BtB 2009-10 Mid-American Conference Preview


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The MAC went through the entire decade of the '00s without earning a single at-large, something they managed to do three times in the 1990s, including the last two years of the decade.  The last three seasons pretty much summed up the variety of reasons why.

Last season, the Eastern Division dominated the West.  Ohio University ended up as only team in the East that finished with a losing conference record, and their 7-9 mark would have earned them a tie of the Western Division crown.  In fact, no team in the West managed to finish with a winning record overall.  No MAC team lost fewer than 12 games.  Keith Dambrot's Akron Zips managed to earn their first tournament bid, and got a 13 seed and 13-point loss to Gonzaga for their trouble. 

In 2007-08, the conference was more balanced between divisions, but Kent State managed to leap way above the rest of the pack. The Golden Flashes won 28 games, claiming victories over St. Mary's, Illinois State, and George Mason, and ended up as a 9 seed in the NCAAs.  Had they fallen in the MAC tournament, the league could have very well had two bids. But, in their conference's hour of need, they claimed the title.

In 2006-07, Akron jumped out to 26 wins, but a lack of big wins and a second-place finish to Toledo in the overall MAC race meant they had no chance to get an at-large when Miami knocked them out in the tournament final.

So, the conference needs to hope for more than one dominant team, who can earn some non-conference wins, all while limiting the damage they suffer in the league.  Got it?  Good.  You can read more on the 12 teams who will make up this year's MAC scrum after the jump.

Here's a look at last season's MAC standings.


Mid-American Conference Standings

(updated 3.19.2009 at 10:20 PM EDT)

East Conf Overall
W L W L
Buffalo Bulls 11 5 21 12
Bowling Green Falcons 11 5 19 14
Akron Zips 10 6 23 13
Kent St. Golden Flashes 10 6 19 15
Miami (Ohio) RedHawks 10 6 17 13
Ohio Bobcats 7 9 15 17
West Conf Overall
W L W L
Ball St. Cardinals 7 9 14 17
Central Michigan Chippewas 7 9 12 19
Western Michigan Broncos 7 9 10 21
Eastern Michigan Eagles 6 10 8 24
Northern Illinois Huskies 5 11 10 20
Toledo Rockets 5 11 7 25

Now, here are my picks for 2009-10, presented in reverse order, starting with the West Division.

West Division

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Toledo (last NCAA: 1980) Gene Cross will look for his Rockets to improve on the seven wins they earned in his first season at the helm, but thanks to the loss of three starters, including leading scorers Tyrone Kent and Jonathan Amos, things will get worse in Toledo before they get better.  6-9 junior F/C Justin Anyijong (9.7 ppg, 6.4 rpg) is the only impact returnee, and the eight freshmen Cross brought in this season will get plenty of experience.  The schedule doesn't help the Rockets much, as they'll play at Michigan State as part of the Legends Classic, with a visit to Philadelphia to face Cornell, Drexel, and Vermont in one of that event's "subregionals" to follow.  Toledo also pays Cincinnati a visit, while hosting Alabama.

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Western Michigan (last NCAA: 2004) Steve Hawkins' team was atypically non-competitive last season, and they'll struggle to get back to relevance this season thanks to the loss of three starters from last year's 10-win outfit.  If there is hope in Kalamazoo, it's because guard David Kool, the team's leading scorer (17.9 ppg), is back for his senior season.  6-7 Flenard Whitfield, a forward who averaged 5.5 points and a little more than 4 boards a game, is back, as is reserve center Donald Lawson, a senior who may have to up his minutes and production after scoring more than 5 points and grabbing 5.5 boards a game off the bench last year.  6-10 F/C Shayne Whittington, 6-4 swingman Brandon Pokley, and 6-2 PG Austin Harper will see immediate action as newcomers.  The Broncos schedule features a trip to Hawai'i for the Christmas Diamond Head Classic, where they'll open with USC.  They visit Illinois and play host Temple, VCU, and Holy Cross.

