Mid-American Conference Preview
by Adam Trumble
The Mid-American Conference had a pretty quiet offseason after Kent State’s Elite Eight run. Heading
into the season the Ohio Bobcats, led by senior Brandon
Hunter, are the favorite in the East, and the Ball State
Cardinals are the favorite in the West Division.
Bowling Green moved into the West Division and will
look to better last season’s NIT appearance, but the
loss of seniors and a few players that transferred
will make it difficult for the Falcons to succeed in
Here is our projected order of finish, by division:
Ohio Bobcats (17-11, 11-7, 3rd place East)
The Ohio Bobcats had high post-season thoughts last
Season, but lost at home to Central Michigan in the
first round of the MAC Tournament. This year’s squad
returns two-time all-MAC performer Brandon Hunter, a
6-7 forward who averaged 17.3 ppg last year. Also
returning in the front court are starters Steve
Esterkamp (6-6 F) and the team’s second leading scorer
in Sonny Johnson (6-5 F). Johnson averaged 15.8 ppg
off the bench in 24 games and Esterkamp posted 13.4
ppg while shooting 44.4 percent from three-point range. In
the backcourt Jaivon Harris returns with a team
leading 82 assists.
The team lost shot block specialist Patrick Flomo (53
blocks last year) and Jon Sanderson (8.1 ppg).
Ohio opens the MAC season on the road Dec. 7 at
Toledo. The Bobcats don’t have a home game until Dec.
20 when they host Navy, but have a Jan. 4, 2003 date
with Kentucky in Cincinnati circled on their calendar.
Ohio steps up in big games, as last season they defeated
North Carolina in Chapel Hill.
Miami RedHawks (13-18, 9-9, 4th place East)
The Miami RedHawks look for consistency this year when
they return four starters for the first time since
1995. Head Coach Charlie Coles is looking to get back
to the MAC Tournament Championship game, which the
RedHawks missed last season for the first time in five
The RedHawks lose Alex Shorts (13.6 ppg) and Doug
Davis (12.1 ppg), the team’s top two scorers last
season, to graduation. Returning for Miami is Juby
Johnson (6-5 G), Chester Mason (6-3 G), Danny Horace
(6-5 F) and Eugene Seals (6-6 F). Mason and Horace
averaged team highs 5.7 and 5.8 boards per game,
respectively. Mason was second on the team in assists
(77) and steals (30). In the post, Miami has 6-11 Nate
VanderSluis (a medical redshirt last year) and
newcomer John Morningstar, a 6-10 F/C.
Depth also will be on the RedHawks side this season at
the guard and forward positions. Two seven-footers also
are featured on the team this season. Last year, Miami
showed its strength with an early season win over then
No. 11 Boston College. Coles stacked the
schedule this season as the RedHawks play games on the
road with Purdue, Maryland, Xavier and at US Bank
Arena against Cincinnati while hosting Dayton and
Kent State Golden Flashes (30-6, 17-1, 1st Place East)
The Golden Flashes lost three starters from last
season’s Elite Eight squad. With the loss of Head
Coach Stan Heath to Arkansas, Jim Christian takes over
this year’s team. Christian, an assistant coach with
last year’s MAC championship squad, does return some talent, including the much-traveled
Antonio Gates (6-5, F) and fellow starter Nate Gerwig
(6-9, C). Brian Bedford (6-4, F), Eric Haut (6-0, G)
and John Edwards (7-0, C) also return and may move
into starting roles. Gates, a clutch performer,
averaged 20.7 ppg in KSU’s final three games of the
The unanswered questions for the Golden Flashes is how
to replace two-time MAC Tournament MVP Trevor Huffman
(who can not miss in Gund Arena), two-time MAC
Defensive Player of the Year Demetric Shaw, and the
heart of the team in Andrew Mitchell. Huffman is playing
in Europe – the Flashes all-time leading scorer signed
a contract to play for Brandt Hagen of the German
Kent State’s program has established itself as the best in the MAC with 100
wins the last four years and returns a solid core of
players who will carry that championship desire for
the 2003 season. Among the six newcomers is junior
guard Matt Jakeway, a transfer from Austin Peay. The
starters should change during the preseason until the
lineup is solidified come conference time. The Golden
Flashes don’t have the toughest schedule but it should
play to the young team’s favor.
