In the off-season leading up to the 2015-16 season, there have been quite a few story-lines pertaining to the MAC. Buffalo has been in its fair share of them, as head coach Bobby Hurley and star guard Shannon Evans both departed for Arizona State, and now Justin Moss has been dismissed from the program.
With the losses that the Bulls have had to endure, the conference race has since become more wide open. One team that should be in the thick of it can be found in the West Division. The Toledo Rockets could find themselves right near the top at the end of the season in 2015-16.
Last season, their starting lineup was the same for all 33 games. This season, they will have to replace a handful of those players, meaning key bench players will be slotted into the starting five.
Coming off an 11 – 7 record in the MAC a season ago, the Rockets are hoping that they can build off that success and turn it into another NCAA Tournament berth. With so many changes to the starting five this season, what can one expect from the Rockets in 2015-16?
Below, we take a look at who’s gone, who’s returning, and what the starting could look like and more for the 2015-16 edition of the Toledo Rockets.
Like so many of the nation’s better mid-major programs, the Toledo Rockets will be looking for players to step up in 2015-16 after the departure of some of their key contributors from a year ago.
The Rockets say goodbye to their top three scorers from 2014-15, a list that includes two talented guards and an imposing forward. Justin Drummond, Julius Brown, and J.D. Weatherspoon have all graduated from Toledo, leaving holes in the roster that need to be filled if the Rockets want to contend in the MAC again this year.
As a senior, Brown led the team in scoring, averaging 16.3 points per contest. He also chipped in with 4.4 assists and 2.2 rebounds per game. Brown shot 46.4% from the floor, and an impressive 40.0% from three point range. His ability to create for his teammates and his knack for finding the bottom of the net from all over the floor will be missed this season.
Justin Drummond averaged 13.1 points and 4.6 rebounds per game last season as a senior. Forward J.D. Weatherspoon averaged 12.9 points and a team-high 8.4 rebounds per contest in his final campaign with Toledo. Both players were key contributors for a Toledo team that finished 2nd in the MAC – West Division last year, one game behind Central Michigan. Both leave big shoes to fill for those who are next in line.
Angel Aparicio and Aubrey Williams are both gone from last season’s team, opting to transfer to other programs. Williams committed to Kennesaw State, where he will be eligible to play immediately after graduating from Toledo, and it’s unclear as to where Aparicio will finish out his career.
Despite the losses that the Rockets will have to endure, and ultimately replace, they do return their fair share of talent in 2015-16.
Starting big man Nathan Boothe and guard Jonathan Williams both return to anchor the starting lineup for head coach Tod Kowalczyk this season.
Boothe, a senior center from Gurnee, IL, will be looked upon to once again be the anchor in the front court. Last season, he was fifth on the team in scoring, averaging 10.0 points per contest to go along with 5.7 rebounds. He finished the season with a field goal percentage of 49.8%, and showed some brief flashes of long range shooting ability (36.4% from three). If he can establish himself in the post early on in the season, and fine-tune his post-game package of moves, he could be one of the more dominant players in the MAC.
Williams, a 6’3” junior guard out of Southfield, MI, is looking to continue the success that he enjoyed as a sophomore a year ago. Williams averaged 10.2 points per contest in starting all 33 games for the Rockets. With the departure of both Brown and Drummond, look for Williams to step up and become the go-to scoring option in the back court this season.
Jordan Lauf, Stuckey Mosley, and Zach Garber, who all came off the bench a season ago and appeared in all 33 games, are back this season and will have the opportunity to prove themselves as starters. They will be tasked with the goal of stepping up and helping to make up for the loss in production and minutes that Weatherspoon, Drummond, and Brown brought to the team last season.
Projected Starting Five
Guard: Jonathan Williams (JR)
Guard: Stuckey Mosley (SO)
Guard: Jordan Lauf (JR)
Forward: Nathan Boothe (SR)
Forward: Zach Garber (JR)
The early-season schedule for the Toledo Rockets could pose a unique set of circumstances and challenges. In their third game of the season, the Rockets go on the road to take on the reigning CBI champions, the Loyola (IL) Ramblers. Then, less than a week later, the teams could meet for a second time.
On November 25th, the Rockets will take part in the Great Alaska Shootout. Depending on their result against the San Jose State Spartans, they would face off against either the Ramblers or the San Diego Toreros in the next round.
When they return from Alaska, the Rockets have four straight games against opponents from the Horizon League, starting with a home date against Cleveland State. All in all, Toledo will face six teams from the Horizon League in non-conference play, as they take on Youngstown State before they head to Alaska, and Northern Kentucky in their last game before MAC play begins.
The Rockets have the opportunity to make a statement with a strong showing in the Great Alaska Shootout, and against some top-tier opponents in their action against Horizon League foes.
With all the turmoil surrounding the Buffalo Bulls, who were widely considered the top team in the MAC for 2015-16, the conference race is seemingly up for the taking. In the West Division, the Toledo Rockets and the Central Michigan Chippewas look like the top dogs once again this season.
For Toledo to be successful, the three candidates that replace the departed starters in the starting five will need to contribute from the outset of the season. Familiarity won’t be an issue, as our projected five all played in every game a season ago. If they can all get on the same page, the Rockets could be a trendy pick to be punching their ticket to the NCAA Tournament following the MAC Tournament.