After 18 weeks of action the 2013-2014 MAC Basketball regular season came to an end Saturday night, marking the end of one of the more exciting regular season's in recent memory.
This season was full of drama, fresh faces and impact performances. We asked you, the readers, to help us decide who was the best of the best in the MAC this year. You responded overwhelmingly. Now it's time to announce the winners of the 2014 Hustle Belt MAC Men's Basketball Awards:
Player of the Year: Buffalo senior forward Javon McCrea
While Juice Brown garnered a respectable share of the vote, the man they call 'The Kraken' was far and away the winner of our Player of the Year award. Averaging 18.9 points and 9.8 rebounds a game McCrea was a walking double-double. He also stepped up his defensive presence, stuffing an average of 2.2 shots a game.
McCrea's biggest knock in previous seasons has been that though his stats were prodigious, they almost were garned at the cost of his team's performance. Not this season. McCrea led the Bulls to a No. 3 seed in the MAC Tourney and the school's first-ever outright MAC East title.
McCrea showed a level of basketball knowledge that no other player in the MAC came close to matching this season. While possessing the ability to bust a game open and dominate it offensively, and on the glass, he knew when to take a step back and act as a co-star. Several times this year McCrea served a facilitator's role aiding a hot teammate and stepping back offensively to the benefit of his team. In previous seasons that wasn't the case, and just showed how much his game has advanced.
Just three points away from cracking 2,000 career points he's already the most decorated player in UB Basketball history and has a serious shot at going in the NBA Draft this summer. A MAC Tournament Championship would shake off all the haters once and for all and assert his dominance as one of the best MAC basketball players of the last 20 years.
Defensive Player of the Year: Da'Shonte Riley, Eastern Michigan senior center
In a surprisingly close among EMU's 7-footer Da'Shonte Riley pulled out a narrow but noticeable win in the vote for the best defensive player in the MAC this year. Riley turned into a shot-blocking specialist, tying for the MAC lead with an average of 2.8 a game. He finished in the top 25 in the nation in this category.
He could have been a bigger factor on the defensive glass, but his ability to reject opponents was spectacular this year. Seven times this season Riley swatted five or more shots in a single game, even against squads such as Akron, Cleveland State and UMass.
In EMU's stingy zone defense, Riley is a fantastic asset, always ready to pack an opponent's lunch and making it near impossible to penetrate the interior.
Coach of the Year: Western Michigan head coach Steve Hawkins
While Toledo's Tod Kowalczyck is received some support for this honor, Steve Hawkins was by far the fan favorite. Understandably so. Hawkins' Broncos were picked to finish second in the MAC West and didn't receive a single first-place vote in the MAC preseason poll. Factor in the loss of Darius Paul in the offseason and the questionable status of WMU's bench and what the team was able to accomplish in MAC play is nothing short of spectacular.
The Broncos were the most consistent team in MAC play, and hit their stride down the stretch, rattling off an eight-game winning streak at one point before wrapping up the No. 1 seed in the MAC Tournament and the Broncos first MAC regular season championship since 2004. In his 11th season in Kalamazoo he claimed the team's sixth MAC West title. Not bad at all. Oh, and with a triple-bye in the MAC Tournament his squad is a easy favorite to win the Tournament Championship as well.
Sixth Man of the Year: Travis Wilkins, Ohio senior guard
Just beating out 2012 MAC Sixth Man of the Year Quincy Diggs by a single vote the Ohio shooter with ice in his veins won our fan vote for Sixth Man of the Year. Travis Wilkins, undoubtedly helped out his cause by a strong final month averaging just a shade under 10.4 a game from February 1 on.
Wilkins was fourth on the team in minutes played in 2014, despite getting just eight starts, turning into one of the Bobcats' most valued contributors. In just his second season in Athens the Snow College transfer morphed from a 3-point specialist with sparse minutes in 2013 into an all-round force. When Ohio starter Ricardo Johnson went down with a broken leg mid-way through the season Wilkins responded by picking up the extra load.
Averaging just 6.9 points and 2.1 boards a game, Wilkins stats weren't eye popping, but there was no denying his impact. Not the fastest, strongest or best defender, Wilkins makes up for his lack of athleticism (compared to others) by out-hustling opponents. Several times this season that was the difference maker in a game for Ohio. Take the 'Cats 82-75 victory over Miami in early February. Wilkins scored a career-high 23 points on 6-for-8 from 3-point range. He also added five rebounds to the effort and was THE reason the Bobcats eked out the win.
He's not as versatile as Diggs, or flashy as Glenn Bryant, but he steps up when needed and almost always comes through.
Newcomer of the Year: Maurice Ndour, Ohio junior forward
This was by far the most lopsided race of them all. The first-year Bobcat and Senegal native by way of Rochelle, New York, Japan, emerged as a star player on the Ohio roster, something the team was desperately in need of a year after losing four long-term starters.
Ndour finished the year second on the team in scoring, first in rebounding, and first in block shots. He also flashed the ability to step outside and drain a trifecta when needed, shooting 3-pointers at a 30 percent clip. He was Top 10 in the conference in scoring and rebounding and Top 5 in blocks.
With his athletic stringy frame Ndour proved most valuable due to his ability to cause nightmarish match up issues. He also stepped up as a leader for the team, refusing to be intimidated by the high-caliber stars of the conference. His best games this year came against the likes of Ohio State, Western Michigan, Buffalo, Akron, Toledo and UMass. Not a bad level of competition. Like his teammate Wilkins, Ndour was able to step up and help out where needed. One game he could lead the team in scoring, the next in shot-blocks and steals. Not the most polished player, Ndour legitimized his candidacy for MAC Player of the Year next year, and has to be a favorite to make some noise in the MAC Tournament.