Editor's Note: Coach Keno Davis participated in a media teleconference Monday to preview the Mid-American Conference season with members of the league's media.
MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. – Coming into Mid-American Conference play, the 2012-13 Chippewas have proven that their youth will not hinder their ability to win. Finishing their non-conference schedule 7-6, Central Michigan has gotten off to its best start since 2002-03, when the Chippewas won the MAC Tournament and advanced to the round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament, finishing the season 25-7 and 14-4 in the MAC.
The Chippewas open conference play at home Wednesday, Jan. 9, against Bowling Green. The Falcons enter the contest 5-8. Senior forward A'uston Calhoun leads Bowling Green with 16.2 points per game, which is third in the MAC. The Falcons are on a four-game skid, dating back to Dec 18, with a 64-53 loss to Michigan State.
"I know with our young team, it's an advantage for us even more than other teams to be able to play in front of our home crowd that has really been able to come out and support this team this year," said head coach Keno Davis.
Central Michigan's RPI ranking is second among all MAC schools, 110 (warrennolan.com). Western Michigan leads the MAC in the RPI polls, sitting 56th in the NCAA. Ohio has an RPI ranking of 181, currently behind seven other MAC schools.
With three road games against Big Ten teams, the Chippewas have played the second most difficult schedule of any MAC school according to warrennolan.com. Central Michigan's strength of schedule ranking of 75 in the NCAA is only beat out by Miami (Ohio), 39, in the MAC.
"The way we've been able to do it despite a couple key injuries to our frontcourt is in being a tough team to guard with a lot of three-point shooters on the court and playing an up-tempo brand of basketball," Davis said. And yet, we've been able to attack the basket off the dribble. We know the MAC will be very tough this year as everyone has a tough schedule, but we look forward to the challenge."
Central Michigan has traveled over 14,000 miles for road games in the first 13 games of the season. While away, the Chippewas picked up wins against Wright State, at Pepperdine, and against Arkansas-Pine Bluff. Although dropping three games to Big Ten teams, Central Michigan played tough against Iowa and Nebraska, and was just the second team to outrebound No. 2 Michigan this season, 38-29.
Senior guard Kyle Randall has emerged as a leader for the Chippewas, averaging 15.5 points per game (fifth in the MAC) and shooting 90 percent from the free-throw line (22nd in the NCAA).
"He has exceeded my expectations," said Davis. "Not only has he been able to put up 16 points per game and lead the conference in free-throw percentage, but he is also a guy that as we have more and more success with this program, we will look back at the leadership that Kyle Randall brought."
The youth of Central Michigan has matured quickly, and is ready to compete. Freshman forward John Simons leads the Chippewas with 5.2 rebounds per game, to go along with 9.2 points per game. Freshmen have led the team in rebounding 10 of the past 13 games, and account for 55 percent of the team's scoring.
"I think we have gotten off to a solid start. Not too many people knew what to think about this team with only three or four guys returning from last year's squad, but to be able to sit here with a 7-6 record as we get into conference play makes us proud," remarked Davis.
The Rest of the League
Looking into the conference schedule, Akron has set the pace for the MAC through the non-conference schedule with a record of 9-4. The Zips picked up marquee victories against Penn State and Princeton. Western Michigan leads the West Division at 8-4, knocking off South Florida and Oakland University.
In the West Division, Central Michigan sits second in the standings after non-conference play, a half-game behind the Broncos. Eastern Michigan, currently third, enters MAC play 7-7 with a win over Purdue, 47-44. The Eagles open conference play against Ball State (6-6). Junior guard Jesse Berry leads the Cardinals with 14.3 points per game, currently seventh in the MAC in scoring.
Northern Illinois trails in the West Division with a record of 2-10. The Huskies are averaging 56.9 points per game, and shooting 38 percent from floor.
According to ESPN's college basketball analyst Joe Lunardi, Ohio is the favorite to win the MAC Tournament. Ohio finished non-conference play with a win over Marshall, 94-57. Ohio (9-5) is second in the MAC in scoring offense, averaging 74.5 points per game. Senior guard D.J. Cooper leads the Bobcats with 14.1 points per game. Cooper leads the MAC and is third in the NCAA with 8.5 assists per game.
Despite a team record of 4-7 and a fifth-place ranking in the West division of the MAC, Rian Pearson of Toledo has jumped out to a great start on the season, averaging 19.2 points per game (first in the MAC, 33rd in the NCAA). The junior guard averaged 16.4 points per game for the Rockets as a sophomore, and is adding 6.4 rebounds per game this season.