The MAC West contains a lot of interesting storylines for the upcoming season. Eastern Michigan looks to rebound from a down year while Western Michigan tries to build on one of their most successful seasons in quite some time. Ball State will field a roster you can’t count on just two hands anymore as they shift from underdog status to recognized threat in the division. Toledo is undergoing a large roster makeover with a lot riding on the performance of untested freshman and role players. Central Michigan is once again grabbing the bull by the horns and taking on the toughest competition they can find in order to prepare themselves for the MAC Tournament.
Last Season: 29-4 (15-1)
Despite having one of the best records in the country, let alone the MAC, Toledo once again failed to get over the hump in the MAC Tournament last year. The loss was especially devastating when you consider the team had five seniors, led by Naama Shafir, with high expectations for success. This season’s Rockets will look very different with Andola Dortch and Inma Zanoguera being the most experienced options on a roster full of reserve players and five incoming freshmen. Dortch is a two-time MAC Defensive Player of the Year winner and Zanoguera is due for a breakout season after yet another summer of successful play for her Spanish national team. Look for the Rockets to run a lot of four guard sets to make up for their lack of frontcourt depth. In the end, Toledo’s success will depend on integrating the new faces and playing well against a tougher schedule than last year.
Last Season: 21-12 (12-4)
Central Michigan ended last year as the most successful women’s basketball program in the MAC. Sue Guevara’s Chippewas won the conference tournament and put up a strong fight in the first round of the NCAA Tournament against Oklahoma. Guard Crystal Bradford is back for her junior year and will look to improve upon her dominating numbers from last season: 16.1 points, 9.9 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. The loss of starters Jessica Schroll and Brandie Baker to graduation will be cause for concern as they finished third and fourth in team scoring last year. Once again CMU has opted to front load their schedule with difficult non-conference opponents including Kentucky, Notre Dame, Dayton, Purdue, Kansas and Marquette. Central should once again be one of the favorites in the MAC Tournament as long as they can escape that schedule without any injuries to their core roster.
Last Season: 17-16 (12-4)
Brady Sallee came into Ball State last year and immediately turned the program’s fortunes around with a strong showing during conference play and a Sweet Sixteen finish in the WNIT. The accomplishments were even more impressive considering Ball State played with a roster that regularly numbered in the single digits. MAC Freshman of the Year Nathalie Fontaine, who averaged 13.2 points and 6.6 rebounds per game, is already on pace to be the leading scorer in school history and should be one of the most exciting players in the conference to watch. Ball State returns all of their starters from last season and has an incoming class of five freshmen to help tackle a tough non-conference schedule that opens on the road at Purdue and includes a home game against Louisville.
Last Season: 11-20 (6-10)
Western’s 11 wins last year were the most the program had seen since 2008 so there’s reason for higher expectations in Kalamazoo. The Broncos roster for this year has 11 returning players with center Rachel Adaline the only senior in the group. Head Coach Shane Clipfell’s recruiting class was only two players strong so there’s a lot riding on the team’s existing base to continue to show improvement. Sophomore Miracle Woods and junior Marquisha Harris, the team’s top scorers last year, both return. The highlight of Western Michigan’s 2013-14 non-conference schedule are two home games against Detroit and Michigan on November 14th and 18th, respectively.
Last Season: 8-22 (6-10)
Tory Verdi’s first year as head coach was a rough one and by the looks of the Eagles’ schedule this year he could be due for more of the same. EMU faces tough road challenges at Michigan, Cleveland State and Detroit and will most likely continue to struggle during conference play. The Eagles have only five players on their roster that saw game time last season and four of them are seniors including last year’s leading scorer Natachia Watkins. Eastern’s recruiting class consists of four freshman guards and it will be interesting to see how much playing time they get on a team with so many senior players at that position but a roster that sorely lacks experience elsewhere.
Last Season: 7-23 (2-14)
Last year’s Huskies roster had only two players average over double figures in scoring: Amanda Corral (12.7) and Satavia Taylor (12.4). Only Corral returns this season as Northern Illinois tries to get the most out of their current roster while hoping for immediate impact from four incoming freshmen and junior college transfer Alex Dumoulin. Ashley Sneed and Alicia Johnson are the only two seniors on the team and it’s hoped their veteran leadership can help the Huskies get better results this season. They’ll need all the help they can get with difficult away games at Green Bay and Wisconsin during the first month of play.
Central Michigan is the safe choice to win the West but I have some doubts. I love the way they schedule difficult games up front to help prepare themselves for the MAC Tournament but they will need to find replacements for Schroll’s and Baker’s scoring. I think Toledo can manage 20 wins this season, even with their still undecided lineup, and I expect a big year from Inma Zanoguera. Ball State should give Toledo good competition for second place in the division with Western Michigan settling into fourth. Eastern Michigan and Northern Illinois should once again bring up the back of the bunch.