Toledo s Chauncey Shelton steals the ball from Buffalo s Roderick Middleton. The Rockets have surprised some observers.
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Western Michigan basketball coach Steve Hawkins had a talk with Brian Snider, the Broncos point guard, before this season started.
“I asked him what the one question was that we faced coming into the season, and he said, Me, coach, ” Hawkins said. “I told him, Well, then there s two big questions. That was one, and the other question is one of whether Hawkins can coach. ”
Entering the conference portion of the MAC schedule, the answer seems to be “yes” on both counts. Snider ranks third in the league with 4.89 assists per game, and his smooth insertion into a Western Michigan lineup that returned four other starters is a big reason the Broncos are 8-1.
WMU also is one of four teams that have opened MAC play with two victories. Funny thing is, the four unbeaten squads weren t the ones picked in October to challenge for the MAC s division titles.
The West Division leaders are the Broncos, who were picked to finish third, and Toledo, which was slotted fifth by the MAC News Media Association. The East Division leaders are Kent State and Marshall, which were picked to finish third and fourth, respectively.
In the nonconference portion of the schedule the MAC hasn t had many “signature” wins: The biggest were Central Michigan s win at Notre Dame, Western Michigan s victory at Arizona State and the Rockets eight-point win at DePaul.
Toledo coach Stan Joplin said there s a reason MAC teams are finding it tougher to pull off an upset of a “major” program.
“A lot of [major] teams no longer look at the MAC as an automatic win,” he said. “Those teams do a better job of getting their teams prepared to play.”
Only four of the league s 13 teams have winning records in nonconference play, something that Bowling Green coach Dan Dakich said doesn t necessarily mean the MAC is “down” this year.
“It seems to me that everybody is talking about what a tough schedule Michigan State is playing - that they are playing a lot of Top 25 teams,” Dakich said. “Well, in the MAC we play a lot of people at our level or above. Some people complain when MAC schools play a non-DivisionI team, but if every team in the Big Ten or ACC or Pac-10 scheduled like we do, they d play a schedule like Michigan State.”
Among the players who have starred this season:
w Marcus Smallwood (Northern Illinois) is averaging a double-double with 14.2 points and 11.0 rebounds per game.
w Ben Reed (Western Michigan) is averaging 20.6 points per contest.
w John Edwards (Kent State), a one-time project at center who now averages 12.7 points, 7.0 boards and a MAC-best 2.6 blocks per game.
w Derrick Tarver (Akron) who leads the league with an average of 22.8 points per game.
w Keith Triplett (Toledo) averages 19.2 points per contest and ranks among the league leaders in six other categories.
BG TIME CHANGES: Bowling Green announced changes in starting times for two home men s basketball games. The Falcons will face Central Michigan at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 18, and the home game with Ball State on Saturday, Feb. 28, will tip off at 1 p.m. instead of 4 p.m. ESPN2 was scheduled to air the game with the Cardinals, but will not show the game as previously announced.