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WMU coach defends UT’s tournament case

03/20/2014, 12:40am EDT
By DAVID BRIGGS BLADE SPORTS WRITER

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Count Steve Hawkins among those who thought the University of Toledo basketball team got snubbed.

For as elated as the Western Michigan coach is to be at the NCAA tournament, he wishes his Broncos had company from the Mid-American Conference. At the very least, Hawkins said he was stunned Toledo — with an RPI of 38 — got a No. 6 seed in the second-tier NIT.

WMU split the season series with UT, then thumped the Rockets 98-77 in last weekend’s MAC tournament title game. UT, which lacks a top-50 RPI win, traveled to Southern Mississippi on Wednesday for an NIT opener between the two highest-rated teams left out of the NCAA field.

"Normally speaking, I wouldn't talk about something like that because [the selection committees] do a terrific job," Hawkins said before 14th-seeded WMU’s tourney opener today against No. 3-seed Syracuse. "The one thing I was a little bit surprised about was the MAC's RPI this year has been higher than in past years. I've understood a lower seed in some other years. This year, with the conference RPI being 12, I thought that Toledo deserved more credit than what they were receiving all year long."

"Their RPI was very high all year long. They played a good nonconference schedule. I never really understood that. Then to get the seed they got in the NIT, I was discouraged."

SECRET’S OUT: Ohio State let slip its secrets for today’s tourney opener against Dayton.

On the white board at the front of the Buckeyes’ locker room Wednesday, the student managers had scrawled out a tongue-in-cheek "Gameplan." The keys to win included less time for stars LaQuinton Ross and Aaron Craft and more for the walk-ons.

■ "Don’t play Craft or Q."

■ "Shoot only 3s."

■ "Play 1-3-1 zone."

■ "Special Play: Floor Slap."

■ "Secret Weapon: Play the Walk-Ons."

EXPENSIVE THROWS: At a loss over Ohio State’s free throw shooting?

So are the Buckeyes.

Just as the stakes grow largest, Ohio State is rounding out of form at the foul line. OSU is shooting 68.9 percent from the foul line this season and just 62.1 percent (74 of 119) over the past five games. Asked about the struggles, coach Thad Matta smiled and quietly let loose an expletive.

"We shoot enough of them in practice," Craft said. "We try to shoot them when we’re tired. We’re capable of making them. I don’t know what it is."

The good news for OSU: A bunch of teams feel their pain. While the Buckeyes’ free-throw marksmanship ranks 209th nationally, the Flyers are 238th (68.1 percent).

FREE THROWS: Speaking about his former boss, Dayton coach Archie Miller said, "When you work for Thad [Matta], you know how it is. He'll walk around with a smile on his face, but he's going to try and stomp your head in the first chance you get." Matta’s reply: "I appreciate the compliment." Miller was an OSU assistant under Matta in 2007-08. ... Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim likes his sliding team’s chances in the tournament. The Orange have lost five of seven games since beginning the season 25-0. "I don't really pay too much attention to that," he said. "Last year we lost five out of our last six games and went into the tournament and [went to the Final Four]."

Contact David Briggs at: dbriggs@theblade.com, 419-724-6084 or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.

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