by Adam Trumble
Held at nearby Gund Arena in Cleveland, Kent State ran through the tournament earning their second consecutive MAC Tournament title.
The biggest upset of the tournament was Central Michigan beating Ohio. The Chippewas won their second road contest of the season by shutting down All-MAC pick Brandon Hunter. Bowling Green’s Keith McLeod hit a fade-away three-pointer with six seconds left to send the Falcons into the semifinals where they defeated No. 2 seed Ball State before falling to the Flashes in the title game.
The Golden Flashes earned National respect last year when they made it to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament. The No. 10 seed defeated the No. 7 seeded Oklahoma State behind senior Trevor Huffman’s 18 points. Huffman and Kent knocked off the No. 2 seed Alabama Crimson Tide en route to a Sweet Sixteen berth. Huffman nailed a running shot with 57 seconds remaining in overtime as the Flashes knocked off No. 3 Pittsburgh. Kent’s slipper fell off when they fell to eventual finalist Indiana in the Elite Eight (81-69). Kent’s 21-game winning streak was ended by 15 Hoosier three-pointers.
The MAC had two teams, Bowling Green and Ball State, receive invitations to the NIT. Bowling Green bowed out in the first round when the Falcons had their wings bitten off by the Butler Bulldogs (81-69). Ball State had a little better luck knocking off St. Joseph’s (76-54) and Louisiana State (75-65) before scoring just 47 points as the Cardinals proved they were no match for a Gamecock – losing to South Carolina by 35.
Theron Smith, Ball State small forward, and Brandon Hunter, Ohio power forward, are both returning for their senior season as reigning All-MAC first team picks. While Kent State’s Trevor Huffman and Andrew Mitchell are both playing along with MAC Player of the Year Bowling Green’s Keith McLeod.
Bowling Green’s Dan Dakich left Bowling Green for West Virginia but decided it wasn’t his place and returned to the Falcons. Supposedly, Dakich went to West Virginia and didn’t like what he saw and came back eight days later.
Stan Heath led the Golden Flashes to an Elite Eight appearance then left for Arkansas. His assistant Jim Christian became the 21st Head Coach in KSU history and will look to lead the talented Flashes back to the NCAA Tournament.
The Akron Zips lost guard Rashon Brown (16.7 ppg) and three-point specialist David Falknor (11.4 ppg, 44.4% from 3-point range) but will return 10 players and three primary starters back. The Buffalo Bulls lost their three leading scorers in Darcel Williams (15.1 ppg/8.0 rpg), Louis Campbell (12.6 ppg) and Robert Brown (9.6 ppg). The Bulls have their work cut out for
them this season, but do return a solid core at the three and four.
The Kent State Golden Flashes will have their work cut out with a new coach and the loss of two-time MAC Tournament MVP Trevor ( I can’t miss at the Gund) Huffman, two-time MAC Defensive Player of the Year Demetric Shaw and the pesky Andrew Mitchell. They do return the well-traveled Antonio Gates.
The Marshall Thundering Herd loss of seniors Tamar Slay (18.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg) and J.R. VanHoose (15.0 ppg, 10.6 rpg) signals a new era in Thundering Herd basketball. The Herd returns a solid core in guards but will have trouble finding depth at the forward and center positions. Oklahoma State transfer David Anderson, a 6-8 forward, should help to an extent. The Miami RedHawks return four starters returning losing the team’s top two scorers (Alex Shorts, 13.6 ppg; and Doug Davis 12.1 ppg).
The Ohio Bobcats lost the teams second leading scorer Sonny Johnson (15.8 ppg off the bench). Other key losses include shot block specialist Patrick Flomo (53 blocks last year). But with the return of Brandon Hunter the Bobcats should contend for the East title.
The loss of guards Patrick Jackson (16.6 ppg, 118 assists), and Billy Lynch along with center Lonnie Jones will hurt the Ball State Cardinals, but returning is potential MAC Player of the Year
The Bowling Green Falcons lost MAC Player of the Year Keith McLeod who led the league in scoring (23.9 ppg) along with three other starters in: MAC assist leader (209) Brandon Pardon, MAC FG pct. leader (59.4%) Len Matela and Brent Klassen (6-8 F). Eric Crawford, a 6-4 G who averaged 3.7 ppg, was to be the lone BGSU starter back from last year. However, Crawford decided to leave the program and return home. The 6-feet 4-inch Crawford played in all 33 games for the Falcons last season, averaging 22.8 minutes a game, and his 29 starts were the most ever for a freshman under Dakich. Dakich will have his work cut out for him this year with an inexperienced group. The Falcons also moved into the West Division for all sports when Central Florida joined the MAC for football.
The Central Michigan Chippewas lost David Webber, to his brother (Chris) and the Sacramento Kings. They also lost Chad Pleiness to the Toronto Blue Jays after his junior year. The pitcher led the nation last year with 13.2 strikeouts per nine innings. The Chippewas return seven-foot center Chris Kaman, who is nursing back problems.
The Eastern Michigan Eagles return all five starters back and the league’s second returning leading scorer in the MAC, in Ricky Cottrill (19.4 ppg). The Eagles are still young but are a dark horse candidate to win the West.
The Northern Illinois Huskies have a new $38.5 Convocation Center but lost center Leon Rodgers, which leaves a void. Rodgers posted 21.3 ppg, the second highest total in the MAC. The Huskies return the other four starters however.
The Toledo Rockets return four starters but the loss of Terry Reynolds (14.1 ppg, 4.2 apg) who transferred to George Mason University June 20. The Western Michigan Broncos lost leading scorer Steve Reynolds (16.9 ppg) but return four starters.