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Savage long overdue for crucial game

Idle thoughts from an idle mind, knowing the answer to your question is March 4, 2007:

● When was the last time the University of Toledo’s men played a home basketball game with the importance of today’s with Western Michigan at Savage Arena?

It was a Sunday afternoon game to close the 2006-07 regular season, and 6,209 fans watched the Rockets beat Central Michigan 77-57 to clinch their first outright Mid-American Conference title in 27 years.

Toledo finished 14-2 in league play, one win better than Akron, which beat Kent State the same day to close at 13-3.

“I just feel real happy for the players and the fans because it has been a long time coming,” then-UT coach Stan Joplin said after the game.

It has been a long while since, too.

Little could Joplin, or anyone, have envisioned the Rockets going a combined 28-100 overall and 14-49 in MAC play during the next four seasons. Even last year’s 19-win Toledo team was never in the league race after starting 0-3.

But Tod Kowalczyk’s squad did catch fire at the end, winning five of its last six regular-season MAC games and opening league tournament play with a pair of victories.

UT has followed a similar script this time, having won seven of its last eight, and the Rockets and WMU enter today’s game tied atop the MAC West standings at 8-4. The Broncos won the first meeting rather decisively in Kalamazoo, 79-56, but have dropped two straight road tests.

This game won’t solely decide the division title. Each team will have three more games, but each should be favored in those remaining starts, which makes today’s game awfully big. UT, of course, is banned from postseason play by NCAA sanctions, so the MAC West title is all the team can target.

It’s just nice to have an important late-season game being played at Savage. After all, it has been a long time coming.

● Bowling Green’s men, like UT, will play three of their last four regular-season games at home, where the Falcons are 9-3 this season. It may be a crucial stretch for BG coach Louis Orr, who needs a contract extension to avoid being a lame duck (or worse) next season.

Since the start of the 2007-08 season, the Falcons are 89-98 overall and 46-46 in MAC play under Orr.

As that record might reflect, there has been ho-hum interest. Only one MAC home game this season has drawn more than 2,200 fans, and school officials were hoping for far better upon opening the new 4,280-seat Stroh Center a season ago.

If attendance is indeed a factor in deciding Orr’s future, it should be helped by games against Miami at 7 p.m. today and Ohio at noon Saturday.

● And speaking of Ohio, the Bobcats (11-1, 20-7) host Akron (12-0, 22-4) today in the MAC’s game of the year, to date. They’ll have a five-figure crowd at the Convo as Ohio tries to avenge its only league loss, an 86-72 decision at Akron earlier this month. The Zips put an 18-game winning streak on the line.

● Speaking of win streaks, the Toledo women are at 12 and counting entering a game Thursday at Western Michigan. It’s something of a trap game for UT (24-2), coming off an emotional win at Central Michigan. The Broncos are 9-17, but have upsets of Akron and Bowling Green at home this season. The Rockets best be wary.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: or 419-724-6398.

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