Mid-American Conference 2007-08 Preview
by Phil Kasiecki
The Mid-American Conference remains one of the most notable mid-major conferences in America. Year in and year out, the conference is marked by tough competition all the way through and high-quality basketball, with several teams standing out. In an era where conference success is often judged by the number of teams in the NCAA Tournament and in overall postseason play, this quality tends to get lost in the discussion.
The MAC is an interesting departure from the rest of college basketball in that it looks like it is a frontcourt-dominated conference. College basketball is about guards to a large degree, but a number of the best players in the MAC play up front. Four of the five preseason All-MAC selections here are frontcourt players, and a number of others who would make a second team if we did one play up front. That’s one reason why a couple of teams are surely hoping that new recruits in the frontcourt are able to contribute right away.
Both divisions offer something. The East Division looks to be deeper, as defending champion Miami (Ohio) looks to be the favorite and Akron may not be far behind, but it wouldn’t be a shock if Kent State or Ohio emerged as the division winner and Bowling Green should knock off a contender or two along the way. The West Division, meanwhile, has arguably the two best teams in Western Michigan and Central Michigan, although Toledo isn’t too far behind despite several key personnel losses.
Three schools have new head coaches this season, although one was the most noteworthy in the off-season. The new coaches that grabbed the least attention are new Bowling Green head coach Louis Orr, who was previously the head coach at Seton Hall, and new Northern Illinois head coach Ricardo Patton, who was the head coach at Colorado until last season. Although they didn’t get most of the publicity, they are noteworthy in that they were previously head coaches at BCS conference schools. The most noteworthy change came from the resignation of Ronny Thompson at Ball State after one season and multiple NCAA rules violations. He is succeeded by former Lehigh head coach Billy Taylor.
Player of the Year: Giordan Watson, Central Michigan
Top Newcomer: Nate Minnoy, Central Michigan
Top Freshman: Dwight McCombs, Miami (Ohio)
Defensive Player of the Year: Kashif Payne, Toledo
Coach on the Hot Seat: Tim O’Shea, Ohio
Best NBA Prospect: Giordan Watson, Central Michigan
Tim Pollitz, Sr. F, Miami (Ohio)
Joe Reitz, Sr. C, Western Michigan
Giordan Watson, Sr. G, Central Michigan
Leon Williams, Sr. F, Ohio
Jeremiah Wood, Sr. F, Akron
Miami (Ohio) RedHawks (18-15, 10-6 MAC)
So. G Alex Moosmann (4.3 ppg, 1.1 rpg, 2.8 apg)
Jr. G-F Michael Bramos (11.2 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 2.3 apg, 1.2 bpg, 1.4 spg)
Sr. F Tim Pollitz (16.1 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 1.7 apg)
Jr. F Tyler Dierkers (2.1 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 1.0 apg)
Fr. F Dwight McCombs
Schedule Highlights: The RedHawks will certainly be challenged in a non-conference slate that includes four home games. They open at home with Xavier, then later host Dayton and Indiana State. After the opener, they head west to play in the Anaheim Classic against South Alabama, then either USC or San Diego. Other challenging road games include Louisville, Wright State, Illinois, Kansas and Cincinnati, along with a BracketBusters game. MAC play starts with tough road games at Akron and Ohio.
Outlook: The RedHawks came alive in the MAC Tournament last year behind Pollitz, and he’s back to lead them once again. The inside-outside combination he forms with Bramos will be an excellent one, and Moosmann showed plenty of promise as a floor leader last season. Moosmann will have a little help behind him with Carl Richburg now healthy and newcomers like junior college transfer Kenny Hayes and freshman Rodney Haddix. The best of a talented freshman group is McCombs, who should start immediately and should give them some defense and rebounding, which is primarily what they will need from him right now. Dierkers, sophomore Adam Fletcher and freshman Nick Winbush will also see time in the frontcourt. The RedHawks won with their defense last season, and expect that to be their path to success this season as well. McCombs and the more mature frontcourt should also improve on the team’s negative rebounding margin, which will aid the defense.
