MACtion, for the uninitiated, is a phenomenon that grips the nation in autumn, when ESPN agrees to show college football games of the Mid-American Athletic Conference, in exchange for both teams refusing to play defense, so that the bored masses will care about MAC football for a few hours. The Toledo Rockets football team has generally been relegated to playing on Saturdays this season, but did manage to score a combined 139 points in three wins over the various directional-Michigans. They scored at least 50 points in two of those games, something that the Rockets basketball team barely did in their first game of the season.
Sadly, for all those in attendance at Williams Arena on Monday night, the MACtion ethos has not translated to MAC basketball, and especially the Rocket. MAC basketball is not entertaining. Toledo was 19-17 last season, and only 7-9 in a conference that has a too difficult time getting more than one bid to the NCAA tournament. In Toledo’s case, the mediocre basketball had nothing to do with too much focus on school work. The team is banned from the NCAA tournament this season due to the insufficient academic progress of the players. This was a lost season before it began.
Even if this season doesn’t matter, Toledo should be a bit better than they were last season. They return their two leading scorers from last season. None of them should strike fear in the hearts of the Golden Gophers. Julian Browns is an undersized and inefficient point guard who led the team with 15 points in their season opening loss. Rian Pearson led the team in scoring last season with better than 16 points per game. While he is a shooting guard, he doesn’t shoot well or often from the outside, and can be defended by staying in front of him.
The Rockets basketball team does believe in MACtion in one very important way. They don’t believe in defense. In each of the last three seasons they have given up more than a point per possession. Three seasons ago was truly special, when they ranked 325th in the country on their way to a 4-28 record. Their improvement to 225th last season is significant, though that should not be misconstrued to mean they are good defensively. Their interior defense was especially bad last season, ranking 305th in blocked shots and 321st in defensive rebounding. The Gophers will have a big size advantage, and should dominate in the paint.
Before the season began, I categorized this game as a must win, and the Gophers must win if they want to call themselves a Big Ten basketball team. Luckily, if Friday’s thrashing of American was any indication, they aren’t taking anyone lightly, and shouldn’t have any trouble Monday night.