2012-13 RTC Conference Primers: Mid-American Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 16th, 2012

Ethan Back is the MAC correspondent for RTC.

Top Storylines

    • Will Ohio Be Able to Reach the Sweet Sixteen Again? After an extremely successful season that ended in an overtime loss in the Sweet Sixteen against ACC power North Carolina, Ohio will look to make another deep NCAA Tournament run. The Bobcats have a lot of hype to live up to, as they return all of their significant contributors from a season ago, including standouts D.J. Cooper and Walter Offutt. Not all of the personnel returns from a season ago, however, with former head coach John Groce now at Illinois, but new head coach Jim Christian will look to keep momentum going.

Ohio’s D.J. Cooper Hopes To Follow One Head-Turning Season With Another. (AP Photo/T. Dejak)

  • Toledo’s Postseason Ban: Toledo has a very solid core intact from the 2011-12 season, so it’s a real shame that the Rockets won’t be able to qualify for postseason play due to its academic problems. Luckily for the Rockets, two of its best players (Rian Pearson and Julius Brown) are underclassmen, so they’ll still get a chance to win the MAC Tournament in future years, assuming they stay in school beyond the 2012-13 season.
  • East vs. West: Last season, the East had five teams finish with a winning record, whereas the West had a measly one. This clear imbalance within the MAC doesn’t have serious ramifications, as the conference tournament seeds are not based on division, but for the sake of self-respect, the West will hope to have a better season than it did last year.
  • No More Zeiglers: Winning games hasn’t been an easy task for Central Michigan these past two seasons, as its 12-20 conference record during that span indicates. It won’t be any easier this year after the firing of head coach Ernie Zeigler led to the transfer of his son and the Chippewas’ leading scorer Trey Zeigler to Pittsburgh. New head coach Keno Davis brings great experience to the program, but his first season on the job will likely be a rough one.

Reader’s Take I


Predicted Order of Finish

East

  1. Ohio (14-2)
  2. Akron (13-3)
  3. Bowling Green (10-6)
  4. Kent State (10-6)
  5. Buffalo (6-10)
  6. Miami (OH) (4-12)

West

  1. Toledo (12-4)
  2. Eastern Michigan (10-6)
  3. Western Michigan (7-9)
  4. Northern Illinois (5-11)
  5. Ball State (3-13)
  6. Central Michigan(2-14)

Preseason All-Conference Team (2011-12 stats in parentheses)

  • Guard: D.J. Cooper – Ohio (14.7 PPG, 5.7 APG, 2.3 SPG) – Cooper had a great year for the Bobcats, and is their unquestionable leader. He could easily be the MAC Player of the Year, but he needs to improve his shooting percentage, which was a terrible 34.8% in 2011-12.
  • Guard: Rian Pearson – Toledo (16.4 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 1.6 SPG) – After sitting out the 2010-11 season per NCAA rules (he transferred from Wisconsin-Green Bay), Pearson emerged as a force last year in his first season in the MAC. Although he is a guard, he is an elite rebounder and will be a huge part of the Rockets’ success this season.
  • Forward: Javon McCrea – Buffalo (14.7 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 1.2 BPG, 1.0 SPG) – With reigning MAC Player of the Year Mitchell Watt and his 16.3 points and 7.5 rebounds per game gone, the Bulls will lean heavily on McCrea. He put up excellent numbers a season ago, and they should only improve this year.
  • Forward: A’uston Calhoun – Bowling Green (13.6 PPG, 5.9 RPG) – Calhoun led the Falcons to a 9-7 record in conference last season, and did so by putting up solid numbers on a consistent basis. As a senior, he and guard Jordon Crawford (11.3 PPG) will help the team to win games in the very competitive East.
  • Center: Zeke Marshall – Akron (10.4 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 2.8 BPG) – Marshall is the elite shot-blocking force in the MAC. The 2011-12 MAC Defensive Player of the Year also has a solid offensive game, and is an absolute presence inside at 7’0”. The Zips will be able to compete in every game they play largely due to his size and impact on the court.

Sixth Man: Julius Brown – Toledo (11.9 PPG, 4.9 APG, 1.1 SPG) – Brown had a stellar freshman season that was highlighted with the conference’s Freshman of the Year award. Now, with a season under his belt, he will be even more comfortable at the collegiate level and look to improve upon his first year’s success.

Impact Newcomer: James Still – Eastern Michigan Still started his career at Providence, but ended up at Henry Ford Community College after just one year as a Big East athlete. Last season at the JuCo ranks, Still put up incredible numbers (15.9 PPG, 12.6 RPG, 5.2 BPG), but the competition in the MAC will obviously be steeper. Regardless, with his 6’10” size and elite athleticism, he will be able to make an impact immediately.

