There was a time when divisional play was all the rage in college basketball, with such oddities having existed as “Red, White and Blue” divisions in Conference USA and “Big East 6 and Big East 7″ divisions in the Big East. Those days seem to have finally passed us by, as only two conferences remain this season with a divisional alignment, the Ohio Valley and the MAC. In the case of the MAC, the divisions are only used for scheduling purposes, as each team plays its division mates plus two cross-division foes twice, while going up against the remaining four teams from the other division only once. The seeding of the conference tournament completely ignores the divisions, theoretically allowing for the top six seeds to all come from the same division.
Last season, Toledo was the top seed after a 14-4 regular season earned the Rockets a tie with Western Michigan for the best record in the conference. The Rockets ended up in the NIT, however, after losing to WMU in the conference title game. Western Michigan went on to the NCAA tournament, falling in the Round of 64 to Syracuse. Akron, Ohio, and Eastern Michigan all also earned postseason bids, playing in the CIT.
This year, much of the same is expected as Toledo is the favorite to win the West Division and the NCAA bid. The Rockets are a deep, loaded team led by seniors Julius Brown and Justin Hammond, both of whom averaged over 14 points per game last year. All three Michigan schools (Western, Eastern and Central) could contend in the West as well. The East Division should see Akron and Ohio among its top teams, with the Zips (led by perhaps the conference’s top player, Demetrius Treadwell) being strong enough to give Toledo a run for its money. Buffalo, which won the East Division regular season title last year under first year head coach Bobby Hurley, may take a step back after losing three starters, but Kent State could figure in the mix in the East. Finally, keep an eye on Bowling Green, one of the HOOPS HD preseason picks for a surprise breakout this year.
Predicted Order of Finish:
1. Akron: Treadwell leads this deep and experienced team, but the point guard position was a problem last season that they will need to find an answer for.
2. Bowling Green: A finish at or near the top of the division would be a shock — to anyone but us. Chris Jans comes over from Wichita State as the new head coach and has a team with four double-digit averaging starters returning, plus he gets Chauncey Orr back from injury.
3. Ohio: Saul Phillips takes over as head coach after a ton of success at North Dakota State. Maurice Ndor should thrive this season, and keep an eye on freshman Khari Harley.
4. Kent State: Kris Brewer is the top returning player, but it is the newcomers that will decide this team’s fate. Jimmy Hall (transfer from Hofstra) and Craig Brown (transfer from Rutgers) should both contribute significantly, and it will be impossible to overlook 7-4 Division III transfer Blake Vedder, who will be the tallest player in MAC history.
5. Buffalo: Losing three starters, including their top two scorers, will make Bobby Hurley’s second season as head coach tougher than his first. Will Regan averaged just over 10 points per game last season, but he will need to step up his game more and get some help for the Bulls to contend for the division title again.
6. Miami (Ohio): While the Redhawks avoided the division basement for the first time in three years last season, the loss of Will Felder may send them right back down there this year. Eric Washington (transfer from Presbyterian) takes over as point guard and will need to excel for this team to succeed.
1. Toledo: In addition to Brown and Hammond, keep an eye on Mississippi State transfer Dre Applewhite. He will not be eligible until the second semester, but could be the X factor in pushing this team over the top. If the Rockets can do enough in the non-conference part of the season (which includes games at Oregon and at Duke), an at-large bid could be a possibility if they need it.
2. Central Michigan: All five starters return led by Chris Fowler. The best part is that not a single one of the five is a senior. This year could be good, next year even better.
3. Western Michigan: David Brown was granted a sixth year of eligibility, which was huge for the Broncos. The bad news is that Shayne Whittington, their first team all-MAC center, is gone.
4. Eastern Michigan: Karrington Ward and Indiana State transfer Mike Samuels will look to star for this team that also features a solid group of backcourt players.
5. Northern Illinois: With four returning starters, the Huskies should continue to improve, but they desperately need to find some offensive consistency.
6. Ball State: Zavier Turner was MAC Rookie of the Year last season, and he is joined by Cincinnati transfer Jeremiah Davis. However, three double digit scorers are gone form a 25 loss team and another long season likely awaits.