RTC Conference Primers: #18 – Mid-American ConferencePosted by nvr1983 on October 18th, 2011
This conference primer was prepared by the RTC staff. If you are knowledgeable about the MAC and have an interest in becoming the correspondent for this league, please e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reader’s Take I
- The Freshman Grow Up. After having 15 freshman start for MAC teams last year, this year promises a more balanced, less chaotic version of basketball as many of those freshmen will have matured (although we know that is not always the case). With increased experience, the MAC promises to offer a higher quality of basketball with less inconsistency across its teams. It also bodes well for the conference’s futures as many of these players are expected to be four-year players so even if the conference is not loaded this year it has the potential to be very strong in another year or two.
- Three Team Battle at the Top. While the MAC has traditionally been a wild conference, there appears to be three teams this year – Akron, Kent State, and Western Michigan – as the class of the conference. While the Zips and Golden Flashes return quite a bit of experience and waged a hard-fought game in the conference tournament finals that was decided on a last second block, the Broncos field a young team with plenty of potential. They are probably a step below the other two teams, but this trio is most likely several levels above the rest of the conference.
- Can the MAC Get an At-Large? As mentioned earlier, the conference has traditionally been a wild one, which means that the team that wins the regular season will not necessarily win the conference tournament (Kent State the past two years). The question is whether a team from the MAC can establish a strong enough regular season resume to earn an NCAA at-large bid. The truth is that we aren’t sure, but at least the three teams already highlighted are trying to play good non-conference schedules, which should boost their strength of schedule come Selection Sunday. Western Michigan has the toughest schedule with a home game against Temple (November 17), at Purdue (November 23), at Gonzaga (November 26 listed as a “neutral site” game in Spokane), at Detroit (December 8), at Oakland (December 23), and at Duke (December 30). Akron has games at Mississippi State (November 9), home against Detroit (November 26), at West Virginia (November 28), and at home against Virginia Commonwealth (December 29). Kent State isn’t quite as impressive, but still has games at West Virginia (November 15) and at Utah State (November 22).
- How Bad Will Toledo Be? We usually don’t like kicking a team when it is down, but the Rockets might end up having one of the worst teams in Division I this year. Last year they were 4-28 overall and 1-15 in the conference while finishing 344th in Division I in scoring and that was before they had their scholarships cut from 13 to 10 due to poor APR scores and they lost their top returning scorer Malcolm Griffin and Hayden Humes to transfer and Justin Moss retired after being diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (an enlarged heart). So basically this team is going to be really, really bad.
Predicted Order of Finish
- Kent State (13-3)
- Akron (11-5)
- Buffalo (8-8)
- Miami (Ohio) (7-9)
- Ohio (7-9)
- Bowling Green (7-9)
- Western Michigan (12-4)
- Central Michigan (10-6)
- Ball State (8-8)
- Eastern Michigan (7-9)
- Northern Illinois (6-10)
- Toledo (0-16)
All-Conference Picks (key stats from 2010-11 in parentheses)
- G: D.J. Cooper – Ohio (15.8 PPG and 7.5 APG) – Most fans will remember Cooper for his 23 points and 8 assists in a win against Georgetown in the First Round of the 2010 NCAA Tournament. He followed that up with a solid sophomore season, but he will need some more support and need to cut down on the mistakes (3.5 turnovers per game last year) if the Bobcats are going to contend in the MAC.
- G: Trey Zeigler – Central Michigan (16.3 PPG) – One of the most highly touted recruits in recent MAC history, Zeigler turned down some of the biggest names in college basketball to play for his father, Ernie. Despite what must have seemed like enormous expectations, Trey lived up to the hype. With fellow sophomore Derek Jackson, Trey could have the Chippewas at the top of the MAC very soon.
- G: Javon McCrea – Buffalo (11.8 PPG and 6.5 RPG in 21.6 MPG) – Last season, McCrea came to the MAC as a relatively unheralded freshman, but came away as the MAC Freshman of the Year despite coming off the bench. This year McCrea should see his minutes increase significantly. The question is whether he can maintain that level of production and help the seniors on the team for the Bulls to challenge the MAC’s upper echelon.
