One caller caught my attention when he said he thought the Marshall Southern Conference teams of the 1980s were better than the team Marshall has now and he also thought the Southern Conference was better than the MAC.
It really is hard to compare the strengths of teams and conferences that are some fifteen years apart; I dont know if the Southern Conference is as good now as it was then or if the MAC is better than it was then, but I can and will compare the two leagues now.
The MAC is currently ranked the 11th best conference by the RPI while the Southern is rated the 16th best conference by the RPI. The rankings seem to say the MAC is better but not as much as one might think, as both conferences are in the top half of the NCAA D1 conferences. The major difference is when you look at the strength of the different divisions within the two leagues. Here are the division rankings for each league:
MAC East West
Kent 39 Ball State 67
BG 56 WMU 147
Ohio 103 Toledo 191
Miami 123 NIU 212
Marshall 174 CMU 210
Buffalo 200 EMU 288
So. Conf. North South
Davidson100 Chas. 76
ETSU 113 UTC 114
UNCG 129 Furman 175
WCU 262 Citadel 176
VMI 260 Ga.So. 181
APSU 264 Wofford 226
Now the question is - what these figures tell us. Well, they tell me the following:
1) Marshall is playing in what is by far the toughest division of either league and that is a factor in driving down the Marshall RPI.
2) The top teams in the MAC are much tougher than the top teams in the Southern Conference; in fact, the top of the Southern is not much better if any than the middle of the MAC.
3) The bottom of the MAC is better than the bottom of the Southern.
4) If MU was in any other division they would be challenging for a second or third place division finish and therefore more wins, a higher conference seed, and a possible NIT bid now that it has expanded to 40 teams.
Do these figures ease the pain of a disappointing season for the fans, players, or coaching staff? Of course not, but they do seem to explain that Marshall is in a very tough division of a good league. Not to say that is the only reason the record is not as good as many had hoped because there are several other reasons such as: better rebounding; better shot selection; better foul shooting; more defensive intensity; better recognition of double teams, quicker passing, and of course more time together on the floor (the NCAA sanctions and the sitting out due to transfer really cut into the development of a team chemistry early in the season.)
If Marshall continues its road woes this year, the Internet and talk radio show grumblings about the basketball program will get worse. I for one would say let's look at the success the program has had the last few years and not grade everything on one year.
Also the fact that MU had a fantastic recruiting year this past fall has to be considered.
Hopefully the team will put everything together here at the end of the season and win enough games to get a home first-round tournament game, go to Cleveland win one or two games, achieve a winning season and make this whole column moot.
I got into a battle on this publication's Internet message board with a WVU zealot who called Coach Pruett one of the most arrogant people around. I couldn't believe what this goofy joker had written, of all the people in the world to call arrogant the last one would be Bob Pruett. Coach Pruett is one of the nice guys in this world who is down to earth and friendly with everyone, except maybe football officials during games.
This is the strange world WVU fans live in, but I guess if you look at their situation as the worst basketball team in the Big East, only better than lowly Rutgers in football, and now behind Marshall in both football and basketball in the State of West Virginia, it would make you see the world in a strange way.