The long-awaited time is upon us. On January 3, every MAC men’s basketball program and their passionate supporters buckled in for a journey to fulfill their hopes and dreams of playing on college basketball’s grandest stage, the NCAA tournament.
The start of the conference season brings a palpable sense of excitement and optimism to every MAC arena. No matter how a team fared in their opening 13 games against non-conference competition, the remaining 18 MAC contests provide hope for a turnaround: every team starts with a 0-0 record.
The expected intensity of the start of MAC play was on full display in the opening week of action, in which every team played two games. Nail-bitter finishes, chippy competition, and enthusiastic crowds were characteristic of Week 1.
T-1st Kent State (2-0 MAC | 12-3 overall)
- 1/3: 80-72 W vs WMU
- 1/7: 69-66 W @ Miami
The preseason favorites to win the conference, the Golden Flashes have not disappointed as they near the mid-way point of the season. Coach Rob Senderoff and his bunch put together one of the most impressive non-conference resumes among mid-major programs, and opened the MAC season strong with two close wins this past week. Reigning MAC Player of the Year Sincere Carry, who scored 31 points in Saturday’s battle at Miami, will be the team’s catalyst for success down the stretch of the MAC season.
T-1st Ball State (2-0 MAC | 11-4 overall)
- 1/3: 90-83 W @ Toledo
- 1/6: 70-63 W vs Akron
First-year head coach Michael Lewis led his team to one of its finest starts to MAC play in recent program history. On the opening night of conference action, the Cardinals defeated a highly-touted Toledo squad on the road, which Ball State had not done since 2019. After this statement win, Ball State pulled out a gritty home victory over Akron, a team which they fell to by double-digits twice last season. The Cardinals’ backcourt of Jarron Coleman, Jaylin Sellers, and Demarius Jacobs shined in both games, and combined for 66 points in the Toledo win.
T-1st Bowling Green (2-0 MAC | 8-7 overall)
- 1/3: 91-65 W @ EMU
- 1/7: 88-79 W vs Ohio
After an underwhelming non-conference showing, which featured a five-game losing streak, the Falcons have soared to an impressive start in league play. Kicking off MACtion in a big way, Bowling Green dominated Emoni Bates’ Eastern Michigan team from start to finish, and recorded a season-high in scoring against a DI opponent with 91 points. On Saturday, Michael Huger’s team survived a strong second half surge by Ohio to remain unbeaten in conference action. The Falcons were predicted to finish 9th in the preseason coaches’ poll, but Leon Ayers III and Kaden Metheny are working to prove their skeptics wrong.
T-1st Buffalo (2-0 MAC | 8-7 overall)
- 1/3: 75-72 W vs Ohio
- 1/7: 80-62 W vs NIU
After posting the program’s first losing non-conference record since the 2016-17 season, the Bulls have picked up some momentum with two wins to begin their MAC season. In both wins against Ohio and Northern Illinois, Jim Whitesell’s squad played physically, and won the battle on the glass. The Bulls out-rebounded Ohio 52-46, and Northern Illinois 50-28. UB will need to rely on their physicality and the play of sophomore guard Curtis Jones in the coming weeks.
T-5th Toledo (1-1 MAC | 10-5 overall)
- 1/3: 83-90 L vs Ball State
- 1/6: 102-74 W vs WMU
After securing two consecutive MAC regular season crowns, expectations are high for Tod Kowalczyk’s program. Toledo’s quest for another conference championship began with a loss to Ball State, in which the Rockets trailed for 38:55 minutes. Following this tough defeat at home, the Rockets executed their high-tempo offense well in a 28-point triumph against Western Michigan. JT Shumate, the Rockets’ leading scorer, put up 15 against Ball State, and 23 against WMU.
T-5th Akron (1-1 MAC | 9-6 overall)
- 1/3: 76-51 W vs NIU
- 1/6: 63-70 L @ Ball State
The 2022 MAC tournament champions played their first week of conference action without their leading scorer, Xavier Castaneda. With that considered, the Zips performed well in their first two MAC games. John Groce led his team to a 25-point domination against NIU, and nearly guided his squad to a road win against the red-hot Ball State Cardinals. Junior forward Enrique Freeman, who currently averages a double-double, was terrific this week. Freeman surpassed the 20-point and 10-rebound marks in both games.
