Welcome to the debut of the Speakeasy Sports “5 on 5”, where five Speakeasy writers will typically answer five questions. In the debut, the five writers will tackle four questions. Our panel includes Speakeasy Sports editor Danny Medlock, our three basketball reporters Alex Hider, Marlowe Alter and Bez Saciri and MAC Blogger Chris Manning. They will be discussing Ohio’s Ivo Baltic, D.J. Cooper and Zeke Marshall’s as NBA prospects and much more.
1. For Ohio, can they win the MAC without improved performance from Ivo Baltic?
Danny Medlock: When your point guard is arguably the best passer in the country, you want the players he is on the court with to convert their open shot attempts. If the shots aren’t falling, Cooper starts playing hero ball and while he occasionally has Jimmer-range, the Bobcats are a much better team when he is distributing. If Baltic continues to struggle Ohio can still win the MAC, but it won’t be an easy task.
Alex Hider: Baltic’s game has improved since conference play has started. His best play came in a two game stretch against Toledo and Miami where he scored 26 points and grabbed 17 rebounds. In the once conference loss to Akron, Baltic collected only two rebounds and failed to score. It’s safe to say the Ohio’s success relies heavily on Baltic’s ability to score and collect rebounds.
Marlowe Alter: If by improved, you specifically mean his scoring, they won last season without him contributing much offensively. Baltic failed to score more than 10 points in any of the final 18 games last season, averaging 5.7 points during the stretch. As for this year, they can definitely win without his scoring, but they do need him to continue to clean the glass, run in transition and knockdown the occasional jumper, which he has done quite effectively this season.
Bez Saciri: No. Ohio is one of the main favorites to be crowned champions of the Mid-American Conference. But in order to win the MAC for the third time in four years, they need to get production from all of their important players, and the Kansas City native is one of their big-time players. Coming off the bench against Ball State and Bowling Green, his performances have improved. It will be interesting to see if Christian continues to keep T.J. Hall in the starting lineup instead of Baltic.
Chris Manning: I may be in the minority of this, but I think Baltic is a guy Ohio is going to need down the stretch. Against Akron, he failed to get on the scoreboard, putting all the offensive pressure on D.J. Cooper and company. He does run the floor well, and they are going to beat most of the teams in MAC without him; however, they’ll need him against Belmont and in the Akron rematch.
2. Better pro prospect: Ohio’s D.J. Cooper or Akron’s Zeke Marshall?
DM: Both of these players would be top prospects 35 years ago, Marshall as a back-to-the-basket 7-footer who’s greatest contributions are as a shot blocker, Cooper as the “pure point guard” who is always a step ahead of the defense. In the modern NBA where teams are valuing speed like never before I just don’t see either of these guys being athletic enough to have big careers. I’ll take Marshall as the guy more likely to land on an NBA roster, because heck, Ryan Hollins is in the NBA.
AH: It has to be Zeke Marshall. Coop may have the more impressive resume, but Marshall has the physical attributes. Also, Cooper’s tendency to throw up three pointers at a furious rate would work only fly under certain coaching styles. Coop has been defying odds his entire career, maybe I’m wrong though, he could have one more surprise left in him.
MA: Marshall is the better prospect because of his size, shot blocking ability and unparalleled quickness for a big man. Cooper has some major flaws, notably his small stature and inconsistent jumper but his field goal percentage is nine points higher this season, and his vision is off the charts. Too many people have written off Cooper’s NBA prospects, but he should get a chance to play in the NBA Summer League and make a name for himself. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him make a roster at some point in his career as a backup.
BS: D.J. Cooper. The Chicago native can do it all. He can shoot, pass, play defense and lead by example. Zeke Marshall does have the height, but sometimes he shies away from the spotlight and other times he lacks confidence. With the way Cooper shoots from deep, some say he might be overconfident.
CM: +1 to Danny for that Ryan Hollins reference. But in all seriousness, Marshall because big men are more coveted than undersized point guards. I expect for both to get a shot in the association, but expect Marshall to actually be on a roster come October. If teams are willing to pay for Greg Oden’s services, someone will give Marshall chance. He is quick and can block shots, which is a combination of talents that any NBA team would be happy to have.