Marshall Thundering Herd (15-15, 8-10, 5th place East)
The Marshall Thundering Herd had a disappointing year
last season, finishing fifth in the East. The Herd lost
Tamir Slay (18.9 ppg) to the New Jersey Nets and J.R.
VanHoose, who became just the 13th player in MAC
history to reach the 1,000 plateau in both points
(1,803) and rebounds (1,088).
Returning is guard Ronald Blackshear (19.6 ppg), a
transfer from Temple, who tied a MAC record with 14
three-point goals in one game. The guard trio of Monty
Wright (84 assists), Ronny Dawn (68 assists) and
Richard Wilson (72 assists) returns for a solid back
court. Wake Forest transfer A.W. Hamilton should give
the Herd even more depth. Inside, 6-10 F/C Ardo
Armpalu returns and is joined by three newcomers, who
are all listed at 6-9. Mark Patton, the West Virginia
High School Player of the Year; Ricardo Dixon from
Hargrave Academy; and Serge Babo, who as a prepster
led Indiana in blocked shots as a senior all come aboard. Oklahoma State transfer David Anderson, a 6-8 forward, could also have an impact with the Herd this season.
Akron Zips (10-21, 5-13, 7th place East)
The Akron Zips knocked of the No. 6 seed Western
Michigan Broncos in the MAC Tournament, giving the Zips
something to build on for this season. The coach’s son, versatile
forward Andy Hipsher, returns (12.6
ppg/6.3 rpg), as does junior Byron Thompson (6-6 F).
Darryl Peterson, a 6-5 F, averaged 13.1 ppg last season, which was good for second-best on the team as a freshman. This included a career high 29 points against West
Division champion Ball State.
The loss of guard Rashon
Brown (16.7 ppg) and David Falknor (11.4 ppg, 44.4 pct
from 3-point range) will hurt the Zips, however with
10 players and three primary starters back, the team
has the foundation laid. JuCo guards Jonathan
Hollingsworh (Wabash JC in Illinois) and Derrick
Tarver (City College of San Francisco) and freshman
guard Mark Williams (IMG Academy in Sebring, FL) could
help the Zips returning front court to present
formidable opposition and get the Zips even further into
the post season.
The Zips scheduled themselves tough opponents in
Oakland (MI) and other lower conference teams. This is
Head Coach Dan Hipsher’s way of getting his team some
confidence before the MAC season begins.
Buffalo Bulls (12-18, 7-11, 6th place East)
The Buffalo Bulls were 6-3 at one point last season. A
Record-setting season for the Bulls should allow them
to build on the team’s seven MAC wins. This was the most
since joining the league in 1999, and was actually more
than its previous three years total (6). Guard Turner
Battle was named to the league’s all-freshman team and
Darcel Williams was tabbed to the all-MAC squad, both
the first-ever post season honors for the school.
Williams (15.1 ppg, 8.0 rpg) was a senior last year but
Battle will give the Bulls a huge boost. He ranked
among the league leaders in assists (108) and
assist-turnover ratio (1.42). In addition to
Williams, the Bulls will have to replace their second
and third leading scorers, respectively in Louis
Campbell (12.6 ppg) and Robert Brown (9.6 ppg).
Joining Battle as key returnees are 6-8 F Clement
Smith (6.2 ppg, 3.7 rpg), 6-10 F Mark Bortz (5.3 ppg,
3.2 rpg) and 5-10 G Davis Lawrence (3.9 ppg).
Washington Post All-Metro first-team guard Calvin
Cage, 6-3 guard Roderick Middleton (University Park,
IL), 6-8 power forward B.J. Walker (Cincinnati) and
6-6 G/F Mario Jordan (Cleveland) will join the
program. Reggie Witherspoon and the Bulls host Rhode
Island but travel to Penn State and Detroit.
Ball State Cardinals (23-12, 12-6, 1st place West)
The Ball State Cardinals should have little trouble
repeating as MAC West Division Champions. Three starters
and seven letter winners return for the West Champions,
who made the NIT last season. They were one win away
from making a trip to Madison Square Garden in the NIT
but lost at South Carolina. Preseason MAC Player of the Year
Theron Smith is back along with 6-3 G Chris Williams. Smith, a 6-8 forward who finished a close
second in MAC Player of the Year voting last season,
had 23 double-doubles and in rebounding (10.9 rpg)
while scoring 19.6 ppg. Williams set a school record
with 90 three-point goals, leading BSU’s MAC record of
310 three-point field goals.
