As often happens in the MAC, there were a number of surprises - for good and bad. You can click Read More below to see the final six spots of our rankings, but for reference, here is how the preseason media poll went:
MAC East: Akron, Ohio, Kent State, Buffalo, Bowling Green, Miami.
MAC West: Toledo, Western Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Northern Illinois, Central Michigan, Ball State.
Toledo was an overwhelming pick to be tournament champion, getting 15 votes. No other team got more than one vote.
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The Zips took themselves out of any post-season play – in part because of injuries. It was part of a tough season for UA, which took an early hit with the suspension and eventual loss of Demetrius Treadwell – a player of the year candidate.
A three- week stretch beginning Feb. 14 pretty much killed off any UA chances of MAC East contention. The Zips lost six of seven during that regular season-ending stretch.
Coach Keith Dambrot’s crew regrouped for three straight MAC tourney wins before falling to champ Buffalo.
Akron was sixth in scoring (68.6 ppg) and third in scoring defense (63.6 ppg). That left UA fourth in scoring margin (plus 5.0).
The Zips were next-to-last in field goal percentage (41.5%), but they were second in three-point goals made (9.4 per game) and fourth in three-point goal percentage (35.0).
Pat Forsythe, a 6-11 junior and All-MAC Third Team member, was the only Akron player to average double figures. He finished at 10.0 ppg, but senior guard Deji Ibitayo and freshman Noah Robotham both averaged 9.9 ppg. The latter sustained a season-ending injury Feb. 21. However, he showed enough before that to make the All-MAC Freshman Team. Sophomore Kwan Cheatham Jr. (6-9, 230) averaged 7.9 ppg and 5.0 rpg. He is part of what could make the Zips a very tough challenge inside in the coming years.
8. EASTERN MICHIGAN (8-10 MAC, 21-14 overall)
The Eagles showed potential to be one of the MAC’s top teams before conference play started. They reeled off seven straight wins to start the season and were 11-2 at the close of non-conference action. The two losses were to NCAA post-season participants Dayton and Michigan State.
Given that success, it came as a shock when EMU dropped five of its first six MAC outings.
After going 3-3 through the next six games, Eastern ran off four straight wins. The latter two were in MAC tourney play. Toledo finally knocked EMU out, 78-67, in semifinal action, and Louisiana-Monroe ended Eastern’s campaign in first round play of the CBI tournament.
More often than not, Eastern’s strength came off its defense. The Eagles finished tied for third among MAC teams with a 63.6 ppg average in scoring defense. They were fifth in offense (69.6 ppg), leaving them third in scoring margin (plus-6.0). Eastern was first in defensive field goal percentage, allowing teams to make just 38.5 percent of their shots.
Of course, EMU was itself having some problems in connecting. It was last in the MAC, hitting 41.2 percent of its shots overall. It’s 31.3 percent from beyond the arc was also last.
Working in the Eagles favor were rebounds and turnovers. Eastern was third in rebounding (36.5 rpg) and first in turnover margin (3.32).
Sophomore guard Raven Lee paced the offense, averaging 16.7 ppg. Senior guard Mike Talley was at 12.5 ppg, while senior forward Kensington Ward produced 12.5 ppg. Lee was All-MAC Third team, while Ward made honorable mention.
9. NORTHERN ILLIOIS HUSKIES (8-10 MAC, 14-16 overall)
The Huskies edge out Miami for this ninth spot thanks to a stronger finish. NIU won four straight before bowing out of the MAC tournament with a lopsided loss to Akron (a team it had defeated back on Jan. 21). The aforementioned win streak, however, included victories over all three MAC West leader, as well as Ball State. Suddenly, the same team that had lost 7-of-9 previous contests was rolling.
It was the longest winning streak of the season for Northern, which managed back-to-back wins only one other time – a three game streak in late December and early January.
The Huskies were 11th among 12 MAC teams in scoring (66.0 ppg). They also gave up 66.0 ppg; hence, a 0.0 scoring margin and the likelihood of a team hovering around .500.
NIU hit 42.8 percent (8th) of its field goals and 33.8 percent (9th) from beyond the arc.
