• Toledo (4-7) visits perennial MAC power Kent State (9-5) in its conference opener on Wednesday, Jan. 9. Tip-off time from the M.A.C. Center is set for 7:00 p.m. The Rockets will be facing a MAC East Division foe in their league opener for the first time since a 72-66 win at Ohio on Nov. 30, 2003.
• UT has played the fewest home contests (three) of any MAC school. The Rockets will now open league play with three of their first four games on the road with trips to Kent State, Western Michigan and Ohio.
• Toledo features the MAC's top scorer with junior G Rian Pearson leading the league at 19.2 ppg. Sophomore G Julius Brown also appears in the Top 10 and is in ninth place with his 13.5 scoring mark.
• Pearson has been named the MAC West Division Player of the Week twice this season and surpassed the 1,000-point mark for his collegiate career against Chicago St. last week. He scored 205 (6.4 ppg) as a freshman at Green Bay in 2009-10, 589 (16.4 ppg) last year and has 211 this season.
• Toledo has picked up right where it left off as one of the MAC's top free-throw shooting squads. UT tops the conference at 76.6 percent (and ranks 12th in the nation as of Jan. 6) after leading the league last year with a 72.6 mark.
• Five of Toledo's seven losses have been by six points or less – 84-81 (OT) at Northern Iowa, 78-73 at Cleveland State, 58-53 loss vs. Chicago State, 79-73 at Detroit and 72-66 at Florida Gulf Coast.
• Kent State, which has posted 20-win seasons in 13 of the last 14 years, is on a four-game winning streak after dropping three straight from Dec. 1-9. The Golden Flashes rank third in the MAC in scoring (71.4 ppg) and fourth in FG% (43.4) and 3PTFG% (35.2).
• Senior G Chris Evans ranks in the MAC's Top 10 with 16.5 ppg (2nd), 7.6 rpg (3rd), 1.9 spg (4th) and a 49.7 FG% (9th).
TOD THE BUILDER
Head Coach Tod Kowalczyk posted a seven-win improvement from Year 1 (10-20) to Year 2 (17-11) at Green Bay. He doubled that feat and more at Toledo last year as UT registered 15 more wins than his first season at the Rocket helm.
When looking at his career record minus his first season at the helm at both Green Bay and Toledo, Coach Kowalczyk's record is 149-116 (.562) overall and 76-58 (.567) in conference play.
TALKING CONFERENCE OPENERS
Toledo has lost its last four Mid-American Conference openers (@NIU-'09, CMU-'10, EMU-'11, @CMU-'12) with its last win coming in a 58-54 home victory over Ball State on Jan. 6, 2008...The Rockets are 6-1 all-time vs. Kent State in MAC openers but haven't opened a league season against the Golden Flashes since a 61-53 win on Dec. 19, 1998...UT has an all-time mark of 33-28 in MAC openers, but holds a 14-19 ledger in road lidlifters...Head Coach Tod Kowalczyk posted a 5-3 mark in Horizon League openers at Green Bay.
AMONG NATION'S BEST AT Taking Advantage of Charity
Toledo has picked up right where it left off as one of the MAC's top free-throw shooting squads. UT tops the conference and ranks 12th nationally (as of Jan. 6) at 76.4 percent after leading the league last year with a 72.6 mark. Davidson tops the nation with an amazing 80.6 FT% with Ohio (72.5-2nd), Central Michigan (72.2-3rd), Bowling Green (70.6-4th) and Kent State (70.3-5th) ranking behind UT in the MAC.
The Rockets have topped the 80 percent mark in a game on five occasions, including a school-record 20-of-20 vs. Chicago State (Dec. 31).
Head Coach Tod Kowalczyk is no stranger to strong free-throw shooting squads. His 2008-09 Phoenix squad finished the season ranked second nationally in free-throw shooting percentage at 78.7 percent.
TAKING AN INDIVIDUAL LOOK AT UT'S FREE-THROW SHOOTING
Senior G Dominique Buckley leads the way with an 88.2 FT% and is followed by junior F Matt Smith (86.2), junior F Reese Holliday (84.4), junior G Rian Pearson (74.4) and sophomore G Julius Brown (73.9).
