The Toledo Rockets were undefeated for the first 12 games of the season before coming up against the Kansas Jayhawks. Since then, they’ve dropped just two more games en route to a 9-2 record in the Mid-American Conference and a 21-3 overall record. Despite their impressive record, the relative weakness of their opposition has many questioning whether they can make it to the 2014 NCAA Tournament without winning the MAC tournament and gaining the automatic-qualifying bid.
The Rockets got a huge boost to their at-large hopes by defeating a pesky in-conference opponent, the Ohio Bobcats. Ohio is one of the better teams in the MAC and put up a good fight, but 29 points from Rian Pearson halted the Bobcats’ attempt at an upset. A double-double from the Bobcats’ Jon Smith wasn’t enough, as Toledo defeated Ohio 82-76.
The win over the Bobcats is huge for the Rockets. Ohio isn’t a top 50 RPI team, but they are ranked No. 79, and that gives Toledo three 100 RPI or better wins on the season. Higher RPI wins are essential, because teams from non-premier college basketball conferences with bad schedules rarely make it into the tournament.
At this pace, Toledo could finish this season with 30+ wins before the tournament. They might not be wins over the best opponents, but 30 wins is still extremely impressive for any team. They have to win in their remaining matchups with Eastern Michigan, who are tagged with an RPI of 77, and avoid losing to the lowest teams in the MAC, but they definitely could be a team that shakes up Selection Sunday and knocks out a big name team.
Remember, Toledo hung with Kansas for a majority of the game, but were unable to hold onto a lead. If they could slide in at a No. 14 seed or one of the play-in games, they could easily pull off one of the early upsets of the tournament. Just because their schedule hasn’t been that good, doesn’t mean this team isn’t talented. The Rockets deserve to make the Big Dance; it’s called March Madness for a reason.