By Kevin Sweeney
The MAC is another league that will be wide open due to player movement. 10 of the league’s 12 teams won’t return their leading scorer from a season ago, and 12 of the 15 all-conference honorees from last season are no longer in the league. Still, there is a lot of young talent in the MAC this year that will make it extremely fun to watch.
- Buffalo- A pair of juniors will lead the way for the Bulls in guard CJ Massinburg and big man Nick Perkins. Combine that with the addition of some talented newcomers like Missouri transfer Wes Clark and the #2 JUCO player in the nation in Jeremy Harris, and this roster seems to be the most talented in the MAC.
- Ohio- The graduations of Antonio Campbell, Jaaron Simmons, and Kenny Kaminski hurt, but the young core of junior Jordan Dartis and sophomore Jason Carter should be able to carry the load. The big key is point guard play, as a pair of freshmen in Teyvion Kirk and Zach Butler will likely be looked on to fill the void left by Simmons.
- Kent State- Coming off their first NCAA Tournament berth since 2008, Rob Senderoff has done an excellent job bringing in talent for the Golden Flashes. With the graduation of Jimmy Hall, look for JUCO transfer Jonathan Nwankwo to see a big role, one I believe he’s more than capable of thriving in.
- Akron- It’s hard to find the right spot for the Zips with so many new faces this season, including head coach John Groce. Junior guard Jimond Ivey and Oregon State grad transfer Malcolm Duvivier will need to have huge years.
- Bowling Green- 2 senior double-digit scorers graduate, but BGSU has a strong young nucleus to build around in big man Damajeo Wiggins and and guard Dylan Frye, each of whom could find themselves in the discussion for being all-league candidates.
- Miami (Ohio)- Losing the Weathers brothers to transfer was a brutal blow for hopes of immediate contention under Jack Owens. Watch out for highly-regarded freshman guard Isaiah Coleman-Lands, who should have an opportunity to put up big numbers right away.
- Ball State- I can’t say enough about the job James Whitford has done turning around this Ball State program. He has led the Cardinals to their first back-to-back 20-win seasons since 1992-1993, and he shows no signs of slowing down. Look for junior big man Trey Moses to become a double-double machine and Ball State to contend for a MAC title.
- Western Michigan- The battle between Ball State and WMU should be one of the more interesting ones to follow at the mid-major level. The Broncos bring everyone of significance except wing Tucker Haymond, and have the best player in the conference in Thomas Wilder. They’ll be an extremely tough out come March.
- Eastern Michigan- The Eagles will have one of the more underrated mid-major frontcourts in the country, as Robert Morris transfer Elijah Minnie joins James Thompson IV, who averaged over 14 points and 11 rebounds per game a season ago. The key will be guard play, as a trio of double-digit scorers graduate from last season’s backcourt.
- Toledo- The Rockets lose a pair of stars in double-double machine Steve Taylor and the high-scoring Jonathan Williams. That said, they are still an intriguing club, with the junior duo of Jaelan Sanford and Nate Navigato poised to claim bigger roles and the addition of Colorado transfer Tre’Shaun Fletcher, a versatile wing who will be a matchup nightmare in the MAC.
- Northern Illinois- The transfer of skilled big man Marin Maric was a crushing blow for NIU. They’ll have to rely on a solid young core that showed flashes a season ago to take big steps if they are going to climb the MAC standings.
- Central Michigan- This team is almost impossible to peg. They lose the conference’s top 2 scorers from a season ago in Marcus Keene and Braylon Rayson and have no clear replacements in terms of ball-handlers who can fill it up. It could be an ugly one for the Chippewas this season.
This is simply the most athletic and talented team in the conference. Nate Oats has done an outstanding job finding and landing talented kids on the recruiting trail. Take 3 of the newcomers on this roster who will play big minutes: freshman Jayvon Graves, JUCO player Jeremy Harris, and Missouri transfer Wes Clark. Graves attended the same high school as LeBron James, producing mixtape-worthy dunks while also flashing a game-ready handle. Harris, one of the top JUCO prospects in the nation, is a long and athletic wing who had offers and interest from numerous high-major programs. Clark was a very solid piece at Missouri before academic issues led him to leave school. Combine that type of strong newcoming group with a core like Massinburg and Perkins, and this team seems like it could be scary.
Dark Horse: Kent State
It seems odd to call the defending conference tournament champions a dark horse, but with a pair of stars graduating, the Golden Flashes just haven’t gotten a whole lot of publicity as a contender in the MAC this season. Junior guard Jaylin Walker is one of the premier players in the conference, and he’ll be joined by South Alabama transfer Taishaun Johnson to form a high-scoring backcourt. The frontcourt will relying heavily on newcomers, but a pair of well-regarded JUCO players in the aforementioned Nwankwo and and stretch-4 Akiean Frederick. This team has some upside, and I’ll be interested to see how they fare this season.
- G: Thomas Wilder Jr. (Western Michigan)
- G: Jaylin Walker (Kent State)
- G: Taylor Persons (Ball State)
- G: CJ Massinburg (Buffalo)
- F: James Thompson IV (Eastern Michigan)
Player of the Year: Thomas Wilder Jr. (Western Michigan)- Wilder is an NBA-type talent, and he’s poised to do special things in his senior season in Kalamazoo. A point guard with elite scoring ability thanks to his sweet stroke from beyond the arc, Wilder can take over games at any time. That combination of a devastating stroke with his outstanding quickness to blow by his man makes him virtually unstoppable. If the Broncos are going to win the MAC this season, Wilder will have a huge say in it.
Breakout Player of the Year: Jason Carter (Ohio)- I’m not sure if Carter should be considered “broken out” already, but regardless, he seems on his way to a massive season. After star center Antonio Campbell went down with a season-ending injury, Carter took over a starting role and delivered in a big way, averaging over 13 points and 8 rebounds per game over the final 15 games of the season despite only playing just over 25 minutes per game during that stretch. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him average a double-double this season.
Newcomer of the Year: Malcolm Duvivier (Akron)- It’s incredibly rare at the mid-major level to be able to add a guy who has averaged double-figure scoring in at a power conference program, but that’s what John Groce is adding in Duvivier. He averaged over 10 points per game as a sophomore at Oregon State before seeing his role shrink as a junior and eventually looking to graduate and transfer. He’ll certainly have plenty of opportunity to score, with the Zips losing 5 of their top 6 scorers from a season ago.