibbitts for the season in November due to a knee injury. Even though he only averaged 3.6 points and 2.5 rebounds a game in an average of 15 minutes of action last year, the loss of a senior leader, as well as his presence on the floor, have had their effects.

CMU has been led so far by former Detroit Country Day star Chris Fowler. Fowler is averaging 16.1 points per game. junior guard Braylon Rayson also averages 16 points per contest. The final scoring Chippewa is 6’4″ senior guard Rayshawn Simmons. Simmons has 12.9 points per contest.

Ball State comes off its 115-79 curb-stomping of Eastern Michigan. The Cardinals had six players in double figures on Saturday. The leading scorer was Sean Sellers who had 26, far above his normal average of 5.8. Ball State uses a balanced attack that so far this year has done well. They enter Tuesday with a 19-10 record and only three players averaging double figures, no one above 11 points per game.

Although Central is a veteran group, I have to take Ball State in this one. Central is just 2-8 away from home and Ball State is 12-3 on its home floor. Look for the Cardinals to jack a ton of threes and hit the open man in a win over Central.

The second big game on Tuesday features the number one and number two teams in the MAC East. Ohio and Akron will get together at 8 p.m. in Akron. Ohio will come into Akron hot off a 103-96 win over Buffalo. Ohio has four of its starting five averaging 10 or more points per game. Sophomore Jaaron Simmons had 31 in the win Saturday. The Bobcats will also look to shoot from outside as they have three starters that shoot over 40% from behind the three-point arc.

If Akron can pull this out, it guarantees itself the top spot in the East division. Like Ball State, the Zips will send out a balanced attack, led in scoring by junior Isaiah Johnson who has 13.3 points per game. It is worth noting however that three other Zips average 10 or more points per contest. Akron also goes deep into its rotation with 10 players who play nine or more minutes per game. The Zips also gang-rebound with eight players having two or more rebounds per game. This prolific team offense and effort has Akron sitting 22-7 on the year and 13-0 at home. Because they play so well at Rhodes, I expect Akron to speed past the Bobcats. Watch Zips guard Josh Williams versus Ohio, he had 20 last time they played and was 4-5 from downtown.

On Friday, the big game will be in Akron once again as Kent State comes into town. This game, if Akron stumbles on Tuesday, could be for the number one seed in the MAC Tournament. Kent State is led by redshirt junior Jimmy Hall, who averages 16.4 a game. Of late, Hall has been hot and will need to stay that way this week to keep the Golden Flashes in the MAC race. Akron, however, lost on the road to KSU earlier in the year and will have something to prove on its home court. Look for Akron to get points from the reserves who contributed 31 points in the last contest versus the Golden Flashes.

MAC tournament prediction: Akron is the number one seed, followed by Ball State and Ohio.

E-mail Karic at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @Kirky313.

Photo: Wikipedia

The University of Akron – An Example of MAConsistency

The Akron Zips, mired in a school year that has seen significant backlash towards school president Scott Scarborough and funding cuts almost entirely across the board in athletics, has somehow stayed the course this season and is on the verge of closing out another successful run at the Mid-American Conference East’s top spot. Since Keith Dambrot took over in 2004, the Zips have never lost more than fourteen games in the regular season and have made the NCAA tournament three times. Four regular season titles and three MAC championships aren’t bad, either.

The key to their consistency has been steady defense.  A Dambrot coached defense has never given up more than 70 PA/G in any of his twelve seasons at the helm of Akron’s program. They play a grind it out type of basketball that sees them inching away a lot of close victories. For the 2015-2016, they have a DRtg of 98.3, compared to a ORtg of 111.4.  That is a huge margin of difference. Their grind it out style of basketball that sees them relying on their defense has seen success in a Mid-American Conference that sees all but one of its teams averaging more than 70 PPG in the 2015-2016 season.

Offense has played a huge role as well, to its credit. As stated before, they have an ORtg of 111.4. Their closest two competitors in the conference to that stat? Toledo and Central Michigan, both having an ORtg of 109.28 and 109.34, respectively. But to that point, Toledo and Central Michigan both have a DRtg of 102.43 and 108.20, respectively. What this shows in any case is that Akron is incredibly good at controlling the pace on offense. While we are on the topic of pace, Akron has only had three games this season where they have registered less than ten assists. They are 1-2 in those games. Akron succeeds when they pass the ball effectively, as does any good team.

