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2016-17 MAC Basketball Preview: Western Michigan

Are Coach Hawkins’ Broncos returning to their winning ways?

Syracuse v Western Michigan Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

The Broncos have a lot of new faces this season. Only 6 players who saw time last season return. That might not be the worst thing in the world for a team that finished 13-19. There were bright spots. Thomas Wilder leading all scorers in MAC play isn’t one of them. He is the point guard, and that’s a strong indication that the team isn’t playing offense the way it wants to. Injuries were a big reason for this.

When I talked to Coach Hawkins about the upcoming season, he stressed that a drop in Wilder’s point production doesn’t mean that he has slipped. In fact, he told me that Wilder made great strides over the summer because of his phenomenal work ethic. His off-season workout was slowed the previous summer because of a shoulder injury. The poor kid could only double and triple his stats from his freshman season.

NCAA Basketball: Western Michigan at Vanderbilt Joshua Lindsey-USA TODAY Sports

Along with Wilder, I think a big beneficiary of this hard work will be Tucker Haymond. Look for him to have a break out year. This is a guy that scored 15.9 a game last season, and has 1070 for his career. He only shot 42.5% from the floor last season, compared to 49.6% the year before. I seriously doubt the kid forgot how to shoot. With Wilder getting him better shots, 20+ per isn’t out of question. Drake LaMont should also benefit, though it might not be as noticeable until MAC play rolls around, as he is still not 100%.

Along with those three, Seth Dugan(4.8ppg 4.1RPG), Bryce Moore(5.5ppg), and Josh Davis(2.8ppg) are the 6 returning players that saw time last season. Joeviair Kennedy and Ryan Wade were redshirted and also return. WMU brought in 7 freshman, which would scare any Coach. However, Coach Hawkins told me that having a such a strong core of returning players is helping the new players learn the system.

With so many new faces, it’s hard to predict what this team will do. I look to the past in situations as these to see the future. Coach Hawkins has won 20 games seven times at WMU. Thomas Wilder is the leading returning scorer in the MAC. Those are good indicators that the team will be vastly improved. The stat I am going to be watching early to get an idea what this team is capable of is shooting percentage. Western Michigan shot 43.1% from the floor for the entire season. In the games they won, they shot better than that from beyond the arc. In the two seasons prior, they shot 45% and 46% from the floor, respectively. They also won a combined 43 games.

Another factor to consider is the football team’s recent success. Undefeated, and in the top 20! Coach Hawkins confirmed that there is an energy around the campus. It’s not just the football team, and it’s not solely because of the football team. Multiple sports teams, both women’s and men’s, are having success. Momentum is real, folks. It’s a good time to be a Bronco, and I don’t think basketball season will change this.

Personal story time. I was proofreading this article, and two things stood out. One, I am about 500 words short on my word count goal. Now this isn’t my first BBQ. I could have easily hit the word count with a complete roster, and some cut and paste stat mumbo jumbo from the official WMU website. Instead, I’ll just give you the link. WMUbroncos.com. Two, I mention talking to Coach Hawkins multiple times in the article, but don’t provide direct quotes. Instead of being yet another name dropping sportswriter, I’ll let you, the Hustlebelt.com reader in on a little secret.

I am an idiot. I scheduled an interview with Coach Hawkins. Unfortunately it didn’t work out. His office called, and was more than polite in letting me know he had something better to do. They asked of we could reschedule. As a stay at home dad, that’s no problem for me, so I said sure! But there was a problem. Unfortunately that day, my 6 year old was home from school, unbeknownst to me. The three year old was never the issue. I could ply her with sugar, slap My Little Pony on the TV, and do the interview. Add in the 6 year old, and it’s too much to ask of any man.

So the phone rang, and it was Coach Hawkins on the line. I did my best to keep the little baby barbarians at bay, and I can say I was mostly successful. But sadly, distracted as I was, I forgot to record the interview. Rookie mistake, I know. I would love to give you direct quotes from Coach Hawkins, but I don’t have them. So you just get my memories and impressions of the interview. Coach Hawkins was honest and thoughtful in his answers. A lot of times, when I ask a question, I know the person answering isn’t actually answering the question. They are just giving the answer to a preconceived question that most resembles the actual question. He didn’t do that. He also breached a level of honesty that I appreciated, admitting to “coach speak” when I asked him about the upcoming Villanova game.

The biggest thing I took from the interview, however, was his appreciation of Thomas Wilder’s work ethic. This is a guy that was coaching when the Safety Dance was a thing, and I could tell he was impressed. He had heartfelt things to say about his other players that showed a genuine affection. However, it was obvious to me that Wilder has a special place in his heart. So I am calling it now, Thomas Wilder will be the MAC player of the year.