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Published: Friday, 1/7/2011

Coaches not content entering MAC play

As men's basketball teams around the Mid-American Conference prepare for the start of league play, there is one consistent thread among all 12 teams: They have been inconsistent.

The conference begins league play Saturday, with Toledo hosting Eastern Michigan at Savage Arena and Bowling Green traveling to Buffalo to face the Bulls. Both games tip off at 7 p.m.

Actually, there's a second common element among MAC schools: regardless of the record, no coach is completely satisfied with his team's performance to date.

The Rockets begin league play with a 3-11 record, but Toledo coach Tod Kowalczyk has seen some positive signs.

"I think we have gotten better as the season has progressed," he said. "We've struggled in a lot of ways, and that's to be expected. But we're trying to build a foundation for future success."

The good news for UT is that all six teams in the MAC's West Division have 0-0 marks in conference play, and none of the other five squads have looked dominant to this point.

"We're optimistic we can compete in the West Division," Kowalczyk said. "Now we have to go out and do it."

Ball State was the preseason favorite to win the West, and the Cardinals have the division's best nonconference record with a 7-4 mark.

"In years past we've gone into seasons predicted to finish at the bottom of the West, and we've won at least a share of the title," BSU coach Billy Taylor said. "I tell our guys the predictions don't mean anything -- we have to go out and just play the games."

Central Michigan was close behind the Cardinals in the preseason vote of the league's coaches and media, but the Chippewas have struggled to a 3-10 record entering MAC play.

"It's been extremely disappointing," CMU coach Ernie Zeigler admitted. "We've lost 10, and in eight of those losses we've either been in the lead or been in a position late in the game to take a shot that would [win the game].

"We're a team still in search of ourselves as we start conference play. But there's an opportunity out there if we can go out and seize it."

In the East Division, Bowling Green is tied with Miami at 5-9 outside the league, but Falcons coach Louis Orr has seen his team win four of its last five games.

"The race doesn't always go to the swift -- it goes to those who show endurance," Orr said Thursday. "At this point in the season, it's all about taking things one game at a time, one possession at a time."

RedHawks coach Charlie Coles, who previously coached at Central Catholic, is one of the few coaches who said he isn't ready for conference play to begin.

"I'm not excited about the start of the MAC season -- I wish it would start four weeks from now," said Coles, whose team has played one of the roughest schedules in Division I basketball. "But we've reached the moment of truth. We can't hide behind, '[The other teams] are supposed to beat us.' We have to play."

Defending tournament champ Ohio was the preseason favorite to win the East but has a 7-7 nonconference record. Three East teams are above that .500 mark: Kent State is 9-5, Buffalo is 7-4, and Akron is 8-5.

"It seems to me a lot of [MAC] teams are going through problems with inconsistency," Zips coach Keith Dambrot said. "They are inconsistent with shooting the ball, they are inconsistent with effort at times, and they are inconsistent with the soundness of their defense.

"We can look good at times, and we can look horrible 30 seconds later. A lot of that inconsistency can be because of a lack of focus or toughness."

Coles said he expects several teams to step forward in league play.

"I think there are some diamonds in the rough in this league," he said. "I'll give you one: I think Ball State is going to be very good.

"I think Akron is going to be very good, and I think Kent State is going to be good too."

Contact John Wagner at: jwagner@theblade.com or 419-724-6481.



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