It's no secret that women's basketball coaches Tricia Cullop and Curt Miller have brought a little more friendliness to the rivalry between the University of Toledo and Bowling Green State University.
The pair have a long friendship dating back several years, and Miller was quick to laud the quick turnaround that the Rockets made under Cullop last season in her first year at the school.
Now, these two affable adversaries stand atop their respective divisions in the Mid-American Conference preseason rankings released yesterday.
The Falcons are favored to win the East, along with being picked to win the MAC tournament for the second year in a row, while the Rockets are the team to beat in the West, according to a vote of the league's head coaches and 24 members of the conference's media contingent.
BGSU received 22 of 36 first-place votes in the East, and 16 voters predicted the Falcons would win the MAC tournament. UT received 18 first-place votes in the West.
"It's always been a great rivalry, not only for the fans but also for the conference," Miller said.
"It bodes well for the entire MAC when Toledo and BG are successful, because the fan support in northwest Ohio for women's basketball is fantastic."
The Falcons and Rockets also have two representatives each on the preseason All-MAC team.
BGSU's Lauren Prochaska, last season's conference player of the year, and Tracy Pontius were honored, along with UT's Tanika Mays and Naama Shafir.
The Falcons claimed their fifth straight MAC regular season title last year under Miller after finishing with a 29-5 overall record and a
15-1 conference mark.
"We have a nice balance between 10 returning juniors and seniors and an energetic bunch of new freshmen," Miller said. "Obviously we're flattered by the prediction, but really, preseason polls don't mean much."
Kent State is expected to be BG's main challenger, as the Golden Flashes received 12 first-place votes in the East.
Rounding out the rest of the division rankings were Miami (two first-place votes), Akron, Ohio and Buffalo.
The Rockets have nine letter winners back from last year's squad, which posted an 18-13 overall record and an 11-5 conference mark. UT's returnees accounted for 97.4 percent of the team's scoring last year, 95.6 percent of its rebounding, 97.0 percent of its assists and 98.4 percent of its blocked shots.
"We see it as a compliment for what we did last season and for the talent that we return," Cullop said of UT's preseason ranking.
"But I'm going to remind our players [today] that our focus is going to be the same as last year and that the preseason polls do not define us. We define ourselves every day by how hard we work and by the games that we win."
Defending MAC tournament champion Ball State received 14 first-place votes in the West Division rankings, followed by Northern Illinois (four votes), Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan and Western Michigan.
"There are several teams that could win our division," Cullop said. "And even though it's a compliment to be put in this position in the preseason poll, the reality is that we're going to have to fight awfully hard in order to finish there."
In the MAC men's basketball preseason rankings, BGSU was fifth in the East and UT was last in the West.
The two schools did not have any players on the preseason All-MAC team.
Akron was picked to win the East Division and repeat as MAC tournament champion. The Zips were followed by Kent State, Buffalo,
Miami, BG and Ohio.
Central Michigan is favored to win the West, followed by Northern Illinois, Eastern Michigan, Ball State, Western Michigan and UT.
Last season the Falcons finished 19-14 and won the MAC regular-season title with an 11-5 record. UT was 7-25 and finished last at
5-11 in the West.
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