Saturday, January 10, 2015

Morning News: Stew Morrill, Akron/Toledo And The State Of The MAC, And Riley Barker

Carlton Bragg had a slightly bumpy start to his career at Kansas

Stew Morrill To Retire This announcement kind of came out of nowhere. Morrill will coach for the rest of the season, but retire when it's done. Morrill's not particularly old at 62 years old, but he's been at it for a while, so he can be forgiven for wanting a rest. He's led Utah State for 17 seasons, across three different conferences, and he's taken them to 8 NCAA Tournaments, including three straight from 2009 to 2011. It's been a struggle the last couple of seasons, and they're not off to a good start this season either, but it's possible Morrill still has one more Mountain West tourney run in him.

Akron, Toledo, And The MAC There wasn't much going on in college basketball last night, with the most important game being Akron vs Toledo. Since the media picked Akron as the preseason favorite in the MAC East and Toledo as the preseason favorite in the MAC West, I figured this would be a good opportunity to talk about the state of the MAC. There's not much else to talk about.

Now, I had agreed with the media that Toledo was the preseason favorite overall. The big news was that Akron's star Demetrius Treadwell was suspended and eventually booted from the school altogether. To Akron's credit, they haven't rolled over and died. They're still one of the better teams in the MAC, and they hung in with Toledo here. The final score was due to Toledo's ridiculous 9-for-11 three-point shooting, not due to Toledo clearly outplaying Akron.

What about Toledo? Well, they seem like the most talented team in the MAC West. Central Michigan was the mystery team, as they went 10-1 in non-conference play against one of the softest schedules in the nation. They only beat a single team likely to finish in the RPI Top 200 (Northwestern). That said, they started MAC play off by going to Toledo on Tuesday and knocking them off, so they're a legitimate contender, but it would be a mistake to overreact to a single game, particularly one decided by three points.

The MAC East has the biggest positive surprise in the conference: Buffalo. Bobby Hurley is upgrading the talent level there, and they're playing hard. They haven't beaten anybody good yet, but they hung tough with both Kentucky and Wisconsin for a half. The other early season contender in the MAC East is Bowling Green though they, like basically everybody else, haven't closed the deal against a good team.

The golden days of the MAC from 10-15 years ago feel like a million years ago. The conference was fairly brutal in non-conference play yet again, and is a near-certainty to be a one-bid league yet again. Teams like Buffalo, Bowling Green and Central Michigan have played well against cupcakes, but have yet to prove it in large sample sizes against quality opponents. So for that reason, Toledo remains my pick as the conference favorite. But within the next week or two, any of these teams could grab the mantle as the new favorite. Nobody appears to be running away with the league.

Riley Barker Done For The Season This is also presumably a career-ender for Barker, who is a senior. Barker had started a couple of games this season and was averaging 4.8 points and 5.1 rebounds per game. This senior-heavy Portland team hasn't quite lived up to expectations, but they've still been part of that tough middle-of-the-pack in the WCC. They still have pretty good odds of stealing a game off one of the "Big Three" atop the conference at some point.

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