Pearson sank a career-best 16 free throws against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi which are tied for third most in a game in school history.
Pearson ENJOYING ANOTHER STELLAR SEASON IN MIDNIGHT BLUE AND GOLD UNIFORM
After making his presence felt immediately in his first season in the MAC last season, junior G Rian Pearson has followed that up with even more spectacular play. Pearson finished third in the voting for MAC Player of the Year a year ago and also earned first-team NABC All-District 14 and second-team All-MAC accolades. He is leading the MAC with 19.2 ppg to go along with a team-high 6.4 rpg and 2.0 spg and scored a career-high 30 points in UT's win over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (Nov. 28). Pearson also registered his first double-double of the season (11th of his career) with 24 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and three steals vs. UIC (Dec. 29).
Pearson tied for the MAC scoring lead last year with 16.4 ppg and ranked third with 8.3 rpg (1st with 2.9 offensive rpg). Pearson was a strong defender as well, leading the team with 1.6 spg (T-6th in MAC) and and tying for third in the MAC with 1.9 spg in league games only. He tied a school record with seven steals to go along with 19 points and seven rebounds in a career-high 38 minutes vs. Ball State (Jan. 10).
Pearson tallied a season-best 29 points, 12 rebounds and four steals at Akron (Feb. 1) and registered an impressive 18-point, career-high 17-rebound effort against Ohio (Feb. 8). He notched 12 20-point outings, ranked second in the MAC with 10 double-doubles with three of those coming in his last six contests.
MORE RIAN RUMBLINGS
Rian Pearson was the only player to rank in the MAC's Top 10 in points (16.4 ppg/T-1st), rebounds (8.3 rpg/3rd) and steals (1.6 spg/T-6th) last year and is doing so again this season...Pearson is joined by Kent State's Chris Evans (16.5 ppg/2nd, 7.6 rpg/3rd, 1.9 spg/4th)...Pearson ranked fifth nationally in rebounding among guards last year...Pearson led the Rockets in rebounding a team-high 28 times (including 16 straight games from Jan. 18-Mar. 7), scoring on a team-best 17 occasions and steals 12 times.
Running the Show
After capturing MAC Freshman of the Year honors last year, Julius Brown ranks second on the team this year and is ninth in the MAC with 13.5 ppg. He is also leading the Rockets with 4.2 apg (6th in MAC) and scored a season-high 25 points in UT's 82-69 win over Samford (Nov. 21).
Brown took over the reins of Toledo's high-powered offense right from the start last year and has started every game of his collegiate career. He has dished out seven or more assists on 16 occasions in his career (career-high 11 vs. McNeese State to go along with 15 pts.) and set a school record for most points scored (427) by a freshman in school history.
Brown was named the MAC West Division Player of the Week twice (Feb. 20, Feb. 27) and also was named the MAC's Freshman of the Month for February. He ranked sixth nationally among freshman in assists and ranked in the MAC's Top 16 in assists (4th/4.9 apg), assist/turnover ratio (6th/1.6) and points (16th/11.9 ppg).
The Markham, IL native tied his season high with 29 points and tied a school record for a MAC game as well with a 90.9 FG% (10-of-11) in UT's 72-67 win over Central Michigan (Feb. 22). Brown's previous season best occurred when he tallied a season-high 29 points with a season-best seven treys at Florida Gulf Coast (Dec. 22).
SMITH AN INSIDE-OUTSIDE THREAT FOR ROCKETS
Junior F Matt Smith, who is averaging 9.1 ppg and 3.5 rpg with a team-best 44.8 3PTFG% (4th in MAC), scored a season-high 20 points at Cleveland State (Dec. 1) and followed that up with 15 points at Detroit (Dec. 5) and 10 at Eastern Illinois (Dec. 8) After missing his first seven three-point field-goal attempts this season, Smith has connected on 13 of his last 22 (59.1%) long-distance shots including nine of his last 14 attempts from behind the arc. He also grabbed a career-high 10 rebounds and scored nine points vs. UIC (Dec. 29) to just miss recording his first career double-double.