Akron Zips (26-7, 13-3 MAC)
Sr. G Cedric Middleton (11.1 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 1.7 apg, 1.1 spg)
Sr. G Nick Dials (10.1 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 2.7 apg, 1.5 spg)
Sr. F Jeremiah Wood (10.3 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 1.7 apg)
Sr. F Quade Milum (6.5 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 1.1 bpg)
Jr. F Nate Linhart (5.9 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 1.3 apg, 1.2 spg)
Schedule Highlights: Eight home games are on tap in non-conference play, including two three-game stretches and an appearance in the BracketBusters. After opening in the Top of the World Classic, the Zips come home for three straight, including Temple and Wyoming. Their road games are all noteworthy, as they play at Winthrop, Ohio Valley contender Austin Peay and Dayton. In MAC play, they have a chance to get off to a good start with three of their first four at home. Prior to the BracketBusters game, they will play four of five on the road. In terms of West Division opponents, they make out just okay: they get Western Michigan and Central Michigan on the road and Toledo at home.
Outlook: The Zips had a legitimate gripe after being left out of the NIT despite 26 wins last season. Although they lost key players Dru Joyce and Romeo Travis, they return a team with seven seniors and two juniors that should be in contention once again. Middleton and Dials are good offensive threats, although both will need to show some floor leadership as well with Joyce’s departure. Freshmen Steve McNees and Ronnie Steward will get a chance at the job as well. Wood will lead the way inside, with Milum the most likely candidate to join him and Linhart in a front line that doesn’t have great size but will be effective. Sophomore Chris McKnight should also figure into the mix. The Zips led the MAC in scoring and field goal percentage last season, as well as field goal percentage defense, all of which they can certainly duplicate this season. With Joyce’s departure, turning it over less than anyone else will be tougher to repeat, but it will be essential.
Kent State Golden Flashes (21-11, 12-4 MAC)
Jr. G Jordan Mincy (3.2 ppg, 1.1 rpg, 3.6 apg)
So. G Chris Singletary (6.0 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 1.9 apg)
Jr. F Rashad Woods (junior college transfer)
Sr. F Mike Scott (9.4 ppg, 6.4 rpg)
Sr. F Haminn Quaintance (8.2 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 2.0 apg, 1.7 bpg, 1.7 spg)
Schedule Highlights: The Golden Flashes did quite well here, getting eight non-conference home games, including hosting two games as part of the Chicago Invitational. The home dates include MEAC contender Hampton, Saint Louis, Colonial favorite George Mason and Southland contender Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. Notable road games are in Chicago against Xavier and either Indiana or Illinois State in the Chicago Invitational, at North Carolina, and a BracketBusters game. In MAC play, mid-January will pose a test as they take on Miami (Ohio) and Ohio on the road, then come home for Akron and Western Michigan.
Outlook: If you look solely at numbers, one might wonder how the Golden Flashes project to be a contender in the division or to win close to or over 20 games again. They have five starters back, though none averaged double figures in scoring, but they’ll also get a good talent boost from newcomers. Although they lose Omni Smith and Armon Gates, the two combined to start 29 games, so they return plenty of experience. Mincy and Singletary will anchor the backcourt, with Mincy posting a 2.1 assist/turnover ratio last season. He’ll be backed up by junior college transfer Al Fisher, who started his college career at Siena and can put up points as well. Rodriquez Sherman returns, but Woods, who started his college career at DePaul, figures to move him out of the starting lineup. Scott and Quaintance form a nice frontcourt, with Scott doing things other than scoring to help a team win and Quaintance being capable of impacting a game in several ways. Junior college transfer Gabe Garcia and sophomore Brandon Parks give this team more size inside. The Golden Flashes don’t do any one thing exceedingly well, but they didn’t have a glaring weakness last season, either. Should they repeat that, look for them to contend in the East once again.