T-5th Central Michigan (1-1 MAC | 6-9 overall)
- 1/3: 68-56 W vs Miami
- 1/7: 56-62 L @ EMU
Tony Barbee’s Chippewas closed out the non-conference season with a monumental win against Michigan, and carried the momentum into their first week of MAC competition. Despite a slow start offensively, CMU rallied to defeat Miami in a defensive battle. The Chippewas continued to ride this high in the first half against Eastern Michigan, as they outscored the Eagles 30-18 across the first 20. However, they fell to an EMU surge in Ypsilanti. Jesse Zarzuela, CMU’s leading scorer, shined in the Miami victory with 19 points, but did not appear in the EMU game.
T-5th Eastern Michigan (1-1 MAC | 4-11 overall)
- 1/3: 65-91 L vs BGSU
- 1/7: 62-56 W vs CMU
Eastern Michigan has been the most confounding team in the conference this season. With the arrival of a talented transfer class headlined by former #1 recruit Emoni Bates, much was expected of the Eagles. However, Stan Heath and company have been incredibly inconsistent, and sputtered to a 3-10 record after non-conference play. This inconsistency was on display last week. EMU was trampled at home against Bowling Green, a game in which the Eagles converted on just 18-of-64 field goals, but then bounced back with a come-from-behind, spirited effort against an ascending Central Michigan unit. Bates played especially well in the CMU game, as he posted a 26-point, 10-rebound double-double. Eastern needs consistency and leadership from Bates and Noah Farrakhan to turn the tide of its season.
T-9th Ohio (0-2 MAC | 8-7 overall)
- 1/3: 72-75 L @ Buffalo
- 1/7: 79-88 L @ BGSU
Ohio, one of three teams to play their first two MAC games on the road, dropped two heart-breaking contests to open league play. In both games, the Bobcats trailed at the half, but clawed back in the second half to make their games interesting. Against Buffalo, Jeff Boals’ squad pulled the game to within 2 points, and its Bowling Green game featured OU building a 4-point lead after a 13-point deficit in the early stages in the second. The Bobcats, led by senior Dwight Wilson III, has displayed strong resolve and tenacity, despite early losses.
T-9th Miami (0-2 MAC | 6-9 overall)
- 1/3: 56-68 L @ CMU
- 1/7: 66-69 L vs Kent State
The Redhawks’ new head man, Travis Steele, sought to capture his first MAC victories last week, but came up just short in both attempts. Despite a double-double from Anderson Mirambeaux and a 20-point outing from Morgan Safford, Miami fell to Central Michigan after collapsing in the second half. And, although the Redhawks fought the talented Kent State Golden Flashes hard on Saturday afternoon, their efforts were not enough. Miami, who lost four of their top five scorers from last year to graduation or the transfer portal, is a new team under a new coach, and will have an uphill battle this MAC season.
T-9th Northern Illinois (0-2 MAC | 4-11 overall)
- 1/3: 51-76 L @ Akron
- 1/7: 62-80 L @ Buffalo
Head coach Rashon Burno and his program are in the thick of a rebuild. The Huskies returned just six players from the 2021-22 team, and are dealing with the growing pains of a new group. These issues are reflected in lopsided losses to open MAC play. One of the best junior college players in the nation last year, David Coit has shined for the inexperienced NIU team, as he scored 16 points and grabbed 5 steals against Buffalo.
T-9th Western Michigan (0-2 MAC | 4-11 overall)
- 1/3: 72-80 L @ Kent State
- 1/6: 74-102 L @ Toledo
Coach Dwayne Stephens has struggled in his first year in Kalamazoo. The Broncos picked up just one victory against DI opponents in the non-conference slate, and have looked out of sorts to open MAC play. Although WMU has been disappointing thus far, the team’s individual pieces have shined at moments, and there have been flashes of great potential. Most notably this past week, junior forward Markeese Hastings was a bright spot for the Broncos in their losses, as he posted a 14-point, 11-rebound double-double against Kent State, and a 8-point, 20-rebound outing versus Toledo.