Summer School in the MAC

Posted by Brian Goodman on August 11th, 2010

Alex Varone of College Basketball Daily is the RTC correspondent for the Mid-American Conference

Around The MAC:

  • Will Ohio Dance Again?: Three Mid-American Conference teams reached postseason play in the 2010 season, led by the Ohio Bobcats, who shocked the nation by handing third-seeded Georgetown a 14-point loss in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The Kent State Golden Flashes, MAC regular season champions, also represented themselves well by winning a first round NIT contest over Tulsa before falling to Illinois. The Akron Zips were the third team to reach the postseason, qualifying for the College Basketball Invitational (CBI) tournament by virtue of 24 regular season wins.
  • A Different Coach K: The conference’s lone coaching change this offseason took place at Toledo, where Gene Cross resigned amidst allegations of an inappropriate physical relationship. Cross spent only two seasons on the sidelines at Toledo, compiling a meager 11 wins against 53 losses. Tod Kowalczyk takes over at Toledo, and had previously spent the last eight seasons in the Horizon League with Wisconsin-Green Bay, where he posted a 136-112 mark.
  • Top Players: In player news, 2010 MAC Tournament Most Valuable Player Armon Bassett left Ohio after his junior season to enter the NBA Draft. The guard had originally joined the Ohio program after transferring out of Indiana, and averaged 17.1 points per game in his only year as a Bobcat. On the recruiting trail, Central Michigan received national headlines as 6’5 guard and ESPNU Top 100 recruit Trey Zeigler decided to join the Chippewas and play under his father and CMU head coach Ernie Zeigler.

MAC leading returning Xavier Silas hopes to propel Northern Illinois to the top of the West Division (

Power Rankings [Division and last season’s record in brackets]