Predicted Champion

Ohio (NCAA Seed: #10): Ohio will win the MAC this season, but it won’t be an easy task. The Bobcats are immensely talented, and with star point guard D.J. Cooper running the show, the game becomes easier for his teammates. Walter Offutt (12.4 PPG) is a good scorer, Reggie Keely (9.0 PPG) and Ivo Baltic (8.7 PPG) bring starting experience to the table, and Nick Kellogg (85 3FGs) is a threat from the perimeter. If Ohio fails to win the MAC, it could potentially be due to complacency setting in after last season’s run, but more likely than that another team could play exceptionally well in MAC competition. Akron won 13 conference games a season ago, and returns centerpieces Zeke Marshall and Alex Abreu (9.6 PPG). Kent State and Bowling Green could also be dangerous, but no other team in the MAC can match Ohio’s talent and depth. The Bobcats proved to the nation last year that they were capable of winning on the big stage, and will look to do so again. If Jim Christian’s squad can win some of its tough non-conference games (at Memphis, at Massachusetts, at Oklahoma, and at home against Marshall), it will be in a good position for a solid NCAA Tournament seed.

Top Contender

Akron: Akron certainly has the talent to compete with Ohio, as it showed in last year’s conference championship game. With center Zeke Marshall anchoring the defense and Alex Abreu running the point, the Zips will have a shot at taking down the Bobcats. Quincy Diggs, Nick Harney, Brian Walsh, and Demetrius Treadwell all averaged at least 7.2 points per game last season, so Akron has solid offensive depth. The real difference between Akron and Ohio is the presence of D.J. Cooper. He scored 23 points in the title game a year ago, whereas Marshall only scored eight and grabbed a modest four rebounds. If Marshall can exploit smaller defenders throughout the season, that could be a big difference maker, but unless he does so against Ohio, Akron won’t be conference champs. While they might not make the NCAA Tournament, expect to see the Zips in some postseason tournament, quite possibly the NIT.

Reader’s Take II

 

Notable Newcomers

  • Jim Christian – Ohio – John Groce, who was Ohio’s head coach for the past four seasons, left the MAC for the greener pastures of the Big Ten. Christian brings legitimate head coaching experience with him to Athens, as he compiled a 76-28 conference record while at Kent State from 2002-08.
  • Melvin Tabb – Kent State – The 6’9” power forward will look to contribute right away at Kent State after transferring from Midland College in Texas. Tabb started his college career at Wake Forest, but was dismissed for conduct detrimental to the team. Hopefully, he’ll be more helpful than detrimental to the Golden Flashes.
  • James Still and Ray Lee – Eastern Michigan – Still, who was highlighted earlier as the conference’s impact newcomer, will be expected to contribute big numbers right away. Lee, a point guard, comes to Eastern Michigan after turning down offers from the likes of Texas, Baylor and Dayton. He could be an all-conference caliber player in the MAC for multiple years.

Spotlight on… D.J. Cooper

D.J. Cooper emerged onto the national scene after he led his Ohio Bobcats to an NCAA Tournament win over Georgetown in 2010. In that game, he scored 23 points, dished out eight assists, and came away with three steals. Unlike some other players who have one great game and then fade into obscurity, Cooper has had an extremely successful career, both as an individual and a team member. He boasts career averages of 14.6 points, 6.3 assists, and 2.4 steals per game. He is already the school’s all-time leader in assists, and will be tops in steals after he grabs just one more. Furthermore, he has been part of 70 career wins at Ohio. The Bobcats return every important piece from their Sweet Sixteen team a season ago, so Cooper will look to reach at least that round of March Madness in 2012-13. If Ohio fails to do so, his career wouldn’t be marred, but he would undoubtedly be upset and unsatisfied. He has the opportunity to turn in a very special season, and if he does so, he could go down as one of the conference’s all-time greats.

Final Thoughts

The Mid-American Conference is a legitimately talented mid-major conference. If things break right, the league is capable of sending two teams to the NCAA Tournament, and would be even more dangerous on the national scene if Toledo were eligible for postseason play. There is no lack of star power in the MAC, ranging from electric guards (D.J.Cooper, Alex Abreu, and Julius Brown) to versatile wings (Rian Pearson and A’uston Calhoun) to imposing big men (Zeke Marshall and Javon McCrea). Mid-major and casual college basketball fans alike should definitely follow the MAC this year and should keep an eye on the conference champion when March rolls around.

Brian Goodman (782 Posts)

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


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