RTC Conference Primers: #19 – Mid-American Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 17th, 2010

Alex Varone is the RTC Correspondent for the Mid-American Conference.

Predicted Order of Finish

East Division

  1. Ohio (13-3)
  2. Akron (11-5)
  3. Kent State (11-5)
  4. Miami (Ohio) (9-7)
  5. Bowling Green (7-9)
  6. Buffalo (5-11)

West Division

  1. Ball State (10-6)
  2. Central Michigan (10-6)
  3. Eastern Michigan (8-8)
  4. Northern Illinois (6-10)
  5. Western Michigan (5-11)
  6. Toledo (1-15)

All-Conference Team (key stats from last season in parentheses)

  • D.J. Cooper (G) – Ohio (13.5 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 5.9 APG, 2.5 SPG)
  • Justin Greene (F) – Kent State (13.6 PPG, 6.9 RPG)
  • Brandon Bowdry (F) – Eastern Michigan (16.3 PPG, 10.0 RPG)
  • Brett McKnight (F) – Akron (10.0 PPG, 4.5 RPG)
  • Jarrod Jones (C) – Ball State (12.2 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 1.1 BPG)

Sixth Man

Scott Thomas (F) – Bowling Green – (13.2 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 2.8 APG, 1.6 SPG in 2009-10)

Impact Newcomer

Trey Zeigler, Central Michigan

Reggie Keely, DeVaughn Washington and the Ohio Bobcats famously sent Georgetown packing last March (AP/Elise Amendola)

What You Need to Know

  • Once again, the MAC’s East division was much stronger than the West last season. Four teams from the East finished with a record above .500 (defending champion Ohio was 5th at 7-9), compared to only one team above .500 in the West. In fact, the West Division has not sent team to the NCAA Tournament since 2004.
  • In the much-maligned West division, keep an eye on Ball State and Eastern Michigan. Ball State has a star player in Jarrod Jones to lead a core that returns four of its top five scorers. The Cardinals went just 8-8 in conference play last season, but were a competitive team, playing in five overtime games. Eastern Michigan was the most improved team in the MAC last year, posting a nine-win improvement, and the Eagles feature one of the most talented players in the conference in Brandon Bowdry. Both Ball State and Eastern Michigan are capable of unseating back-to-back West Champion Central Michigan.
  • Keep an eye on how Miami (Ohio) handles a difficult non-conference schedule. Last year, the RedHawks faced Kentucky, New Mexico, Dayton, Temple and Xavier, and despite losing each of those games, Miami (Ohio) rebounded in conference play to the tune of an 8-3 start. This year, games at Duke, home vs. San Diego State, at Ohio State, vs. Xavier, at Dayton, and at Kansas will provide plenty of challenges before the conference season starts.

Predicted Champion

Ohio (NCAA Seed #12) – The Bobcats came out of nowhere to win the MAC after a 7-9 regular season in 2010, but this year’s version should be a much better team from start to finish. D.J. Cooper is a do-everything point guard and the favorite to win the Conference Player of the Year, and he’s joined by a pair of double-digit scorers in DeVaughn Washington and Tommy Freeman. The key for Ohio will be to avoid another slow start in conference play with the added pressure of having a target on its back.

Top Contenders

  • If Ohio should stumble, Akron should be ready to emerge as the league’s top team. The Zips narrowly missed reaching the NCAA Tournament for a second consecutive year and have been to the MAC Tournament final for four consecutive years. Akron has a senior-laden squad led by forward Brett McKnight and guards Steve McNees and Darryl Roberts. The frontcourt is a little less experienced, but 7’0 sophomore Zeke Marshall has a lot of potential and could give Akron a needed post presence.
  • Last season, Kent State finished with the best record in the MAC, but the Golden Flashes suffered a disappointing 17-point loss to Ohio in the conference tournament. Kent State appears to be headed for a step back with four of the team’s top six scorers gone, but the inside-outside duo of Justin Greene and Rodriguez Sherman is back and is arguably the best in the conference.

Top 10 RPI Boosters

  • Nov. 12 – Eastern Michigan at Michigan State – The Eagles have the tough task of opening their season at the home of one of the top national title contenders.
  • Nov. 16 – Miami (Ohio) at Duke, ESPNU – Miami (Ohio) challenged themselves with a tough schedule last year. This year is no different, as the RedHawks take on the defending national champions.
  • Nov. 20 – Ball State at Butler – The Cardinals make the short trip from Muncie to Indianapolis, where last season’s runner-up awaits.
  • Nov. 26 – Miami (Ohio) at Ohio State – Miami (Ohio) will try and pull off an in-state shocker against an Ohio State team adjusting to life without Evan Turner.
  • Nov. 26 – Ohio vs. Kansas (Las Vegas Invitational) – A litmus test for the defending conference champion Ohio Bobcats against one of the perennial powers in college basketball.

Key Conference Games

  • Jan. 8 – Kent State at Akron – Last season, Kent State won the MAC East title with a win at Akron in the regular season finale.
  • Jan. 12 – Ohio at Akron – Akron faces two of the league’s top competitors at home in less than 7 days.
  • Jan. 15 – Kent State at Ohio – After a tough road test at Akron, Ohio has to quickly rebound and take on Kent State just three days later.
  • Feb. 5 – Miami (Ohio) at Eastern Michigan – Two of this league’s potential sleeper teams face off.
  • Feb. 26 – Ball State at Central Michigan – This could be the game that decides the MAC West division title.

Digging Deeper

  • On October 8th, Akron’s Brett McKnight was suspended from the team for thirty days for a violation of team rules. McKnight, one of the top returning players in the MAC and one of my 1st Team All-MAC selections, was also suspended last season for one game for a violation of team rules.
  • Perhaps no team in the nation was as decimated by outgoing transfers as the Toledo Rockets. The conference’s lone new coach, Ted Kowalczyk, has had his hands full in filling a roster that lost seven transfers in the offseason. As a result, expect Toledo to drag down the conference’s overall profile and to be one of the worst teams in the nation in 2010-11.

NCAA Tournament History

The MAC stands at 28-67 (.295) all-time in the Big Dance. Aside from Ohio’s program-changing triumph over Georgetown in 2010, national powers dethroned by the MAC include Pittsburgh (2002), Indiana (1999), Clemson (1998), Duke (as a #8-seed in 1996) and Louisville (1990). Four teams from the conference have gone to the Sweet 16 since the tournament expanded, but the MAC hasn’t sent multiple teams to the Tournament since 1999 (Miami and Kent State).

Final Thoughts

Ohio’s stunning NCAA Tournament upset over Georgetown gave the Bobcats – and the MAC – some national exposure. Ohio is the favorite this year for a reason, but don’t count out Akron or Kent State, which are two quality programs that are capable of winning the conference. But no matter which team ends up reaching the Big Dance, the MAC needs that team to make some noise in the Tournament in order to give this conference the recognition that it both wants and deserves.

Brian Goodman (983 Posts)

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

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