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2009-2010 MAC Basketball Preview - MAC West

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).

 


West Teams: Ball St. | CMU | EMU | NIU | Toledo | WMU



Ball State Cardinals

Coach: Billy Taylor

Last year: 14-17 (7-9 MAC)

Standout player: Jarrod Jones

Key losses: Brandon Lampley, Anthony Newell

Youth is the key word for the Cardinals. 12 of their 15 players are freshmen or sophomores. The inexperience of the team will be a challenge.

“With our youth and inexperience, there’s a learning curve. We have to spend a lot of time breaking things down whether it’s offensively or defensively, making sure everyone understands their roles,” Coach Taylor said.

Jarrod Jones, last year’s MAC Freshman of the Year, has garnered a spot on the preseason All-MAC team. The 6-9 sophomore will need to elevate his game even more from his 11.2 PPG and 7.3 RPG last season.

Billy Taylor says his team has more depth than in previous years but also acknowledges that it is youthful depth. The few upperclassmen, such as Malik Perry, will have to step up. However, Ball State will struggle in the backcourt, having to recoup the loss of four senior guards. Any time you lose that many players in one area, it will take time to develop.

While Jones should only improve on his freshman campaign, the load he will have to carry on his back will just be too much.

 

MAC Championship Odds: 100-1

 


Central Michigan Chippewas

Coach: Ernie Ziegler

Last year: 12-19 (7-9 MAC)

Standout player: Jordan Bitzer

Key losses: Marcus Van

The Chippewas were dealt a harsh blow last season when they lost big men Chris Kellerman and Marko Spica to injury. Now they’re back and looking to fortify a Central frontcourt that loses the team’s leading scorer, Marcus Van.

The frontcourt returns will be beneficial but Central’s real strong point is its guards. Coach Ziegler describes his backcourt of Jordan Bitzer and Robbie Harman as “the most underrated” in the MAC. Both averaged over double-digit points last season.

However, the key for the Chippewas is improving on the defensive end, where they struggled mightily.

“We are really working on trying to become a better defensive team. We were last in defensive field goal percentage last season and it’s definitely an area we must improve,” Coach Ziegler said.

With four starters returning, Central has the advantage of players who are accustomed to being on the court together. This will definitely give them a leg up in the early going. They will also be helped by the returns of Kellerman and Spica, who must fill the void of Van, also the MAC’s leading rebounder. Central will be a contender in the West but does not have the defensive prowess to overtake the East’s beasts.

 

MAC Championship Odds: 50-1

 

Toledo Rockets

Coach: Gene Cross

Last year: 7-25 (5-11 MAC)

Standout player: Justin Anyijong

Key losses: Tyrone Kent, Jonathan Amos

The Rockets never really got off the ground last season. And they could be stalled again this season.

Toledo will no longer have the luxury of its stars Tyrone Kent and Jonathan Amos. Now, Cross is in the midst of totally rebuilding the program. Justin Anyijong, who had a breakout season, will be the go-to guy but underclassmen will be asked to take on responsibility.

“I think our biggest challenge is going to be our youth and inexperience. You lose 65% of your scoring, 42% of your rebounding…that is a tremendous hit to take. Going on the road with a young team is going to be challenging,” Coach Cross said.

In his second season, Cross is trying to establish his regime and group of guys. Highly rated recruit Hayden Humes tore his ACL and is out for the season. But freshmen such as Malcolm Griffin, recruited as a wing but now flourishing at point guard, will have to grow up quickly.

Toledo did not win a road game last season. It’s going to be tough for the Rockets both away and at Savage Arena this season. The young group will go through growing pains having to make up for the loss a bulk of the team’s scoring and rebounding.

 

MAC Championship Odds: 200-1

 

 

 

Eastern Michigan Eagles

Coach: Charles Ramsey

Last year: 8-24 (6-10) MAC

Standout player: Carlos Medlock

Key losses: None

The Eagles return four starters but the biggest return of all is Carlos Medlock. The team’s leading scorer in his sophomore and junior years, the senior was out all last season due to injury. Now, Medlock and his pension for scoring are back. This should definitely help out a squad that struggled mightily in out-of-conference play.

“He [Medlock] just makes the game so much easier for the other four people he’s on the floor with,” Coach Ramsey said.

Along with Medlock, Eastern boasts a formidable interior duo in Brandon Bowdry and Justin Dobbins. Bowdry led last year’s squad in scoring and rebounding, while Dobbins shot over 50% from the field.

The presence of Medlock should open up more options for them inside and help an offense that finished near the bottom of the MAC in most categories. These three will need the help of role players such as Antonio Green, who Ramsey says has made a huge leap, to lead Eastern to a place they’ve never finished…the top of the MAC West. And in the ever unpredictable West, watch for the Eagles to fly a little higher in ’09-’10.

 

MAC Championship Odds: 60-1

 

Northern Illinois Huskies

Coach: Ricardo Patton

Last Year: 10-20 (5-11 MAC)

Standout player: Darion Anderson

Key Losses: Sean Smith

Northern Illinois will put points on the scoreboard; you can be pretty sure of that. The Huskies return two double-digit scorers (Darion Anderson and Mike DiNunno) and the conference’s best shooter at 55.1% (Sean Kowal).

Coming to DeKalb from the Big 12 is 6-5 guard Xavier Silas. In his freshman year with Colorado, Silas averaged 12 PPG. His experience against strong competition can only help the already strong Husky trio.

“He’s just a guy that knows how to score. He can cause matchup problems and will complement returning guys. I think because he worked so hard in the offseason he’ll get caught up pretty quickly,” Coach Patton said.

Silas along with Anderson, DiNunno and Kowal make up an imposing offense, especially with the skill of the 6-11 Kowal, who has the size and scoring prowess that not many MAC teams have at the center spot.

However, these proficient scorers will be nullified if the Huskies cannot improve last season’s putrid defense. They were last in scoring defense, last in 3-point field goal defense and second to last in defensive field goal percentage.

Although Northern Illinois was the third best three point shooting team, it is tough to overcome poor defense. The group also finished last in free throw shooting, hitting under 60 percent. Patton will have to work on the fundamentals of defense and holding onto the basketball to maximize the Huskies’ offensive firepower.

 

MAC Championship Odds: 60-1

 

Western Michigan Broncos

Coach: Steve Hawkins

Last year: 10-21 (7-9 MAC)

Standout player: David Kool

Key losses: Shawntes Gary

For the Broncos, it’s all about David Kool. Last season, he was the MAC’s leading scorer. This season he is poised to make a run for conference player of the year.

Outside of Kool, the Broncos feature a cast of players who have not before had to take on a large role.

With the departure of Shawntes Gary, someone will have to become a second option to Kool. Western Michigan struggled on offense last season and it could be a struggle again if players such as Donald Lawson or Flenard Whitfield don’t take some of the pressure off Kool.

“ I think we’re gonna have a chance to be a little more balanced this year but we’re gonna have to show it early, so our opponents aren’t going to be able to begin and end their scouting reports with David [Kool], otherwise it’s gonna be a long year,” Coach Hawkins said.

Kool is the key cog in the Broncos attack but if MAC defenses can shut him down, it will be on the role players to win games. The Broncos will ride Kool as far as he’ll take them but will ultimately be done in by their youth and lack of offensive playmakers.

 

MAC Championship Odds: 80-1



East Teams: Akron | Bowling Green | Buffalo | Kent | Miami | Ohio


By Connor Kiesel , Vandelay Sports Staff Writer

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