The Mid-American Conference began its 72nd season on League play on Tuesday night with every team hoping to cut down the nets in early March at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland at the 2018 MAC Men’s Basketball Tournament
Here is a look at the twelve teams with a quick review of their non-conference schedule, a look at the preseason poll, and a their first MAC opponent.
AKRON (7-5): last season the Zips won the Eastern Division and the overall MAC regular season championship with a 27-9 record. They lost to Kent State in the MAC Tournament Championship Game then went onto the NIT where they defeated Houston before losing to Texas-Arlington.
In the off-season Keith Dambrot resigned as head coach to take the position at Duquesne taking his entire staff with him to Pittsburgh. Replacing him was John Groce the former head man at Illinois who led Ohio to the sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament in 2012 before spending five seasons in Champaign-Urbana.
The Zips were picked fourth in the pre-season poll in the Eastern Division and started the Groce era with a come-from-behind win over Cleveland State in the coaches vs. Cancer tournament at home. All of their wins have come at Rhodes Arena while losing their two true road games at Dayton and Marshall. They spent the Christmas holidays in Hawaii at the Diamond Head Classic losing all three games out there to Southern California, Princeton, and Davidson
One of the players who stayed for UA is sophomore Daniel Utomi he is leading the Zips in scoring averaging 18.6 points per game and 7.0 rebounds per contest. One of the nice surprises in the non-conference schedule has been the play of graduate student Malcolm Divivier. The native of Canada played four seasons at Oregon State earning his degree. He has averaged 3.8 assists per game as well as being UA’s best three-point shooter.
The Zips open MAC play on Tuesday night at pre-season Western Division favorite Western Michigan.
BOWLING GREEN (9-4): The Falcons in their third season under head coach Michael Huger were picked fifth in the pre-season poll however they got off to a strong start to the season winning five of their first six games. They go into MAC play winning four of their last six.
Redshirt freshman Justin Thomas leads the Brown and Orange averaging 16.8 points per game. Junior Demagio Wiggins leads in rebounds averaging 8.6 caroms per game while Sophomore Rodrick Caldwell leads in assist with 3.4 helpers during the non-conference schedule
BGSU opens MAC play at home on Tuesday night when the Ohio Bobcats make the trek to the Stroh Center
BUFFALO (8-5): The Bulls were the pre-season pick to win the Eastern Division as Nate Oats begins his third season in Western New York taking over for Bobby Hurley who departed for Arizona State.
UB opened the season with wins over Canisius & Jacksonville State but then lost two of three at the Cayman Islander Classic with one of the coming to nationally ranked Cincinnati. They rebounded winning four of the next five however road losses to Syracuse and Texas A&M were a downer before ending the 2017 portion of their schedule with a win at NJIT.
Junior CJ Massenburg leads the Bulls and the MAC in scoring averaging 19.5 points per game as well as eight rebounds per contest while sophomore Davonte Johnson is averaging 3.7 assists per game
The Blue and White open conference play on Tuesday when the Toledo Rockets come to Alumni Arena in Amherst.
KENT STATE (6-7): The Golden Flashes were picked second in the East despite the graduation of one of the all-time greats at KSU in Jimmy Hall as Rob Semderoff begins his seventh season at the MAC Center.
The Flashes started the campaign with an emphatic win over Youngstown State in the Coaches vs Cancer Classic. After two more wins they dropped three straight including two at the Tournament in Savannah. After wins over Norfolk State & Cleveland State came a three game losing streak including one at nationally ranked Xavier before ending the streak with a home win over Oregon State before ending 2017 with a loss at Albany.
Junior Jaylin Walker, fully recovered after a broken foot two seasons ago lead the Flashes in scoring at 17.6 points per game. Sophomore Adonis De La Rosa has shown improvement this season both on the boards and in shooting pulling down seven rebounds per contest while fellow junior Jalen Averay is averaging 4.3 assists per game
KSU opens the MAC portion of their schedule on the road Tuesday night at Northern Illinois
MIAMI (7-6): The Redhawks begin this campaign with a new coach as John Owens was named the 27th head coach in MU history coming from Purdue where he spent five seasons at West Lafayette.
MU opened with three straight wins but then came a three-game losing streak including a loss to Hartford at the Montego Bay Classic in Jamaica. The red and White rebounded winning four of their next five but begin conference play with a two-game losing streak falling at DePaul & Ohio State.
Freshman Nike Sibandr leads the Hawks averaging 14 points per game with senior Logan McLane taking charge on the boards pulling down 6.2 caroms and junior Darrian Ringo leads the MAC in the pre-season with 7.9 assists per game.
Miami begins conference play Tuesday night with a trip north on I-75 to Bowling Green to battle the Falcons
OHIO (7-5): The Bobcats were picked second to Buffalo in the Eastern Division as Saul Phillips begins his fourth season in Athens. The Cats have had fits and starts through the non-conference schedule including losses to Dayton and Iona. However as MAC play begins they have won three of their last four.
