MAC Basketball Season Review: Last One Out of Western Michigan Turn Off The Lights

MACsketball 2011-12 was pronounced dead on March 25, 2012. We continue our look back on the season with a series of recaps focusing on each team.

Western Michigan

Record: 14-20 Overall, 6-10 MAC
Finish: 3rd in the MAC West, 8th overall.
MAC Tournament: Lost in quarterfinals to Kent State.

You can almost feel the frustration coming out of Steve Hawkins ears. This season was supposed to be different. There were supposed to be better players on the court.

Heck, there were supposed to be PLAYERS on the court. The Broncos were hit with the transfer bug, and then the injury bug. And that meant a 3rd place finish in the MAC West, a side of the conference that with Matt Stainbrook clogging the middle, they could easily have one.

It was clear in Hawk's season wrap-up that the Juwan Howard, Jr., transfer really bugs him and probably derailed the season before it even began.

He didn't want to go into family situations, but you could tell he didn't want to see Howard gone. And he definitely didn't want to see Howard off to Detroit, which had previously stolen LaMarcus Lowe away.

If Howard, Stainbrook, and Ward were all back, this is a different team. If this team stays healthy it is a different team. And you have to wonder what is going on that so many players want to leave Western Michigan after a year or two, the latest being Stainbrook and his hair. If he ends up at Detroit, there is no telling what Hawk might do.

But this was a team with a lot more potential, one that fans expected a lot from coming off of the 2010-2011 finish. It was a team that had previously endured losing its best player and done fine. But this time around, the loss of one guy was more than the collective could bear, and that has to eat away at the fans.

Gone: Start with Stainbrook, the sophomore who has the unique ability to make an offensive lineman's size work for him on the basketball court. That isn't easy. I am not sure the laws of physics should allow him to rumble from one end of the floor to the other.

But he does and he hustles on defense and offense and was the top player on the team this season. He might have had off nights -- a lot of big men do in college -- but he was the most consistent player on an inconsistent team.

The loss of his size really hurts the team, as they fall back to Shayne Whittington in the middle. The sophomore has the ability but his contributions this season were nowhere near the impact level of those turned in by Stainbrook.

When you lose a player who stood to be as important or better than your previous superstar (David Kool), you lose a lot.

And yes, the loss of a few seniors will hurt the Broncos too. When Ward became the starter his junior year, he immediately turned an increase in minutes into an increase in production and effectiveness. He was no longer just the other guard off the bench. He made an impact in games. He leaves with a combined 4.5 HOOPWAR over his four years, which includes less-than-fabulous freshman and sophomore campaigns.

Mike Douglas also departs, along with his 2.0 HOOPWAR over 4 years. He turned around a horrendous season as a sophomore (-2.5), and became a 2 win contributor for the Broncos. Not many players can make that much of an improvement, especially on the defensive end, where most of Douglas' extra value came from.

Flenard Whitfield is turning his attentions back to football, but his loss pales compares to Stainbrook and Ward. Whitfield leaves with a combined HOOPWAR of 0.9, but actually got worse over his four years, as injuries played a bigger and bigger factor in his production.

Muhammed Conteh (-4.3 career HOOPWAR) and Caleb Dean (-0.4 career HOOPWAR) also saw their careers end.

Bright Spots: Hawk will try to tell you that winning 14 games with so many changes in the lineup is a bright spot. Maybe that is true. I think, as Matt pointed out in his Peaks and Valleys, making the quarterfinals of the MAC Tournament was an achievement for Western Michigan.

They failed to notch one significant win all season, when they started the year with the chance to grab six of them. Six teams that made the NCAA Tournament started the year, six games ended as losses.

Plus the Broncos lost eight of their MAC games by 6 or fewer points, including their comeback against Kent State in the tournament.

So yeah, not a lot of bright spots, especially when Stainbrook, the biggest bright spot on the team, is walking out the door.

Questions:

1. Will Western Michigan hit rock bottom next season? The loss of all the senior leadership plus Stainbrook leaves Western Michigan with 8 total HOOPWAR in their lineup next season. Someone will have to step up and make up at least some of the difference.

Nate Hutcheson looks like he is on track to take one of those premier position, but outside of Whittington, there doesn't seem to be someone on the roster who stick out. Maybe that is why Stainbrook is leaving town now. He saw the future and the talent surrounding him, and realized the next two seasons would be very painful.

Whatever the future, Western Michigan will be hard pressed to finish 3rd in the West again.

2. Three of the last four seasons for Hawkins haven't been great within the conference. If you take out the single year with Howard, the coach is under .500 in the easier of the two MAC divisions.

So if Western Michigan really does crater in 2012-13, could we be seeing the end of Hawkins at the helm? His biggest successes have come with players he didn't help bring in to the program, and the few bright spots haven't been sustained. Without his first two years as coach, he is under .500 at the helm and there are no signs of that getting better.

Add in the departure of his better players early -- and not to the NBA, but to other schools -- and a change may be in the cards.

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