SURPRISES -- SOME PLEASANT, SOME NOT
There were some surprises this season – some in the positive and some for the negative. Among the biggest surprises was Central Michigan. The Chippewas were picked fifth out of six West Division teams in the MAC preseason poll. They finished the season atop the West and tied for the best MAC record.
Bowling Green went from similar humble predictions on its side of the MAC – picked for fifth in the East. But the Falcons flourished under new head coach Chris Jans, finishing just one game behind Buffalo and Kent State.
Buffalo itself was something of a pleasant surprise. The Bulls certainly had some talent returning, but UB never seemed to be able to put it all together. Besides, the Bulls would be without 2014 MAC Player of the Year Javon McCrea, who averaged a double-double much of his final season with the Bulls.
UB GETS OVER THE HUMP
All the Bulls did was win the MAC East and subsequent MAC tournament, earning their first trip to the NCAA’s Big Dance!
Among the struggling teams were at least a couple surprises. Akron, a perennial MAC East contender went 9-6 in conference play. Ohio, also a traditional basketball power player, slipped to the MAC East basement after going 25-12 (11-7 MAC) and making it to the CIT tournament quarterfinals in 2013-14.
Let’s take a look at the final rankings. Remember -- first six tonight, second six tomorrow!
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Head coach Bobby Hurley led the Bulls to a MAC East title in each of his first two seasons and put the Bulls over the hump this year with a tournament title and NCAA appearance. The Bulls certainly showed promise with some nice showings in out-of-conference losses to Kentucky and Wisconsin – each of which is headed to the NCAA final four. UK, of course, is on course for a possible undefeated campaign. After losing three straight in early February, the Bulls got hot down the stretch, winning eight straight on the way to the MAC tourney title.
Justin Moss turned out to be a big-time replacement for Javon McCrae, averaging a conference- best 17.6 ppg and 9.1 rpg while winning the same MAC MVP award this year as a junior.
But the talent didn’t stop there. Sophomore Shannon Evans averaged 15.5 ppg, fifth among MAC scorers. Senior Xavier Ford was just off double figures with a 9.7 ppg average. Both Evans and Ford were key contributors foa a Bulls team that should be a major contender again next year. If Hurley moves on, some coach is going to inherit a very nice cast.
2. CENTRAL MICHIGAN CHIPPEWAS (12-6 MAC, 23-9 overall)
After getting just 12 MAC wins in the previous three seasons, the Chippewas posted a dozen conference victories this season. That was good enough for a MAC West title and No. 1 MAC tourney seed. No. 2 seed Buffalo knocked off CMU in the tourney final and Louisiana Tech ousted Central in first round NIT action. The 2-5 finish shouldn’t weigh too heavily on what was an outstanding season. CMU won 11-of-its first 12 outings and had a six-game win streak that included a win at Buffalo in mid February.
Offense was the Chippewas calling card as they finished atop the MAC (78.6 ppg) and were 15th in the nation. They hit 48.8 percent of their shots overall and 38.3 percent of their 3-point attempts. On a given night, CMU could rain threes on an opponent. Such was the case when the Chippewas made 19-of-27 treys (70.4%) in a 105-77 win over Miami.
Junior guard Chris Fowler led CMU and was sixth in the conference with a 15.5 ppg average. Junior forward John Simons (12.3 ppg) and sophomore guard Braylon Rayson (11.0 ppg) were also in double figures. With a nearly intact roster returning and some serious height among last year’s freshmen, the Chippewas should be a force for coach Keno Davis again next season.
3. KENT STATE GOLDEN FLASHES (12-6 MAC, 23-12 overall)
The Golden Flashes picked up half of their MAC wins on a six-game winning streak from Jan. 10-27. They were 5-6 in MAC regular season play after that and fell to rival Akron in the second round of MAC tourney action. KSU picked up two wins in the CollegeInsider.com postseason tournament before bowing out at Northern Arizona.
While Kent State ranked just ninth among MAC teams in scoring (66.5 ppg), it was second in scoring defense (63.1 ppg) and field goal percentage defense 40.8%).
Free throws were something of an issue as KSU’s 64.8 percent from the line was last among MAC teams. Nontheless, they were second in free throws attempted, allowing them to finish third in made FTs.
