Strong Turnarounds! (Blog Post: 1/2/2012)
by SportsTime Ohio's/ESPN Cleveland's Michael Reghi
There's no question the balance of power in MAC basketball over the past decade has leaned heavily toward the East Division. Since 2001, East dominance shows nine tournament champions, with Kent State leading the way with four titles, Akron and Ohio with two each, with Charlie Coles and his Miami Redhawks winning in 2007 on Doug Penno's long distance 3 point missile at the buzzer to stun Keith Dambrot and the Zips, to claim the East Divisions 9th tournament championship. Only Central Michigan in 2002 and Western Michigan in 2003 have been able to derail the East stranglehold on the tournament title.
While the quartet of Kent State, Akron, Ohio, and the Buffalo Bulls, East powers all, maintain their program excellence, the MAC West is starting to make some noise! Tonight's televised matchup on Sportstime Ohio, as Ball State visits Toledo at 7pm., accents the point.
Keep an eye on the head coaches of both programs, Billy Taylor at Ball State, and Tod Kowalczyk of Toledo. They have given their programs a shot of adrenaline, changing the cultures with excellent court philosophy, and accountability for all in the programs. Much needed, for two programs who once upon a time, were MAC heavyweights!
Taylor and his Cardinals , 9-4 overall, and with a MAC home win over Western Michigan last Saturday, are tough minded on the defensive end.
The 57.8 points per game they allow are the best in the MAC, with perimeter ball pressure the key, and 6-9 presence Jarrod Jones, who averages 18.0 points, 8.4 rebounds, and shoots 56% from the floor, pacing the Cards resurgence. I really like how the 2 time MAC first team choice has assumed leadership responsibility for his squad, as is continued elevated play denotes. Taylor demands it, and the Cards, who have gone from 6 wins in his first season in Muncie, '07-'08, to 19 victories last year. On the upswing are Taylor and his Cardinals.
For Kowalczyk, the task was even more daunting. His was hired prior to the '10-'11 season, looking at a stale roster, that won just 4 times in '09-'10. He rolled up his sleeves and went right to work. Infusing the talent base with young transfers, two from his his last head coaching stop at Wisconsin-Green Bay. The Rockets look has changed dramatically!
They've taken an enormous step, averaging a MAC best 75 points per game, compared with just 57 in Kowalczyk'ss first season. Rian Pearson, a smooth guard, averages 16 points per game, along with 8 rebounds per, and has quickly become one of the MAC's most effective offensive weapons.
Which 'team strength' goes center stage tonight in Savage Arena?
Toledo's explosive offensive game, or Ball State's ability to defend, and take care of the basketball in the half court? Intriguing to be sure, and as you're watching with my partner Steve Mix and me, let me know if you see the beginnings of better times ahead, with championships a realistic potential for programs in the MAC West.
See you tonight at 7pm, from the Glass City, on Sportstime Ohio!