  1. Ohio [East, 22-15 (7-9)]: On March 1, 2010, the Ohio Bobcats were a struggling 16-14 (6-9) outfit that many fans felt would be fortunate enough to win a game in the MAC Tournament. Twenty days later, Ohio wrapped up its season with a second round NCAA Tournament loss to Tennessee, a team that would go on to reach the Elite Eight.  So how will the Bobcats respond this season, with the target of being MAC champions on their back? Had Armon Bassett decided not to forgo his senior season and enter the NBA Draft, Ohio would have been a clear-cut favorite to repeat as MAC champs. Even with the losses of Bassett, center Kenneth van Kempen, and the transferring Jay Kinney, Ohio is still in good hands with sophomore point guard D.J. Cooper. The 2010 MAC Freshman of the Year is the likely 2011 MAC Player of the Year favorite if he can improve on last year’s numbers of 13.5 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 5.9 APG, and 2.5 steals per contest. Senior forward DeVaughn Washington (11.3 PPG, 5.4 RPG) and senior three-point marksman Tommy Freeman (10.5 PPG, 97 three-pointers made) are returning contributors from last year’s team that will complement Cooper. With the combination of the returning talent and the experience of last season’s run, Ohio has a solid claim on the MAC’s number one ranking.
  2. Akron [East, 24-11 (12-4)]: Akron was an overtime loss to Ohio in the MAC Tournament final away from reaching the NCAA Tournament for a second consecutive year. Leading scorer and First Team All-MAC performer Jimmy Conyers is gone, but the Zips were hardly a one-man team in 2010. Eight Zips averaged between 16.8 and 27.6 MPG and 5.1 to 10.1 PPG last season, five of whom are back for the 2010-11 campaign. Headlining that group is senior forward Brett McKnight, who averaged ten PPG in just under 20 minutes per contest, numbers which figure to increase this season. Also returning is the senior backcourt duo of Steve McNees (8.3 PPG) and Darryl Roberts (7.3 PPG), both of whom are capable outside shooters. Joining McKnight in the frontcourt will be 6’8 junior Nikola Cvetinovic (6.7 PPG, 4.2 RPG) and 7’0 sophomore center Zeke Marshall (5.1 PPG, 1.7 BPG). Marshall, a 2010 MAC All-Freshman performer, but who weighs in at just 218 pounds, will be an interesting player to watch develop this season. This isn’t a flashy group — nor was last year’s — but Akron has been a MAC Tournament finalist four years running, and is in position to make it five.
  3. Kent State [East, 24-10 (13-3)]: The Golden Flashes were the MAC’s best team during the regular season, but flamed out in the tourney quarterfinals by way of a 17-point loss to Ohio. After a 1-2 start to the MAC season, Kent State reeled off 12 wins in its final 13 conference games, including a No. 1 seed-clinching win at Akron in the season’s final game. Returning from last year’s team is leading scorer and rebounder Justin Greene, a strong post presence who contributed 13.6 PPG and 6.9 RPG as a sophomore. But fifth-year senior guard Rodriguez Sherman (10.6 PPG) is the only other returning starter from last year’s squad, which will have to replace the all-around consistency of First Team All-MAC performer Chris Singletary. Overall, four of the top six scorers from last year’s team are gone, which signals a step back for this program, even with the expected continued development of Greene.
  4. Ball State [West, 15-15 (8-8)]: Ball State is my highest ranked team from the much-maligned MAC West division. Head coach Billy Taylor has done a nice job and enters his fourth season at Ball State with the program headed in a positive direction. This season, Taylor is in position to lead Ball State to its first winning season since 2005 with four of last year’s top five scorers returning. That core is led by junior forward Jarrod Jones (12.2 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 1.1 BPG), one of the league’s best interior players. In addition to Jones, Ball State has a solid backcourt that features two double-digit scorers, junior Randy Davis (10.3 PPG) and 2010 MAC All-Freshman Jauwan Scaife (10.2 PPG). Senior forward Malik Perry (7.6 PPG, 4.7 RPG) is a glue guy who adds a veteran presence to the lineup. This Cardinals group is a team to watch out for this year, and could have been a bigger threat last season if not for a few tough losses. Ball State lost its last four games of 2010, including an overtime loss to Ohio in the MAC Tourney. That loss to Ohio was Ball State’s third in five overtime games on the year, but could end up proving to be a valuable learning experience for a team on the rise.
  5. Central Michigan [West, 15-15 (9-7)]: Central Michigan might just be the MAC’s most intriguing team this season. On one hand, four of the top five scorers are gone from a year ago, leaving senior swingman Jalin Thomas (7.4 PPG) as the top returning point producer. A couple of role players join Thomas, including senior guard Antonio Weary (5.1 PPG) and 6’7 big man William McClure (3.0 PPG, 4.5 RPG). Those losses would typically signal a down season for the Chippewas. But what makes Central Michigan so intriguing, however, is the addition of Trey Zeigler, one of the top recruits in the nation and the son of fifth-year head coach Ernie Zeigler. Trey’s roster spot isn’t just the product of nepotism; he’s the type of talent that, frankly, just isn’t seen in the MAC, and is the clear favorite to win the league’s Freshman of the Year award. What kind of impact the 6’5 guard makes as a freshman will be the key factor in determining if the Chippewas will win the MAC West for the third consecutive season.
  6. Miami (Ohio) [East, 14-18 (9-7)]: In 2010, Miami (Ohio) was a team that saw its season suddenly slip away. After the RedHawks challenged themselves with a tough non-conference schedule that resulted in a 3-11 start, Miami came out strong in MAC play to the tune of an 8-3 record. The RedHawks came back to earth with four losses in their last five conference games, all of which, however, were by eight points or fewer. And after a win over Buffalo in the MAC Tourney, Miami ended its season by falling victim to Ohio’s magical run. This season, Miami has a tough task in replacing First Team All-MAC selection Kenny Hayes, who led the RedHawks in points and assists. Three starters are back though, including junior forward Julian Mavunga (10.0 PPG, 6.3 RPG), a player to watch for this season. Also returning are seniors Nick Winbush and Antonio Ballard. Ballard was the team’s second leading rebounder last season despite his 6’4 frame, and Winbush is an inside-outside specialist at forward who led the team in three-pointers made.
