The shift from football season to basketball season is underway in the MAC, and it could not come soon enough. Across the conference, the once high hopes of fans in Athens, Toledo, Bowling Green, and Muncie have gone down the drain while The fans in Kent and DeKalb look to Detroit.
It’s basketball season now, and it should be an interesting season. Here’s my preview.
The Bobcats: The Ohio Bobcats are deservedly the one team in the MAC garnering some national attention. Coming off of a Sweet 16 run that culminated in a heartbreaking loss to North Carolina, the ‘Cats have been floated around as a sleeper team by some in the media. USA Today even listed them as a possible team that could come out of nowhere and go on a Final Four run. In a way, though, they have also been slighted. The Bobcats did not receive one vote in the preseason AP Top 25 poll even after their tournament run and returning all of their key contributors. In fact, TyQuane Goard is the only player not returning who played more than twenty-five minutes per game and he transferred months before March Madness. Lead by guard D.J. Cooper and forward Ivo Baltic, this team has the potential and carryover to make some noise against this year. Plus, as Speakeasy’s own Chris Longo recently wrote, Ohio’s offense could actually improve this season under new Coach Jim Christian. Ohio has two games on the schedule that I think will say a lot about their overall potential: November 28th at home against St. Bonaventure and at number 17 Memphis on December 5th. If the ‘Cats can win both of those games, expect their profile to immediately rise.
Akron’s Twin Towers: After last season, Akron fans were concerned that Zeke Marshall, their star 7’0 center, would take hischances and enter the NBA Draft. Much to their delight, Marshall decided to come back for his senior season. Then Zips fans got even more good news when it was announced that redshirt freshman center Pat Forsythe would be transferring from West Virginia and be eligible to paly immediately. Forsythe, who stands 6’11″, had to leave Morgantown due to some legal troubles and to be closer to home , but the kid can play. Forsythe grew up in my hometown and I’ve seen a lot of him. While his offensive game is unpolished, he is solid rebounder and shot blocker. I’m confident his year in Morgantown playing under Bob Huggins improved him as a player, the Marshall-Forsythe combination could make Akron the team to beat in the MAC. At the very least, the Akron-Ohio games on February 2 (at Akron) and February 27 (at Athens) are going to be among the best games of the season. It’s also quite possible that MAC’s guaranteed NCAA tournament bid down to a rematch between these two teams – pitting Akron’s size versus Ohio’s guard play and outside shooting.
Continued East Dominance: Last season, the top four teams in the MAC came from the East Division (Ohio, Akron, Kent State, and Buffalo). West Division champion Eastern Michigan was the 5th seed in the MAC tournament despite winning their division by a full two games. It is abundantly clear that the East will be dominant division once again this season. Ohio and Akron are the class of the league, Buffalo lost several players, including MAC Player of the Year, Mitchell Watt. Buffalo has potential however, and so does Kent State if they can find consistency. All could challenge the ‘Cats and Zips for MAC dominance.
Some Predictions: Here are my predictions for the MAC first team, newcomer of the year, and for the MAC Player of the Year.
MAC First Team:
Guard: D.J. Cooper, Ohio
Guard: Rian Pearson, Toledo
Forward: Walter Offutt, Ohio
Forward: Javon McCrea, Buffalo
Center: Zeke Marshall Akron
Newcomer of the year: Pat Forsythe, Akron
MAC Player of the Year: D.J. Cooper, Ohio
Ten Things I think I think: I can’t take credit for coming up this idea – all the credit goes to Ohio alumnus and Sports Illustrated’s Peter King. Anyway, here are ten things I think I think about MAC Basketball.
- With all the talent retuning, Ohio has to be the favorite. The keys for the ‘Cats are the transition to Jim Christian from John Groce, and play of Ivo Baltic. If everything runs smoothly, I view Ohio as a legitimate NCAA tournament sleeper.
- Akron is a nightmare match up for everyone – especially Ohio. Marshall stands 7’0 and Forsythe stands 6’11. The ‘Cats tallest players are Baltic and Reggie Keely – both who stand 6’9. If the Bobcats can’t shoot well against Akron, I see problems for them on the offensive end.
- Cooper is the best NBA prospect in the league. He’s not rated highly by Draft Express, but I like his game a lot. Marshall will get more looks (and is highly rated compared to Cooper) but give my Cooper’s ability to produce over Marshall’s potential.
- Pearson is the best player on one of the worst teams in the MAC, but you should take some time to watch him play this season.
- With a big season or two, Kent State Geno Ford could get a big opportunity like John Groce did at Illinois.
- Buffalo is going to be hit or miss. The Bulls only return one player who scored above six points per game, but they are loaded with young talent.
- The bottom three teams will come from the West Division.
- Bowling Green, lead by A’uston Calhoun, is my sleeper team. As we’ve seen the past few years , sometimes it only takes one kid with a jump shot to be competitive and win games.
- I think Ohio, Akron, and Kent State will all win 20+ games this season.
10. Ohio will win the MAC tournament, likely beating Akron, but I think both teams will make the NCAA tournament. Kent State could also slip in if they play up to potential. Yes, I think 3 bids is possible.