Team: Toledo Rockets
Coach: Tod Kowalczyk
Record Last year: 27-7, 14-4 MAC
Early 2014-15 record: 11-2
*All rankings/stats are among MAC teams unless otherwise noted:
After sharing a Mid-American Conference West title and returning four starters off a team that won a school record 27 games overall, the Toledo Rockets figured to be strong again in 2014-15. Toledo, in fact, was the preseason media choice to win it all. Fifteen of the 20 votes for tournament champion went to UT, while no other squad garnered more than one vote. Two Rockets got a spot on the preseason MAC West Division All-Star squad.
None of that guaranteed anything except that the Rockets might have a bulls eye on their back for other contenders, and the MAC West has plenty of those.
So, how has it been going for UT?
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-- The Rockets struggled through one stretch in which they lost four of five games (Nov. 18-Nov. 29). After the losses to VCU and Oregon, they defeated Bucknell (92-65) . That victory, however, was followed by home loss to Detroit(82-79) and road defeat at Oakland (81-79).
-- Prior to the recent loss to Duke, the Rockets had reeled off five straight wins.
-- Toledo is ranked 34th nationally in scoring and second among MAC teams. Central Michigan, another MAC West member, leads the pack with an 84.2 ppg average.
-- Defense might be the Rockets Achilles heel. They are last in the MAC, allowing 70.1 ppg. That brings them down to fifth in scoring margin at plus-6.7 ppg.
-- UT is 5th in 3-point goal percentage (38.4%), connecting on 83 of 216 (6th in attempts). The Rockets are 10th in defending the three, allowing opponents to convert 34.8 percent.
-- Toledo has capitalized at the charity stripe. The Rockets are third in free throw attempts and first in free throw percentage (200 of 263 for 76%). UT is fourth in most free throws allowed.
-- The Rockets’ 34.9 rebounds per game is eighth. They are tied with Ball State for sixth in rebounding margin (1.7).
-- Only Central Michigan (15.50) ranks higher than UT (14.25) in assists per game. The Rockets average the fourth most turnovers per game with 1.3, trailing NIU (15.9), Ball State (14.9) and Miami (14.3). Toledo is also fourth in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.07).
-- Three of coach Kowalczyk’s players are among the MAC’s top 15 scorers and a fourth in also averaging double figures. Senior guard Julius Brown leads the way at No. 2, averaging 16.2 ppg. Seniors Justin Drummond and J.D. Wetherspoon are tied for 14th with 12.8 ppg averages. Sophomore guard Jonathan Williams, who averaged 6.7 ppg last year, is up to 10.8 ppg so far this season.
-- Brown has proven to be the Rockets best 3-point shooter. He has mae 33 of 66 (50%).
-- Weatherspoon is tied for fifth among MAC rebounders (7.5 rpg).
-- In addition to his scoring capabilities, Brown nonetheless ranks fourth in assists (4.8 apg) and fifth in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.0).
-- Nathan Booth, a 6-9 junior center, is ninth in blocked shots (1.2 bpg).
After a final non-conference game on the road at Northern Kentucky, Toledo begins MAC play Tuesday when it hosts Central Michigan. The Chippewas, 9-1 through 10 games, should provide a good early test and it wouldn’t be wise to take CMU lightly. A Savage Arena loss to Central could be very costly later.