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January 4, 2008
Around the Rim
News and Notes

by John Perrotto

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Tim O'Shea certainly doesn't mince any words when asked about the disparity of difficulty of the Mid-American Conference's two divisions.

O'Shea happens to coach Ohio, which plays in the MAC East.

"It's a joke that we've even given a bye to the winner of the West in the conference tournament the last three or four years," O'Shea said. "The East is clearly the tougher division and it really isn't even close.

"The East is like living in a town that consists entirely of rich people while the West is like a town that consists of all poor people. From a coaching standpoint, I certain wish I lived in the town with the poor people. It would make my life a whole lot easier."

With MAC play starting Saturday, the East clearly stacks up as the conference beast.

The five MAC teams with .500 or better non-conference records all play in the East: Akron (10-3), Kent State (10-3), Ohio (9-4), Buffalo (6-6) and Miami of Ohio (6-6). The other East team, Bowling Green, is just one game below breakeven at 5-7.

Meanwhile, all six teams in the West have losing marks: Western Michigan (6-7), Central Michigan (5-7), Eastern Michigan (4-8), Northern Illinois (3-9), Toledo (3-9) and Ball State (1-11).

The Pomeroy Ratings, through Wednesday's play, also illustrate how strong the MAC East should be in the next two months as the top four conference teams are from that division: Kent State (61st), Miami (72nd), Akron (98th) and Ohio (107th). Western Michigan is the top West team at No. 148.

Kent State was considered the favorite coming into the season. Senior forward Michael Scott has been leading the Golden Flashes with 14.5 points and 6.7 rebounds a game. Junior guard Al Fisher is averaging 11.3 points and 4.7 assists, while senior forward Hamin Quintance has averages of 10.3 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.2 steals.

Fisher is 43rd in the nation in assist rate (34.4) and Quintance is 31st in percentage of steals (5.1).

The senior trio of forward Jeremiah Wood and guards Nick Dials and Cedrick Middleton paces Akron. Woods is averaging 14.6 points and 9.2 rebounds while standing 28th in the nation in defensive rebounding percentage (25.8) and 40th in offensive rebounding percentage (15.1). Dials is averaging 13.4 points and 4.2 assists a game and Middleton has a 10.9 scoring average.

Ohio might be the most dangerous of the top four teams in the MAC East as four Bobcats are scoring in double digits: senior forward Leon Williams (16.9), junior forward Jerome Tillman (14.4), senior guard Bubba Walther (11.6) and junior forward Justin Orr (10.1). Williams is averaging 10.1 rebounds a game, Tillman is pulling down an average of 7.5 rebounds and Walther is averaging 3.4 assists.

Williams also leads the country in offensive rebounding percentage (22.0) and is 19th in free throw rate (90.2). Orr ranks 35th in effective field goal percentage (65.6).

"I like the way our team is shaping up because we have a lot of different options on the offensive end and we're coming off a game that we actually won on the defensive end, something that hasn't happened much this year," O'Shea said Wednesday night after a 53-47 win at Bucknell. "We also have quality wins. We've played a tough schedule and beaten some good teams."

Ohio has two wins over teams from power conferences as it won at Maryland and beat St. John's at the Rainbow Classic in Honolulu.

Speaking of good wins, Miami has more than any team in the conference as the Redhawks have downed Xavier, Mississippi State and Illinois while losing by only one point to Dayton, three points to Louisville and four points to Southern California.

Junior forward Michael Bramos is averaging a team-high 16.3 points a game for Miami and is sixth in the nation with a 7.2 turnover rate. Junior guard Tim Pollitz has done it all, ranking ninth in the counry in percentage of minutes played at 92.0 while averaging 13.8 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.2 assists.

Vengeance

Florida Gulf Coast not got only mad at Pennsylvania, it got even with the Quakers in a record-setting way last Saturday night during a 60-30 home victory.

Florida Gulf Coast felt Penn tried to run up the score last year during a 97-74 loss at the Palestra in Philadelphia. So, the Eagles responded by stifling the Quakers this time around as they set NCAA records for fewest points (six) and field goals (one) allowed in the first half since the shot clock was instituted in 1986.

Penn needed to score the game's final 10 points just to get to 30.

"Guys were joking, 'Let's press them at the end,'" Florida Gulf Coast coach Dave Balza told the Fort Myers News-Press. "We remembered last year, we sold that throughout the week and it paid dividends. I thought we were really dialed in."

Florida Gulf Coast forward Casey Wohlleb admitted he was one of the Eagles calling for the late-game press.

"I remember distinctly when they were beating us and they got a steal and they were high-stepping and putting one arm out and trying to run a lob," Wohlleb said. "I would've liked to run the score up and pressed some, but I guess we gotta be classy."

Gary Johnson Arrives

The debut of Texas freshman forward Gary Johnson was nothing to get excited about, at least in terms of the box score. He had just five points and five rebounds in 21 minutes of a 67-59 win over Texas Christian on Wednesday night.

However, it was an emotional time for Johnson after he was forced to sit out the first 13 games because of a heart problem that neither he nor the school will discuss in detail.

"I feel like it's a gift just to be able to play again," Johnson told the Austin American-Statesman. "I was told once that there was a possibility that I probably would never be able to play again. It was kind of hard to take. I cried."

Johnson wore a heart monitor during the game, something he has also done during practice. He will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. He is the under the care of Dr. James Willerson, president-elect of the Texas Heart Institute in Houston.

"We know he had the best medical care in the world," Longhorns coach Rick Barnes said. "He wouldn't have been allowed to do this if they didn't think he was OK."

Team to Watch

This Week's Team to Watch is Oklahoma, which has won three in a row to raise its record to 10-3 since a 66-62 home loss to Stephen F. Austin on Dec. 8. The Sooners have beaten Arkansas, Gonzaga and West Virginia to move up to No. 17 in the Pomeroy Ratings, though they are unranked in The Associated Press poll.

Oklahoma has relied on its inside duo of 6'10" freshman forward Blake Griffin and 6'11" senior center Longar Longar. Griffin is averaging 13.8 points and 8.9 rebounds a game while Longar's averages are 13.4 and 6.3.

The Sooners are 21st in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency at 116.4. They are also 20th in three-point field goal percentage allowed at a paltry 29.6.

Oklahoma hosts Rice on Saturday and Mount St. Mary's on Monday before opening Big 12 play Jan. 12 with a home game against dangerous Kansas State.

Games of the Week

The top five games of the week from Jan. 4-10 according to the Pomeroy Ratings (through Wednesday; all times Eastern):

No. 3 Marquette at No. 4 West Virginia, Sunday, Jan. 6, 2 p.m., Mid-Atlantic Sports Network
No. 6 North Carolina at No. 15 Clemson, Sunday, Jan. 6, 7:30 p.m., Fox Sports Net
No. 4 West Virginia at No. 29 Louisville, Thursday, Jan. 10, 7 p.m., ESPN
No. 34 Illinois at No. 5 Wisconsin, Thursday, Jan. 10, 9 p.m., ESPN
No. 30 Minnesota at No. 13 Michigan State, Saturday, Jan. 5, 8 p.m., Big Ten Network

John Perrotto is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact John by clicking here or click here to see John's other articles.

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