Brian Seymour has approached the podium, and is about to announce his MAC halfwaypoint award winners.
OK, it’s time for some midseason awards. Without further ado…
Player of the Year: This is an incredibly tight race and the truth is that any one of three or four players is probably deserving, but two players have really set themselves apart.
Ball State’s Theron Smith has averaged 19 points and 11 boards per game and received the most national attention, but the most valuable player to his team and my pick at this point in the season is Bowling Green’s Keith McLeod.
McLeod is leading the conference in scoring with 23.5 points per game, but even more important than his scoring is the leadership he brings to the Falcons. He’s a clutch free throw shooter (82 percent) and the ball is his hands down the stretch of close games.
Surprise of the Year: Depending on what point in the season you’re talking about, the play of Ball State, Bowling Green, Buffalo, Ohio and Western Michigan has been impressive. The only team which has been able to produce consistently in the conference season is Kent State though. I’ve said before that the MAC’s depth continually hurts it come tournament selection time and this year is no different.
Coach of the Year: Bowling Green’s Dan Dakich is the front-runner in a very close race with Ball State’s Tim Buckley. Dakich will get points for being around the conference longer.
Freshman of the Year: It shouldn’t be much of a contest, thanks to the outstanding play of Western Michigan’s Ben Reed. Reed has scored 13.2 points per game and continues to get stronger and stronger, averaging almost 16 per game since conference play has started, including 30 in a win over archrival Central Michigan. He’s also grabbing 6.7 rebounds per game.
Consideration here also goes to Miami’s Danny Horace, who has started 15 games for the RedHawks and who is averaging 7.2 points and 6.9 rebounds per game.
Upset of the Year: Regardless of what happens the rest of the year, it’ll be hard to match the excitement of Ball State’s back-to-back Maui Classic upset wins over UCLA and Kansas. Those wins could put the Cardinals in the NCAA Tournament.
Disappointment of the Year: Central Michigan was picked to top the MAC’s Western Division, but is stumbling to a 6-10 record and 3-5 in the conference. They seem to follow up impressive wins with surprising losses.
Story of the Year: The ascention of Ball State to national elite and their subsequent struggles. With a 13-6 record, but an impressive RPI, it’ll be touch-and-go for the Cardinals bid to make the NCAA Tournament if they stumble in the MAC tourney.
Projected NCAA Tournament teams: The MAC will probably get two teams this year, it’s just a question of what combination of events will put which two teams in. I’m going to say Ball State and Kent State.
I think Ball State will win the conference tournament, but Kent will win the regular-season title, which will be enough for the selection committee, especially after last year’s successes.
Projected NIT team: Bowling Green.