Smith ranked sixth in the MAC last year with a team-high 54.0 FG%. The Whitewright, TX native raised his level of play against the MAC's East Division, averaging 10.0 ppg and 5.1 rpg with an 86.4 FT% (19-of-22) in UT's eight contests. Smith scored his MAC season-best 18 points and grabbed six boards against Ohio (Feb. 8).
Smith tied for 10th in the MAC with a team-high 28 blocks (0.8 bpg) and shot a team-high 45.5% (20-of-44) from three-point range.
HOLLIDAY PROVIDES SPARK OFF BENCH FOR ROCKETS
Junior F Reese Holliday has given the Rockets consistent play off the bench and is third on the team with 9.2 ppg and 4.8 rpg while playing 25.4 mpg this season. Holliday has tallied a season-high 16 points on two occasions — at Cleveland State (Dec. 1) and vs. UIC (Dec. 29) — and possesses a career-high 39.0 3PTFTG% (16-of-41) and 84.4 FT% (27-of-32).
Last year, Holliday ranked second on the team and 13th in the MAC with 5.8 rpg while also receiving the assignment of guarding the opposition's top scorer. He also tied for eighth in the MAC with 4.1 defensive rpg and grabbed a career-high 14 rebounds vs. Youngstown State (Dec. 17). Holliday provided a significant impact for the Rockets in the MAC Tournament, averaging 9.3 ppg and 8.0 rpg with a 57.1 3FG% (4-of-7) in three contests.
In 2010-11, Holliday topped the league's freshmen and sophomores and ranked eighth overall in the MAC in his rookie campaign with 6.6 rpg. He also led the league with 2.83 offensive rpg. He also was the first Rocket to record double-digit rebound totals in three straight contests in over 10 years (Greg Stempin-Jan. 29-Feb. 5, 2000).
FROM WAY DOWNTOWN
Senior G Dominique Buckley has picked up right where he left off last year as one of the MAC's top long-distance shooters. Buckley, who will be playing in his 100th collegiate game on Wednesday vs. Kent State, leads the team with an 88.2 FT% and ranks third with a 37.5 3PTFG% (18-of-48) and sixth with 7.7 ppg. In UT's 84-81 (OT) loss at Northern Iowa on Nov. 14, Buckley scored a season-high 19 points and tied his career high with five treys (in seven attempts).
In 2011-12, Buckley topped the MAC with an 89.5 free-throw percentage and also knocked down a team-high 1.7 treys per game (T-12th in MAC) and ranked second with a 41.9 3PTFG% (6th in MAC). He also was second on the team with 2.9 apg (15th in MAC), a 1.5 assist/turnover ratio and fourth with 9.7 ppg.
A Romulus, MI native, Buckley played in 27 games in 2009-10 for Iowa State before transferring to Toledo. He averaged 1.4 ppg and 0.9 apg for the Cyclones with a 40.9 3PTFG% (9-of-22) in 7.4 mpg. Buckley enjoyed a standout prep career at Romulus H.S. where he was ranked as the nation's 124th-best player according to ESPN 150 rankings.
BOOTHE BRINGING IT IN THE POST
Freshman C Nathan Boothe has made an immediate impact in the pivot for the Rockets in his freshman campaign. He ranks eighth in the MAC with a team-high 1.4 bpg and is also averaging 8.2 ppg and 5.5 rpg.
The Gurnee, IL native has started all 11 games for UT and scored a season-high 15 points on 7-of-10 shooting at Cleveland State (Dec. 1). Boothe, who also tallied 13 points and seven boards at Minnesota (Nov. 12), has picked up his defensive play in the post as of late with a season-high four rejections vs. UIC (Dec. 29) to give him 13 rejections in his last five contests.