Sophomore forward Jimmy Hall’s 15.6 ppg average led the team and was fourth in the MAC. Seniors Devareaux Manley (13.5 ppg) Kris Brewer (10.6 ppg) and Derek Jackson (10.6 ppg) were also in double figures.
4. TOLEDO ROCKETS (11-7 MAC, 21-12 overall)
The Rockets were a preseason media pick to not only win the West, but the MAC tournament, as well. Three losses in the first five games, however, served notice that nobody was conceding anything on the court.
Toledo did bounce back with sins in eight of the next nine, but it finished with just two wins in the final six. Central Michigan defeated UT for the third time in three tries to eliminate the Rockets from MAC tourney action.
Like CMU, the Rockets thrived at the offensive end. They were second behind only Central among MAC teams with a 74.7 ppg average (27th nationally). They were, however, 11th in scoring defense (70.5 ppg). That left Toledo fifth in scoring margin (plus 4.2 ppg).
Five players averaged double figures for the Rockets. Senior guard Julius Brown, a First Team All MAC selection, led the way with 16.3 ppg. Second team members Justin Drummond and J.D. Weatherspoon, both seniors, averaged 13.1 ppg and 12.9 ppg, respectively. Sophomore Jon was at 10.2 ppg, while 6-9, 250-pound junior center Nathan Booth tallied 10.0 ppg.
Much of the building under head coach Ted Kowalcyzk started with this senior class, so it will be interesting to see what the Rockets can put together for 2015-16.
5. BOWLING GREEN FALCONS (11-7 MAC, 21-12 overall)
The Falcons took a quantum leap forward under new head coach Chris Jans after finishing at 6-12 MAC, 12-20 overall the previous season. Success came early as BG won seven of nine non-conference games before starting MAC play with eight victories in the first 10 outings.
The Falcons even had a shot at MAC East title before close losses to Kent State (81-80) and Buffalo (77-75) to close out the regular season. After a win over Ball State to open the MAC tourney, Bowling Green depart with a loss to Eastern Michigan. The Falcons then went 1-1 in College Basketball Insider Tournament play.
Bowling Green’s strength was defense. It led the conference with a 62.9 ppg average. It was fourth in field goal percentage defense (41.1%).
The Falcons scored 66.5 ppg (8th) and owned a scoring margin of plus 3.6 (6th). They were fifth in 3-point shots attempted (647) and eighth in made threes (218). The 33.7 percent made shots was 11th of 12 MAC teams.
Senior big man Richaun Holmes – a member of the All-MAC First Team -- led the Falcons’ offense with a 14.7 ppg average and also had a team-best 8.0 rebounds per contest. His 2.5 blocks per game helped him earn MAC Defensive Player of the Year honors.
Classmate Jehvon Clarke was also in double figures with a 10.7 average,while 6-2 sophomore guard Zack Denny showed signs of production. He reached double figure scoring in 15 contests and had a 5.2 rebound average. Senior guard Anthony Henderson chipped in 8.8 ppg.
Graduation will take its toll, so the Falcons will have their work cut out for them next season.
6. WESTERN MICHIGAN BRONCOS (10-8 MAC, 20-14 overall)
The Broncos were a solid second place preseason pick in the MAC West and David Brown was selected for the preseason All-MAC West team. Brown finished the year with second team honors and the Broncos came in third in the west. They had their chances, but the season turned out to be quite the roller coaster ride. After a 4-1 conference start, WMU went 1-5. It was win two, lose one the rest of the way until ending the year with a disappointing Collegebasketball Insider tournament loss at home to Cleveland State, 86-57.
The Broncos ranked fourth among MAC teams in scoring (70.7 ppg) and were ninth in scoring defense (68.1 ppg). That left them eighth in scoring margin (plus 2.6)
Western tied Central Michigan with the top mark in field goal percentage, both hitting 46.6 percent of their shots. The Broncos also had a good eye from distance, finishing second on three-point goals (36.5%), although they were sixth in made-treys.
Brown led WMU scorers with a 15.3 ppg average. He was followed by junior Connar Tava (12.3 ppg), sophomore Tucker Haymond (11.8 ppg) and senior Austin Richie (10.0 ppg).
Brown and Richie – both guards -- will be the main losses as Western regroups for next season. Thomas Wilder was part of the MAC all-freshman team. He averaged 7.2 points and 20.4 minutes per game.