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2009-2010 MAC Basketball Preview - MAC East
VanDelay Sports previews MAC basketball for the 2009-2010 season. Just like that, MAC basketball is back. It was just March when the Zips shared a short dance with the Zags in the NCAA Tourney. Now it’s a blank slate for all 12 MAC squads with the conference’s slogan for the season ‘All Roads Lead to Cleveland.’
Not totally true. Only the roads of eight teams will lead to the Q, as opening round games of the 2010 MAC Tournament will be played on campus sites.
Let me take you through the MAC and give you an idea of which teams may be taking that March trip to Cleveland and who might prevail. I’ll breakdown what you can expect from each and then give you my odds for a MAC Championship. I’m not a Vegas bookie or really even that good at math, so take them for what you will (a journalist’s best educated guess).
Coach: Keith Dambrot
Last year: 23-13 (10-6 MAC)
Standout player: Brett McKnight
Key losses: Nate Linhart
They won their first conference tournament title in March. Now the Zips come into a new season as the favorite. The defending champs were voted to finish on top of the MAC East and win the MAC title in the conference’s preseason rankings. Now, the target is on their back.
“The target means nothing. We just need to make sure we play up to our expectation level,” Coach Dambrot said.
Most of the key components of that tournament winning team will remain intact. Someone will have to fill Nate Linhart’s void but there are plenty of possibilities. The McKnight brothers produce on both sides of the ball. Humpty Hitchens improved his ball control as last season went on and should be a top MAC point guard. Daryl Roberts, Nikola Cvetinovic and Steve McNees are all back too. Not to mention 7-0 freshman center Zeke Marshall, a highly touted top-10 ranked center prospect.
An area of concern for the Zips is rebounding. Linhart was their leading guy on the boards and Dambrot is hoping Jimmy Conyers can pick up some of his slack. But overall, Akron is stacked and has potential to pull ahead of the pack in a league that is usually filled with parody. I don’t think Akron will dominate but their roster looks pretty deep and talented, which will make them tough to beat.
MAC Championship Odds: 2-1
Coach: Louis Orr
Last Year: 19-14 (11-5 MAC)
Standout player: Joe Jakubowski
Key losses: Nate Miller, Daryl Clements, Brian Moten
Tough defense has become the mantra of the Falcons under Louis Orr. A bunch of new players will have to adopt that theory and do it quickly.
“I think right now we need to take better care of the ball and improve our defense. And with young teams those are two areas that you can struggle with,” Coach Orr said.
Just two starters will be back on the floor for Bowling Green. Young guys such as Danny McElroy and A’uston Calhoun will look to mirror the toughness of last year’s Falcons. It will be tough though without the team’s three double-digit scorers, Nate Miller, Daryl Clements and Brian Moten. They accounted for more than half of Bowling Green’s points last season.
Not only do they lose that scoring but also lose, in Miller, a defensive sparkplug. Miller led the conference in steals per game and always seemed to make a big play on the defensive side when the Falcons needed it. He was also a top 5 rebounder in the conference.
The big men, Otis Polk, Erik Marschall and Eric Larson, all have size and should be able to help on the boards. But I’m not sure where the Falcons are going to find the points to make up for the loss of their talented seniors. Point guard Joe Jakubowski is a very good three-point shooter but outside of him, the Falcons will be hindered by their lack of offensive threats.
MAC Championship Odds: 40-1
Coach: Reggie Witherspoon
Last year: 21-13 (11-5 MAC)
Standout player: Rodney Pierce
Key losses: Greg Gamble, Andy Robinson
“The issue that we had a couple years ago is that we were all young, all at once,” Coach Witherspoon said.
Now, those once young players are experienced veterans. Senior Rodney Pierce averaged 14.3 PPG last season and will take on the scoring weight once again. He’s also got Calvin Betts, who averaged 9.1 PPG and 6.3 RPG.
The Bulls will once again be a very good rebounding team. Witherspoon used a very large rotation, which he can do because of the depth of the roster. 10 or more guys played in most of Buffalo’s games last season. Look for the same this year and for Buffalo to be fresh at the end of the second half. Also watch the point guard position, where John Boyer, Byron Mulkey and freshman Tony Watson will fight for minutes in filling Greg Gamble’s big void.
Don’t forget the Bulls. They earned a share of the conference regular season title last season. Anytime you have two you have two senior guards who can score, you’re in good position. Add in a bunch of big men who get on the boards hard and keep each other fresh and you have a recipe for success. While Akron is the favorite, the Bulls will not be far behind all season long and could finish ahead with a few breaks.
