The Mid-American Conference isn’t among the biggest of names in college basketball, but those who follow the sport closely know that there are some quality teams that come out of this conference. Last year was a perfect example; the Ohio Bobcats advanced to the Sweet 16 before falling in overtime in a heartbreaking loss to North Carolina. The Bobcats were only seconds away from an Elite Eight berth.
Even though Ohio was the team to carry the banner in March, it wasn’t like the Bobcats were the dominant team in this conference during the regular season last year. In fact, Ohio finished third in the regular season. Akron was the regular season champion, and the Zips fell in the final of the conference tournament against the Bobcats. MAC division champions haven’t been faring well in the conference tournament of late. The last division champion to reach the NCAA Tournament was Kent State in 2008.
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The MAC splits into two divisions, and the MAC East has been the stronger of the two divisions for the past few years. Once again this year, the top four or five teams in the MAC East should all be better than anyone in the MAC West. Here are my 2012-13 MAC basketball predictions. We’ll take a look at each of the divisions, with odds to win that side of the division listed in parentheses. All odds listed are courtesy of BetOnline.
The Favorite: Akron (+150)
It was the Bobcats who made a nice run in the NCAA Tournament, but the oddsmakers didn’t forget that Akron came out on top in the regular season last year. The Zips went 13-3 in the conference last season. Seven players from Coach Keith Dambrot’s nine-man rotation are back from last year. Zeke Marshall is a seven-footer who changes the game in a big way on the defensive end. Look for Demetrius Treadwell to team with him to form the best frontcourt in the MAC. If the backcourt can hold their own, this team will be the best in the conference.
The Challenger: Ohio (+185)
It seems strange to put the Bobcats as the challenger, but remember that these are odds for the regular season. The Bobcats have made it to the NCAA Tournament two times in the past three years, but they haven’t won the MAC East in any of those years. John Groce was the head coach when the team made its run last year, but he left for Illinois after last season. Jim Christian, who formerly coached at Kent State and TCU, will now be in charge of the program. Still, it’s a little tough to see Ohio as the underdog here, since they return their entire starting five from last year. This team had a nine-man rotation last year, and all nine are back this season. D.J. Cooper and Walter Offutt should dominate in the backcourt.
The Dark Horse: Bowling Green (+1,300)
The oddsmakers are surprisingly low on the Falcons. Bowling Green put together a pretty good season last year, but they were ousted in the first round of the MAC Tournament. Austin Calhoun is one of the best players in the MAC, and his versatility at the four-spot makes this team a tough matchup. There are some questions about who will start for the Falcons, but this team is deep and I expect them to surprise some people.
Buffalo (+325) – Losing MAC Player of the Year Mitchell Watt hurts this team a great deal. Sharpshooter Zach Filzen also graduated at the end of last season. Javon McCrea does come back though, and he’ll be a tough guy for opponents to defend. Depth is an issue here, but Coach Reggie Witherspoon seems to always do a nice job with this team.
Kent State (+525) – Kent State was the favorite heading into last year in the MAC, but they disappointed in a big way. They’ll have to win with a lot less talent this season. Keep an eye on transfer Melvin Tabb (who previously played at Wake Forest), since he could make an impact right away for the Golden Flashes.
Miami (+1,100) – It will almost seem wrong to not see Charlie Coles on the sidelines in Oxford. Coles did so much for the program, and he was one of the most beloved coaches in the nation. New coach John Cooper will look to push the pace, something that Miami hasn’t done in a very long time.
Projected MAC East Standings:
1. Ohio (NCAA Tournament Berth)
3. Bowling Green
5. Kent State
The Favorite: Eastern Michigan (+150)
It seems strange to see Eastern Michigan as a favorite, since the team went only 14-18 overall last year. Remember, the MAC West is much weaker than the MAC East. Eastern Michigan’s program is certainly one on the rise. The Eagles won the MAC West last year after being picked to finish last. They did it by playing tough defense and slowing the game down. There’s no reason why they can’t do that again this year with their hard-nosed players.
The Challenger: Toledo (+215)
The Toledo Rockets will be ineligible for the postseason this year due to past academic problems. It’s a shame that the Rockets won’t be eligible because they are actually starting to be quite a bit more competitive. This team was horrible just a couple years ago, but they have the talent to be the best team in the MAC West this year. Rian Pearson is a beast at the wing spot, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he was the MAC Player of the Year. Julius Brown is a budding star at point guard. This team has a bright future ahead.
The Dark Horse: Western Michigan (+250)
The Broncos brought in a very nice recruiting class this year, and in a weak MAC West it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise if this team makes some noise. Darius Paul, brother of Illinois star Brandon Paul, should be a major contributor for this squad. Nate Hutcheson is one of the best defenders in the conference. Keep an eye on the Broncos.
Ball State (+500) – The Cardinals lost a lot from a team that was expected to be better than they were last season. Billy Taylor is on the hot seat here, and it’s hard to imagine this team doing too much damage in the season ahead.
Central Michigan (+1,100) – Central Michigan fired Coach Ernie Ziegler at the end of last year, and as a consequence they also lost their best player. Ziegler’s son Trey transferred to Pittsburgh, and he’ll definitely be missed. The Chippewas are without their three leading scorers from last season. Things could get really ugly for this team.
Northern Illinois (+1,500) – If you are an optimist, you would probably say there is no way the Northern Illinois Huskies could be any worse this year. The Huskies were 5-26 last season, and they lost their first 13 games against Division I opponents. Northern Illinois isn’t stacked with talent, but they do return their Top-5 scorers from a year ago. This team should improve a bit.
Projected MAC West Standings
2. Eastern Michigan
3. Western Michigan
4. Northern Illinois
5. Ball State
6. Central Michigan
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