Ohio Bobcats (19-13, 9-7 MAC)
Jr. G Michael Allen (junior college transfer)
Sr. G Bubba Walther (12.4 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 2.1 apg, 1.5 spg)
Jr. F Justin Orr (transfer from Murray State)
Jr. F Jerome Tillman (14.6 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 1.3 apg)
Sr. F Leon Williams (14.4 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 1.0 spg)
Schedule Highlights: The non-conference schedule has its share of tough games, with five coming at home including a BracketBusters game. They open the season with two tough ones at home against WAC favorite New Mexico State and Ivy League contender Cornell. Then they go on the road to play at Patriot League favorite Holy Cross and Temple, then later head to Maryland and Kansas right before the Rainbow Classic, where they open with St. John’s. They finish up at Bucknell. They got a break in the MAC schedule in terms of who they play from the West, as they get Western Michigan and Central Michigan at home only. Early on, they have a tough three-game stretch with Miami (Ohio) and Kent State at home sandwiched around a game at Akron.
Outlook: The Bobcats have plenty of talent and enough veterans to take home the title, making them a good dark horse pick. The starting lineup looks excellent, with Tillman and Williams forming the top frontcourt duo in the conference as both do solid work inside and out. Add Orr to them and you get a frontcourt unit that should be second to none, especially since there is some depth with sophomore Kenneth van Kempen and freshmen DeVaughn Washington, Maurice Pearson and Zack Nagtzaam. The question mark on the perimeter isn’t off the ball, where Walther and junior Andrew Vroman hold down the fort. Instead, it’s at the point, where a couple of unexpected departures make Allen the likely starter, although Bert Whittington has a chance as well and could see some minutes off the ball since he can shoot from long range. The Bobcats should approach the 20-win mark again at the very least, and if the point guard spot can be resolved, this team could find its way to the top of the division before the season is out.
Bowling Green Falcons (13-18, 3-13 MAC)
So. G Ryan Sims (2.9 ppg, 1.5 rpg)
Sr. G Ryne Hamblet (10.4 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 4.2 apg, 1.7 spg)
Jr. F Nate Miller (14.1 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 2.5 apg, 2.0 spg)
Jr. F Dusan Radivojevic (3.6 ppg, 1.5 rpg, 1.2 apg)
Jr. F Erik Marschall (9.1 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 1.1 apg)
Schedule Highlights: Five home games are on tap in non-conference play, highlighted by Temple, Illinois State and Duquesne. The Falcons open against Western Carolina and Belmont in the Peggy Cronin Classic in Cincinnati, then take on Cincinnati there in a separate game. Other notable road games include Summit League contender Oakland and a BracketBusters road game. In MAC play, four of the first six games are at home.
Outlook: The cupboard isn’t bare for new head coach Louis Orr, but Hamblet is the only senior and they might be a year away from contention in this strong division. With Miller and Hamblet, there aren’t any concerns on the wing, with Hamblet being a big intangible player who will have to help with ball-handling duties. Sims is the incumbent, but he’s inexperienced and will get a trial by fire if he starts there. Inside, there are fewer questions but still some to be answered beyond Marschall and Radivojevic. One area there that isn’t a concern is a lack of size, as sophomores Otis Polk and Marc Larson each stand 6’9″ and freshman Cameron Madlock is 6’8″. The Falcons tied for the worst rebounding margin in the conference last season.
Buffalo Bulls (12-19, 4-12 MAC)
So. G Byron Mulkey (9.3 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 4.1 apg in 11 games)
Jr. G Andy Robinson (10.3 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 1.7 apg, 1.8 spg)
Jr. G-F Greg Gamble (6.2 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 2.2 apg, 1.2 spg)
So. F Max Boudreau (2.9 ppg, 2.2 rpg)
Jr. F-C Vadim Fedotov (3.3 ppg, 2.4 rpg)
Schedule Highlights: The Bulls will be in two in-season tournaments in non-conference play, opening at Connecticut in the 2K Sports College Hoops Classic and later heading to El Paso for the State Farm Sun Bowl Tournament, where they will play Wyoming in the opener. South Florida and Tulane are the highlights of five home games, which include a BracketBusters game in February. Pittsburgh is the most notable road opponent. In MAC play, three of the first four games are on the road, with the only home game in that stretch being Akron. Later, they have four straight at home prior to the BracketBusters game.