TOLEDO REGAINING HOMECOURT ADVANTAGE
Toledo has won eight of its last 10 home games dating back to last season. The Rockets posted an 11-8 ledger in Savage Arena last year for its first winning home record since the 2007-08 campaign when it registered a 9-3 mark. After experiencing just one losing home campaign (7-9 in 1991-92) in the previous 51 years, the Rockets notched 6-7, 4-11 and 4-12 win-loss marks for a combined 14-30 (.318) ledger over the previous three years (2008-11) in Savage Arena.
Head Coach Tod Kowalczyk posted a 76-28 record (.731) at the Resch Center during his eight-year Green Bay tenure. In his last three seasons, the Phoenix were even better at home by posting a 35-9 (.795) win-loss mark.
Prior to the last three seasons, UT had posted a 55-8 (.873) home record for a five-year period from 2003-08 and was 107-23 (.823) on its homecourt from 1998-2008.
ROCKETS DISPLAYED IMPRESSIVE IMPROVEMENT IN 2011-12
Toledo produced one of the top turnarounds in college basketball last season with its 15-win improvement from a 4-28 win-loss mark in 2010-11. Head Coach Tod Kowalczyk and his coaching staff inherited a program that had endured three straight losing seasons (11-19 in 2007-08, 7-25 in 2008-09 and 4-28 in 2009-10) after capturing the 2006-07 MAC regular-season title.
Kowalczyk also achieved significant improvement from Year 1 to Year 2 at UW-Green Bay, going from 10-20 his first season to 17-11 his second year.
Biggest win improvement from 2010-11 to 2011-12:
1. USC-Upstate (5-25 to 21-12).................................................................... 16
2. Toledo (4-28 to 19-17)....................................................................... 15
Indiana (12-20 to 27-8)........................................................................... 15
Manhattan (6-25 to 21-12)....................................................................... 15
Nevada (13-19 to 28-6)........................................................................... 15
RECAPPING ROCKETS' POSTSEASON HISTORY
Toledo made its first appearance in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament last year for its first postseason berth since playing in the 2007 National Invitation Tournament. The Rockets have made appearances in four NCAA and six NIT Tournaments during its 97-year history. The Rockets' four NCAA berths came in 1954, 1967, 1979 and 1980, while UT's seven NIT berths came in 1942, 1943, 1981, 1999, 2001, 2004 and 2007.
Zach Garber, Jordan Lauf and Jonathan Williams to Join Men's Hoops Program in 2013-14
Toledo Head Coach Tod Kowalczyk announced in the early signing period the addition of three student-athletes — 6-9, 225-pound F/C Zach Garber (Carey, OH), 6-5, 190-pound G Jordan Lauf (Napoleon, OH) and 6-3, 180-pound G Jonathan Williams (Southfield, MI) to the Rockets' program for the 2013-14 campaign.
Garber averaged 19.7 ppg and 12.4 rpg en route to earning second-team Division IV all-state honors as a junior at Vanlue High School. He shot 62 percent from the field, 76 percent from the free-throw line and blocked 57 shots in helping the Wildcats tie for third place (7-2) in the Blanchard Valley Conference and finish 17-4 overall.
A second-team Division II all-state selection, Lauf led Napoleon to the Northern Lakes League title as a junior with a 13-1 league mark and an 18-4 overall ledger. He averaged a league-best 21.9 ppg, ranked second with 9.8 rpg and also dished out 2.8 apg. A standout wide receiver, Lauf has caught 28 passes for 674 yards this fall for an impressive 24.1 ypc and scored 14 touchdowns for a Wildcat squad (11-1-1) that advanced to the Division III regional finals.
A first-team Class A all-state honoree as a junior at Southfield-Lathrup High School, Williams displayed his explosiveness on the offensive end with 28.4 ppg in addition to averaging 6.0 rpg and 5.0 apg.
ON THE HORIZON
Toledo hosts Central Michigan in its MAC home opener on Saturday, Jan. 12 at 7:00 p.m. UT will then play its next two conference games on the road with matchups at Western Michigan (Jan. 16) and Ohio (Jan. 19) before hosting Akron (Jan. 23) and arch-rival Bowling Green (Jan. 23).