MAC Basketball Rankings: Pre-Conference Play Edition

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Tip-offs for conference games start tonight. How's everyone look?

I don't know why I spend so much time on this. By tonight it's going to be all wrong. And nonconference play can sometimes be misleading. Everybody plays schedules of varying difficulties, and we have to rely on different computer algorithms to figure out who's playing the best. We have an idea, and that's all we have right now. NONETHELESS:

1. Akron 9-4 RPI: 91 KenPom: 43 BBState: 77
They've had the most impressive nonconference of all, as well as the singularly most impressive win: a five-point victory against Middle Tennessee. You can factor out the two close losses to Coastal Carolina and Oklahoma State when Demetrius Treadwell and Nick Harney had to sort out some eligibility paperwork, because they're playing much better than that now. Zeke Marshall might be putting it all together (finally) this year, looking like the early MAC Player of the Year favorite. But what makes them slight favorites in a bunched conference: the lineup of Treadwell, Marshall Brian Walsh, Alex Abreu, and Chauncey Gilliam — with sixth man Nick Harney — is perhaps the most balanced in the MAC. They're all playing well, and 78 points per game doesn't lie.
2. Ohio 9-5 RPI: 177 KenPom: 62 BBState: 93
After that 6-0 start the Bobcats seemed to suffer what looked like growing pains, but from this team? They've been growing for a few years now. They righted the ship to end nonconference with a blowout win against secondary rival Marshall, and we still can't discount both their potential and their previous accomplishments. They're as much a contender as Akron. They're still the top defensive team, but they're causing more turnovers than usual and are getting beat under the boards a bit more. D.J. Cooper is having another terrific season, flanked by Walter Offutt, Ivo Baltic, Reggie Keely and Nick Kellogg, all with superior numbers. Jon Smith remains an underrated defensive asset off the bench.
3. Western Michigan 8-5 RPI: 55 KenPom: 175 BBState: 91
Not to discount RPI as a weird tool, but WMU's is higher than Kentucky's, and as much as they'd like to they're not going to beat Eastern Michigan by 52 points. But they are having a refreshingly impressive year, most than most of us expected, and the South Florida win still resonates as a good one. They've been able to last the entire OOC with the same starting five, anchored by Nate Hutcheson and Shayne Whittington, but it's been forward Darius Paul as the most impressive freshman to date. Brandon Pokley is also having a solid senior year and Austin Richie is developing well, not taking nearly as many 3-pointers (averaging about two per game, down a full one attempt from his freshman year). They still have work to do defensively but this might be the MAC's top rebounding team.
4. Kent State 9-5 RPI: 158 KenPom: 110 BBState: 147
What would a MAC season be without a dangerous Golden Flashes team lurking in the pack? They're dangerous if not inconsistent: they can win at Nebraska by double digits or just barely hang on to beat Fairmont State, and you don't get to pick which one shows up. What we do know is, with the departure of a talented senior crop, Chris Evans has stepped up and made a case for the conference's top player, with Randal Holt again providing some reliable scoring. They've also cut down turnovers and create TOs defensively, but as stated before, they just need to ensure they don't play like world-beaters one night and hangers-on the next.
5. Central Michigan 7-6 RPI: 94 KenPom: 214 BBState: 140
Speaking of surprise teams ... I might've pegged CMU for seven total wins this year. Keno Davis is spinning miracles so far, but they have work to do in a wide open MAC West. If you can believe it, fifth year senior transfer Kyle Randall is scoring about as much as Trey Zeigler did last year and has a much better 3-point shot and makes 90 percent of his free throws (instead of half). For a team that's starting two freshmen and playing many more, this team is instantly more fun on the offensive side than recent seasons. But defensively they're still in shambles: 1.062 points allowed per possession is worst in the MAC.
6. Miami (OH) 5-7 RPI: 144 KenPom: 229 BBState: 196
