YPSILANTI—- Well nieces and nephews Uncle Mel is feeling a whole lot better these days and like finding another Christmas gift, the 2011 Mid-American Conference season is about to be unwrapped this Saturday January 8, 2011 and around the Convocation Center and the city of Ypsilanti – there is a great deal of anticipation.
Eastern Michigan University will make the short 45 minute drive into the state of Ohio and to the snow covered shoreline of Lake Erie and the port city of Toledo with a date to play the University of Toledo at the historical arena and the home of the Rockets – Savage Arena.
Both teams are on the same pathway this season but only one team knew that they would be facing a struggle and looking to overcome two years of a total mental breakdown of a once proud basketball program.
For the last two seasons Toledo basketball has been taking a beating especially last season, the Rockets crashed and burned on reentry to the atmosphere of Savage Arena and finished with a league record of 1-15 which aided the decision made by University of Toledo Athletic Director Mike O’Brien with the dismissal of basketball coach Gene Cross and after interviewing many top candidates for the position-O’Brien hired Tod Kowalczyk.
Toledo hired Kowalczyk on March 30, 2010 after he had spent eight years on the frozen tundra of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay were he posted an 136-112 record.
Kowalczyk is preparing for his madien venture into the Mid-American Conference he is hoping that the Rockets continue to take steps in improvement and he is hoping that Rocket fans remember that even the tiniest baby steps are important to a program getting back onto its feet.
There are many reasons to appreciate college athletics, one reason is the rivalry games and for Eastern Michigan University there are the battles with Central Michigan University and Western Michigan University for the conference bragging rights in the state but there is something special about playing the Rockets.
What a better team for the University of Toledo to play and suddenly turn the corner and catch the Eagles napping on the court and for Eastern Michigan University what a mistake the Eagles would make not to take this game or the rivalry with the Rockets seriously which could give Eastern Michigan University basketball coach Charles Ramsey an upset stomach and a headache.
Eastern Michigan University is looking for a fresh start because the non-conference schedule caught the Eagles struggling in too many games, the three victories that the Eagles recorded came at the expense of non-major college opponents.
A win against NAIA affiliate and member of something called the Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference – Madonna University, a win over small-college powerhouse Rochester College and recently a 16 point win against Ferris State University an NCAA Division 2 school – the wins are okay but they are not very sexy.
Now it is show time!
Getting ready for conference play Ramsey used a lot of different players and a rotation schedule during games looking for a combination that gives the Eagles a team that can run the floor but also be able to slow the tempo down to a crawling half-court perimeter game by passing around the arch and then getting the ball down in the paint.
Ramsey also knows for the Eagles to have any success in the conference his team will have to play a stingy defense and getting to the boards for defensive rebounds and limiting the opposition to one shot and if the Eagles use the 2-2-1 zone they will be looking to create miscues and turnovers.
Against Ferris State University at Eastern Michigan University, the Eagle offense appeared because of the pressure applied by the press which gave the Eagles a chance to get into transition but the bigger and quicker opponents of the Mid-American Conference will challenge the Eagle defense.
“We think Brandon Bowdry is as good-number wise-as any player in the conference,” Ramsey said about his power forward. “He is a double-double guy.”
Like many teams in the Mid-American Conference and Toledo there key to success against the Eagles will be limiting the amount of touches that power forward Bowdry gets for his team and how many good looks at the basket that will be limited too because Bowdry is an all-MAC player and has 31 double-double as an Eagle.
“This is a very competitive conference – you never get a night off,” Ramsey said about the opponents of the Mid-American Conference. “We call it a coach-killer. You’ve got to bring your ‘A’ game every night, this is a new beast and then you need some luck.”
If the Eagles get off of the bus Saturday night at Savage Arena and be ready to play what Ramsey calls basketball smart and focused to take care of business then the short 45 minute ride back to Ypsilanti will feel like a trip around the corner.
About the Author
Written by Mel Suiter
Graduated from Eastern Michigan University in 2002 and have been working as a beat writer for The Ypsilanti Courier covering Eastern Michigan University football and men's basketball during my school career and after graduation. I like the Mid-American Conference and the rest of the mid-major conferences.