Sophomore guard Matt McCollom, returns after starting 32 games as a
freshman. Key to the Cardinals’ incoming class is JuCo
All-American Cameron Echols, a 6-8 F out of Kennedy
King CC. Echols averaged 8.0 blocked shots and
recorded 11 triple-doubles for KKCC. Another loss is G
Patrick Jackson (16.6 ppg, 118 assists), however
experience returns in guards Rob Robbins and Michael
Bennett as well as Williams. Robert Owens, a 6-7 F,
was a solid contributor is all 35 games last year.
Ball State is favored to win the West and MAC
Tournament and should have little trouble doing it.
The Cardinals have a pretty tough non-conference
schedule against other teams that BSU should be able
to handle but they are looking forward to the last
game of the calendar year when they host Indiana (Dec.
Toledo Rockets (16-14, 11-7, 2nd place West)
The Toledo Rockets finished in second place last
season with Terry Reynolds, who at times appeared to
hurt the team more than help it. Reynolds (14.1 ppg,
4.2 apg) was the team’s second leading scorer and top
assist man but transferred to George Mason. Head
Coach Stan Joplin can count on four returning
starters. Nick Moore made 45 three-point goals,
including an NCAA best 7-for-7 against Akron last
year, and led the league in three-point shooting
percentage at 45.3 percent. He and fellow guard Keith
Triplett (9.3 ppg, 6.0 rpg) and forwards 6-9 A.J.
Shellabarger and 6-7 Ricardo Thomas all return.
Milo Kirsh, a 6-7 F, is back and adds quality depth. J.T.
West, a transfer from Alcorn State, is the
front-runner to replace Reynolds at point guard. Toledo is
one of two MAC schools (Ball State) to win 10
conference games in each of the last five seasons.
The Rockets will compete in a tournament at the U.S.
Virgin Islands against a field of BYU, Kansas State, Michigan
State, St. Bonaventure and Virginia Tech. The Rockets also travel to East Lansing to take
on the Spartans. A tough non-conference schedule could
prove to help the Rockets if they can win a few and
play solid during the MAC season.
Western Michigan Broncos (17-13, 10-8, 3rd place West)
The Broncos had their best finish in four years last
year 10-8 in the MAC, but fell in the opening round of
the conference tournament. Leading the returning
talent are four starters – guards Ben Reed and Robby
Collum, forward Terrance Slater and center Anthony
Kann. Reed was selected as the MAC Freshman of the
Year last year after leading all frosh in scoring
(14.2 ppg) and rebounding (6.3 rpg). Collum, an
honorable mention all-MAC selection, led the MAC in
steals (72 total, 2.4 per game) and free throw accuracy
(86.4%). The loss of leading scorer Steve Reynolds
(16.9 ppg) could be offset with the addition of JuCo
players Bobby Madison (6-6, Southern Union State CC)
and Mike Williams (6-8, Schoolcraft College). The
Broncos had extra time to fine-tune his team as they
were in Europe in August.
The Broncos continue their football tough schedule
into the basketball season, hosting Virginia Tech like
the football team did and traveling to Michigan. They
also host Princeton and play at Auburn.
Northern Illinois Huskies (12-16, 8-10, 4th place West)
The Huskies move into a new $38.5 Convocation Center
and the loss of the school’s fifth leading all-time
scorer, Leon Rodgers, leaves a void. Rodgers posted
21.3 ppg, the second highest total in the MAC. The
other four starters return and only one of those, 6-0
G Eugene Bates, is a senior. He is joined by juniors
Marcus Smallwood, a 6-6 F, and P.J. Smith, a 6-4 G,
and sophomore Jamel Staten, a 6-6 F. Smallwood
averaged 12.2 points and 6.4 rebounds last year, the
highest of any returning Husky, and he paced the
squad with 40 blocked shots.