Senior Mike Laster leads the Green and White in scoring at 15.8 points per game. Junior Doug Taylor has taken over under the boards with 8.3 rebounds while another junior Gavin Block is averaging 3.6 assists per game
Ohio opens play on Tuesday night taking the long trip to Central Michigan to battle the Chippewas
BALL STATE (9-4): The Cardinals were picked a surprising second in the west pre-season poll as James Whitford in quietly putting together a strong program in Muncie.
The Cards come into conference play with an eight game winning streak one of the longest in Division I heading into league play. This is after starting the campaign losing four of their first five at Dayton to open the season then three of four at the Phil Knight Invitational Portland. Ever since their win at Indiana State on November 25th, BSU has not and that includes a victory in South Bend over nationally ranked Notre Dame.
Junior Tayleer Persons leads BSU in scoring at 15.2 points per game and in assist with 4.2 helpers per contest.
The Red Black and White open MAC play Tuesday night as the Eagles of Eastern Michigan come to Worthen Arena.
CENTRAL MICHIGAN (11-2): The Chippewas were picked last in the preseason poll but here they are with the most non-conference iof any MAC team as Keno Davis begins his sixth season in Mount Pleasant.
Take into account one of their losses was at Michigan but then they rebounded and became the first MAC team to win the Great Alaska Shootout as the defated Cal Poly-SLO, Sam Houston State, and Cal State-Bakersfield. It was part of a seven game winning streak through November and into December. After their second loss of the season at Southern Utah, CMU finished the 2017 part of the schedule on a three game skein
Senior Cecil Williams leads CMU in scoring at 15.2 points per game with sophomore David DeLeo averaging 7.7 rebounds and senior Shawn Roundtree has 4.2 assists per game.
The Chips open MAC play Tuesday night at home as Ohio comes to the McGuirk Arena.
EASTERN MICHIGAN (9-4): The Eagles in their seventh season under head man Rob Murphy was picked fourth in the pre-season poll. Their nine wins is tied with Ball State for the most in non-conference play.
The Green and White won their first four games before Indiana handed them their first loss. After a two-game split in Florida, EMU then won three straight including victories over Oakland and Long Beach State. . They come into conference play having lost two of their last three.
Junior Elijah Minnie leads the Eagles in scoring averaging 16.5 points per game however right behind him is junior James Thompson IV at 16.4 he is also averaging 11.8 rebounds per game. He is the only player averaging double figures in both scoring and rebounding so far this season. Junior Paul Jackson leads in assists wit 4.7 per game
EMU begins conference play on Tuesday night as they head to Muncie to battle Ball State.
NORTHERN ILLINOIS (7-6): The Huskie were picked fifth in the West as Mark Montgomery begins his seventh season in DeKalb looking to get into the top half of the Western Division.
NIU started the season with two straight wins before losing to of three at the Gulf Coast showdown in Florida since then they have alternated wins and losses finishing their non-conference schedule losing two of three both coming on the road at Marquette and Iowa.
Sophomore Eugene German one of the top freshman in the MAC a season ago leads the Huskies in scoring averaging 19l8 points per game which leads going into conference play. Junior Levi Bradley is second in scoring on the team at 13.8 points per game and has pulled down 5.7 rebounds per contest while another junior Dane Thorp is averaging 2,3 assists per contest
NIU opened conference on Tuesday night when the Kent State Golden Flashes pay a visit to the Convocation Center.
TOLEDO (8-5): The Rockets were picked third in the Western Division under the leadership of Tod Kowalczyk who is in his eighth season in the Glass City since coming from Green Bay. UT opened the campaign with three straight wins before heading to the Miami shootout where they lost to Syracuse and nationally ranked Kansas. Since the lost to the Jayhawks they have rebounded winning five of their last seven games with the losses coming at home to Marshall and Wright State.
Senior Tra’Shaun Fletcher, a transfer from Colorado lead the Midnight Blue and Gold in all three offensive categories he is averaging 17.4 points, 8.8 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game. Also contributing in the Rockets scoring column is Jaelan Sanford one of the best three-point shooters in the conference
Toledo opens conference play Tuesday night on the road in Buffalo against the Eastern Division favorite Bulls.
WESTERN MICHIGAN (8-5): The Broncos were the pre-season choice to win the Western Division under the guidance of Steve Hawkins who is in the 15th season in Kalamazoo and is the dean of this current crop of MAC Head Coaches.
WMU lost three of its first five games including setbacks to South Carolina and Tulsa at the Puerto Rico shootout played this season in Myrtle beach due to the devastation of Hurricane Irma on the Island. The Broncos have regrouped and come into MAC play winning four of their last five games.
Senior Thomas Wilder leads them in scoring at 18.2 points per game as well as 4.2 assists per contest while junior Josh Davis is pulling down 7.8 rebounds per contest.
The Broncos open conference play on Tuesday night as the Akron Zips come to University Arena.
There you have it..our first Inside MAC Men’s Basketball for 2018 as the road to Cleveland begins.
Is Central Michigan’s eleven wins just a mirage as the competition gets tougher. Will Ball State extend its eight game winning streak. And how will the new coaches Mr. Groce and Mr. Owens fare in the MAC wars.
As someone once said “That is why we play the games!!”
See you courtside