Share this article

print logo

Openers muddy the outlook in the MAC

Opening weekend in the Mid-American Conference is over and the waters appear murkier than ever. Bowling Green went to Alumni Arena and knocked off the University at Buffalo in double overtime. Miami (Ohio) upended defending-champion Ohio in Athens in triple OT. Only Akron held serve among East Division teams, beating visiting Kent State.

Some people think the MAC is down this season. Really? It'll be a one-bid league again, but whomever emerges from Cleveland in March will be a tough out at The Dance.

Seeding could be vital once the MAC Tourney unfolds, with the two division winners and the two remaining teams with the best records avoiding the first-round campus play-ins.

UB has ground to make up following the Bowling Green defeat, but there's not a single take-it-for-granted game in the East. The Bulls play at Miami on Thursday, then come home to host Akron on Sunday. And there's a good chance that East teams will beat each other up to the point that the West runner-up gets a first-round bye even though it can't come close to matching the depth in the East.

Here's how the other conferences involving Big 4 teams are shaping up:

*Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference: Preseason favorite Fairfield (12-3, 5-0) has run off 11 straight victories but has yet to play Iona or Rider (both 4-1). Canisius and Niagara are both 1-4, one game ahead of Manhattan (0-5). Canisius faces the Jaspers in Riverdale on Saturday, then meets Siena in Albany on Monday in a quick rematch of the Griffs' 62-61 win Friday night at the Koessler Athletic Center. Niagara goes to Saint Peter's (3-2) Saturday and hits Manhattan on Monday.

*Atlantic 10: A top-four finish and bye looks like a reach, but could the Bonnies earn their second straight Atlantic 10 Tournament first-round home game? Saturday's win over Charlotte was a big step in that direction. The Bonnies are at conference favorite No. 19 Temple (11-3, 2-0) on Wednesday and play at Rhode Island (9-6, 0-1) on Saturday as part of a difficult three-game stretch that concludes with Xavier at the Reilly Center next week.

The schedule down the stretch appears to set up favorably, with only two of the final eight games against teams with a good shot of finishing top six (Richmond and Rhode Island). At least eight conference wins is a possibility, and that could be enough to get the Bonnies home for the A-10 tournament opener.

*Workload: How long can a point guard hold up under the stress and strain of a heavy workload? It looks like St. Bonaventure and the University at Buffalo are going to test the limits. Bona's Ogo Adegboye has played 394 of a possible 400 minutes over the last nine games (which includes eight OTs). Mulkey's gone at least 40 minutes in four of the Bulls' last seven, playing 50 in Saturday's double-OT loss to Bowling Green. He shot 4 of 16 that game and appeared to drag down the stretch.

"I feel fine," Mulkey said afterward. "My conditioning is fine. I feel fine."

Can he maintain such a pace, especially with UB having entered the physically demanding conference season?

"Some can," coach Reggie Witherspoon said. "I'm not saying that's what we plan on doing with Byron. But tonight, I think most players want that and I think Byron wants it. It's possible he got fatigued and wasn't himself tonight, absolutely. Not doubt about it. That could be."

*Stat Watch: Mulkey has regained the national lead in steals from Montana's Will Cherry. Mulkey's at 3.38 per game and Cherry's down to 3.19 after producing just one in Montana's last two games UB freshman Javon McCrea is shooting better than 70 percent on the season now (70.8). Northern Arizona's Shane Johannsen remains first at 73.3. Neither has attempted a three. Iona's Mike Glover ranks fifth at 66.5 percent Bona center Andrew Nicholson is 10th in scoring (22.4) UB shooting guard Zach Filzen went into Saturday ranked second in the nation in three-pointers made per game at 3.6 (Baylor's LaceDarius Dunn leads at 4.2). Filzen had four treys against Bowling Green on Saturday but the NCAA had yet to issue an update on the category. Canisius senior Tomas Vazquez-Simmons is up 25th in blocks (2.47). Canisius is 301st in the nation at 11.9 free throws made per game and 291st in attempts at 253. Getting to the line isn't a prerequisite for success (11-3 Temple is tied with the Griffs in free throws made per game) but it tends to help.

*The Week Nationwide: Former Canisius coach John Beilein takes another swing at a ranked team when Michigan hosts No. 2 Ohio State Wednesday. The Wolverines lost to No. 3 Kansas in OT Sunday. Meanwhile, Wednesday's a typical night in the Big East with two matchups of nationally ranked teams: No. 5 Pitt at No. 22 Georgetown and No. 18 Louisville at No. 7 Villanova. No. 8 Purdue goes to Minnesota on Thursday Virginia goes to No. 1 Duke on Saturday. Cavs freshman Will Regan (Nichols) is averaging 8 minutes and 1.5 points. Also Saturday, No. 25 Cincinnati visits No. 4 Syracuse. How about this Big East lineup next Monday: No. 4 Syracuse at No. 5 Pitt and No. 7 Villanova at No. 10 UConn.