The improvement to date has been substantial, with the Rockets going through the 2011 portion of the schedule at 7-6, and seemingly primed to enter the Mid-American Conference season on a mission to win back some respect.Toledo went 4-28 last year and was dead last in the league at 1-15, so the room for growth was obvious. The rest of the MAC will soon learn that this is a much, much improved team. But the Rockets will have to learn how to deal with the limitations on that improvement.Despite the influx of new talent, the dramatic overhaul of the roster, and the on-going re-sculpting of the culture surrounding the program, the ceiling is still there. The Rockets will need to temper their enthusiasm with a coating of reality.With no seniors, two juniors in their first year in the program, and 10 freshmen and sophomores, Toledo will still experience considerable frustration and pain as it moves through the MAC. Head coach Tod Kowalczyk has seen his team struggle with doubt and confidence issues in the pre-conference portion of the schedule, and he saw it in a 72-70 home loss to Norfolk State just before Christmas. When things were not going well, the Rockets let all aspects of their game be impacted."This is a talented offensive team," Kowalczyk said, "but I thought our leadership and body language was really poor because we weren't playing well offensively. We can't let those things affect us like that."The problem has reared its ugly head several times as the Rockets worked through the first two months of the season and prepared for the upcoming grind in the MAC."I think things like turnovers have affected our morale," Kowalczyk said, "and that's what this young team is about. We can't let a negative play factor into the next play. You could see the missed free throws suck some life out of an immature team."An inexperienced group of Rockets will find a MAC with a number of veteran teams to be an especially unforgiving host. Toledo has the fifth-least experienced roster in the nation, so until Kowalczyk sees the maturity spike and gets his team to sustain its level of play through adversity, the Rockets will continue to struggle.NOTES, QUOTES--Sophomore G Rian Pearson was honored on a mid-season All-MAC team released by a national publication after he averaged 15.8 points and 8.1 rebounds while the Rockets worked through the non-conference portion of the schedule. Pearson scored 20 or more points on four occasions, including a career-high 27-poins against Illinois-Chicago.--In a 72-64 loss to Cleveland State, the Rockets were guilty of 18 turnovers and shot a season-worst 57.7 percent from the foul line. Toledo gave up 26 points off those turnovers.--The abrupt and unexpected departure of freshman G Ryan Majerle leaves the Rockets with an obvious hole in the lineup. The Rockets have an adequate slashers and attackers who can get to the basket, but Majerle brought them a legitimate long-distance threat that did a lot to keep defenses from cheating to stop the drive. BY THE NUMBERS: 29 -- Freshman PG Julius Brown gave the Rockets an indication of his potential when he exploded for 29 points in a road loss to Florida Gulf Coast. Through Jan. 1, Brown was averaging better than 14 ppg. in the non-conference portion of the schedule.QUOTE TO NOTE: "I have said all along, I like this team. I have also said that we have a long way to go." -- Toledo coach Tod Kowalczyk on the Rockets' struggles in the first two months of the seasonSTRATEGY AND PERSONNELTHIS WEEK'S GAME:--at Central Michigan, Jan. 7KEY MATCHUPS: The Rockets will focus on slowing Central Michigan sophomore G Trey Zeigler, who leads the Chippewas in scoring. The defensive assignment on Zeigler will likely go to G Rian Pearson, but Toledo will share the job through the course of the game. The Rockets on the inside will have to keep Central Michigan senior F Andre Coimbra from dominating the boards. That duty goes to F Delino Dear and physical GF Reese Holliday.FUTURES MARKET: The one area where the Rockets most need help in the coming years is in the middle. Toledo could desperately use a physical enforcer to patrol the lane, rebound, and present a nasty defensive posture. The Rockets might have addressed that issue with the recent signing of recruit C Nathan Boothe, a 6-9, 250-pounder from Illinois. Boothe seems to be the blue-collar, lunch bucket laborer the Rockets are lacking.PLAYER NOTES --Sophomore F Matt Smith enters conference play ranked in the top 10 in the MAC in shooting with his 53.7 field goal percentage. --Freshman G Ryan Majerle shocked the Rocket program when he abruptly left school in late December. Majerle was averaging 5.3 points and 1.8 rebounds per game for Toledo and played in nearly every game. "I'm very disappointed with Ryan's decision, especially the timing of it," Toledo coach Tod Kowalczyk said. "We thought Ryan was someone who could help us build our program, and we wish him well in all of his future endeavors."--Sophomore GF Reese Holliday, who missed the final six games of last season with a stress fracture in his foot, has showed no signs of trouble with the injury this season. Holliday started every game but one in the pre-conference schedule and averaged more than 26 minutes per game.