Ken Pomeroy release his ratings for the 2011-12 season the other day. So, I thought it'd be interesting to take a quick look, in graphic form, at how the MAC is shaping up in a tempo-free light.
You can click the image to enlarge. The graph is pretty easy to read. I've taken the adjusted offense and adjusted defense numbers from KenPom's MAC page, and turned it into what is essentially an aerial view of how the conference is 'expected' to shake out. For this graph, the lower the defense number the better and offensively, the higher is (obviously) better. So, you'd like to be in the tip-top right corner of the graph. As you can see, it's kind of jumbled in the middle and unless you're a Northern Illinois or Toledo fan, you should be looking forward to seeing some mildly competitive basketball. There do seem to be a couple tiers that start like so:
Kent State - They're pretty head-and-shoulders above the rest of the conference in tempo-free data. They currently sit 63rd in KenPom's ratings to start the season while no one else is higher than 95th. The Flashes are good and they've got a very good opening schedule in terms of piling up W's. They'll likely drop their opener against West Virginia, but if they entered league play at 13-1, I wouldn't be surprised. I'd hedge my bets at them being around 10-4, though. Still fantastic chance at piling up 22+ wins this year.
Western Michigan/Akron - They come out roughly the same with Akron being 95th in KenPom's rating and WMU coming in right behind them at 96th. Western is the class of the West Division (some possibly might pick Ball State) but have a very tough schedule out of the gate. I'm not insinuating that Akron doesn't, but they have more toss-up's to start the year (games like @Valpo, Dusquesne, Detroit, Middle Tennessee State, Cleveland State, and then a run of games in mid-December that they should win). WMU on the other hand is facing a probably 0-4 start and that doesn't include the rest of their tournament in Puerto Rico. They will endure likely losses at the hands of Temple, Purdue, Gonzaga, Oakland, and Duke before the calendar turns to the new year.
Buffalo/Ohio - These two aren't far behind WMU/Akron and a compelling case can be made that they're just as good or better than the two teams above them. I'm a big Javon McCrea fan and anxious to see how he follows up his fabulous freshman campaign. KenPom has the Bulls going 6-4 in non-conference play and their schedule seems manageable enough. Ohio has a tough date in Louisville against the Cardinals and a tough back-to-back games in Oakland against the Summit League's Golden Grizzlies on December 7th and then a date in Portland on the 10th against a very good squad. A competitive game at Wright State and a tough matchu-up at Northern Iowa should test the Bobcats. They close non-conference play with three should-be wins.
Ball State - The Cardinals are the second best team in the MAC West but are likely the 6th-7th best team in the conference. They don't have a knock-out non-conference slate, but they do have a bunch of games that are coin-flip probabilities. They'll drop the game in Arizona and at Indiana State is a tough game as well. They play IUPUI twice and a split with both home teams winning would be my bet, they also have tough games with Butler and Morehead State.
Miami (OH) - The RedHawks have a few almost-certain losses on the preseason slate with games against Dayton, Xavier, Cincinnati, Ohio State, Vanderbilt. I'd also throw Belmont in there, even though it'll be a home game for Miami. Belmont is the real deal mid-major school. KenPom has them 27th overall and they cruised to a 30-5 record last year and should be close to that. Pomeroy has them winning 25 of their 30 games on the slate right now and that doesn't include the conference tournament and any in-season tourneys that they are in. But, I digress. They're a solid team and assuming they don't have essentially every player on the roster get hurt at the same time -- which is what seemed like happened last year -- they should be good enough for a .500 conference record. Maybe better if it all breaks right. I really like Julian Mavunga, but they'll miss Antonio Ballard.
Bowling Green - The Falcons return all their key parts from a 14-19 (8-8) team and their non-conference schedule does have some tough games with Georgia, Temple and Michigan State on the docket. Probable coin-flip game against Detroit-Mercy in Detroit and another tough one on the road against Valparaiso and at Texas San Antonio. BGSU will close out their non-conference slate racking up the miles as their final six contests against D1 schools are on the road.
Central Michigan - These are the teams that aren't likely to figure in the division title race, but on any given night likely will be competitive in conference play. The key for Central -- no matter who they play -- will be getting Trey Ziegler some help. Ziegler consumed 32% off all offensive possessions when he was on the court and only 15 players had a higher rate than that in the entire country. KenPom has them with really only a decent chance at pulling off upsets against Charlotte and Pepperdine. I believe that they'll drop both of those games and enter conference play just like KenPom is suggesting: 1-9. The Chips will miss Jalin Thomas who was Central's best player last year. Ziegler's talents are best suited if he actually is used in less possessions as he'll likely increase his efficiency to a much more acceptable rate than his 84.9 Offensive Rating he had last year.
Eastern Michigan - EMU will have a tough time replacing Brandon Bowdry who used the fourth most amount of his teams possessions offensively when he was on the court last year at 34.4%. He was a bit below-average in Offensive Rating at 96.6, but given the volume of minutes he was playing (77.4%) and possessions he used up, he was easily EMU's top dog. Still, they only lost him and Jay Higgins to graduation. Their first three games are looking like three coin-flips with Eastern having a decent chance to go 3-0 and 0-3. Then comes the meat of their non-conference schedule. Games aagainst: Michigan State, Syracuse, Colgate, Drake, Purdue, Radford, Virginia Tech, and Santa Clara. KenPom has them losing all of those games with only real chances against Colgate and Radford. Even then, those are more 30 and 40% chances at best. Oh, and all of those games, save for Michigan State, are on the road.
Northern Illinois - Any team will struggle when their best player leaves and NIU is no exception. They do have a lot of upper classmen but they don't figure to be pretty good. Their non-conference schedule doesn't help much either. They have a toss up against Eastern Illinois and should be Nebraska-Omaha but are likely staring a 1-10 or 2-9 right in the face.
Toledo - Sorry, Toledo. You had a rough 4-28 season last year and it doesn't look to be substantially better this year, either. KenPom has you down for 8-22 and 2-14 in the MAC. They could beat Chicago State on the road in December, but other than that, they likely won't win a non-conference game against a D1 school. What's even more damning is that they don't even have that tough of a non-conference slate with their toughest game being Temple. Still, being a young team, it can only get better, right? Right. I think.
And a quick look at each team's projected Efficiency Margin. All it is is the projected Adjusted Offense minus projected Adjusted Defense. Positive numbers are better, obviously:
Ball St.: 3.6
That's just my quick thoughts on the season with a focus on non-conference schedules. I don't want to go too in-depth for fear of stealing Matt or anyone else presumably up-coming MAC basketball preview.