The Huskies didn’t exactly help themselves in turnovers, averaging a league-most 14.5 per game. That category seemed to be a recurring theme for struggling teams. Ball State, Miami and Ohio followed NIU in the next three spots. Things also could have went better at the line for Northern, which hit 68.8 percent of its charity tosses (10th)
One definite area of strength for the Huskies was rebounding. Paced by Jordan Threloff’s 7.3 rpg, Northern Illinois led the conference in rebounding margin (plus-4.1) and also offensive rebounds (12.5 per game).
Two Huskies averaged double figures in scoring. Sophomore guard Aaric Armstead connected on 41 percent of his field goals while averaging 11.1 ppg. Senior guard Anthony Johnson (43.4%) averaged 10.8 ppg. Junior swingman Darrell Bowie chipped in 9.8 ppg.
Threloff, in particular, will be missed, but 6-10, 250-pound freshman Marin Maric was able to average 14.9 minutes on the court and should step into at least a complimentary role. Junior Travon Baker, who had some nice games against quality competition (e.g. 18 points vs Toledo, 21 vs Akron in January and 20 vs. Bowling Green) is also part of could be a formidable opponent next year – particularly if they can replicate the formula that brought success down the stretch.
10. MIAMI REDHAWKS (8-10 MAC, 13-19 overall)
The RedHawks had a significant turnover in personnel between seasons, and coach John Cooper spent much of the non-conference schedule:
A. Exploring what his new players could contribute.
B. Experimenting with various combinations.
Some of that probably carried over a little into MAC play, and Miami had a difficult conference schedule early (e.g. Buffalo twice and Central Michigan once) in the first four games.
The RedHawks were 3-8 (MAC) before things seemed to come together Feb. 14 – a day when the school retired the jersey of former Miami player and coach Charlie Coles. MU beat rival Ohio that day and followed with wins at Bowling Green, at Akron and at home against Kent State. The latter two were overtime jobs.
Unfortunately for the RedHawks, they dropped three of the final four, including a super-frustrating 62-61 MAC tourney loss at Eastern Michigan that illustrated a significant issue for Miami – inconsistent scoring! The RedHawks were up 12 with 9:03 to play and could not score another field goal until just 52 seconds were left in overtime.
Miami ranked 10th in scoring offense (66.4 ppg), scoring defense (69.8 ppg) and scoring margin (minus-3.4 ppg).
It’s a little surprising, given the team’s 43.8 percent overall field goal success (4th). But the RedHawks could be very hot – or very cold.
That may have been particularly true on three-point goal attempts. Miami was eighth in field goal percentage, but the 34.4 percent on threes included periods of feast or famine.
Getting inside during those periods of famine was often difficult to do or unproductive after entry.
Likewise, the lack of a “force” inside affected the defense. MU help defense, as well as some difficulty stopping penetration, could open up threes for opponents. Miami (35.2%) was just one-tenth of a percent out of last place in defending the three.
Another problem area was rebounding. The RedHawks were last in rebounding with an average of 30.9 rpg. and also last in rebounding margin (minus-2.4).
One plus was steals. MU (7.7 spg) was second behind EMU in that category, and points in transition fueled quite a few rallies.
Probably the biggest bright spot turned out to be junior point guard Eric Washington. Not only did he average a team-best 14.2 ppg, the All-MAC second team member also averaged 5.5 assists and was a catalyst for the offense. His 154 free throws made was tops in the conference.
Will Sullivan, Miami’s only senior, averaged 10.7 ppg and provided key leadership on a team with many new parts. Junior Geovonie McKnight was also in double figures (10.5 ppg).
Barring other developments, Sullivan is the only loss going forward. No doubt there was some disappointment in not getting bigger dividends from some of the new faces last season, but it should go better for the RedHawks next campaign. Freshman Logan McClain showed some flashes of his potential and could be part of the much needed answer inside. How much and how fast he can develop is the question. Zach McCormick, a freshman guard, was a prolific prep scorer, but averaged just 4.2 ppg over 19.5 mpg.
On the short term, MU must hope for more consistent production from the upper classes and help inside – both on offense and defense.
11. OHIO BOBCATS (5-13 MAC, 10-20 OVERALL)
One is tempted to summarize the Bobcats recent campaign with one word – “Wow!”
A year after going 25-12 (11-7 MAC), Ohio struggled mightily through the most recent campaign. At times it was ugly (e.g. Buffalo 93, Ohio 66). Other times it was fine (e.g. Ohio 95, Miami 65 three days after the Buffalo beatdown). Mostly, it was strange and frustrating.
