All season long, University of Toledo coach Stan Joplin has been preparing his players for some irate Mid-American Conference West Division teams.
The Rockets went undefeated against the division last year and their opponents are looking for revenge. Western Michigan, the Rockets' opponent today, could be the angriest.
UT has won in Kalamazoo just once in the last five years, and that was last year in overtime. The Broncos have a .842 winning percentage under fifth-year coach Steve Hawkins and have lost just nine games in University Arena under him.
"They're going to try to pay us back from last year and take advantage," Joplin said. "Last year we forced them into a lot of turnovers with the press, and this year we can't afford to do that. They'll come after us pretty strong. We've got to keep the crowd out of the game because they can really get it going."
UT (5-10) and WMU (8-8) are two of the three teams atop the MAC West in the early going. The two teams, along with Eastern Michigan, are 2-1.
But the Rockets have still not won a road game this year, and have lost 10 in a row away from home dating to last season. For UT to take the next step as a team, senior Jerrah Young said the Rockets have to break that losing streak.
"Once we get a road win I think we'll be ready to roll," Young said. "Home games we pretty much always play well. Away games are where we have to come together.
"It's a big test for us, not only to try to stay up top in the division, but also to get our confidence going beating a team like that on the road. If we can do that we can beat anybody on the road."
Throughout its difficult nonconference schedule UT played well in several games despite losing. But in its first road conference matchup at Northern Illinois, the Rockets were barely in the game in losing by 16.
"I think it's a process that we have to go through," Joplin said. "We have to change our mind-set. The players are starting to talk positive and doing the little things, trying to help each other out."
The Broncos return all five starters from last year, led by senior Joe Reitz, a second-team All-MAC center in 2006-07. Reitz, 6-foot-7, 256 pounds, is averaging 14.4 points and 7.3 rebounds.
"He's one of the most aggressive post players that I'll play against this year," Young said. "He's going to get a lot of touches in the post. It's going to be a big challenge for me."
Joplin's goal for the Rockets today is to play consistently and keep the score within reach to set themselves up for a final push.
"The last four minutes, we've got a shot if it's close," Joplin said. "That's where we want to be, if possible."
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