- F: Justin Greene – Kent State (15.4 PPG and 8.3 RPG) – Last season’s MAC Player of the Year, Greene will look to build on last season’s regular season success and lead the Golden Flashes into the NCAA Tournament in his senior season. Despite a solid season, Greene was likely disappointed with his performance in the conference championship game in which he shot just 5-for-16 before fouling out in a 1-point loss.
- F: Nikola Cvetinovic – Akron (11.7 PPG and 6.9 RPG) – While Cvetinovic does not have the high scoring numbers of some other members of our preseason All-MAC team, he does not need to as the Zips have a more balanced attack. What he does offer is a steady presence for the defending MAC champs and will serve as the anchor for the best frontcourt in the conference.
Sixth Man - Flenard Whitfield – Western Michigan (13.1 PPG and 6.4 RPG) – A 6’7″ senior power forward, Whitfield provides a solid presence on both sides of the floor and should help anchor a team that is full of underclassmen, who may be the future of the program but probably are not ready to lead yet.
Impact Newcomer – Nick Harney – Akron - After sitting out last year for academic reasons, Harney could provide the Zips with the spark to propel them to the top of the MAC yet again. Harney’s solid play on both ends of the court will likely make him fit in with the team’s more experienced players more quickly than would be expected of most freshmen.
Akron (NCAA seed: #12) Honestly, this one is probably a toss-up between the Zips and the Golden Flashes much like it was last year when Akron won the conference finals 66-65 in overtime when Carlton Guyton’s last-second 3-point attempt was blocked. The two schools are less than 15 miles away from each other and the margin between the two teams is even less than that. The Zips have one of the more intriguing frontcourts of any mid-major team with Cvetinovic, Zeke Marshall (9 points, 15 rebounds, and 9 blocks in the victory over Kent State), Harney, and freshman Demetrius Treadwell, which could make the difference in getting them back to the NCAA Tournament. One thing to watch for is that the Zips have had a tendency to start slow (they were 12-10 to start the season last year), but their experience (five straight MAC Tournament finals appearances and two titles in three years) will help them overcome that in the end.
- Kent State: It was very tough not to pick the Golden Flashes who return four starters including the MAC POY (Greene), Defensive POY (Michael Porrini - 10.1 PPG, 4.7 RPG, and 4.3 APG), and Sixth Man of the Year (Carlton Guyton - 12.4 PPG and 3.8 RPG). To their credit, they followed up the disappointing loss to Akron with a run to the NIT quarterfinals before losing to a very good Colorado team. The big questions for Kent State are whether they can overcome head coach Geno Ford’s departure for Bradley and how they replace Rod Sherman’s leadership. Unfortunately, given Kent State’s decent but not great non-conference schedule if they do not get an automatic bid they will likely be relegated to the NIT again.
- Western Michigan: The Broncos should win the MAC West relatively easily with a very talented team that features quite a few freshmen and sophomores, but will be anchored by senior Whitfield and Demetrius Ward. WMU was dealt a setback earlier this month when Juwan Howard, Jr., announced that he was transferring to Detroit, but they should be able to overcome that if freshman Austin Ritchie is as good as advertised and if 6’9″, 290-lb sophomore Matt Stainbrook continues his development. However, the Broncos are probably not quite up to the level of Akron and Kent State right now although their excellent non-conference schedule should serve them well when the NIT announces its field.
Reader’s Take II
Although the MAC appears to be a three-team race this year, the youth of the conference means that there will likely be some significant shake-ups over the next two or three seasons. It also means that on any given night one of the middle-tier teams could knock off one of the top three teams and then get embarrassed a few nights later (unless they are playing Toledo). In the end, the experience of the top three teams should be enough to make those upsets in the conference tournament less likely although strange things have happened in the MAC Tournament before such as 2010 when ninth-seeded Ohio won the MAC Tournament.