MAC Championship Odds: 4-1
Coach: Geno Ford
Last year: 19-15 (10-6 MAC)
Standout player: Chris Singletary
Key losses: Al Fisher
A season that did not reach 20 wins…not a familiar sight for the Kent State program. Whether it was a tougher schedule or lesser talent, the Golden Flashes did not win 20 for the first time since the 1997-98 season. It has been a remarkable run of consistency for this team in a conference that often features yearly upheaval.
This Kent State bunch has all the potential to get back to 20. Guards Chris Singletary and Tyree Evans will lead the way. Both are capable of lighting up the scoreboard but must be consistent night in and night out without the support of Al Fisher. Rodriguez Sherman will be able to help them as an important part on the wing. While the guards provide experienced talent, the men inside must get better.
“A year ago, we probably had one of the bottom post games in the league. We had a negative rebound margin. Our performance production was extremely inconsistent,” Coach Ford said.
It will be on the group including Brandon Parks, Justin Greene and Anthony Simpson to change those figures. Simpson is a 6-8 senior who showed flashes of productivity inside last year. Parks is a big, 6-10, 270 center but is lacking agility to keep up with smaller but quicker make big guys. A sleeper could be Greene. Only a sophomore, the 6-8 Green has the potential to be the best of the bigs.
Kent State will be led by the guards but needs some interior production to challenge Akron and Buffalo. They will be in the mix and could challenge if a post player emerges.
MAC Championship odds: 10-1
Coach: John Groce
Last year: 15-17 (7-9 MAC)
Standout player: Steven Coleman
Key losses: Jerome Tillman, Michael Allen
The Bobcats have been picked to finish last in the MAC East this season. But the young Ohio team is one that is capable of surpassing those expectations.
“The word we keep using with our group is maturity…blending our veteran players in with our talented newcomers and trying to become a cohesive group,” Coach Groce said.
Groce has brought in a very good recruiting class. DJ Cooper is a talented point guard out of Illinois, who reminds me of Humpty Hitchens last year. He will frustrate fans at first with turnovers but can fire passes to teammates and plays with a lot of energy on the defensive end. Ivo Baltic and Reggie Keely are two sleepers to contribute very well. Baltic is a long, athletic forward that can create matchup problems and Keely is a bulkier forward that will get on the boards and play tough D.
As Groce said, the new guys must mesh with the veterans. The double-double machine Jerome Tillman is gone, which definitely hurts. But sophomore Steven Coleman had flashes of brilliance last season and could have a breakout campaign. Junior Tommy Freeman was the conference’s top three-point shooter.
The wild card that will ultimately decide the Bobcats’ fortunes is transfer Armon Bassett. He has been through a lot and hasn’t played in awhile but Bassett was a top guard out of high school and has NCAA Tournament experience with Indiana. He can shoot the three and penetrate the defense. If he brings his best to Athens, the Bobcats will not be last in the East.
However, Ohio must overcome its struggles on the boards. It was last in rebounding and loses Tillman. Veterans Kenneth Van Kempen or DeVaughn Washington must provide useful minutes inside when they’re on the floor. The Bobcats will go through their growing pains at the start of the season but watch out for them in March when the young players have some more experience under their belt.
MAC Championship Odds: 30-1
Coach: Charlie Coles
Last year: 17-13 (10-6 MAC)
Standout player: Kenny Hayes
Key losses: Michael Bramos
Charlie Coles has said he doesn’t want to have a year like the one Florida State head football coach Bobby Bowden is having. To prevent that, Kenny Hayes will have to have a great senior season.
Hayes was injured in the eighth game of last season and missed the rest of the campaign. After taking a redshirt, the senior will now be asked to do a lot for an inexperienced Miami team. Michael Bramos, Tyler Dierkers and Eric Pollitz have all graduated which means that guys who were not relied on before will be now. Miami will try to utilize its size.
“We’ve got a little bit more height than we usually have had. In this league, height is good but you have to be able to move,” Coach Coles said.
Juniors Antonio Ballard, Nick Winbush and Rodney Haddix will have to pick up some slack. Expect sophomore Julian Mavunga to breakout at the power forward spot. Among the freshmen, Coles said that right now he expects guards Orlando Williams and Allen Roberts getting the most time.
Even with that, Miami does not have the on-court experience or talent of past years. Hayes will win the team a good deal of games but when he is having an off day, the Redhawks will be in trouble.
MAC Championship Odds: 35-1
By Connor Kiesel , Vandelay Sports Staff Writer