Outlook: With just one senior on the roster, the Bulls look to be a year away from being contenders again. They have some talent on the perimeter, with Mulkey emerging late last season and now looking like their floor leader of the future. Robinson and Gamble are good scorers, with Gamble capable of joining his teammate in double-digit scoring. The frontcourt, a strength last season when they had the best rebounding margin in the MAC, has been hit hard by graduation. The Bulls have plenty of size and no shortage of bodies, but they haven’t played well and that’s the biggest question mark for this team. Fedotov is their best holdover there and didn’t do much last season, while the so-so play of Boudreau and Kambi Laleye might have been freshmen adjusting to college. If the holdovers don’t get better, junior college transfer Brian Addison and freshman Jawaan Alston, both of whom stand 6’8″, may grab their minutes. The Bulls struggled to score last season in making just 41 percent of their shots, but the bigger issues are on defense as opponents shot over 46 percent from the field against them.
Western Michigan Broncos (16-16, 9-7 MAC)
Jr. G Michael Redell (8.7 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 4.4 apg)
Jr. G Shawntes Gary (10.2 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 1.3 apg, 1.2 spg)
So. G David Kool (11.4 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 1.7 apg, 1.2 spg)
Sr. G-F Derek Fracalossi (5.9 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 1.4 apg)
Sr. C Joe Reitz (13.9 ppg, 8.6 rpg)
Schedule Highlights: The non-conference slate opens up with Pacific, Pepperdine and host Oregon at the World Vision Invitational. Four home games are on tap, including Southern Conference favorite Davidson, Northwestern and Southern Illinois. A couple of notable road games include San Diego State and likely Summit League favorite IUPUI, and they also have a road game in BracketBusters. In February, they have a tough three-game stretch with Akron, Ohio and Miami (Ohio), but only Ohio is on the road.
Outlook: The Broncos have a terrific perimeter unit and excellent class balance that make them the team to beat coming into the season. They also boast good experience with a starting lineup of upperclassmen and a sophomore who started last season in Kool, who should be the go-to scorer on the perimeter while Redell runs the show and Gary plays the complementary role. Juniors Andre Ricks and Derek Drews provide depth, and the lone newcomer, junior college transfer Juston Hairston, should also figure into the mix backing up Fracalossi. Reitz had his appendix removed during the summer but should be ready for the season, while senior Andrew Hershberger could grab the starting job alongside Reitz. Sophomores Jon Workman and Donald Lawson showed some potential last season, with Workman missing half of last season due to an ankle injury. It goes without saying that health is a major question mark for this team, but the pieces are in place to take the division and be the best team in the conference. It would also help if they can cut down on turnovers, particularly the guards as Gary had more turnovers than assists and Kool had just one more assist than turnovers.
Central Michigan Chippewas (13-18, 7-9 MAC)
Sr. G Giordan Watson (18.8 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 4.2 apg, 1.6 spg)
So. G Jordan Bitzer (7.4 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 1.3 apg, 1.2 spg)
Jr. G Nate Minnoy (junior college transfer)
So. F Marko Spica (7.1 ppg, 3.4 rpg)
Jr. F Chris Kellerman (8.8 ppg, 3.2 rpg)
Schedule Highlights: A challenging non-conference slate begins with the College Basketball Experience at Missouri, where the Chippewas could play Fordham after playing the Tigers. They’re on the road for two more, at Niagara and Minnesota, before coming home for the first of just three non-conference home games, the most notable of which is against Big West contender Cal State Fullerton. Other road dates of note are at Northeast contender Robert Morris and Michigan. In MAC play, the Chippewas play consecutive home games only once, at the end of the regular season. Their toughest stretch looks to be at the end of January, when a home date with Akron is sandwiched between games at Western Michigan and Ohio.
