As we enter the 2018-19 basketball season, I am helping to compile the top 20 player lists for both the men and the women. The women’s list was tricky, as after the top 6 or 7, the next group was distinguished but indistinguishable. In other words, the next 13 or 14 players are all fantastic. On the men’s side, I couldn’t stop at 20. As basketball editor of Hustle Belt, I made the call and our list now extends to a top 30 list. Neither list accurately includes all the incoming freshman and transfers, because our list is heavily based on what we know, not our suppositions.
What does this mean for the upcoming basketball season?
We all know Buffalo pulled off a huge upset in the NCAA tournament, times two. The men knocked off Arizona, while the women reached the sweet 16. Central Michigan’s women’s squad knocked off LSU and Ohio State, looking like the better team in both contests, and reached the sweet 16. This season could see similar success.
On the men’s side, Buffalo is still loaded. They have been loaded for a while, though. Last season, Buffalo started to put it all together. I made note that they stopped just chucking up lazy jumpers. Nate Oats turned a corner on teaching his kids how to play, while also allowing them to play. Their MAC and NCAA tournament run proved that. This season, they are still loaded, and Nate is a year older and wiser.
James Whitford at Ball State is also older and wiser. His team might be even more loaded. He also adds the only transfer that made our top 30 player list. I personally voted them number 1 in my preseason rankings, but would not be surprised if several other teams have better seasons.
One of those teams is Eastern Michigan. They are also completely loaded in talent. I am not a big fan of zone defense all the time and I am not sufficiently convinced Rob Murphy is the answer. This season will go a long way in answering question 2 for me.
Throw in what Saul Phillips has in Athens and the Groce experiment in Akron and you have a bunch of story lines, talent, and proven success that should make the MAC fan excited for the upcoming men’s basketball season.
On the women’s side, that excitement should be doubled. While the depth of talent overall might not be the same, that might be a good thing. At the top there are is a ton. That will allow for some gaudy records and even more of a chance for a second, and dare a I say, third bid to the NCAA tournament.
Each year in college basketball is unique. Last season, especially when it came to national tournament time, the MAC had an exceptional season. It’s not hyperbole when I say this season might exceed that excitement.