Before the season began, our power rankings probably looked a little something ... a-like this (overall rank in parens):
4. Kent State
10. Bowling Green
2. Central Michigan
5. Ball State
6. Eastern Michigan
8. Western Michigan
9. Northern Illinois
And now we're one (1) whole nonconference schedule maturer and wiser. See those rankings up there? Forget 'em. Here's how they oughts-ta be ranked, with the number signifying their overall MAC rank:
1. Buffalo (8-4)
Also, you can make a very strong case — one that I might even notarize — that Byron Mulkey, not Mr. Silas, is the best player in the MAC, in that he's a more complete player. No, he's not even the top scorer on his team, but as the point guard he's first in assists (5.3) and steals (3.4), third in rebounds (4.6) and averaging less than two turnovers a game. That's very efficient and they don't lose possessions when he's managing the game.
It also helps when a guy like Zach Filzen is drilling it from the 3-point line (43 made puts him in the top 15 nationally) at a 44% rate. And everything's doing something splendidly. Javon McCrea pulls down the rebounds. Mitchell Watt is defending well at the center position. And, um ... the rest!
Of course, this could all go south when Bowling Green knocks them on their keyster Saturday. But predictions keep as well as milk in a sauna. For now, UB's the favorite until newer information is found.
3. Kent State (9-5)
Even riding a two-game losing streak, the Golden Flashes have had an accomplished season so far: a win against South Florida and their opener against Iona rise above the rest. But in true road games, they're 0-4 and probably should've beaten Morehead State, or at least have shown better. But they get dozens of second chances, rebounding well on the offensive board and sorta limiting turnovers.
The loss of Carlton Guyton to suspension has been a shot to the depth, but it's pretty much the Justin Greene and Rodriquez Sherman show on most nights. Now accepting applications for a third contributor.
4. Akron (9-5)
What they've done well is win a couple MACxtra-strength road games (UIC, Detroit) and all their five losses were to clearly superior opponents. So while they play smart and Keith Dambrot remains one of the top coaches in the MAC, they oughta scrape and knuckle for that final first-round bye.
Zeke Marshall is a sizable asset as the only 7-footer in the MAC that plays meaningful minutes. Him and Nikola Cvetinovic might be the best set of post-up players in the conference. Then on the outside, the McAkrons (Steve McNees, Brett McClanahan) are draining threes, so you have to defend everybody. But they're not rebounding so well; often they're getting crushed on the boards (-4.9 margin)
5. OHIO (7-7)
Disappointment, to say the least. That doesn't mean they can't repeat; they won last year as the No. 9 seed. But a home schedule that set up so nicely for them wound up with losses against Marshall, IUPUI, St. Bonaventure, and Robert Morris. I'm not saying they shoulda won every one of those games, but it would've been nice to have a couple of those back, and maybe not lose to Kansas by 57.
It may not be a stretch to say they're using D.J. Cooper a little TOO much (35.2 minutes, 15.6 shots a game), and this could speak more about the depth of the team. But at least they can score. Cooper has a ton of assists, several to Tommy Freeman who has some red-hot 3-point shooting. No one person's rebounding quite well (Ivo Baltic leads the team) but they're all bringing enough loose balls down, but they gotta improve their defense if they want to close out games.
6. Miami (5-9)
They're basically done with the Schedule of Doom. And like I've said before, I don't know what there is to learn about losing by 20 to Duke, Kansas, and Ohio State, other than "we're not them." Although considering that it was only losing by 20 and not 50, that's something to appreciate (*coughOHIOcough*).
So can they slog through the conference and do better than fifth in the MAC East? Absolutely. A strict diet of Julian Mavunga posting up and rebounding, while Nick Winbush equalizing from the outside, may help. I'm also looking forward to seeing how much freshman Quinten Rollins will develop into a point guard to bring everything together. It probably won't happen this year, though.
9. Bowling Green (5-9)
I feel for them, because they're going to get worked over in the East, by virtue of the simplistic theory that they're worse than them. But put them in the West ... and you're looking at a second- or third-place finish. All they have is a modicum of momentum heading into Saturday, thanks to winning four of their last five after starting the season 0-8 against Division I teams.
Scott Thomas was supposed to be their best player, but Dee Brown is the leading scorer and A'uston Calhoun has become their most dynamic court presence, as well as their most apostrophic. What they could use is more 3-point shooting by senior guard Joe Jakubowski, who hasn't been raking in the high point totals, but he's the only one shooting the deep ball better than 30 percent.
