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Published: Wednesday, 11/28/2012

Sanctions behind UT’s slow start

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST
With limited preseason workouts, coach Tod Kowalczyk had to juggle time spent conditioning vs. weight lifting vs. on-court instruction. With limited preseason workouts, coach Tod Kowalczyk had to juggle time spent conditioning vs. weight lifting vs. on-court instruction.
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The University of Toledo men’s basketball team is 1-4 and much of that can be blamed on circumstances. There was a blowout loss at Minnesota, which has a superior team, but the other three defeats might illustrate that the Rockets were simply ill-prepared to start their season.

UT had 27 practices before opening the 2011-12 campaign which saw the team capture 19 victories, a 15-win improvement from the year before.

But as part of heavy-handed NCAA penalties for academic progress (APR) shortcomings the Rockets had just 12 practices this time around before their Nov. 9 opener at Loyola of Chicago.

Toledo had no legs and no chance in the second half of that game, was plagued by poor shooting and turnovers during an overtime period at Northern Iowa, and saw a 10-point halftime lead slip away at Florida Gulf Coast.

With limited preseason workouts, coach Tod Kowalczyk had to juggle time spent conditioning vs. weight lifting vs. on-court instruction.

Understandably, he felt the latter was most important. But conditioning, or a lack thereof, may have been a determining factor in some of the losses.

The NCAA penalties also stripped UT of one practice session per week during the entire season, and Kowalczyk feels the Rockets are just now catching up.

“Yeah, I think we’re close,” he said. “I’m disappointed we’re 1-4, but I’m not alarmed by it by any means. Looking at the big picture, we’re a lot further along under our circumstances than maybe some people thought we’d be.”

The Rockets will play their home opener today at Savage Arena. A cynic might say it’s also their home finale, at least for a long while. The next home appearance, not including an oddly-timed exhibition, is on Dec. 29. The road-heavy slate is another byproduct of the NCAA penalties, which eliminated three home dates.

“It’s our only home game the entire first semester,” Kowalczyk said of today’s meeting with Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. “So our guys are excited. But there is no automatic magic in that building. We have to make some. We have to play with a sense of urgency.

“We have to deal with adversity better, we have to play with more maturity in close games, we have to avoid foul trouble, we have to improve shot selection and cut down on turnovers. Those last two things have led to issues with our transition defense. We just have to get better, period.”

The Rockets have played five games in four states and have spent a total of 10 nights in hotels, with some tedious bus trips and three flights.

If nothing else, the players have gotten to know each other and develop some relationships.

“All that time together is good for team chemistry if you’re playing well and winning,” Kowalczyk said. “I’m not sure otherwise.”

Today’s game is crucial to getting the “playing well” and “winning” parts started because UT’s next two games are on the road against good Cleveland State and Detroit teams.

And it surely won’t get any easier when the Mid-American Conference schedule rolls around. The Rockets were preseason picks to win the MAC West title, but haven’t looked the part so far. Of course, as Kowalczyk points out, no MAC team has had to deal with the issues his players have faced already or will face later with a postseason ban.

UT players and coaches wear wrist bands that say, “Finish/R.S.C.” The former refers to finishing every possession and every game. The latter stands for the MAC’s regular-season championship.

“Look, we’re going to be fine,” Kowalczyk said. “We’re not as good as we want to be at this point. And we’re not as good as we’re going to be.”

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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