Sunday, October 22, 2006

MAC Preview


The Mid-American Conference did not have one of their better seasons last year. Normally, there is at least one at-large candidate. However, last season saw nothing like that. Kent State won the East Division and the overall league title at 15-3. Miami (Ohio) and Akron both finished one game back at 14-4. Preseason favorite Ohio was a disappointment, going only 10-8. In the West Division, Northern Illinois was the champion, at 12-6. Toledo and Western Michigan tied for second, both going 10-8. The conference tournament was equally as wide-open, although the champion was the same. #1 seed Kent State won the conference's automatic bid by defeating Toledo in the title game. The Golden Flashes were not overly competitive in the NCAA Tournament as #5 seed Pittsburgh worked its way to a 20-point lead midway through the first half and never looked back. The MAC should have a plethora of teams in the hunt again this season.

Favorite: Akron could be one of the best mid-major teams in the country this season. They return four starters from a team that went 23-10 and finished second in the MAC with a 14-4 league record. The Zips could be ready to take the next step into the NCAA Tournament. It starts with Romeo Travis, the favorite for Player of the Year. The 6-7 forward is one of the most dominant players in the conference. He is capable of having big games on the offense end and is also a very good rebounder. Rejoining him on the interior is Jeremiah Wood, who took a medical redshirt last season after missing the whole year due to a torn ACL. He immediately provides a double-double threat who is one of the best rebounders in the MAC and is also a very good shot-blocker. Nate Linhart and Quade Milum will see time in the frontcourt. On the perimeter, point guard Dru Joyce leads the way. He is an outstanding distributor who takes care of the ball and can also shoot the three efficiently. Wings Nick Dials and Cederick Middleton will flank him in the backcourt. Dials is a very good shooter, while Middleton is a versatile scorer that can shoot the ball and penetrate.

Contenders: In most years, Toledo would be the favorite in the MAC. However, with Akron so loaded this year, the Rockets are going to have to settle for just winning the West division. They tied for second last season with a 10-8 league record and a 20-11 overall campaign. The Rockets did finish on a tear, though, winning their final ten league games. They hope to carry that momentum over to this season. Toledo is led by arguably the best backcourt in the conference. Justin Ingram is one of the best guards in the MAC, contributing in all facets of the game. He can shoot the ball well, drive to the basket, distribute the rock, and is also quick on the defensive end. He is joined in the backcourt by point guard Kashif Payne. He is a very good passer and might be the quickest guard in the conference. Keonta Howell rounds out the perimeter trio. He is a double-figure scorer on the wing. Up front, Florentino Valencia leads the way. He is efficient shooting the ball and is a solid rebounder. He could have a breakout season. Jerrah Young and Shane Ross will fight for minutes up front. Western Michigan will be Toledo's main competition in the West division. They tied for second in the division last season, but only went 14-17 overall. The Broncos are led by one of the best forwards in the conference in Joe Reitz, a Player of the Year candidate. He is a dominant low-post scorer and is also a very good rebounder. Look for him to rack up some 20 and 10 games this season. His partner down low is Andrew Hershberger. He has decent potential on the interior, and provides the Broncos with decent scoring and rebounding production. Dan Hess is the main man off the bench in the paint. A starter on the perimeter will be returning guard Shawntes Gary. He was inconsistent last season, but needs to become a go-to-guy. Andre Ricks and Cleveland State transfer Michael Redell will fight for the point guard spot. The other starter on the wing will come from junior Derek Fracalossi, sophomore Derek Drews, and freshman David Kool. Kool, in particular, could be an impact newcomer in the MAC. Kent State could have trouble defending their league title after losing three starters from last season. The Golden Flashes had a very impressive campaign, going 25-9 overall and 15-3 in the MAC. Even with the losses, Kent could be a solid group. They will be led by a solid trio in guards Armon Gates and Omni Smith, and forward Mike Scott. Gates is an exceptional long-range shooter who can also provide solid defense and passing. Smith is a potentially explosive scorer who is a very good playmaker. Scott is a solid inside player who provides scoring and rebounding. Jacksonville transfer Haminn Quaintance could be an impact player inside. He was an all-Atlantic Sun selection who is a double-double threat every night out. Isaac Knight is also a good player in the frontcourt. He is very athletic and will likely start. Jordan Mincy and Trent Morgan will fight for minutes at the point. Ohio came into last season as the favorite to win the MAC, and possibly make noise on a national level. However, the Bobcats had a disappointing season, finishing 4th in their division but winning a respectable 19 games. They could bounce back with a solid season this year, though. Ohio has one of the top frontcourt duos in the league in wing Sonny Troutman and big man Leon Williams. Troutman is a versatile offensive player who is also a tough defender, racking up steals. Williams could become a dominant post player with more opportunities. Foul trouble has been an issue for him. Jerome Tillman, a solid scorer and rebounder, will start down low with Williams, while Johnnie Jackson will provide depth. In the backcourt, Antoine Chatman is the lone returning starter. He is a good passer who can also score if needed. Whitney Davis will step in on the perimeter. He is a very good defender and is a good athlete. Akron transfer Bubba Walther is a three-point specialist.