Honestly, ranking teams six through nine was kind of tough, so just interchange them as you please. I'll throw Miami up here by virtue of how they've played recently, being the only MAC team close to beating UMass in basketball. It was hard to peg how good this team would be, or who the major players would be, but a couple of new faces have helped: transfer Will Felder and freshman Reggie Johnson have made an impact on this team. Familiar faces Allen Roberts and Jon Harris are also pacing the team. Their main issues continue to be large ones, sadly: defense and rebounding. They take care of the ball decently and shoot substantially well from three, so you can count on them being in games late.
7. Toledo 4-7 RPI: 254 KenPom: 183 BBState: 216
At some point I'll stop referring them to The School That Lost To Chicago State. Perhaps. Eventually. It's by all accounts a throwaway season for the Rockets with nothing to play for but a regular season title, and a month ago I'd have given them a better chance, but it really seems like they've taken a step back team-wise. They've had to battle transfers and finding fresh bodies for what seems like the fifth straight season, but they still have Rian Pearson putting up nearly 20 points a game, and thick freshman center Nathan Boothe is making an impact already. Reese Holliday and Matt Smith are having okay years, but if they want to compete they'll need big games from both of them. Like many of their similar counterparts, most of their issues lie around defense and rebounding.
8. Eastern Michigan 7-7 RPI: 185 KenPom: 296 BBState: 190
What a weird schedule. They played three extremely tough games (Syracuse, Kentucky, Michigan), three NAIA teams (Rochester, Madonna, Siena Heights) and beat Purdue. They're all over the map. Their brightest spot (other than their neon yellow shoes) is perhaps Daylen Harrison, who gives them 10 points and five rebounds a game, but they have one of the true 7-footers in the conference (Da'Shonte Riley) as well as a multitude of transfers, from Harrison to Glenn Bryant, who are contributing. Derek Thompson is their only true 3-point threat, which is a problem since they're the most offensively-challenged team in the conference. If they're going to defend the West, they'll have to bank on more defense and, for heaven's sakes, some points once in a while.
9. Ball State 6-6 RPI: 238 KenPom: 271 BBState: 191
It's a darn shame they can't play South Dakota every time. This is another mixed bag of a team. Jesse Berry is scoring in droves for them (14 points per game) and Majok Majok is one of just 18 D1 players averaging 10+ points and 10+ rebounds. Jauwan Scaife and Chris Bond are also giving them good minutes, but on the whole it's a team that's still trying to find its offensive identity. Defensively they've got good perimeter defense and don't foul often. They haven't played a ton of close games other than the Norfolk State buzzer-beating dunk, so maybe they can build on that and grind out some close wins in the West.
10. Buffalo 5-9 RPI: 223 KenPom: 169 BBState: 239
This is a team that still boasts Javon McCrea, still just a junior, and he's again having a first-team All-MAC season. Defensively they're actually not bad, and much of that can be attributed to McCrea. The question is: can Jarod Oldham help this offense score more points? Will Regan may be their most efficient scorer but this team has a terrible issue with turnovers -- nearly one-quarter of their possessions end with a giveaway.
11. Bowling Green 5-8 RPI: 301 KenPom: 197 BBState: 236
Leading the MAC in minutes played is A'uston Calhoun with 35.6. In second place is Jordon Crawford with 34.5. I don't know what this means, but it's curious. The last team the highest-logged minutes by two players were teammates were Michael Bramos and Taylor Dierkers for the 08-09 RedHawks, and they both played over 35 minutes. That team was decent, and so may be this team, even if they're not looking like MAC East contenders. Their main issue is any semblance of scoring beyond Calhoun and Crawford; that's nearly half their scoring.
12. Northern Illinois 2-10 RPI: 329 KenPom: 311 BBState: 312
Yes, they're still distinguished as the worst team in the MAC. You want them to be better, and from a year ago they are. Abdel Nader is still feeling his way back into the rotation and could be a difference-maker. Defensively they might have something here; Travon Baker is one of three MAC players with at least two steals a game. But Baker is a freshman not unlike many other players in their rotation, and that might suck come February.
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