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January 8, 2014
Game preview and staff predictions: Toledo
This will be the 136th meeting between the Western Michigan Broncos (7-5) and the Toledo Rockets (12-1), with Toledo holding a 78-57 advantage in the all-time series against WMU.
The Broncos are 42-25 against the Rockets in games played in Kalamazoo. WMU is 12-8 against Toledo under head coach Steve Hawkins, including wins in four of last five games.
Taylor Perry has started each of the last four games and is averaging 9.3 rebounds per game in that span. Hayden Hoerdemann scored a season-high 12 points against Siena Heights, his best scoring output since notching 18 points in a game during the 2011-12 season.
Shayne Whittington has five double-doubles this season, tied for the best total in the Mid-American Conference. Whittington's 17 double-doubles since the start of last season are more than anyone else in the MAC.
David Brown ranks first in the MAC with an average of 18.9 points per game. Brown has scored 10 or more points in 17 straight games dating back to last year. Jared Klein leads the Mid-American Conference in three-point field goal percentage (.591).
The Broncos rank 29th in the nation in three-point field goal defense; opponents are shooting just 28.9 percent from beyond the arc.
Tonight will be a classic matchup of a great offense (Toledo) playing against what has traditionally been a tough defensive-minded group in Western Michigan. If the Broncos have any shot in this game, they will need to play their best defensive effort of the season, and really turn this into a physical, grind-it-out type of game.
David Brown and Shayne Whittington will get their points, there's almost no question. But even with a great defensive effort, the Broncos will need at least a couple more players to step up offensively in order to keep up with the Rockets high-powered scoring attack.
In my 10 years of following the Western Michigan men's basketball program, I cannot remember a more significant conference opener than the one Bronco fans will bear witness to Wednesday night. The Toledo Rockets have historically struggled in Kalamazoo, and the Broncos will look to retain MAC West elite status against a Toledo team that looks close to unstoppable.
I picked the Toledo Rockets to not only win the MAC West, but to win the entire regular season and postseason MAC titles in my preseason predictions. Even then, this team is more loaded and dangerous than I ever expected. I don't see Toledo losing more than about 3 games in the MAC this year, and I don't see one of them coming tonight. Toledo will come in hungry to erase the demons and get a win against the defending MAC West champions.
Score Prediction: Toledo 78, WMU 65
Toledo (12-1) is probably the MAC's most talented team, featuring five players averaging double figures led by Rian Pearson (16.1), and shooting lights-out from the floor up and down the roster. There really just is not a weakness among the main five, so it's going to be hard to find any matchup problems to exploit.
Now, the Rockets' sparkling non-conference record is inflated a bit by a less-than-ambitious overall schedule, but this is still a team that has won on the road, and in their latest outing was competitive in losing 93-83 at Kansas. Don't expect the road venue to faze the Rockets.
It's a key MAC West battle early in the year, given that the media pegged these two teams in the top two slots in the division. This is a golden opportunity for WMU to get in the early driver's seat, with a home game against the prohibitive favorite. Don't expect either team to run away, but in the end the Rockets just have too much firepower.
Score Prediction: Toledo 84, Western Michigan 76
This is going to be a huge game for the Broncos. It's tough to open conference play against a team as good as Toledo, but we will get to see what WMU has to offer to the MAC this season. Shayne Whittington is sure to have a big game at home in University Arena. His ability to energize the home crowd could be essential if WMU wants to have a chance at a victory.
Toledo has amazing depth in the scoring category. That being said, the Broncos will need to play extremely well defensively, shutting down multiple people. Rian Pearson will lead the Rockets attack and be the main guy they look for if the game gets close. I don't know if the Broncos will have an answer for him defensively, without leaving someone else open on the perimeter.
Ultimately, I see Toledo being too deep for the Broncos. I do think there is a possibility of some David Brown magic tonight, but in the end, I see WMU falling just short.
Score Prediction: Toledo 81, Western Michigan 77
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