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Ball State (last NCAA: 2000) Billy Taylor's Cardinals will struggle to repeat their accomplishment of tying for last year's West Division title with a 7-9 record thanks to the loss of three starters, F Anthony Newell, and the starting backcourt of Brandon Lampley and Laron Frazier.  6-9 sophomore F Jarrod Jones, who made his presence known during his freshman season by averaging more than 11 points and 7 boards a game, should be even better this season.  He'll have to be as there isn't much else coming back.   The Cardinals travel down to Indy to take on Purdue at the Wooden Classic, plus Butler makes the trip to Muncie. 

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Northern Illinois (last NCAA: 1996) Ricardo Patton's squad could make a move up in his third season in charge in DeKalb.  The Huskies have four starters back.  6-2 senior Darion Anderson (16.4 ppg, 5.4 rpg) and 5-11 sophomore PG Mike DiNunno (11.9 ppg, 2.6 apg) form a solid backcourt, while 6-11 junior Sean Kowal (9.2 ppg, 5.2 rpg) is the anchor of the frontcourt.  If the supporting cast, especially the players surrounding Kowal at the forward positions, can increase their impact, the Huskies should challenge for the division.  They'll be ready for the MAC slate thanks to a non-conference schedule that features visits to Illinois, Minnesota, Northern Iowa, and Northwestern, along with home games against Temple and Bradley.

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Eastern Michigan (last NCAA: 1998) The Eagles finished a game back of the MAC West lead last year, and could be ready to make a big jump in the standings thanks to the return of four starters and the return of PG Carlos Medlock, who averaged almost 15 points and more than 4 assists in 2007-08, from a broken foot.  A frontcourt led by double figure scorers Brandon Bowdry (14.8 ppg, 7.2 rpg) and Justin Dobbins (10 ppg, 5 rpg) will be bolstered by the addition of 6-6 JC transfer Jay Higgins.  EMU will participate in a round-robin tournament at Missouri State this season, which also features Maryland-Eastern Shore and the Citadel.

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Central Michigan (last NCAA: 2003) Ernie Zeigler's Chippewas have a solid core, featuring three returning startes who can score--6-8 F Chris Kellerman (14.4 ppg, 5.6 rpg), 6-3 SG Jordan Baker (12.1 ppg, 4.9 rpg), and 6-1 PG Robbie Harman (11.4 ppg, 3 apg).  The biggest lost is inside, where the Chips will miss 6-7 Marcus Van's scoring (13 ppg) and rebounding (8.3 rpg).  6-11 senior Brandon Ford (1.3 ppg, 1.7 rpg) and 6-7 freshman William McClure will try to make up Van's interior production.  Zeigler will need his freshmen to contribute immediately in supporting roles, as there aren't a lot of experienced returnees on the bench. The Chippewas' non-conference slate is road-heavy, as they visit Illinois State, Purdue, USF, and Wright State.

East Division

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Ohio (last NCAA: 2005) The Bobcats were the only team in the East to post a losing record last season, and with three starters from that team gone, John Groce's team is likely to be worse this time around.  Two key pieces of the backcourt, Steven Coleman and Tommy Freeman--two players who averaged a combined 17+ points a game, are back, as are a couple of forwards who will have to play bigger roles this season, 6-7 junior DeVaughn Washington (6.7 ppg, 4.4 rpg) and 6-10 Dutch senior C Kenneth van Kempen (3.2 ppg, 2.4 rpg).  They'll get plenty of help from 6-8 freshman Ivo Baltic, while 5-11 freshman D.J. Cooper should replace Michael Allen at the point.  Middle Tennessee, North Carolina A&T, and Lamar will visit Athens for a tournament, while Illinois State also visits the Convo this season.

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Bowling Green (last NCAA: 1968) Louis Orr's squad won 19 last season, dropping a 73-71 decision to Creighton in the NIT to close out the year.  But like so many other MAC teams, the Falcons will struggle to replicate last season's record thanks to personnel losses.  Orr's top three scorers from a year ago are all gone, with starting PG Joe Jakubowski (7.7 ppg, 3.5 apg), C Otis Polk (6.1 ppg, 5.5 rpg), and reserve F Erik Marshall (5 ppg, 3.6 rpg) the most experienced remaining players.  Bowling Green's guard-heavy freshman class will see a lot of action during a schedule that starts with road trips to Xavier and Iowa.

