According to KenPom’s average efficiency rankings, the MAC is currently the 12th-best conference in college basketball, behind the Mountain West and Missouri Valley and just ahead of the Ivy League and Big West. But unlike most other mid-major conferences in its class – Harvard in the Ivy; Wichita State in the MVC; Green Bay in the Horizon – there’s no clear-cut favorite, or even clear pecking order in the MAC; seven of its top eight teams are ranked within 57 spots of each other. As conference play tips off this weekend, let’s take our best shot at separating true East and West Division contenders from those squads likely to fade in the muddled MAC pack. Remember, the top two seeds in this league receive a triple-bye in the MAC Tournament.
Teams to Believe In: MAC East
- Buffalo. Buffalo lost three seniors from last season’s 19-10 unit, including MAC Player of the Year Javon McCrea, yet – at 8-3 – looks to be legitimate. The Bulls are currently the conference’s highest-ranked unit in both KenPom and Sagarin (71st and 49th, respectively) with its three losses all coming on the road to respectable opponents – including Kentucky and Wisconsin, of which it led both at halftime. Bobby Hurley’s defense is much-improved from an efficiency standpoint (allowing well under a point per possession), and big man Justin Moss has almost immediately morphed into a poor man’s (or even a middle-class man’s) McCrea, averaging 17 points and 10 rebounds per contest. Likewise, guard Lamonte Bearden has emerged as one of the conference’s top freshmen (9.4 PPG, 4.0 APG). And while Jarryn Skeete’s scorching-hot three-point shooting (50% 3FG) may come back to earth a bit (the guard has missed the last two games with an injured ankle), the fact that preseason all-MAC East forward Will Regan has considerably underperformed to this point makes offensive improvement seem more likely than regression.