2. Ball State (8-4)
This is going to be written while conveniently forgetting that loss to Alaska-Anchorage. By 18 points. (shakes it off)
But the Cardinals have, without a doubt, the best starting five in the MAC. Their depth beyond that is the question mark, but when they're Big Five are rolling, it's going to be difficult to debeak them. They're all adept at drawing fouls and getting to the line. Only ten other teams in the country take more free throws a game (27.2).They also have a strong road win, besting DePaul on the road, who is comparable to any top-tier MAC team.
What's more, Jarrod Jones not only ranks in the MAC's five five scorers and rebounders, but he's one of the best at minimizing turnovers. Randy Davis is a nice point guard and defender, while he Jauwan Scaife are tremendous free throw shooters (exactly 90%). Finally, Jesse Berry and Malik Perry are solid wing players who defend and play smart. Know all five.
7. Western Michigan (7-6)
Admittedly, they're playing a lot better than most people, including most Hustle Belt editors, thought in the post-Kool era. Games they shouldn't have lost include Troy (who remain their only D1 victory to date) and Towson, but they almost upset Xavier and didn't get blown out by Illinois. Keep half an eye on this team; a division is within reach.
Why? The common logic was for Flenard Whitfield to carry the load, and he's done that. But Juwan Howard Jr. has played a couple inspired games in the last couple weeks, and he'll have something to say about that MAC Rookie of the Year award which we thought was a foregone conclusion. Along with Demetrius Ward's shooting, WMU is going to win a few more than expected.
8. Central Michigan (3-10)
Rough start, wouldn't ya say? Their schedule hasn't been too kind, but even when they returned to their new arena, they didn't fare so well. (Except against Cornerstone, and BARELY.)
It's probably fair to say that Trey Zeigler, who is going to be incredible in this league, probably isn't ready to have an offense run through him at this point in his career. Yet that's what they appear to be doing. That or he's taking too many shots. Jalin Thomas is actually their best player now, and the team needs to realize that. And if you haven't seen Andre Coimbra and his Crabman afro, you might also want to pay attention to his inside play. They're still going to win a good handful of games, mostly by feasting on all the other weak West teams.
10. Northern Illinois (4-8)
Can we just rename this team Xavier Silas & The Huskies? It's quite appropriate. While averaging 24 points a game, he's getting 33.5 a game in their four wins. He's also a sensational free throw shooter, which can't be ignored, and takes several of them a night.
But nobody else is a shooting threat. Their second option is currently Jeremy Landers, whose had a clump of double-digit-point games. Tim Toler can also contribute. And I don't know how much quarterback-slash-point guard DeMarcus Grady will contribute, but at this point they'll take anything.e
11. Toledo (3-11)
I'll put them 11th, based on a few key components: (a) EMU looks awful. (b) That three-game winning streak was something to behold. I mean, for THIS team. (c) Tod Kowalczyk, based on how he's handled himself during and between games, just might turn this team into a contender in a few years. But, yes, it's going to take some time because right now his best athletes are sitting out their transfer year, and the freshmen are playing a buttload of minutes.
While sophomore guard Malcolm Griffin was tabbed as their best playmaker coming into the year, that's still true to some extent, but he's making a lot of mistakes, perhaps by trying to overcreate. Anthony Wright was a nice veteran boost who can rock the three at times, and then take your pick of all the young'uns. If you're going to watch somebody, keep an eye on Delino Dear, a lanky center who's developing a post game and some defense. But don't watch them win more than two or three conference games.
12. Eastern Michigan (3-10)
This was a big surprise — or maybe I'm the only one who's astonished. This was one of my dark horse teams, but now they're playing like a dead horse. They lost big and they lost close. They found several ways to lose (exception: play non-Division I teams) but that's all in the past.
Can Brandon Bowdry, the MAC's best forward, get some assistance in Ypsilanti? Darrell Lampley is a capable point guard, but Derek Thomspon is struggling to shoot, and they need him to sink more shots. One other surprising nugget: freshman Jamell Harris is one of the nation's best blockers, averaging 2.3 per game. But they'll need more than a couple sweet rejections a game to get back into the race for the West.
Revisited Picks for the All-MAC Team
G D.J Cooper
G Xavier Silas
G Byron Mulkey
F Brandon Bowdry
F Jarrod Jones