In this installment, our focus shifts to how the Mid-American Conference looks entering the 2013-14 season.
Here we go …
EAST DIVISION OVERVIEW
AKRON: 26-7, 14-2 (T1st)
THUMBNAIL: The Zips’ graduation losses include Zeke Marshall (13.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 3.7 bpg) as well as sharp-shooter Brian Walsh (7.2 ppg) and Chauncey Gilliam (5.6 ppg). The future of point guard Alex Abreu (10.3 ppg, 6.0 apg) also is in doubt, although there’s a possibility Quincy Diggs, the MAC’s top sixth man in 2011-12, will return to school. Juniors Nick Harney (9.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg) and Demetrius Treadwell (11.5 ppg, 7.9 rpg) give this team a foundation for success.
BUFFALO: 14-20, 7-9 (T4th)
THUMBNAIL: The Bulls bring back a stacked team for new coach Bobby Hurley. The returnees include All-MAC forward Javon McCrea (18.0 ppg, 7.9 rpg) as well as Will Regan (11.1 ppg). Expect guard Jarod Oldham (10.1 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 4.4 apg) to bounce back from the wrist injury that ended his season early, while Jarryn Skeete gained valuable minutes as his replacement and averaged 10.4 ppg and 3.1 apg in MAC play.
KENT STATE: 21-14, 9-7 (3rd)
THUMBNAIL: The Golden Flashes took a hit similar to BG, losing the team’s top two scorers in Chris Evans (16.2 ppg, 7.7 rpg) and Randal Holt (14.7 ppg). Among the returnees are Kris Brewer (9.2 ppg), who proved to be a solid 3-point shooter. KSU certainly has numbers returning, but this team also will need some players to step forward to contend for a league title.
MIAMI: 9-22, 3-13 (6th)
THUMBNAIL: The RedHawks had a number of post-season defections as Allen Roberts (12.3 ppg), Jon Harris (8.5 ppg, 4.2 rpg) and Drew McGhee (5.2 ppg) are expected to transfer. But as Branch Rickey famously said, “We finished last with you, and we can finish last without you.” Will Felder (11.6 ppg, 5.3 rpg) will be the most notable returnee, with the RedHawks expecting to rely on newcomers and a few transfers, most notably Blake McLimans from Michigan, to turn around last season’s dismal results.
OHIO: 24-10, 14-2 (T1st)
THUMBNAIL: The Bobcats arguably took the league’s largest graduation hit, with MAC player of the year D.J. Cooper (14.1 ppg, 7.1 apg) and all-league players Reggie Keely (12.1 ppg, 4.9 rpg) and Walter Offutt (10.6 ppg, 4.2 rpg) lost along with Ivo Baltic (7.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg). There are pieces in place for the Bobcats to keep rolling, most notably guards Nick Kellogg (8.0 ppg) and Stevie Taylor (3.1 ppg) along with forwards T.J. Hall (4.8 ppg, 1.6 rpg) and Jon Smith (4.8 ppg, 3.6 rpg).
WEST DIVISION OVERVIEW
BALL STATE: 15-15, 8-8 (3rd)
THUMBNAIL: The Cardinals have a new coach in James Whitford, who most recently was an assistant at Arizona but spent 11 seasons at Miami. He must replace the scoring lost by Jauwan Scaife (16.6 ppg), but nearly every other key player returns. Central among the returnees are a senior class who will need to lead next season: forwards Majok Majok (10.7 ppg, 9.8 rpg), Matt Kamieniecki (4.6 ppg, 5.9 rpg) and Chris Bond (8.9 ppg, 6.1 rpg) along with guard Jesse Berry (12.8 ppg).
CENTRAL MICHIGAN: 11-20, 4-12 (5th)
THUMBNAIL: The Chippewas suffered a big loss with the graduation of Kyle Randall, who averaged 18.7 ppg and 20.8 ppg in league play. But at this point he wasn’t even a part of the program, so a quick reload always is a possibility. CMU does have a few building blocks in place thanks to a pair of players who saw extensive action as freshmen, point guard Chris Fowler (8.1 ppg, 5.7 apg) and forwards John Simons (7.4 ppg, 4.9 rpg) and Blake Hibbitts (8.8 ppg, 67 3’s).
EASTERN MICHIGAN: 16-18, 7-9 (4th)
THUMBNAIL: The Eagles lost their leading scorer in Derek Thompson (11.1 ppg), and may lose their second-leading scorer as Glenn Bryant (10.6 ppg) was suspended after he was arrested and charged with aggravated domestic violence. But the team’s 2-3 zone returns, as do a several players who made it a force, most notably Da’Shonte Riley (4.0 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 2.0 bpg). EMU has a number of players returning who saw significant minutes, as well as Duquesne transfer Mike Talley.
NORTHERN ILLINOIS: 5-25, 3-13 (6th)
THUMBNAIL: The building has been slow for the Huskies, who again struggled with an extremely young roster. The transfer of leading scorer Abdel Nader (13.1 ppg, 5.6 rpg) won’t help, but the experience gained by last year’s large freshmen class will help. Too bad one of those freshmen, Akeem Springs, also will transfer after averaging 7.7 points per game. Among the most notable freshmen who will return is Darrell Bowie (5.9 ppg, 3.8 rpg). Transfer Pete Rakocevic, who stands 6-11, also may help.
TOLEDO: 15-13, 10-6 (T1st)
THUMBNAIL: The Rockets return two All-MAC performers in forward Rian Pearson (17.9 ppg, 6.8 rpg) and Julius “Juice” Brown (13.1 ppg, 6.0 apg). Continued development by Matt Smith (9.8 ppg) and Nathan Boothe (5.2 rpg as a freshman) will help improve the team as well. But one of the team’s biggest problems last season, depth, should be solved to a degree by the end of scholarship sanctions due to APR problems and an influx of new players.
WESTERN MICHIGAN: 22-13, 10-6 (T1st)
THUMBNAIL: The Broncos bounced back nicely after a disappointing season the year before, as several players stepped up their games. Unfortunately, WMU will lose some of those players as Nate Hutcheson (10.1 ppg, 4.7 rpg) graduates along with Brandon Pokley (8.9 ppg), while MAC freshman of the year Darius Paul (10.5 ppg, 5.7 rpg) transfers. Much of the load will fall to seniors Shayne Whittington (13.2 ppg, 8.8 rpg) and David Brown (11.0 ppg), but they will need to get help from players such as junior Austin Richie (6.1 ppg, 3.0 apg).
LEAGUE OVERVIEW: In the East, Buffalo returns a talented team that has to be considered a favorite, while perennial title contenders Akron and Ohio will give the Bulls a run for the top spot. Kent State, which always seems to reload rather than rebuild, will need to do that again. Because of the losses suffered by both Bowling Green and Miami –- and the uncertainty of who will fill the shoes of those lost –- both the Falcons and RedHawks will be picked near the bottom of the division.
In the West, Toledo returns as much talent as any MAC school and should be the favorite. The two teams most likely to challenge the Rockets for the division title are Ball State and Western Michigan, although both have some losses to overcome. Eastern Michigan is a dark horse candidate to push those three teams, and the Eagles’ tough zone allows them to be a thorn in any team’s side. Central Michigan and Northern Illinois both are expected to follow that pack, although the Chippewas do have a few bright spots returning.