After a 5-6 non-conference record, Ohio stumbled out of the gate with four straight losses to open conference play. The Bobcats also ended regular season play losing seven of eight. Western Michigan finally finished off the ‘Cats, 82-74 in first round action of the MAC tournament.
Leading scorer Nick Kellogg (15.5 ppg) and Ricardo Johnson (7.3 ppg) were gone, but there were some good pieces coming back. Two of those pieces did earn All-MAC honors this time around. Senior Maurice Daly Ndour led the ‘Cats with 16.0 ppg and 8.3 rpg. The 6-9 forward and All-MAC second team honoree hit 48.4 percent of his shots from the field and 78.5 percent at the free throw line. Senior guard Javarez “Bean” Willis earned honorable mention after averaging 14.8 ppg. Antonio Campbell, a 6-8, 260-pound sophomore forward, added 10.0 ppg and 7.6 rpg.
On a given night, Ohio’s offense was capable of putting up some good numbers – to wit, the senior day demolishing of Miami. But the Bobcats finished seventh in scoring with an average of 67.2 ppg. Bowling Green was one spot back at eight, but the Falcons’ defensive numbers were much better. Ohio allowed 70.8 ppg to finish last. BGSU was first at 62.9 ppg. The minus-3.6 scoring margin left Ohio ahead of only Ball State (minus-3.7).
One of the problems was rebounding. OU was 11th in rebounding margin. Another issue was turnovers. The ‘Cats had the fourth highest turnover average (12.8) and were next-to-last in assist-to-turnovers ratio (0.86).
The Bobcats did have a nice free throw percentage (73.2%) -- second best in the league, in fact. However, they were last in attempts (444, with the next least being Ball State at 517).
As for shooting from the field, OU came in seventh, hitting 43.1 percent overall and 33.7 percent (10th) from beyond the arc.
With Ndour and Willis departing, Ohio has some work to do to before the Green and White can get that won-loss record back to a more familiar look.
12. BALL STATE CARDINALS (2-16 MAC, 7-23 overall)
The Cardinals put together a four-game winning streak in late December-early January. With an 83-65 thumping of Central Michigan Jan. 10, the Cardinals found themselves 2-0 in MAC play and 7-6 overall. It turned out to be the last game Ball State would win in 2014-15.
There were close calls (e.g. a 71-67 overtime loss against Northern Illinois and a 95-93 OT setback at Western Michigan. The latter setback, however, proved to be the start of what is currently a 17-game losing skein. Bowling Green finished the Cardinals off with an 88-75 decision in Mid-American Conference first round play March 9.
Obviously, a lot went wrong, including injuries (e.g. senior Matt Kamieniecki) and other issues. Freshman Jeremie Tyler was averaging 30.2 minutes and 12.0 ppg through nine games before an eligibility problem finished him for the season.
Some things went better. Forward Sean Sellers averaged 12.0 ppg on the way to MAC Freshman of the Year honors. Franko House, a 6-6, 234-pound sophomore reached double figures in 10 of the Cardinals last 11 games and averaged 10.3 ppg with 5.5 rebounds and 2.4 assists per contest for the season. Xavier Turner, a 5-9 sophomore chipped in 8.7 ppg, while junior Bo Calhoun (6-6, 247) was just off double figures with 9.6 ppg, as well as 6.0 rpg.
As frustrating as the losing had to be, Ball State brings ball plenty. Kamieniecki (8.3 ppg, 6.9 rpg) was a warrior – albeit an injuried warrior in his final campaign. Jeremiah Davis, a transfer from Cincinnati, contributed 7.1 ppg in his final season.
Suffice it to say the Cardinals rank at or near the bottom in a number of categories. They were last in scoring (64.3 ppg) and also scoring margin (minus-3.7 ppg). They Cardinals also trailed the field in turnover margin (minus-2.29).
The Cardinals were ninth in rebounding margin and steals.
The defensive issues surfaced again in defensive field goal percentage, with the Cardinals allowing a conference-worse 46.1 percent success rate for opponents overall. Ball State, meanwhile, connected on 42.2 percent (10th).
Coach James Whitlock’s crew ranked third in made three-point goals (7.7 per game) while hitting 34.5 percent (seventh) from beyond the arc.