Team preview: Toledo

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(Information in this team report is as of October 1.)

Coach Stan Joplin had to be frustrated with the way last season turned out.

Toledo returned five starters, including the preseason conference player of the year, and appeared destined for great things. Instead, the Rockets lost in the MAC quarterfinals and finished 16-13. No NCAA. No NIT. Toledo was one of six teams to finish conference play 11-7 and that did result in a share of the MAC West Division title, but the "Year of the Rockets" never materialized.

The season was littered with close losses, including seven by five points or less. In mid-January, crushing road losses at Buffalo and Bowling Green came after the Rockets blew second-half leads of 15 or more points. Then back-to-back wins at Savage Hall over Kent State and Western Michigan were followed by a 76-64 home loss to Miami (Ohio). Only by virtue of two overtime wins at the end of the season were the Rockets able to salvage a share of the division title. UT finished 5-12 away from Savage Hall.

"I think our problem with losing leads had a lot to do with not having the right attitude," Joplin said. "We didn't always play a full 40 minutes, and I think that was related to not having the leadership needed to be successful."

The most damaging statistic in Toledo's season was rebound margin. UT ranked last in the MAC (-3.8) and yielded 12.4 offensive boards per game to MAC opponents. In a MAC Tournament loss to Buffalo, the Rockets were minus-eight rebounding and had three more turnovers. That's 11 possessions resulting in a 13-point loss.

"When your point guard leads your team in rebounding that speaks volumes," Joplin said. "We had guys who didn't want to put bodies on people, and we needed someone to take the bull by the horns and be a rebounder."

Two positives were bench play and Toledo's ability to turn opponents over. The Rockets' reserves outscored opponents by more than 10 points per game. That should pay dividends this season. UT also led the MAC in steals (9.8 per game) and turnover margin (+3.03).

The reality is Toledo may have a better season in 2005-06 without the pressure of sky-high expectations. Seven of the team's top eight scorers return. Gone is enigmatic leading scorer Keith Triplett (15.1 ppg, 3.9 rpg), a second-team All-MAC guard who endured a senior slump and never could meet Joplin's leadership standard. Triplett's numbers could be offset by rising juniors and a talented group of newcomers.