In this three-part series, the BroncoBlitz.com staff takes a look into the crystal ball previewing the 2013-2014 Mid-American Conference men's basketball season. Keith Dambrot and the Akron Zips look poised to defend their MAC title, however several other programs look to be gaining ground. Expect to see more league-wide parody this season, as a handful of MAC teams appear to be solidly in contention.
In part one of our series, we'll provide in-depth analysis and breakdowns of each team and highlight individual standout players in the MAC East. Akron, Ohio, and Kent State have dominated the MAC East scene for several consecutive seasons now. The question is whether or not a new challenger in the East can emerge. We examine below in our predictions.
Projected MAC East Standings
1. Akron Zips
2. Buffalo Bulls
3. Ohio Bobcats
4. Kent State Golden Flashes
5. Miami Redhawks
6. Bowling Green Falcons
Akron is likely the odds-on favorite to repeat as Mid-American Conference champions. They lose two key pieces in Zeke Marshall and Alex Abreu but return a plethora of talent and are once again one of the deepest teams in the conference.
Demetrius "Tree" Treadwell (11.5 ppg, 7.9 ppg) and Nick Harney (9.5 ppg) figure to lead the charge in the front court, while a talented group of sophomores Jake Kretzer, Reggie McAdams, Carmelo Betancourt, and Pat Forsythe are also expected to make significant contributions.
If Akron has any hopes of repeating, they'll probably have to fend off Buffalo, who they have struggled with somewhat in years past. The Bulls have won the last three out of four contests against the Zips and things only seem to be improving for Buffalo as they return All-MAC caliber forwards Javon McCrea (18.0 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 2.6 bpg) and Will Regan (11.1 ppg, 4.4 rpg), as well as Jarod Oldham (10.1 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 4.4 apg) and Jarryn Skeete (7.1 ppg) in the backcourt.
First year head coach Bobby Hurley certainly has a nice framework to begin with, thanks in large part to Reggie Witherspoon. I couldn't quite get myself to pull the trigger and put the Bulls into first place due to the coaching change, although it wouldn't surprise me either if that's where they finished with the talent returning on that roster.
When it's all said and done, Alabama State transfer Joshua Freelove could be the difference between a first and second place finish for the Bulls in the East.
I was awfully tempted to slot Kent State ahead of Ohio for third place in the East, but had a hard time seeing the Bobcats plummet that far down the standings in just one season. It's true that Ohio lost four starters from last year's team; four very productive ones at that.
Nick Kellogg (8.0 ppg), T.J. Hall (4.8 ppg), and Jon Smith (4.8 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 1.4 bpg) all make up the returning core of this team, but will also be surrounded by very good incoming talent. Newcomers D.J. Wingfield, Javarez "Bean" Willis, Maurice Ndour, and Antonio Campbell all have high upside. It will be interesting to see just how big of a drop off we see without one of the MAC's all-time greats in D.J. Cooper.
Kent State could easily make some noise and finish in the top half of the East. They return a talented roster that includes Kris Brewer (9.1 ppg) and forward Darren Goodson (8.4 ppg, 3.8 rpg), as well as transfers K.K. Simmons (UNC Wilmington) and Derek Jackson (Central Michigan), who will occasionally battle for playing time.
Additionally, there are plenty of minutes to be had for what looks like a healthy competition at the four and five spots led by seniors Mark Henninger and Melvin Tabb.
It seems like every year, head coach Rob Senderoff and the Golden Flashes are better than expected. Last year was no different, and we could see some of the same this season. But for now, I'm tempering my expectations with Kent State.
Miami and Bowling Green, two programs heading in opposite directions, will inevitably find themselves scraping for leftovers at the bottom of the East. I think John Cooper has his program heading in the right direction, and has assembled some nice pieces around seniors Will Felder (11.6 ppg, 5.3 rpg), Bill Edwards (injured), and Quinten Rollins (5.2 ppg, 3.9 apg).
Sophomore shooting guard Reggie Johnson (8.4 ppg) could be poised for a breakout season, and Oregon transfer Willie Moore could leapfrog Rollins and run the show in Oxford giving the Redhawks some nice depth in the backcourt.
Give Cooper another year or two to implement his system and get all of the right players in place, and the Redhawks might be challenging for the East sooner rather than later.
I'm never a fan of letting an uncertain coaching situation head into a "lame-duck" contract year. Bowling Green has done just that with Louis Orr. The Falcons struggled offensively last year, and this year they'll be without their two leading scorers Jordon Crawford and A'uston Calhoun, who averaged a combined 30.1 ppg.
Chauncey Orr (7.5 ppg), Richaun Holmes (6.5 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 2.3 bpg), and Cameron Black should step up, but I don't see much beyond that on the Bowling Green roster to save Orr's job.
Projected 1st Team All-MAC East
Kris Brewer (Kent St.)
Chauncey Orr (BGSU)
Javon McCrea (Buffalo)
Will Felder (Miami)
Demetrius Treadwell (Akron)
I fought long and hard between BGSU's Chauncey Orr and Akron's Nick Harney. Ultimately I chose Orr because I think he now "holds the keys to the car" with the departure of Jordon Crawford and A'uston Calhoun. Unfortunately, he also might carry the biggest burden on his shoulders in order to keep his father's job. The other four players featured on this list required little thought.
Projected 2nd Team All-MAC East
Jarod Oldham (Buffalo)
Nick Kellogg (Ohio)
Nick Harney (Akron)
Will Regan (Buffalo)
Darren Goodson (Kent St.)
The Second Team All-MAC East list was far more challenging to assemble, which speaks to the relative lack of depth compared to previous years. Ohio will have some big shoes to fill in Athens, and it would seem that Kellogg would be the logical person to step up. Others that deserve strong consideration are Quincy Diggs (Akron), Richaun Holmes (BGSU), Bill Edwards (Miami), and Reggie Johnson (Miami).
Biggest Sleeper Potential
It's strange to be calling a team that was in the Sweet 16 just two seasons ago a "sleeper" but the fact is that people aren't expecting a lot from the Ohio Bobcats this year. Relatively speaking, there is less pressure in Athens than usual.
There's no question it's justified with the impactful losses of D.J. Cooper, Walter Offutt, Reggie Keely, and Ivo Baltic. If Jim Christian finds a way to keep Ohio in contention for another MAC championship run, he may be looking at Coach of the Year. The Bobcats have an uncertain future but one thing's for sure -- Christian has some new incoming talent to work with.
Most Improved Player
Nick Harney (Akron)
We saw Harney make some pretty big strides last year filling in for the suspended Quincy Diggs. Diggs will be back this year, however the load will still largely be on Harney's shoulders to replace lost production from Zeke Marshall, Brian Walsh, and Alex Abreu.
Harney has All-MAC potential and if the Zips want to defend their title, he will need to elevate his game to the next level. Others that could be deserving of this award by years end are Reggie Johnson (Miami), Chauncey Orr (BGSU), or T.J. Hall (Ohio).