3. What odds would you give the possibility of more than one MAC school earning an NCAA Tournament bid?
DM: If Akron wins out and then loses to Ohio by one in seven OT’s they still will not make the NCAA Tournament. Under this scenario, Akron would only have five losses, the last five loss team to not make the NCAA tournament. The 2010-2011 Coastal Carolina Chanticleers (it’s a Rooster) went 28-5 and were awarded the lowest seed possible in the NIT, an eight seed. Coincidentally, Akron lost their opener this season to the Chanticleers. The writing is on the wall, win in Cleveland. The odds are zero.
AH: About zero percent. The only team with a realistic shot of earning an at-large bid is Akron, who would have to run the table in the MAC in order to get one. The Zips still have tough games at Ohio, and at home against Kent State. Akron also lacks a sexy victory to entice the selection committee outside of their home victory against the Bobcats. I would be shocked if more than one MAC squad found themselves in the big dance.
MA: Let’s just say there’s a better chance that I secure a date with Kate Upton. Akron is the only team the committee would even consider for an at-large bid, but the Zips’ chances are hanging by a thread. The MAC is dreadful this season with Kent State having a down year, meaning Akron would have to go at least 15-1 in the MAC regular season, and make it to the Championship game to even give themselves a shot. They’d be 26-6 with their best non-conference wins over Middle Tennessee and North Dakota State (ESPN’s BracketBuster game on Feb. 22) at home. I don’t think that’s enough.
BS: Zero chance. The loser of the MAC Tournament final will head to the NIT. Other smaller conferences like the Atlantic-10 and Missouri Valley will get more than one team in the Big Dance. The MAC schools do not have the quality wins or strength of schedule like those aforementioned conferences.
CM: How many different languages can you say zero in? The MAC is the MAC – meaning it will not get a second bid based on reputation alone. However, if Akron runs the table and then loses a close game in the MAC Tournament, there is a case for the Zips. They are three spots away from a Top-50 RPI, have gotten some Top 25 votes consistently and (assuming they win) will have some big wins on their resume. I don’t think it will happen, but it if any team can do it, it would have to be Akron.
4. As of today, who would you pick to win the MAC Tournament and earn a guaranteed NCAA bid?
DM: I love team basketball and Ohio embodies that. The Bobcats lead the country in assists per game at 18.7, and while they can not compete with the size of Akron, they can wear down Alex Abreu and the Akron guards with their pressure defense. D.J. Cooper and Walter Offutt are gamers and I expect them to get it done in Cleveland.
AH: If MAC Football proved anything, it’s that I am not one to predict the future. But there is something about this Ohio squad. If they can get hot at the right time, they cannot be stopped. This group has done it before, and while John Groce isn’t prowling the sidelines, Jim Christian has won in Cleveland before. I expect him to do it again.
MA: With junior guard David Brown back from a knee injury, Western Michigan is well rounded and has the depth to compete with Akron and Ohio. Toledo would be a threat if they were eligible and Kent State has shown some flashes (no pun intended), but ultimately I’m going to go out on a limb and say Ohio and Akron meet for the third time in four seasons. With Ohio struggling to find consistent play outside of Cooper and Reggie Keely, I’m taking the Zips.
BS: For now, I’ll go with Akron. They can shoot, rebound and more importantly, they have motivation. Losing by one point to Ohio in the MAC title game last season must still be eating at them on the inside. Right now, they are in scintillating form. They may lose in Athens, but other than that, they should earn the No. 1 seed in the MAC Tournament again. If guard Alex Abreu and Marshall continue to play well, that only adds to their cause.
CM: Consider this statistic, in the last five years, no number one seed in the MAC Tournament has won the tournament. That being said, Akron has to be the favorite. The aforementioned Marshall is a player no team in the league can match up with, and they are also arguably the deepest team in the league. Even if Akron loses their Bracket Buster game and a game in Athens, they are still in my eyes, the team to beat on paper.