Outlook: The Chippewas appear to have the best talent in the conference, so the main question is how long it will take for the players to gel and in some cases adjust to new roles. Minnoy and freshmen Chase Simon and Jeremy Allen make the perimeter even more dangerous, as Watson is one of the conference’s best players and Bitzer showed some promise as a freshman. Simon and Allen could push Bitzer out of the starting lineup. The frontcourt players won’t score a ton, but they should develop enough to balance out the guards and keep defenses from keying on them too much. Both Spica and Kellerman are good at what they do and need to get better, with Brandon Ford being the primary backup inside if he’s healthy. The Chippewas need to improve their shooting, as they made less than 42 percent of their shots last season, and cutting down on their 17.5 turnovers per game from last season will also go a long way towards success. But scoring doesn’t figure to be a major issue, meaning the bigger issue is defensively, where opponents shot 46 percent from the field last season.
Toledo Rockets (19-13, 14-2 MAC)
Sr. G Kashif Payne (7.6 ppg, 1.3 rpg, 4.2 apg, 1.1 spg)
Jr. G Jonathan Amos (6.1 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 1.2 apg, 1.8 spg)
Jr. G Ridley Johnson (4.0 ppg, 1.8 rpg)
Sr. F Jerrah Young (2.3 ppg, 2.5 rpg)
Fr. F Mohammed Lo
Schedule Highlights: The Rockets have a very tough non-conference schedule that features five home games, none of which will be easy. They open up with Missouri State and Vanderbilt at home, then hit the road for six straight games and none will be easy: Old Dominion, Dayton, Rhode Island, an improved UNC-Wilmington team, Pittsburgh and Houston. Later, they host Drexel, head to UMass and host Summit League contender Oakland, and will also host a BracketBusters game. In MAC play, three of the first five are on the road, but three straight games plus the BracketBusters game are at home in February and early March.
Outlook: The Rockets lose their three top scorers from last season, so they may take a step back this season. But they won’t be an easy out with the veterans on the team, starting with their leader in Payne, one of the top floor leaders in the conference and the reigning Defensive Player of the Year. Amos and Johnson have been regulars, but Johnson came in with a reputation as a shooter and struggled from behind the arc last season. Junior Tyrone Kent could start on the wing and will at least be one of if not the first player off the bench. Freshmen Paul Becklens and Corey Bingham should help, although Becklens’ minutes might be limited since he’s a point guard and going with him and Payne together hurts them since Becklens isn’t a big scoring threat. In the frontcourt, there is talent, but not much of it is proven. Young can defend, but will need to give them more offense, and Lo should start right away and classmate Justin Anyijong is very long and could get some minutes, although he needs to get stronger. With the scoring they lost from the departed players, the Rockets will need to improve on defense if they are to remain a contender, as allowing opponents to shoot over 48 percent from the field again won’t be enough.
Eastern Michigan Eagles (13-19, 6-10 MAC)
Sr. G Jarred Axon (6.7 ppg, 1.5 rpg, 1.3 apg)
Jr. G Carlos Medlock (13.2 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 3.3 apg, 1.9 spg)
Sr. G Travis Lewis (2.7 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 2.7 apg, 1.3 spg)
Sr. F Jesse Bunkley (11.0 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 1.6 apg)
So. F Justin Dobbins (5.8 ppg, 4.1 rpg)
Schedule Highlights: Six home games are on tap in a challenging non-conference slate, including a BracketBusters game and one against Missouri Valley contender Illinois State. The Eagles will also play in the Texas A&M Corpus Christi Islander Classic against Atlantic 10 contender Rhode Island and either the host (a strong Southland contender) or Georgia Southern. Other notable road games include Summit League contender Oakland, MAAC contender Manhattan, Notre Dame and Temple. MAC play isn’t kind right away with the first two coming against Central Michigan (road) and Western Michigan (home), then two more road games right after them.
