We all need to talk about the Toledo Rockets more. Here’s why.

*note: thanks to the Toledo Rockets team website for having a fantastic gallery of photos to pick from for this piece*

 Some teams become “America’s sweethearts” per se, a team outside the power six every season. in 2020-21, you primarily hear about teams like Loyola Chicago, Drake, WKU, and Saint Louis. In this piece, I’ll be talking about a team that deserves to be mentioned in the same breath.

The Toledo Rockets haven’t made an NCAA Tournament in 41 years, 1980 being the most recent appearance. Coach Tod Kowalczyk helped put this team back on the map. Toledo’s had some successful seasons recently, most notably in 2018-19, with Jaelan Sanford, Luke Knapke, Willie Jackson, and Marreon Jackson.

In 2020-21 the Rockets were 15-4 with only one conference loss in OT against Akron. The only loss that wasn’t close was against Michigan. If you add up the points Toledo lost in the games against Bradley, Xavier, and Akron, it equals SIX. SIX TOTAL POINTS. 

TEAM STATS TO KNOW:

  • NET RANKING (54)The Rockets are the 11th highest-ranked team among those outside of power six conferences. 
  • KenPom (58). The eighth highest ranked non-power six teams. 
  • 10th in offensive efficiency in the country, only trailing Gonzaga, Iowa, Baylor, Villanova, OSU, LSU, Illinois, Michigan, Creighton

For a team like Toledo to be in the same range as those other teams show how talented this team is. Toledo averages 80.6 PPG this season. 

Players to know:

Marreon Jackson

2020-21 stats: 16.9 PPG (leads team) 4.3 RPG (4th on the team) 5.6 APG (leads team), 2.1 SPG (leads team)

Marreon Jackson is the leader of this dangerous Toledo team. Marreon is a fantastic scorer, passer, and defender. One of the most eye-popping stats Jackson posts is being 60-64 from the line, along with 55-160 from three. In March, two main things win teams games, guard-play and leadership. With Jackson, you get both of those things. That’s part of what makes the Rockets dangerous.

Ryan Rollins

2020-21 stats: 14.7 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 2.8 APG

Rollins came-into this season as the 454th ranked prospect in the 2020 class but quickly emerged during his freshman campaign. In Rollins’s third career-game facing Xavier, Rollins had 17 points, putting his name out there to Toledo fans. The MAC freshman of the year is shooting 45% from-the-field with 36% from three. Having a freshman averaging nearly 15 PPG, which is 2nd on the team, is incredible. Not only is Rollins notable on this team, but Rollins will terrorizing the MAC for YEARS to come.

Spencer Littleson

2020-21 stats: 13.2 PPG

The 6’4 sharpshooter started his career playing for Duquense before transferring to Toledo at the conclusion of the 2017 season. Littleson epitomizes what this Toledo team is, an offensive first team with a fantastic shooting ability. A crazy stat with Littleson is at the time of writing this; he has a 50-47-90 line, the illustrious 50-40-90 line is hard to get, but Littleson currently is posting those numbers. 

Setric Millner Jr

2020-21 stats: 12.8 PPG, 6.5 RPG

Millner was a D1 bounce-back (A player that started at a D1 school, then headed to a JUCO). In this case, Millner started his career playing for Cleveland State before spending a season at Northwest Florida State College. The #JUCOProduct leads the Rockets in rebounding and is a stretch-four that shoots from three at a high-clip. Milner adds a lot of value with being a forward with shooting ability. These days, it’s almost a necessity to have forwards that can stretch the floor. In Millner’s first game playing for Toledo, he posted 17 points against Bradley, quickly letting Toledo fans know what he’s about. 

J.T. Shumate 

2020-21 stats: 11.4 PPG, 4.3 RPG

Until recently, Shumate hadn’t shown crazy scoring ability until recently. In three of the last four games Shumate’s played, he posted 33 points against Miami (OH) on 11-11 from-the-field, 5-5 from deep. In the other two, Shumate posted double-figures with hitting two more threes in another. 

Wait, you may be thinking, why is hitting two threes significant? Prior to the Kent State game, where Shumate hit two threes, he was 0-9 from three before that. In Shumate’s last three games, the five-man is 9-12 from deep. If Shumate’s shooting is legit, that takes Toledo’s potential to another level. 

A random note, you’ve likely heard of Winthrop star Chandler Vaudrin, right? Although they never played together, Vaudrin attended a D2 Walsh University to start his career, similar to Shumate. Pretty crazy that both guys went to the same D2 school, now are thriving at a D1 squad.

Keshaun Sanders

2020-21 stats: 7.1 PPG, 2.3 RPG

Last season, Sanders made the MAC all-freshman team. Sanders is coming off-the-bench this season; although his minutes have taken a minor hit, the production is still there.

Sanders is a pure-scorer that is a true three-level scorer. Having a guy come in for small spurts to grab some buckets is valuable for every winning team, exactly what Toledo is.

Mattia Acunzo

2020-21 stats: 6.3 PPG, 3.5 RPG

The 6’8 Italy native took a medical redshirt last season. I wasn’t sure what to expect about Acunzo this season. Let me tell you, Acunzo is oozing with talent, listed as a guard, but really can play 2-5, with fantastic scoring ability. Given, it’s a small sample on Acunzo. If you watch him, though, you can see how promising he is.

Down the stretch of the season, get to know Acunzo’s name because you’ll be hearing it often. 

Is Toledo in a comfortable position to win the MAC?

The answer is absolutely, the Rockets are in a fantastic position in the MAC race currently. When this is posted on February 2nd, Toledo will face Akron, which will put them in an even better position. 

Toledo lost to Akron on the road earlier this season. Should Toledo defend home-court, that’ll put the Rockets two games above Akron. 

In third place is Kent State, three games behind. The Golden Flashes face Miami (OH) tomorrow, which they’ll remain three games back if both teams are able to win. Toledo’s already defeated Kent State twice, making it difficult for the Golden Flashes to catch ground. 

Toledo could feasibly run the table, or at worst, maybe drop two games. KenPom currently predicts Toledo to finish 22-6, making it literally impossible for anyone to catch them if tomorrow’s tout against Akron results in a win.

Can Toledo be an at-large team if they can’t win the MAC Tournament?

It won’t be a cozy selection Sunday for the Rockets if they don’t win the conference. However, there’s a path. There’s only 31 automatic bids this season, with the Ivy League opting not to play this season. The less stolen bids there are, the better for a team firmly on the bubble-like Toledo. 

The NET ranking is 54th, which puts them ahead of teams like Stanford, Seton Hall, Clemson, Seton Hall, and Georgia Tech, most notably. It’s tough to compare a Mid-Major team to a team in the ACC like Clemson, but hear me out. If Toledo doesn’t lose another game in the third or fourth quadrant, they could be in good shape.

Tod Kowalcyzk’s Rockets currently have two-quadrant one wins over Marshall and a road win over Kent State. Those will likely stay in quadrant one, although they are borderline currently. Having any amount of Q1 wins is notable.

WHAT SEED RANGE COULD TOLEDO GET?

MakingTheMadness’s creator, and expert bracketologist, Jonathan Warriner (@bracketologist3), currently put Toledo at a 13 seed facing Tennessee in the first round. I could see the Rockets getting anywhere from an 11-13 seed, a prime seed to upset some teams. 

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