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Miami (Ohio) (last NCAA: 2007) The Redhawks lost three starters from last season's squad, most significantly leading scorer Michael Bramos and interior force Tyler Dierker, but Charlie Coles gets point guard Kenny Hayes back healthy after he got hurt last December.  He averaged almost 14 points and 4 assists in his eight appearances last year.  6-4 junior swingman Antonio Ballard, who averaged almost 7 points and 5+ boards a game last season should step in for Ramos, while 6-8 senior Adam Fletcher (4.6 ppg, 4 rpg) will see more minutes in Dierker's absence.  Miami visits Cincinnati, Kentucky, and New Mexico (for a round-robin event), while they host Dayton and Temple.

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Kent State (last NCAA: 2008) Geno Ford will look to improve on last year's 19 wins without the services of leading scorer Al Fisher, a 6-1 guard who averaged more than 15 points a game.  Replacing Fisher's production will be key and three key seniors--G Chris Singletary (12.1 ppg, 4.1 rpg), 6th man Tyree Evans (11.7 ppg), and F Anthony Simpson (6.8 ppg, 6.3 rpg)--should be able to up their games.  Defensive specialist Rodriquez Sherman also returns after missing all of last season to provide another boost to the backcourt, while 6-10 Brandon Parks (5.9 ppg, 4.7rpg) will team with Simpson inside. The Golden Flashes will welcome UAB, Green Bay, and Samford to this season's Hispanic College Fund Classic and visit former coach Stan Heath's USF squad, Xavier, and Pittsburgh.

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Buffalo (last NCAA: None) Reggie Witherspoon's Bulls should contend again thanks to four returning starters, led by 6-2 senior G Rodney Pierce (14.3 ppg) and 6-3 senior swingman Calvin Betts (9.1 ppg, 6.3 rpg).  6-7 Max Boudreau, Buffalo's key reserve who averaged more than 6 points and 3 boards a game, should see more action this year.  Pierce will get some more scoring help in the backcourt thanks to Northern Arizona transfer Zach Filzen, who shot 41 percent from 3 while in Flagstaff and 6-2 freshman Tony Watson, who averaged in double-figures in points and assists during his senior year of high school.  The Bulls visit Purdue, Niagara, and Navy, host Army, and participate in UCF's Holiday tournament this season.

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Akron (last NCAA: 2009) Keith Dambrot lost 6-8 F Nate Linhart (10.3 ppg, 6.2 rpg) off the first Zip team to make the NCAAs, but pretty much everyone else is back.  That means Akron is still the team to beat.  6-7 senior F Chris McKnight will anchor the frontcourt, while his brother Brett, who averaged more than 11 points and almost 4 boards a game last season as the team's 6th man, should see a lot more time with Linhart's departure.  6-8 sophomore Nikola Cvetinovic will be pushed by 7-footer Zeke Marshall, a freshman from Pennsylvania, for minutes at the post.  The backcourt remains solid thanks to the presence of sophomore PG Humpty Hitchens (8.8 ppg, 2,2 apg), off guard Darryl Roberts (8.3 ppg), and a solid reserve PG, Steve McNees (5.8 ppg, 1.9 apg).  The Zips will participate in the Glenn Wilkes Classic before Thanksgiving, hosting Austin Peay and facing Drake, Howard, and NC State in Daytona Beach.

I'm picking the Zips to repeat and take the overall conference crown, so they'll hold the MAC's auto bid in my 2009-10 Final Preseason Bracket, which I will release on November 9.  I don't see the MAC heading back to the late '90s, when they occasionally were a multi-bid league, but you never know what will happen as the season progresses.

To wrap up this preview, here is my preseason All-MAC team, featuring the best returning players from last season.  

Preseason All-MAC Team

Player of the Year: Brett McKnight, 6-6 F, Jr. (Akron)

Remainder of the Team
Darion Anderson, 6-2 G, Jr. (Northern Illinois)
Brandon Bowdry, 6-6 F, Jr. (Eastern Michigan)
David Kool, 6-3 G, Sr. (Western Michigan)
Rodney Pierce, 6-2 G, Sr. (Buffalo)


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