It’s not all sunshine and rainbows for Akron this season, though. Akron will need to shore up it’s rebounding effort for the upcoming MAC Tournament in March. Their leading rebounder is Isaiah Johnson, who averages 7.4 rebounds per game. Their second leading rebounder? Kwan Cheatham Jr with 4.8 rebounds per game. They are 9th in their conference in rebounds per game overall, a stat that won’t bode well against teams like Toledo and Kent State in the tournament.

Will Akron have a cakewalk to a division title this year? Not necessarily, as Akron at 10-4 only leads Kent State and Ohio by one game in the conference and Buffalo by two games in the conference. It will be a photo finish to end the MAC East’s regular season, one that will almost certainly see Akron succeeding in some capacity yet again.

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Akron vs. Utah State

The 19th annual Famous Idaho Potato Bowl features the Zips of Akron against the Aggies of Utah State. Akron enters the bowl season with a record of 7-5, representing the Mid-American Conference. Utah State climbs in the ring with a record of 6-6, representing the Mountain West Conference.

Akron Zips:

Coming off of their first winning season in several years, Akron finished third in the Mid-American Conference’s East Division. The Zips were on a tear down the home stretch of the season, winning 4 of their last 5 games. The most decisive and winning-season clinching of those victories was the 20-0 shutout of cross-town rival, Kent State.

Bright Spot:

Defensively, Akron is quite stout. Against the run, Akron gives up only 89 yards per game. The Zips give up a total of 328 yards per game. Defensive stalwart, linebacker Jatavis Brown leads the team and conference in several key statistical categories including: sacks (10.5), tackles for loss (17.5), tackles (108) and forced fumbles (3).

Low-Light:

Offensively, the Zips are very balanced, yet low-churning, yardage wise. Akron averages about 193 yards through the air and 170 yards on the ground. They have some very decisive victories scoring wise throughout the season, but in their defeats, they have suffered just as much.

Utah State Aggies:

The Aggies finished the season on a bit of a tough stretch. Winners of two of their final five games, Utah State is limping into the bowl season having suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of rival BYU, 51-28. This season could be categorized as the season that could have been. Mid-way through the season, senior quarterback, and unquestioned leader of the Aggies, Chuckie Keeton missed several games due to injury. Now, without him, they actually boast a better record (4-2). In his absence, sophomore Kent Myers did more than enough to keep Utah State afloat.

Bright Spot:

As I mentioned earlier, quarterback Kent Myers was a Godsend for the Aggies this season. Without his production, Utah State wouldn’t have been nearly as successful-if at all. Like Akron, Utah state has a very strong and aggressive defense. Giving up only 336 yards per game, they have the ability to keep the games close.

Low-Light:

With an injury to one of their key players, I can say that the biggest hit the Aggies suffered was that of team continuity. Yes, back up Kent Myers did an outstanding job filling for Chuckie Keeton, but who’s to say how the season would have turned out had Keeton not suffered his injury. Of course we can’t play a college football season in a vacuum. Injuries will occur. But, one has to wonder, what if.

X-Factor:

Both teams are quite similar statistically. What it comes down to is offensive play. Both teams have solid defenses, but turnovers will be crucial. The forecast in Boise, Idaho calls for rain so don’t expect either team to sling it around the yard. Solid running, field position, and special teams play will determine the victor in this one.

Prediction:

In just his third game back from injury, I don’t think Chuckie Keeton has enough juice to pull this one out. I see Akron putting the finishing touches on an impressive season. Zips take it, 24-17.

Leaders of the MAC

Earlier this season I warned you all not to sleep on the Mid-American Conference this fall.  If you didn’t take my advice you missed an interesting first half to the 2015 college football season.

Let’s recap.  Through seven weeks the following has happened:

Toledo and Bowling Green hit the road and beat Arkansas and Maryland in week two.  Northern Illinois went the distance with top-ranked Ohio State in week three, falling to the Buckeyes 20-13 in the ‘Shoe.  In week four, Bowling Green beat Purdue to earn its second road win over a Big Ten team.  The last three weeks have seen #19 Toledo and Bowling Green go undefeated in-conference.

