Many nonconference wins have little meaning for the winning team. To play and win a game is a big deal, but in the grand scheme of the season, a win over some middle-of-the-pack team isn’t a huge deal.
The Toledo Rockets squared off against the Cleveland State Vikings on Tuesday, which normally is one of those games that would fall under the category of not really mattering. But this win for the Rockets was different, it really mattered for a Toledo team that hasn’t had much go their way early in the season.
The game started off real bad for Toledo, the Rockets fell in an early hole and it seemed like they wouldn’t be able to come out of it. The truly lifeless Rockets went into halftime down by 12, with almost every stat in the book in favor of Cleveland State — a team they had handled last season, beating them by 15 points in Cleveland.
Every aspect of the game, Toledo was getting completely outplayed by the Vikings. Cleveland State more than doubled its rebound total in the half, then came halftime.
Coming out of the locker room, the Rockets needed a spark. With an abysmal first half behind them, really anything was a good sign. Toledo came into the game as the most unlucky team in the country according to Kenpom, and they needed that turned around on Tuesday night. The Rockets started the second half on a 11-2 run and carried that all the way to a 70-61 win over Cleveland State. They went 7-15 from behind the arc in the second half, a 35% improvement on their first half shooting number. After trailing by 12 at halftime, they outscored the Vikings by 21 (47-26) in the second.
So, why isn’t this just another random win for the Rockets?
Toledo really kinda gets thrown straight into the fire without much preparation, and these nonconference games do a lot to prepare the team for when the games matter the most. Last season the Rockets got 13 games and two scrimmages before their first conference game, which wasn’t until Jan. 3. This year, Toledo gets four games and zero scrimmages before its first conference game.
Mindset and momentum is a huge thing in basketball, and it’s especially important in a year like this one where everything is different and can change at any moment. After their best all-around half of basketball this season, the Rockets have to take the hour drive north to Ypsilanti to face Eastern Michigan.
The Eagles have only played one game this season, losing to Michigan State on the opening day of the season. Toledo will need to use its experience and sharpness of already playing four games to use against the Eagles, a team that’s looking to improve after a .500 season last year and a 6-12 league record.
Last season Toledo dropped its conference opener to Ball State, opening a stretch of three losses in its first four conference games. The only cushion the Rockets, and every team in the MAC has, is two more conference games than last year. A 20-game conference schedule does mean more room for error, and room for error is definitely needed, as we saw in the first half of Toledo’s game Tuesday.