Saturday, September 21, 2013

32 In 32: Mid-American Conference

Now in charge of a program of his own, Bobby Hurley hopes to lead Buffalo to same quick success enjoyed by his younger brother Dan at Wagner and Rhode Island. (Photo courtesy of the Sporting News)

Our "32 In 32" series soldiers on, now looking into the Midwest with this profile of the Mid-American Conference. As we did with the Ohio Valley Conference before it, we will provide divisional breakdowns for the MAC before revealing the complete order of finish. With that being said, here are the aforementioned divisional picks:

2013-14 Mid-American Conference East Division Predictions
1) Buffalo
2) Akron
3) Ohio
4) Kent State
5) Bowling Green
6) Miami (Ohio)

2013-14 Mid-American Conference West Division Predictions
1) Toledo
2) Ball State
3) Western Michigan
4) Central Michigan
5) Eastern Michigan
6) Northern Illinois

2013-14 Mid-American Conference Complete Order Of Finish
1) Toledo - APR issues cost Tod Kowalczyk and the Rockets a chance to compete in the MAC Tournament, where they surely would have been a threat to eventual champion Akron. On the bright side, Toledo returns four starters from last year's group, including their leading scorer and rebounder in senior guard Rian Pearson, who averaged nearly eighteen points and seven boards per game. His backcourt running mate, point guard Julius Brown; who averaged six assists per contest last season, returns to join him once again, as does senior swingman Matt Smith, who seeks to maintain his 44 percent shooting from three-point range. Look for Smith to play more minutes at the power forward position alongside burgeoning big man Nathan Boothe, as the two will be joined by Loyola expatriate Justin Drummond, an explosive junior wing who won the MAAC Sixth Man of the Year award two years ago under Jimmy Patsos before transferring and wanting to play at a higher level.

2) Buffalo - The latest example of the "Hurley effect" will make its way to western New York this season, where Duke legend Bobby embarks on his first career head coaching season at the helm of the Bulls following three years as the right-hand man to his younger brother Dan at Wagner and Rhode Island. The elder son of Hall of Famer Bob Hurley inherits a roster ready to win big games early and often, led by one of the best big men in the nation in senior Javon McCrea, and junior Will Regan brings a 42 percent clip from three-point range into battle for Buffalo. The biggest beneficiaries of Hurley's arrival will of course be the Bulls' backcourt, with sophomore Jarryn Skeete joining seniors Auraum Nuiriankh and Jarod Oldham to form a trio that will undoubtedly improve while learning from one of the best to play their position.

3) Akron - Keith Dambrot loses leading scorer Zeke Marshall and point guard Alex Abreu from his reigning MAC championship roster, but the Zips still go into their title defense as a contender for a repeat. Senior forward Demetrius Treadwell now becomes the face of the team, and could easily average a double-double per game in the process. Senior forward Nick Harney will join him on the wing, but a major concern for the man who once coached LeBron James in high school will be his backcourt, as senior guard Brian Walsh has graduated as well, leaving Deji Ibitayo; who played just eleven minutes per game on average last year, as the most experienced member of the Zips' guard stable.

4) Ball State - Pay close attention to this name on the Cardinals' roster: Majok Majok. The Sudanese-Australian big man came as close as one could possibly get to averaging a double-double last year with his 10.7 points and 9.8 rebounds per game, and will almost certainly eclipse those totals in this, his senior season. Sharpshooting senior guard Jesse Berry returns to reprise his marksman role, as does senior wing Chris Bond. Ball State's X-factor could easily be senior forward Matt Kamieniecki, the son of former New York Yankees pitcher Scott, who is one of the more underrated rebounders in the MAC.

5) Ohio - The Bobcats, who have picked up three NCAA Tournament wins since 2010, now have to face life without their program-changing point guard, as D.J. Cooper graduated this past May. With Ohio's two other leading scorers having also departed, Jim Christian's offense is now in the hands of Nick Kellogg, the son of CBS college basketball analyst Clark, who averaged eight points per game last season. Also helping pick up the slack for Cooper will be freshman D.J. Wingfield, whose father, Dontonio, was a one-time NBA Draft pick after playing for Bob Huggins at Cincinnati.

6) Kent State - Junior guard Kris Brewer enters his third season as the center of attention for the Golden Flashes after leading scorers Chris Evans and Randal Holt departed. Senior forward Darren Goodson will be critical for coach Rob Senderoff, as his 3.8 rebounds per game need to be improved for Kent State to contend once again.

7) Western Michigan - Senior center Shayne Whittington, who at 6-11 is one of the MAC's tallest big men, seeks to average a double-double this season after managing over thirteen points and nearly nine rebounds as a junior. Guards Austin Richie and David Brown are the focal points of the offense in Kalamazoo, and will need to score frequently for Western Michigan to have a respectable season.

8) Bowling Green - Former Seton Hall coach Louis Orr loses both halves of his inside/outside scoring duo in A'uston Calhoun and point guard Jordon Crawford, but retains junior swingmen Chauncey Orr and Richaun Holmes to help lead his team through a rebuilding year. Former Iona center Josh Gomez, a 6-10 product of Rice High School in Manhattan, is now eligible for the Falcons in his sophomore season following his year in residence last year upon leaving Tim Cluess and the Gaels.

9) Miami (Ohio) - Senior forward Will Felder will brings the RedHawks closer to the top half of the standings if he comes anywhere close to replicating the numbers posted in his junior campaign, a 9-22 season. Miami also gets senior big man Bill Edwards back after a medical redshirt limited him to just five games a year ago. Senior point guard Quinten Rollins now has yet another option up front in Blake McLimans, a graduate transfer who is eligible immediately after spending his last three seasons with John Beilein and Michigan, reaching the national championship game this past April.

10) Central Michigan - Keno Davis' return to the coaching ranks hasn't gone as smoothly as the former Drake and Providence head man may have hoped, but the Chippewas are slowly becoming a better team as his uptempo offense gains traction in Mount Pleasant. Sophomores Blake Hibbitts and Chris Fowler, no relation to the host of ESPN's College GameDay, will form a deceptively strong inside/outside scoring duo, with Hibbitts moving into the starting lineup after a successful run as the sixth man as a freshman to join Fowler, who averaged almost six assists per game last year. Sophomore forward John Simons could average a double-double per game if he gets enough rebounding opportunities.

11) Eastern Michigan - Senior swingmen Glenn Bryant and Daylen Harrison, the latter a product of the same St. Vincent-St. Mary High School program in Akron that gave rise to some guy named LeBron James, will be the two biggest pieces for the Eagles this season, as Rob Murphy helps a young backcourt of sophomores Ray Lee and Jalen Ross grow alongside senior J.R. Sims. Another critical factor will be the offensive productivity of Da'Shonte Riley, a former Syracuse castoff whose seven-foot frame makes him a formidable lane presence.

12) Northern Illinois - Led by former Tom Izzo assistant Mark Montgomery, the Huskies will go as far as twin brothers Keith and Kevin Gray take them. Sophomore guard Travon Baker, the team's assist leader last season, needs to improve his ball handling in order to get the Northern Illinois offense, which includes Norwegian swingman Aksel Bolin, clicking on all cylinders.

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