These two Northwest Ohio schools are off to a great start this season.  While the Falcons and particularly the Rockets have enjoyed the bulk of the overall success, just about every team has something to be happy about.  Here are some of the impressive ways that members of the MAC are standing out nationally.

Defensively

(Photo: Toledo Blade / Jeremy Wadsworth)
(Photo: Toledo Blade / Jeremy Wadsworth)

Toledo is one of 10 teams in the nation that have surrendered less than 100 points this season (Duke, Michigan, Appalachian State, Wisconsin, Boston College, Toledo, Temple, Missouri, Florida State, NC State), and one of only six that’ve allowed fewer than 80.

The Rockets have given up just eight touchdowns this season.  Only Duke has given up fewer.  Of those touchdowns only two have come through the air, tying Toledo with Northwestern for the least in that category.

Kent State is one of only 10 teams that have held opponents under a 50 percent completion rate.  They and Northern Illinois are tied for seventh in the nation with 11 interceptions.

Linebackers Austin Valdez and Trenton Greene of Bowling Green, and Dylan Evans and Jatavis Brown of Akron are the only pairs of teammates in the FBS with at least 60 tackles each.  All four are in the top 20 in tackles.

Offensively

Bowling Green is one of just six teams in the nation that have scored more than 300 points (Baylor, TCU, Texas Tech, Western Kentucky, Ole Miss, Bowling Green).  The same six are the only ones who’ve scored 40 touchdowns or more.

Northern Illinois has rushed for 21 touchdowns, tied for fifth in the country.  With 13 rushing touchdowns, NIU’s Joel Bouagnon is just one behind FBS-leaders Leonard Fournette and Greg Ward Jr.  Eastern Michigan’s Darius Jackson is tied for eleventh with 10 rushing scores of his own.

Quarterbacks

(Photo: Getty Images)
(Photo: Getty Images)

The MAC has some of the most prolific passers in college football.

With BG’s Matt Johnson, Central’s Cooper Rush, UMass’s Blake Frohnapfel, and Western’s Zach Terrell, the MAC has three of the country’s top 20 passers in terms of completions, completion percentage, passing touchdowns and passing yards per game.

Frohnapfel is a single passing yard shy of being the third MAC QB in the top 20 in that category as well.

Receivers

(Photo: AP)
(Photo: AP)

Somebody’s got to catch those passes for the quarterbacks to be so successful.  The MAC is also home to some of the most statistically impressive receivers.

BG’s Roger Lewis is one of two players in the nation with over a thousand yards receiving.

Tajee Sharpe (UMass) and Daniel Braverman (W. Mich) rank one-two in the FBS in completions, and nine-ten in receiving yards.  Lewis, Sharpe and Braverman are third, sixth and seventh in receiving yards per game.  Sharpe and Braverman are two of only three players who average 10 catches a game.  Lewis comes in ninth with almost eight.

Braverman and Lewis are tied for fourth in the FBS with nine touchdown grabs.

Akron’s Jerome Lane and Toledo’s Cody Thompson are two of six players averaging north of 23 yards per catch.

Special Teams

Five of the nation’s top 20 kick returners, in terms of yards, play in the MAC.  Freshman defensive backs James Olipahnt (UMass) and Emmitt Thomas (C.Mich), NIU’s Aregeros Turner, Western Michigan’s Darius Phillips and Ball State’s Darian Green have all done an excellent job fielding kicks.

Ball State’s Morgan Hagee has made more kicks than any other freshman in the country.  His 12 made field goals tie him for sixth in the FBS.

Bowling Green’s Tyler Tate is tied for third with 39 made extra points.

Playmakers

Joel Bouagnon, Darius Jackson, Daniel Braverman and Roger Lewis are all in the top twenty in total touchdowns.

Roger Lewis and Darian Green are responsible for at least 1000 all-purpose yards.  They’re two of only fifteen who can say that so far this season.

Cooper Rush is twelfth in the nation in total yards.

Matt Johnson leads all FBS players in total yards and yards per game. He needs two measly yards to get to 3000.

Basically, by not watching MAC football you’re missing out.  Not to worry though, in just a couple weeks we’ll start dedicating Tuesday nights to watching all the aforementioned teams and players go head-to-head.

#MACtion starts Tuesday, November 3 with Northern Illinois at Toledo.  Then two weeks later Toledo heads to Bowling Green for a probable conference championship preview.

You’ve officially been warned, again.