Outlook: If there is a sleeper team in this division, it is the Eagles, who have a senior-laden team and some good new talent coming in to support them. A healthy Medlock should spearhead the offense and get everyone else going, including seniors Axon and Lewis, the latter of whom they could use more scoring from. Junior Zane Gay and freshman Soloman Farris are among the main reserves. Bunkley leads the way in the frontcourt, and could play on the wing at times for a bigger lineup. Dobbins played well once he was healthy last season and should start inside, with seniors James Matthews and Nenad Banjamin also in the mix. Junior college transfer Wendale Farrow and freshman Marvin Skipper should push the seniors, as could sophomore Kyle Dodd after he played limited minutes last season. The Eagles have several areas for improvement, but taking better care of the basketball would be a good start since they turned it over almost 18 times per game last season, a figured exceeded by just two MAC teams.
Northern Illinois Huskies (7-23, 4-12 MAC)
Sr. G Ryan Paradise (10.1 ppg, 1.9 rpg, 1.9 apg)
So. G Cody Yelder (9.8 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 1.9 apg)
Sr. G Zach Pancratz (8.9 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 1.7 apg)
Sr. F Shaun Logan (7.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 2.5 apg)
Sr. F Egan Grafel (1.8 ppg, 1.5 rpg)
Schedule Highlights: Patton’s first non-conference slate will have some challenges and includes five home games, one of which is a BracketBusters game. They open the season in Iowa at the BTI Tip-Off Tourney, where they take on host Northern Iowa, UMass and Big West contender Cal Poly. They then stay on the road for a tough matchup with Southern Illinois, then later travel to Notre Dame and Wisconsin-Green Bay. The most notable home games are against Southland contender Lamar and Air Force. After opening up MAC play at Western Michigan, they have six of eight at home, including three straight at the end of that stretch.
Outlook: New head coach Ricardo Patton doesn’t inherit a bare cupboard, as there is a good deal of experience among the holdovers as the roster has six seniors. The one underclassman who projects to start, Yelder, had a solid freshman season and should continue to grow this year alongside Paradise and Pancratz. There isn’t as much depth there as in the frontcourt, where Logan should start and Grafel may be the incumbent but will be pushed by classmate Ben Rand and sophomore Bristan Kelly, along with newcomers from the junior college ranks in Najul Ervin and Sean Smith. With the scoring they lost, the Huskies will need to improve on their defense to win games this season, as no MAC team allowed more points and opponents shot nearly 46 percent from the field against them last season.
Ball State Cardinals (9-22, 5-11 MAC)
Jr. G Laron Frazier (junior college transfer)
Sr. G Peyton Stovall (8.8 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 2.3 apg, 1.3 spg)
Fr. G Rashaun McLemore (redshirt)
Jr. F Anthony Newell (11.9 ppg, 8.0 rpg)
Sr. C Micah Rollin (6.7 ppg, 4.7 rpg)
Schedule Highlights: The Cardinals start the season with four of their seven non-conference home games, highlighted by Butler and Georgetown. Big West favorite UC Santa Barbara and Missouri Valley contender Illinois State are part of a three-game home stretch to close out December. Notable road games in non-conference play are at Saint Joseph’s and Purdue, and they will be on the road in the BracketBusters. The MAC slate has three straight home games after opening at Miami (Ohio), but that may be deceptive since Central Michigan and Western Michigan are the first two games.
Outlook: What went on off the court made most of the news in Muncie this off-season, as Ronny Thompson and his staff violated NCAA rules once again and Thompson eventually resigned in July. New head coach Billy Taylor has some work to do, and it won’t be easy initially as several recruits who formed what was once considered the best class in the conference won’t be there now. Stovall is a good building block, while Rollin and Newell will make sure the frontcourt doesn’t have many concerns. From there, newcomers are at every position and there won’t be much depth, and this team will be down in numbers all year. Meanwhile, the NCAA investigation will affect recruiting, so Taylor will need a few years to get the program going again.
Western Michigan and Central Michigan appear to be the two best teams and should battle it out in the West Division. But Miami (Ohio) shouldn’t be too far behind them, and there isn’t too much separating the next three teams from the RedHawks in the East, so this promises to be another season of highly competitive basketball in the MAC. In the meantime, teams like Eastern Michigan and Bowling Green don’t project to contend, but don’t be surprised if they knock off a contender or two along the way and play spoiler late in the season.