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2016 MAC Men’s Basketball Preview

Who’s the favorite to win the league in 2016-2017?

NCAA Basketball: MAC Conference Tournament-Akron vs Buffalo Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

#MACsketball is upon us once again this season and to kick off the festivities, here’s a preview of every team in the MAC ahead of the arrival of shootyhoops, done in order by conference record. Team previews will be coming down the pike in the coming days as well as other exciting things, so kick back, relax, and shoot wadded-up papers in the trash can because basketball #MACtion is coming!

Bowling Green Basketball
Bowling Green Basketball
Kaleb Carter

#12 Bowling Green Falcons (16-18, 5-13 MAC)

Despite its terrible regular season, Bowling Green was able to hit another gear in the 2016 MAC Tournament as it upset Kent State and Central Michigan before succumbing to Akron in the semifinals 80-66. The Falcons return three of their five starters from a season ago with the departures of their leading scorer Spencer Parker and David Joseph, but Antwon Lillard (8 ppg, 3.2 rpg, four blocks, and ten steals in MAC games) and Ismail Ali (65 assists, 13 steals in conference play) saw a lot of playing time in league games last season, so look to see those two play a bigger role in 2016-2017. There’s only one huge non-conference game for BGSU with a match-up at UC on December 4, while it opens MAC play at Akron on January 3 and doesn’t have to go through the MAC East gauntlet until the end of January, so the potential for improvement is there.

NCAA Basketball: Central Florida at Miami (OH) Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

#11 Miami RedHawks (13-20, 6-13 MAC)

Miami showed signs of playing good basketball last season with consecutive wins over Akron, Kent State, and Buffalo before losing 67-65 to Ohio to close the season. The RedHawks made it to the quarterfinals with a 49-47 win over Ball State before they got downed 94-81 by the eventual MAC champion Bulls. However, the ‘Hawks lose their top three scorers and both guards from a year ago with Dion Wade being the leading returner with 5.6 ppg in MAC play. The Red and White have a few non-con games of note, with road games at Wright State (Nov. 15), Missouri (Dec. 6), and UCF (Dec. 18), and their MAC slate is backloaded with a pair of meeting with Kent State and Ohio along with road contest at Akron and Buffalo after the start of February.

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

#10 Western Michigan Broncos (13-19, 7-11 MAC)

The Broncos had a lackluster 2015-16 season that saw them drop a game 45-44 at Miami as well as a 56-50 loss at Northern Illinois in the opening round of the MAC Tournament. However, WMU returns its top three scorers with Thomas Wilder leading the charge with 18 ppg and an astonishing 52 steals. The team has a big non-conference tournament in late November that features Villanova, Wake Forest, and UTEP, along with games at Washington (Dec. 18) and UCLA (Dec. 21). Challenges await in the league games with five of Western Michigan’s first eight games against the vaunted MAC East.

NCAA Basketball: Toledo at Duke Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

#9 Toledo Rockets (17-15, 8-10 MAC)

The great start last season ultimately led to a letdown from Toledo as it dropped its last four games to close the season, including 69-60 loss to Eastern Michigan in the first round of the conference tournament. The loss of Nathan Booth will hurt the Rockets, but the return of Jonathan Williams (17.6 ppg) and Steve Taylor Jr. looks to be a factor this season after the Marquette transfer sat out all of last season due to NCAA transfer rules. There really isn’t a non-conference game of note, and UT’s league schedule is pretty favorable with four of the six MAC East teams coming to Savage Arena but have to take on Akron, Kent State, and Ohio on the road as well.

NCAA Basketball: Eastern Michigan at Louisville Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

#8 Eastern Michigan Eagles (18-15, 9-9 MAC)

The Eagles had an impressive early season win over Buffalo in 2016-17 and nearly beat Akron in the MAC quarterfinals but fell 65-63. The team is in a really good spot with five of its top six scorers from last season returning, with four players (Ray Lee, Willie Magnum IV, James Thompson IV, Ty Toney) averaging 10+ ppg in MAC play. EMU has some big ACC match-ups with road games at Pittsburgh (Nov. 11) and Syracuse (Dec. 19), while it’s MAC slate isn’t fun with a pair of games each with Akron and Ohio.

NCAA Basketball: Northern Illinois at Ohio State Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

#7 Northern Illinois Huskies (21-13, 9-9 MAC)

Making some noise last season was Northern Illinois with regular season wins over Akron and Ohio, along with advancing to the MAC quarterfinals with a 56-50 win over Western Michigan but the inconsistency that plagued the team all year caught up with them in their third meeting against Ohio in a crushing 79-62 loss. Despite losing Travon Baker, the Huskies bring back Aaric Armstead, Marin Maric, and Marshawn Wilson who all averaged over 10+ ppg a season ago. A B1G contest awaits for NIU as it travels to Minnesota (Dec. 11) and have the potential to get a good seed for with MAC Tournament as it only plays Akron and Buffalo once.

