KALAMAZOO--- Western Michigan Coach Steve Hawkins has done some masterful coaching jobs in his ten years at the helm of the Bronco Men's basketball program. It's hard to argue that when your teams have won six MAC West division titles during that time.
For the Broncos to challenge for that seventh MAC West crown, Hawkins will need to reach way deep into his bag of coaching tricks. Hawkins starts the season with only two seniors on the entire roster and only three juniors, one of which saw any significant playing time. Anyone that has watched the successful mid-major basketball teams over the years knows that they are usually the teams that have played together three and four years. The Broncos lost 47% of last years scoring with the graduation of Brandon Pokely and Nate Hutcheson and the transfer of MAC Freshman of the year Darius Paul to Illinois.
At least the two seniors Hawk has back are two of the best in the league. Last year's sixth man of the year, David Brown, is looking forward to playing an entire season without injury and Second Team All-MAC selection Shayne Whittington figures to be among the best in the post. Junior point/shooting guard Austin Ritchie gives the Broncos some perimeter experience and will be asked to run the team much of the time this year.
Sophomore forwards Connor Tava and AJ Avery and redshirt freshman Kellen McCormick will probably see the majority of minutes in the front court with Whittington. Sophomores Taylor Perry and Jared Klein will get plenty of opportunities in the backcourt.
The Broncos also expect to get help from newbies Tucker Haymond and Mario Matasovic, just off the yellow bus, but with loads of upside per Hawkins. Charles Harris a redshirt freshman swingman is a wild card for the Broncos. "Charles can play inside and out and we expect big things from him when he is ready. We are just not quite sure when that will be," said Hawkins.
"Akron, Ohio, Toledo, they don't care how many years of college experience our kids have. They just want to win, just like we do," said Hawkins. "We as coaches have to prepare the younger guys the best we can for significant time on the floor and we will continue to do that throughout the season.'
WMU finished the season with a 22-13 record, the third-highest single-season total in program history and the fifth 20-win season under Hawk. Western Michigan was the MAC West division champion last season with a 10-6 record in conference play, reaching the semifinals of the 2013 MAC Tournament before falling to the Ohio Bobcats. The Broncos were selected to participate in the 2013 College Basketball Invitational, where they won their first two games to advance to the semifinals before falling to runner-up George Mason.
Two years ago the Broncos never really recovered from a brutal early non conference schedule as they limped home with their first losing season in six years. Last year, despite losing starters Matt Stainbrook and Juwan Howard Jr. to transfer, the Broncos started hot winning the South Florida tournament. This years non-conference schedule sets up somewhere in between. "We have twelve games before conference season starts, half on the road half at home," said Hawkins. "I figure that we will be favored in a third, underdogs in a third and the other third are toss-ups."
The Broncos will begin the 2013-14 season with a pair of home exhibition games, starting at home against Kalamazoo College on Saturday, Nov. 2 at 2 p.m. They will host Aquinas College on Monday, Nov. 4 at 7 p.m. to wrap the exhibition season. The regular season will begin the next weekend, when the Broncos compete in the Outrigger Hotels and Resorts Rainbow Classic, hosted by Hawaii.
Key games this season figure to be back to back road games at Northwestern and Missouri in early December. In the conference it begins and ends with Toledo, the team selected to dethrone the Broncos as MAC West champions. Games at home versus Ohio and Akron in mid- February will determine whether or not the Broncos have any chance at winning a MAC Championship.