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Published: Wednesday, 10/31/2012 - Updated: 1 year ago

Pre-season men's basketball poll chooses Ohio to claim MAC tourney title

BY JOHN WAGNER
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

University of Toledo men’s basketball coach Tod Kowalczyk had two reactions to the release of the Mid-American Conference’s pre-season men’s basketball poll Tuesday.

“My first was that polls mean absolutely nothing,” Kowalczyk said. “The second was, boy, we’ve come a long way in two years.

“Two years ago, nobody picked us anywhere but sixth.”

This year the 24 media members picked the Rockets to finish first in the West Division, giving them 20 of 24 first-place votes and 143 total points. Eastern Michigan was second, receiving the other four first-place votes and 118 points, followed by Western Michigan (88 points), Ball State (74), Northern Illinois (46), and Central Michigan (35).

While Eastern Michigan is the defending West Division champs, Eagles coach Rob Murphy said he wasn’t surprised UT was the top choice.

“Toledo has everybody back and deserves to be No. 1,” Murphy said. “I don’t put a lot of stock in polls — we were picked last on our side last year, so we’re proof that you have to play the games.

“I expected to be picked second or third, but polls are for the fans. They are about getting fans excited and getting some notoriety for your school and program.”

Bowling Green State University was picked to finish fifth in the East Division with 53 points, 15 fewer than fourth-place Buffalo but 22 more than Miami in sixth. Ohio received 19 first-place votes and 141 points total, while Akron garnered five firsts and 122 points to place second, and Kent State took third with 89 points.

Ohio was the top pick to win the league’s basketball tournament by 18 of the 24 voters, while Akron received the other six votes.

With nine upperclassmen returning from a team that reached the NCAA’s Sweet 16 last season, new Ohio coach Jim Christian admitted he wasn’t surprised by being the choice to win the division and the tournament.

“You can’t run away from [the prediction], but you can’t look past it, either,” Christian said. “It helps that I have an understanding of the league, and I know there is going to be high times and challenging times.

“The ability of a team to respond to those times, and to get better as the season moves on, will determine how successful they will be.”

Falcons coach Louis Orr said he and his team aren’t concerned by the pre-season predictions.

“Our expectations are always for the best,” he said. “We’re not going to put any limitations on what we can accomplish.”

Toledo had a pair of players named to the pre-season All-MAC team from the West Division in Rian Pearson and Julius Brown, while BG’s A’uston Calhoun was selected to the East Division squad.

The rest of the West Division squad was Jesse Berry of Ball State, Abdel Nader of Northern Illinois, and Nate Hutcheson of Western Michigan, while those joining Calhoun on the pre-season team from the East Division were Zeke Marshall of Akron, Javon McCrea of Buffalo, and two players from Ohio, D.J. Cooper and Walter Offutt.

Toledo opens its season at 8 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 9 at Loyola Chicago.

BG opens the same day, with a 7 p.m. home game against Lake Erie.

Contact John Wagner at: jwagner@theblade.com, 419-724-6481 or on Twitter @jwagnerblade.



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