  7. Eastern Michigan [West, 17-15 (8-8)]: Eastern Michigan was the most improved team in the MAC last year, going from eight wins in 2009 to 17 in 2010. The Eagles could have been even better if not for a lack of experience in close games. In the team’s nine league losses (including the MAC tourney), seven were by eight points or fewer. This season, Eastern Michigan will push forward without the services of two of its top three scorers, Carlos Medlock and Justin Dobbins, a pair that combined to produce 29 points per game. The bright spot for Eastern Michigan is the return of senior forward Brandon Bowdry, a double-double machine who averaged 16.3 points and 10.0 boards per game last year. The Second Team All-MAC selection needs help on the outside, and could get it from senior wing Jay Higgins (8.0 PPG) and junior Antonio Green (6.7 PPG). If one of those two can emerge as a legit scoring option to complement the league’s best post player, the Eagles could be a team to watch for in the West division.
  8. Bowling Green [East, 14-16 (6-10)]: Fourth-year head coach Louis Orr has the Falcons in position to escape from the basement of the MAC East, with three of last year’s top four scorers returning. A player to watch to for is 6’7 junior forward Scott Thomas, who led Bowling Green in points (13.2 per game), rebounds (6.3), steals (1.6), and was second on the team in assists (2.8) as a sophomore. Junior guard Dee Brown (10.6 PPG) is back, along with Bowling Green’s lone senior, guard Joe Jakubowski (3.7 APG). Bowling Green should be improved this season, but will need a strong nightly contribution from Thomas to stand out in the always-competitive East division. With such a youthful roster, it will likely be another year before Bowling Green can realistically compete for a MAC title.
  9. Northern Illinois [West, 10-20 (6-10)]: For a short time in January, Northern Illinois stood at the top of the MAC standings and looked to be a talented group ready to compete for the MAC title. After going 2-8 in the season’s first ten games, the Huskies reeled off six straight wins, including a 4-0 start to the conference season. But nine straight MAC losses followed, and Northern Illinois won just two games the remainder of the season. Northern Illinois was a young team in 2010 with no seniors in the rotation, but the two of the top four scorers, Darion Anderson and Mike DiNunno, elected to transfer out of the program. That means more responsibility will fall on senior guard Xavier Silas, the MAC’s leading returning scorer at 19.7 PPG. Silas will get some help inside from 6’11 senior center Sean Kowal (10.5 PPG, 6.4 RPG), but the rest of the roster is young and inexperienced. Silas has the scoring ability to carry Northern Illinois to some victories, but others will have to step up if the Huskies are going to make any noise in the West this season.
  10. Western Michigan [West, 18-15 (8-8)]: It will be next to impossible for the Broncos to take anything but a step back with the losses they suffered this offseason. Gone is MAC Player of the Year and 20-plus point per game scorer David Kool, a player who tabbed as the MAC Player of the Decade. Also gone is double-digit scorer Martelle McLemore and leading rebounder Donald Lawson. What’s left is a young team that will rely on junior forward Flenard Whitfield (10.1 PPG, 5.2 RPG), and All-Freshman forward Nate Hutcheson (5.3 PPG). Leading assist man Mike Douglas (4.5 APG) is back, but is not much of a offensive threat. The Broncos won’t be at the bottom of the West division this year, but Western Michigan fans shouldn’t expect much from their team in 2011.
  11. Buffalo [East, 18-12 (9-7)]: As is the case with Western Michigan of the West, the East division’s Buffalo Bulls face a major rebuilding season with the heavy losses suffered this offseason. Last season’s top five scorers are all gone, a group that included First Team All-MAC guard Rodney Pierce, who averaged over 18 PPG. Only three rotation guys from last year remain, a trio of forwards, including juniors Titus Robinson (5.8 PPG, 3.7 RPG) and Mitchell Watt (5.5 PPG) and senior Jawaan Alston (4.0 PPG). Last year’s strong backcourt is all gone, and what remains is a complete unknown. Unless someone steps up and fills the void left by the departing seniors, this Buffalo team is going to have a very hard time scoring points this season. There are too many questions about this team to consider them for anything but the basement of the East.
  12. Toledo [West, 4-28 (1-15)]: Toledo has a long way to go before it can no longer be considered the MAC’s bottom-dweller. The Rockets lost at least 25 games for the second consecutive season in 2010, and will rebuild under the direction of new head coach Tod Kowalczyk, the former UW-Green Bay head coach who quietly won over 20 games in each of his last two seasons there. Kowalczyk has his work cut out for him, as he inherits a young, inexperienced roster that was gutted by transfers this offseason. Overall, seven members of the 2010 Rockets have transferred out of the program, including last year’s top two leading scorers, Jake Barnett and Stephen Albrecht. Only three players who averaged more than 10 MPG last season are back: senior forward Justin Anyijong (9.4 PPG, 5.3 RPG), sophomore guard Malcolm Griffin (7.2 PPG), and junior guard Jay Shunnar (1.9 PPG). This is a rebuilding project in the truest sense of the term, so expect Toledo to be not only the worst team in the MAC, but one of the worst teams in the nation this year.

What’s Next

  • A subplot to watch in the MAC this season is the overall disparity between the league’s East and West divisions. The West has not sent a team to the NCAA Tournament since Western Michigan in 2004, and in recent years, the East has been significantly stronger from top to bottom. In 2009, Central Michigan won the West with a 7-9 regular season record, which matched Ohio, the East’s last place team. Last season, Central Michigan was the only West team to finish at least 9-7, a feat accomplished by four teams in the East. This year, the West figures to be a little stronger than last, while some of the East’s top teams could be sliding downwards. Will it be enough to finally get a team from the West into the NCAA Tournament?
  • The biggest thing to watch in the MAC this season is how Ohio will handle being the league’s targeted team. Last year’s run was magical, but this is still a program that is coming off back-to-back 7-9 regular seasons, and has not won ten MAC games in a season since 2006. Was last season’s run a fluke, or the start of something big at Ohio?
Brian Goodman (983 Posts)

Brian Goodman a Big 12 microsite writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BSGoodman.

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