NCAA Basketball: Central Michigan at Brigham Young Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

#6 Central Michigan Chippewas (17-16, 10-8 MAC)

Central Michigan is another team that struggled with consistency as it beat Akron, Kent State, and Ohio at home but had five of their eight conference losses on the road and fell in the first round of the MAC Tournament 62-59 to Bowling Green. The graduation of Chris Fowler and Rayshawn Simmons is going to be a tough pill to swallow for the Chippewas, but they still have Braylon Rayson and his 16.3 ppg so they’ll still be a tough out in the league. Austin Stewart, a key part of the bench as a rotating guard/forward, is now a member of the Chippewa football program. The Chips have a B1G game of their own when they travel to Illinois on Dec. 10, and their crossover games aren’t that bad as they play Miami and Buffalo twice.

Charlie Cardinal / Michael Hickey-US PRESSWIRE Michael Hickey/US Presswire

#5 Ball State Cardinals (21-14, 10-8 MAC)

It was hard to gauge how good Ball State really was last season because even though it had 10 MAC wins, it only beat Bowling Green and Miami out of the East and lost to the RedHawks 49-47 in their third meeting in the opening round of the MAC Tournament. Two of the Cardinals’ top three scorers from last season come back into the fold in 2016-17 as Franko House and Ryan Weber accounted for 22.7 ppg, while Trey Moses chipped in as a freshman with a team-high 35 blocks. Start those “WE WANT BAMA” chants now, Cards fans, because your team heads down to Tuscaloosa on Nov. 18 to take on the Tide. The MAC East opponents BSU has to play twice are Bowling Green and Buffalo, so another 10+ conference wins may be in the cards this season.

NCAA Basketball: Las Vegas Classic-Southern Methodist vs Kent State Joshua Dahl-USA TODAY Sports

#4 Kent State Golden Flashes (19-13, 10-8 MAC)

After getting off to a good start in conference play in 2015-16, the Golden Flashes faltered a bit at the end of the season as they lost four of their last five games, including a 70-69 loss to Bowling Green in the opening round of the MAC Tournament. Despite losing a pair of double-digit scorers in Xavier Pollard and Kellon Thomas, Kent is still in good shape thanks to the services of Jimmy Hall with his 16.4 ppg and 7.9 rpg. KSU has a couple of big non-conference road games as it takes on Oregon State (Dec. 21) and Texas (Dec. 27), while Northern Illinois and Toledo are the West opponents it has to play twice this season.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament- Miami vs Buffalo Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

#3 Buffalo Bulls (20-15, 10-8 MAC)

The defending MAC champions were an example of a team getting hot at the right time as they won their last game of the season vs. Bowling Green before reeling of wins to teams they lost to (Miami, Ohio, Akron) and was competitive in the NCAA Tournament opening round but ultimately fell to Miami (FL) 79-72. The Bulls bring back three of it’s four leading scorers from last year’s squad, including Blake Hamilton and his 14.5 ppg in MAC play. Buffalo has a few big tests in the non-con with road meetings at Xavier (Nov. 14), Creighton (Nov. 29), and Pittsburgh (Dec. 7) before a tough MAC slate with a pair of meetings each with Ball State and Central Michigan.

(Credit: Ohio Athletics)
(Credit: Ohio Athletics)
Ohio University Athletics

#2 Ohio Bobcats (23-12, 11-7 MAC)

Always a tough out in the league, Ohio had few blemishes last season but getting swept by Akron in the regular season and getting dropped in the MAC Tournament semifinals 88-74 by Buffalo had to stick in the craw of a proud basketball program. Led by arguably the best player in the MAC in Antonio Campbell with 19.1 ppg and 25 blocks in MAC play as well as double-digit scorers Jaaron Simmons and Kenny Kaminsky, the Bobcats are looking to make another, more fruitful run in Cleveland. The ‘Cats have an ACC clash with Georgia Tech (Nov. 18) in the non-conference portion of the schedule, while Eastern and Western Michigan are the West teams they’ll double-up on.

NCAA Basketball: Akron at Villanova Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

#1 Akron Zips (26-9, 13-5 MAC)

The Zips had an impressive season where they went on a seven-game winning streak in the regular season, but the losses to Buffalo in the MAC Tournament final and to Ohio State in overtime in the opening round of the NIT gave them plenty of motivation to come out and dominate the 2016-17 season. The dynamic duo of Antino Jackson and Isaiah Johnson will be a force in the MAC yet again this season as the pair accumulated 26.4 ppg, 9.9 rpg, and 33 steals in league games a season ago. Akron has a pair of big match-ups at Creighton (Dec. 3) and Gonzaga (Dec. 10) in non-conference play, as it also takes on EMU and WMU twice in conference play.