Sleepers: Ball State did not have a very good season last year, going only 10-18 overall and finishing in 4th in place in the West division. The Cardinals also lose two starters from that team, but they return arguably the league's best wing combo in Skip Mills and Peyton Stovall. Mills is one of the best all-around players in the MAC and is a candidate for league Player of the Year. He is an outstanding scorer who can shoot it from long-range and pass the ball well. He is also a solid defender. Stovall is coming off of two torn ACLs, but he is a big-time scorer if he is healthy. Jalon Perryman and Chris Ames are two more wings that can produce. Newcomers Ahmaad Cook and Steve Horton will man the point. Up front will be D'Andre Peyton and Charles Bass. Peyton is a good scorer and a solid rebounder, while Bass is a good shot-blocker who can contribute some points and rebounds. Northern Illinois surprised many experts last season as they finished first in the West division. However, three starters are gone from that team, as well as two other players. The Huskies do have one of the better inside-outside combos in the league, though. Guard Mike McKinney took a step back last season after an excellent sophomore year. He is a good scorer and rebounder who needs to return to his form of two seasons ago. Inside, Defensive Player of the Year James Hughes returns. He is an excellent shot-blocker and a solid rebounder. Moreover, his offensive game is expanding. On the perimeter with McKinney are wings Ben Rand and Zach Pancratz. Rand is a 6-7 junior who could have a breakout season this year, while Pancratz is a good long-range shooter. Ryan Pardise will likely run the point. Joining Hughes down low will be one of several newcomers. The main candidates are JC transfers Shaun Logan and Egan Grafel. Miami (Ohio) had another solid season, winning 18 games and finishing tied for second in the East division. They lost in the first round of the NIT, and are looking to take the next step this year. The RedHawks return an excellent forward combo in Nathan Peavy and Tim Pollitz, two potential all-league candidates. Peavy is a double-figure scorer and a very good rebounder who could increase his numbers. Pollitz is efficient scoring the ball and is difficult to defend. Rounding out the frontcourt will likely be big man Monty St. Clair. He had a solid finish to the season. Wings Michael Bramos and Doug Penno will provide scoring and all-around play from the wing, and transfer Carl Richburg could be a candidate to start at the point.

Rounding Out the Pack: Bowling Green went from winning 18 games two season ago to finishing last in the East division and winning only 9 games overall. Six new players join the fold this year for the Falcons, but the go-to-guy will still be guard Martin Samarco. He is one of the best three-point shooters in the country and could average over twenty points per game this season. He will have to carry BGSU. JC transfer Ryne Hamblet and UNC-Wilmington transfer Nate Miller will see immediate playing time on the perimeter with Samarco. Erick Marschall and Matt Lefeld form a solid interior duo, and freshmen Marc Larson and Lionel Sullivan will produce off the bench. Buffalo had another solid season last year, winning 19 games overall but only finishing 5th in the East division. However, three of their top four scorers are gone from a year ago, leaving Reggie Witherspoon with a bit of rebuilding to do. The Bulls do have one of the conference's best frontcourt players in Yassin Idbihi. He is a double-double threat who is one of the most dominating post scorers in the MAC. Parnell Smith joins him up front. He is a good scorer who could take on even more of a go-to role this season. No one else averaged more than 2.6 points per game last season. The backcourt will be comprised of point guard Eric Moore and wing Andy Robinson. Moore is a steady point guard, while Robinson is a lock-down defender. Greg Gamble and freshman Calvin Betts will also see plenty of minutes on the perimeter. Eastern Michigan seemingly hasn't been good since the Earl Boykins days. They finished 5th in the West last season, going only 7-21 overall and 3-15 in the MAC. They should exceed both of those numbers this season, though. Guard Carlos Medlock would be considered one of the MAC's best if he played for a better team. He is a good scorer who is also an excellent distributor and defender who can shoot the ball very well from long-range. Junior Nick Freer will also start on the perimeter, while JC transfer Jesse Bunkley is expected to make an impact. Up front, Craig Cashen and James Matthews (who is academically ineligible for the first semester) will lead the way. They need to improve their scoring and rebounding production. Kyle Dodd will contribute. Central Michigan was the worst team in the conference last season, finishing 6th in the West at 1-17 and going an abysmal 4-24 overall. However, all five starters return from last year, giving the people of Mount Pleasant some optimism. One of the better duos in the MAC returns in guard Giordan Watson and wing Sefton Barrett. Watson is a very good scorer and distributor who should become recognized as one of the top point guards in the conference. Barrett is extremely athletic who could be poised for a breakout season this year. He is a big-time scorer who is also a very solid rebounder. Eddie Spencer is a solid player on the perimeter who will be the team's best defender if he is academically eligible. Down low, Chris Kellermann and Justin Blevins will be the main men. Kellermann is a versatile scorer on offense, while Blevins is a tough rebounder who could provide a couple of baskets per game.

Prediction: The MAC will likely have one of the best mid-major teams in the country again this season. This time around, it will be Akron. The Zips have an excellent starting five, led by Player of the Year favorite Romeo Travis and guards Dru Joyce and Nick Dials. The return of Jeremiah Wood will help tremendously up front. The question for the conference is if they can get that elusive at-large bid they have been trying to get for a couple of years now. Toledo is the main candidate with their outstanding backcourt, but they will need more production from their frontcourt to make the jump. However, unless Akron disappoints like Ohio did last year, the MAC will be well-represented in the NCAA Tournament no matter what.

Player of the Year: Romeo Travis, PF, Akron

All-Conference Team:
G- Justin Ingram, Toledo
G- Martin Samarco, Bowling Green
F- Skip Mills, Ball State
F- Joe Reitz, Western Michigan
F- Romeo Travis, Akron

Second Team:
G- Dru Joyce, Akron
G- Sefton Barrett, Central Michigan
F- Yassin Idbihi, Buffalo
F- Leon Williams, Ohio
F- Nathan Peavy, Miami (Ohio)

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