2009-10 MAC Basketball Predictions
by Nicholas Tolomeo - 11/6/2009
The Mid-American Conference regular season will tip off Friday night, Nov. 13 and this year once again the MAC looks to be top-heavy with the East ruling the roost. The East also looks a little more stable with defending conference champion Akron garnering 19 or 24 first place votes in a preseason poll. The West, on the other hand, is literally anyone's division. Five of the six teams received multiple first place votes in the preseason poll. All the teams are jockeying for position for the MAC Tournament on March 10-13 at the home of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Quicken Loans Arena.
The Zips appear to be riding the high from their upset win in the conference tournament a year ago. Entering as a No. 5 seed Akron rolled to the tournament championship and the NCAA automatic bid as a No. 13 seed. The trip only lasted one game as Gonzaga dispatched them in the first round but it was the first NCAA bid for the school in 22 years.
They got quite the ringing endorsement this season with 19 of a possible 24 first place votes in the preseason poll and with good reason. Keith Dambrot welcomes back nearly his entire roster from a year ago as only one player, Nate Linhart, graduated. Linhart was a special player, averaging 10 points and six boards a game but the addition of seven-foot freshman Zeke Marshall could actually make the Zips a better team. Marshall was the only recruit to come out of the usually decent recruiting grounds of Western Pennsylvania. The McKeesport High School graduate will make an immediate impact for Akron.
While the preseason poll and roster makes it look like a cakewalk, Akron is in for a long hard battle during the regular season. It received the five seed heading into the tournament last season because of a convoluted tiebreaker system and it plays in the East, by far the stacked deck of the MAC. What Akron is going to have to continue to do is be successful on the road. It was the only team from the MAC not to have a losing road record last season, it finished 8-8 on the road and 4-2 at neutral sites.
Nearly the entire East Division could be considered legitimate competition to Akron but Kent State especially stands out. Twenty-win seasons are hard to come by and the Golden Flashes came by one last season and that was the first for the program in over a decade. Guard Chris Singletary was named to the East Division All-MAC Preseason Team, which is basically the All-MAC Preseason team. The Golden Flashes were also predicted to finish second in the East Division and received three first-place votes. They were nearly unbeatable at home last season, posting a conference-best 13-3 mark. Leading scorer Al Fisher will be missed the most but the supporting class will be a strong challenge the Zips all season.
No player figures to play a more pivotal role in his team's fortunes than Miami's Kenny Hayes. The rising crescendo of Hayes' senior season last year was brought to a screeching halt with an injured right wrist. He was scoring close to 14 points per game and dishing out nearly four assists before the injury. Hayes took a redshirt last season and this year is poised to be a major difference maker for the Red Hawks.
If Hayes remained in the lineup last season there is a good chance his team would have won the regular season title (they finished 10-6, a game behind Bowling Green) and possibly made a run at an NCAA bid. There will be a tremendous amount of pressure on him, not only because of the expectations but also because of the graduation of MAC Player of the Year Michael Bramos. If Hayes continues how he started last year the Red Hawks could have back-to-back players win the award.
It was the Bulls that Akron had to get past in the MAC Final to reach the NCAA Tournament and it may very well be them again this year. The Bulls return guard Rodney Pierce, and he instantly validates their backcourt. Pierce is one of four returning starters back for Buffalo, making them one of the most experienced teams in the MAC. The Bulls won 21 games a year ago. They may not match that but it will be close.
It seemed that everyone in the East Division split some form of the conference title last season. Five teams were separated by one game but it was the Falcons at 11-5 who won the tiebreaker over Buffalo and brought the first MAC East championship to the school in eight years. But the losses to graduation were heavy for Bowling Green. Darryl Clements, Nate Miller and Brian Moten accounted for a large chunk of the Bowling Green scoring. Former Seton Hall coach Louis Orr is in for a challenge but he is also up for it.
The Falcons were a bettor's best friend last season, posting a 20-10 record ATS, the eighth best record against the number in all of college basketball. They have the playmakers to do it once again although they are unproven. San Jose State transfer Darion Goins and a couple freshman, A'uston Calhoun and Danny McElroy, and sophomore Scott Thomas are young but the potential is there.
Best Bet from the West
This pick is tantamount to being the skinniest kid at fat camp or the smartest kid at summer school or…well you get the point. The West looks to be improved from a year ago but it is still light years behind the East. That being said, Northern Illinois fits perfectly into this division. They would likely get blown away in the East but in the West, the always-rebuilding Huskies have as good a shot as anyone. They were slated second in the preseason poll behind Central Michigan. Guard Darion Anderson made the preseason All-Conference Team.
After two dismal years Ricardo Patton knows this will be the year he is ultimately judged on. He has his recruits in place, his transfers are eligible and another eight-win season will not be acceptable. And with the way the schedule and roster breaks down eight wins should be easily in the bag before the calendar turns to 2010. Nearly the entire roster returns including all five starters from a year ago and transfer Xavier Silas, who followed Patton over From Colorado, is eligible.
As bad as they were last season, the Huskies still only finished two games out of first place in the West. The pieces are all back this season to easily make up that two game difference. If they end up being a player in the West they may actually be able to have a say in the conference tournament as well.
Playing in the East will do no favors for the Bobcats who will try to replace their top two scorers from last season. Freshmen dot the lineup and while most are regarded as decent recruits, the lack of experience will ultimately make it one long season in Athens.
Four of the top five scorers have graduated for Ball State and there are questions all over the lineup for coach Billy Taylor. The Cardinals were one of three teams to tie for first place in the West a year ago. They will be lucky to come anywhere near that this season.
Last year's MAC Freshman of the Year Jarrod Jones is on this year's West Division All-MAC Preseason Team. Jones is an impact player but he will sorely miss the other four top scorers he played alongside last season.
The Chippewas were selected to win the West Division in the MAC preseason poll. A closer look reveals that it was not exactly a ringing endorsement. Central Michigan was one of the five teams to receive first place votes. Only Toledo did not. And in voting for postseason tournament winner, Central Michigan did not receive any votes while West Division rival Northern Illinois did. The Chippewas roster is dotted with JUCO transfers, role players and injury plagued former starters. Only in the MAC West Division is that rewarded with a preseason tag as a division favorite.
This is starting to look like Michigan's football schedule. All the directional Michigans will be down this season and that includes Eastern Michigan. They had the second worst overall record in the conference last season (8-24) and their 3-12 road record was one of the worst in the country. Senior point guard Carlos Medlock is one of the more exciting players to watch in the conference and junior forward Brandon Bowdry should complement him nicely. Still they are far from where they need to be.
To give you an idea of the Little League, everybody-gets-a-trophy atmosphere that exists in the West Division, Western Michigan has won at least a share of the MAC West title four times in the past six seasons. That includes last season's lowly 7-9 mark. Even worse, they were an awful pick at the betting window, too, going 8-19 against the number.
They have to replace four starters because of graduation and transfers. West Division All-MAC Preseason Team member David Kool provides some hope for the Broncos, but not much. The roster is made up of nine freshman and sophomores. There may be hope in the future but not the immediate future.
Holy Toledo are things bad. A 7-25 season, last-place conference finish and a 0-16 road record were probably some things not brought up at the postseason team banquet. Then again, those seven wins almost seem unattainable this year. Rockets coach Gene Cross blew everything up and is starting from scratch in his second season. There are seven freshmen on the team. That is more than all the seniors (one) juniors (two) and lettermen (two) on the team combined.
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