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2014-2015 Preseason Men's Basketball: Western Michigan Broncos

The Broncos will spend the season defending their 2014 title. And with four returning starters, the Broncos have the firepower to get the job done again.

The Western Michigan Broncos celebrate their 2014 MAC Championship. March 15, 2014. Cleveland, Ohio.
The Western Michigan Broncos celebrate their 2014 MAC Championship. March 15, 2014. Cleveland, Ohio.
Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

If you've read any of the articles concerning Bronco basketball players in our top 25 list (#21 Tucker Haymond#10 Connar Tava, and #4 David Brown), you'll notice one recurring theme: how the Broncos will do this season without Shayne Whittington. Whittington was a particularly powerful power forward for the Broncos last season, and his skill set will be tough to replicate.

The Broncos really hit the jackpot when it comes to dealing with the loss of Whittington. That's mostly because WMU gets four of the other five starters of last year's MAC Championship team. With so many returning starters, head coach Steve Hawkins won't exactly have to build from the ground up with this 2014-2015 squad.

Guards Austin Richie and Brown and forwards Haymond and Tava will hit the floor as starters and with the experience to deal with the grueling conference schedule. The Broncos handled the home stretch of the MAC season last year, finishing the season on a 12-2 run, including the NCAA Tournament loss to the Syracuse Orange. That fourteen game stretch was one of the most impressive runs in Hawkins' tenure.

WMU's biggest game last came during the semifinal of the MAC tournament, when it had to overcome an 18-point deficit against Akron and won in overtime. This led to a final match-up against Toledo in which the Broncos completely dominated.

As of today the Broncos have played a couple of exhibition games. With those games, particularly the Broncos last outing (an 81-32 victory over neighbors Kalamazoo College), we have been given a little insight into who will be filling the fifth starting spot.

In the Kalamazoo College win, freshman center Drake LaMont got the starting nod. While this is only one game, and exhibition games are obviously a time where the coaching staff can experiment with line-ups, this might indicate the Hawkins will be leaning toward a traditional big man line-up. Last year, the Broncos varied between this traditional style and a three-guard, two-forward arrangement.

LaMont had six rebounds in the game and went 1-4 from the field. Much this season will depend on how LaMont, or whoever is filling that last starting spot, will mesh as the season progresses. But the performance against Kalamazoo gives promise. And ultimately, given the offensive successes of the team last year - particularly David Brown being the MAC's number two scorer - LaMont's defensive skill could be of more important focus.

Junior guard Jared Klein, who led the team in scoring against Kalamazoo with 12 points, and freshman guard Thomas Wilder, who scored eight in the same game, will also be pivotal this year in providing relief for both Brown and Richie. At the same time, juniors Taylor Perry and A.J. Avery will see a lot of playing time this year providing support for Haymond and Tava.

The Broncos start their title defense at home this Sunday playing Aquinas College at University Arena. On November 19, WMU will play in-state foe Oakland University, a series that has been immensely competitive and entertaining in recent years and really somewhat of a local, non-conference rivalry. Western also gets the opportunity to avenge a poor offensive showing against the Northwestern Wildcats last year, heading to Evanston on December 20. (The Broncos only scored the 35 when they faced the Wildcats in 2013.)

WMU will also face the Akron Zips twice this year. Those games will certainly give insight into the balance of MAC East-West power this season. Also look forward to January 17 and February 21 games against the Toledo Rockets which may determine MAC tournament seeding.

The gauntlet that is a conference season is tough to predict, but it seems that the Broncos, with offensive power and a majority of last year's leadership still in place, can undoubtedly compete for the repeat. And I think they'll do just that and head back to the big dance this March.