Al Sewasciuk returns after a team-leading 55 three point goals last year as
a sophomore. Mike Morrison, a 6-9 C, adds veteran play
inside. The Huskies bring in five freshman that may
provide depth but it’s a little too early to tell. Six
of the team’s eight league losses were by 10 points or
The Huskies could be a dark horse to win the West as
they were the only team to win at Ball State last
season. NIU has other big “Mid-Major” opponents at
home when they host DePaul, Loyola and Drake. The
toughest game for the Huskies maybe at Valparaiso.
Central Michigan Chippewas (9-19, 5-13, 5th place West)
The Chippewas went from worst-to-first-to-second-to-last.
They seemed to lose all confidence when
they lost at home to Bowling Green and Miami, both by
less than five points. The Chippewas stumbled through
the regular season but knocked off the No. 5 seed
Bobcats 65-56, in the opening round of the MAC
Tournament. David Webber (17.7 ppg) left school right
after the season to practice with his brother (Chris)
but was cut last week by the Kings. Chad Pleiness
(11.2 ppg) was drafted by MLB’s Toronto Blue Jays and
The Chippewas do return Chris Kaman, a 7-0 C, who is the
team’s leading returning scorer and rebounder (11.8
and 8.3). If Kaman shows up and plays like he has been
hyped, the Chippewas offense could be tough to stop.
Senior guards Whitney Robinson and J.R. Wallace, with
6-8 F/C Gerrit Brigitha, all return to the starting
lineup. A healthy Mike Manciel, the 1999 MAC Freshman
of the Year and a 6-5 F, brings his 8.6 ppg and 4.4
rpg of last year back to the team. The Chippewas will
have depth this season at the guard and the forward
positions but Kaman is the only legitimate threat down
CMU’s schedule will be tough for the team with games
at Michigan, Valparaiso, DePaul and Bradley. They do,
however, host George Mason and Drake.
Bowling Green Falcons (24-9,12-6, 2nd place East)
A lot of media around the MAC expect the Falcons to be
in the race for the West title but Dan Dakich and the
young Falcons will have their work cut out this
season. A move from the East to West Division and the
loss of four starters will challenge Dakich’s team.
MAC Player of the Year (23.9 ppg) Keith McLeod is one
of those four starters. Others lost are MAC assists
leader (209) Brandon Pardon, MAC field goal percentage leader
(59.4 percent) Len Matela and Brent Klassen (6-8 F). McLeod,
Pardon Matela are all currently playing in Europe.
Eric Crawford, a 6-4 G who started 29 games last
Season and averaged 3.7 ppg, is the lone Falcon returning starter.
Veterans Cory Ryan (6-5 G), Josh
Almanson (6-8 F), Kevin Netter (6-10 C) and Jabari
Mattox (6-1 G) will be called upon to step up.
Sophomore guard John Reimold completed his redshirt
year after transferring from Loyola (MD). Reimold was
the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Rookie of the
Year in 2001 while averaging more than 15 ppg. The
Falcons could play spoiler, being 30-6 at home
in MAC games the last four seasons. Dakich’s last
four teams have finished either first or second in the
MAC in field goal shooting. If the young players step
up the Falcons could be a contender but its a pretty
BGSU’s schedule has teams the Falcons should be able
to beat with marquee games at Michigan and at Alabama
in the Coors Classic. The Falcons also play in the
Rock and Roll Shootout against Cleveland State.
Eastern Michigan Eagles (6-24, 2-16, 6th place West)
Eastern has all five starters returning but still
doesn’t have the talent to challenge for the West title.
Ricky Cottrill and his unique shooting style returns,
after finishing second in the MAC in scoring last
season (19.4 ppg).
Returning with Cottrill are two seniors, Steve
Pettyjohn (6-8 F) and Ryan Prillman (6-9 F), along
with two sophomores, Michael Ross (5-10 G) and Marcus
Austin (6-6 F). Pettyjohn led the team in rebounding
(7.3 per game) and was second in scoring (11.7). Newcomer
JaQuan Hart, a 6-6 G/F, may provide much needed talent
to boost the Eagles into contention. The problem with
Hart is he may not be eligibly academically. A
transfer from Ohio State, Hart was ranked as one of
the Top 40 high school players by several
publications, including The Sporting News, prior to
signing with OSU. Hart will be eligible for full-time
action Dec. 19.
The Eagles got extra time in when
they visited Canada in August. Eastern’s schedule will help build some early season
confidence. Eastern, like every other MAC team, plays
less than 15 minutes away at Michigan.