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Published: Wednesday, 2/11/2009

BG-UT: East a beast in MAC this season

BY MAUREEN FULTON
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

In principle, the members of the Mid-American Conference's East and West divisions in men's basketball are equal partners. In reality, this year they don't seem to be in the same league.

Since cross-divisional play started two weeks ago and heading into last night's action, East teams had beaten West teams in 22 of 24 contests.

West member University of Toledo is 0-4 against the East, and East member Bowling Green is 4-0 against the West. The rivals face off at 7 tonight at Savage Arena.

That the East is better than the West isn't that surprising, because no West team entered MAC play with a winning record in nonconference games. UT coach Gene Cross never would have guessed the disparity would be so large, though.

"I am really shocked," Cross said. "I look on our side, and no one has a good record. I look on their side, and everybody does. I don't know really what it is.

"I'm trying to look at it as a positive and tell our guys we're still playing for something on our side. But it is an amazing statistic to look at the records and see the records of both divisions."

Ball State and Central Michigan were the only West teams to triumph over an East opponent heading into last night. Both teams defeated Ohio at home.

UT has lost to the East teams it has played by a margin of nearly 16 points per game, while BG has defeated the West teams by an average of about six.

Falcons coach Louis Orr said he didn't "even have a comment" on the difference between the divisions, presumably because he thought it was an anomaly.

"We are all one conference," Orr said. "Tough teams, tough games."

The concept of East teams being in a higher basketball class was memorably brought up last year by former Ohio coach Tim O'Shea. O'Shea ripped the West division last season, reportedly saying, "It's a joke that we've even given a bye to the winner of the West in the conference tournament the last three or four years. The East is clearly the tougher division, and it really isn't even close."

He went on to compare the East to a town of "rich people," the West a town that "consists of all poor people," and as a coach it "would make my life a whole lot easier" if he lived "with the poor people." East teams won the cross-division swing 22-14 last year.

O'Shea is now coaching at Bryant, but his words about the West ring truer this year. In Cross' first look at East teams, he said he is observing them to figure out the "barometer for which I need to recruit to."

"The East is tough, hard-nosed, very physical," Cross said. "If we want to be the best in the league, we have to understand what the better teams in the league have personnel-wise and style-wise.

"I've been able to sit down and examine the styles of different teams in the league, and it's given me a really good idea what I want and need for this program to be successful."

The Falcons enter the game on a five-game win streak, the last four against West teams. BG hasn't been able to make up much ground in the East because nearly every other division opponent is having the same success, but the victories have still shown Orr his team is headed in the right direction.

"A win in our conference is a good win," Orr said. "We're maturing as a team. Our confidence is growing, especially late in games."

Blade sports writer Joe Vardon contributed to this report

Contact Maureen Fulton at:

mfulton@theblade.com

or 419-724-6160.



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