The MAC is a bit of a throwback conference, a rare league these days that features teams within fairly close geographic proximity to one another. In fact, six of the conference’s schools are in the State of Ohio and three more are in Michigan. The closeness and history that these programs have built with one another has led to some of the best Under the Radar rivalries in college basketball, and always makes MAC basketball fun to watch. It also routinely means that anything can happen in the conference tournament and the regular season champion seems to come up short there more often than not.
This year, the MAC appears to have a prohibitive favorite, but the Western Michigan Broncos should not book their tickets to the Big Dance until after the automatic bid is won. Ball State could challenge for the West Division crown, and the East is so wide open that almost any team in it could prove a tough out on any given night. In short, expect another fun season in the MAC, and expect a conference representative in the NCAA Tournament that will put a real scare into whoever they draw in the first round.
- Buffalo – Despite losing a pair of double-digit scorers, the Bulls return two others in CJ Massinburg and Nick Perkins, along with a talented group of newcomers led by Missouri transfer Wes Clark (eligible after the first semester).
- Ohio – Most teams would be rebuilding this year after losing Antonio Campbell to a career-ending injury midseason and then watching point guard Jaaron Simmons transfer to Michigan. Head coach Saul Phillips, however, is merely reloading, especially with players like Jordan Dartis, Jason Carter and Gavin Block back.
- Kent State – Last season’s NCAA Tournament entrant from the MAC returns a deep backcourt, led by Jaylin Walker, but has a lot of questions up front as the Golden Flashes have to find a replacement for Jimmy Hall’s 19 points and over 10 rebounds per game.
- Bowling Green – The Falcons have not been to the NCAA Tournament since 1968. While that streak may not be snapped this year, things are certainly trending in the right direction with three returning starters, a five-man freshman class, and only one senior on the entire roster.
- Akron – Keith Dambrot won a ton of games as head coach in Akron, but this season he is at Duquesne. The Zips brought in a name coach in John Groce, but he is going to have to rebuild with only one starter (Jimond Ivey) back from last year’s MAC regular season championship team.
- Miami (Ohio) – The good news for new head coach Jack Owens is that four starters return from last season. The bad news is that their best player, Michael Weathers, is gone — and even with him this team still lost 21 games last year.
- Western Michigan – The Broncos appear to have all the pieces needed to win a conference title, from a star player (Thomas Wilder) to experience (four returning starters) to a 7 footer down low (Seth Dugan). The game is played on the court, but if it was played on paper, Western Michigan would already be dancing this year.
- Ball State – With Tayler Persons in the backcourt and Trey Moses down low, the Cardinals will definitely be making noise this year and be ready to step up should Western Michigan falter.
- Eastern Michigan – The Eagles have a ton of new players on their roster with only four scholarship returnees. If head coach Rob Murphy can get them to gel quickly, the Eagles could be a contender — especially with double-double machine James Thompson IV dominating down low.
- Toledo – The Rockets lost three starters from last season, two of whom averaged double figures. It is hard to see them making a run at the upper levels of the conference, though Jaelan Sanford and Nate Navigato can both score.
- Northern Illinois – This could be a long season for head coach Mark Montgomery’s team with only two starters back and star center Marin Maric having chosen to transfer to DePaul.
- Central Michigan – When two players that combined to average over 51 points per game leave a team, it is hard to figure out how they can possibly succeed. That is exactly what happened this offseason to the Chippewas, who now need players like Cecil Williams to step up as they begin life after Marcus Keene and Braylon Rayson.