Thursday , Nov , 11 , 2004 C.Y. Ellis

College Basketball Preview – Mid-American Conference

*** College Basketball Preview – Mid-American Conference ***

The Sports Network

By Ralph Lauro, College Basketball Staff Writer

OUTLOOK: It was another successful year for the Mid-American Conference, as it
sent three teams to the postseason. Western Michigan represented the
conference in the NCAA Tournament, while Toledo and Kent State each made NIT
appearances. Although none of the three teams won a postseason game, the MAC
earned some recognition with a strong showing from each club. Western Michigan
dominated the MAC in 2003-04, as it won the regular season and tournament
championship en route to only its third NCAA Tournament appearance in school
history. Right on its heels last season was Toledo, which finished second in
the West Division standings at 12-6. With several key players returning, the
Rockets have been dubbed the team to beat in 2004-05. Ball State and Bowling
Green are also expected to contend for a league title, as each finished above
.500 in conference play a year ago. Eastern Michigan, Northern Illinois and
Central Michigan fill out the bottom of the West Division with the Eagles
having the best shot of moving up toward the middle of the pack. As for the
East Division, Buffalo has been chosen by the members of the MAC media to come
out on top in 2004-05 after finishing third a year ago at 11-7. The Bulls
however, will have to dethrone Kent State, which has won the last five East
Division titles. With four starters returning, Miami-Ohio also has a
legitimate shot to win the East Division crown after finishing second a year
ago. As for Marshall, Akron and Ohio University, they will struggle to finish
over .500 in league play with the Herd the best shot of posting a winning


PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH: EAST: 1. Buffalo, 2. Kent State, 3.Miami-Ohio,
4. Marshall, 5. Akron, 6. Ohio University

WEST: 1. Toledo; 2. Ball State; 3. Western Michigan; 4. Bowling Green;
5. Eastern Michigan; 6. Northern Illinois; 7. Central Michigan



BUFFALO – After a slow start last year, the Bulls ripped off 12 wins in their
last 15 games to finish above .500 (17-12) for the first time in six seasons.
With 17 wins overall and 11 conference victories last year, the Bulls posted
their highest overall and league win totals since joining the MAC in 1998.
Things are expected to be even better this season with 12 players returning,
including all five starters. Included in the returning starters is sensational
guard Turner Battle, who was named to the All-MAC team in 2003-04 after
averaging 14.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg and 4.1 apg. Mario Jordan and Roderick Middleton
will join Battle in the backcourt and are coming off solid years in which they
averaged 10.2 ppg and 5.2 ppg, respectively. In the frontcourt, the Bulls are
led by the duo of Yassin Idbihi and Daniel Gilbert. Idbihi earned MAC All-
Freshman honors in 2003-04, averaging 10.3 ppg and a team-best 5.8 rpg, while
Gilbert chipped in 8.8 ppg and 1.7 spg. Mark Bortz will also see significant
playing time after averaging 9.1 ppg, 5.7 rpg and 1.4 bpg off the bench last
season. Guards Jason Bird (7.7 ppg) and Calvin Cage (8.2 ppg) give the Bulls
the kind of depth needed to make a run toward an NCAA Tournament berth.

KENT STATE – The Golden Flashes have not only been one of the most successful
teams in the MAC over the last several years, but the nation as well. Kent
State has posted five straight East Division titles, including a 13-5 finish a
year ago. The team also won 20-plus games for the sixth consecutive time last
season with a solid 22-9 overall finish. Despite a loss in the MAC Tournament
Championship game to Western Michigan, the Flashes were rewarded with a spot
in the NIT, where it dropped an 87-72 decision to Marquette in the opening
round. Things wont be as easy this time around, as the Flashes must overcome
the loss of 7-foot center and the schools all-time blocked shots leader John
Edwards and veteran guard Eric Haut. Still, the club returns two starters and
several key reserves from a year ago which should make it a legit contender of
the MAC East Division title. All-MAC guard DeAndre Haynes leads the way for
the Flashes this season after posting 10.4 ppg, a league-best 5.8 apg and 4.2
rpg in 2003-04. Haynes was also a threat at the defensive end of the court,
ranking second in the league in steals at 2.32 spg. He will be joined at the
perimeter by Jason Edwin, who averaged 7.6 ppg and 3.4 rpg as a starter last
season. Up front, the Flashes should benefit greatly from the return of 6-8
forward Nate Gerwig, who missed the 2004 season with a knee injury. Gerwig
played in 30 games, 28 as a starter in 2002-03, averaging a respectable 7.6
ppg and 4.1 rpg. Forwards Clif Brown and Scott Cutley will fill in the rest of
the frontcourt after averaging 5.1 ppg and 5.0 ppg off the bench last season.
Newcomer Jay Youngblood should also have an immediate impact on the team, as
he was named the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II
Player of the Year last season, averaging 19.2 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 3.1 apg and 3.0

MIAMI-OHIO – The RedHawks are coming off a solid 2003-04 campaign in which
they finished 18-11 overall and 12-6 in MAC play. The team also reached the
semifinals of the MAC Tournament before bowing out to second-seeded Kent
State, 66-56. With four starters and several key reserves back from last
year’s club, Miami-OH could sneak past Buffalo and Kent State for the East
Division crown. The team’s strength this season is certainly its backcourt,
which features returning starters Chet Mason and Josh Hausfeld. Mason averaged
10.3 ppg last season and despite standing just 6-3, he finished third in the
league in rebounding at 7.9 rpg. As for Hausfeld, he chipped in 7.5 ppg a year
ago and will be pushed by William Hatcher, who contributed 3.9 ppg off the
bench in 2003-04. In the frontcourt, the RedHawks welcome back a pair of solid
starters in Danny Horace and Monty St. Clair. Horace produced 9.9 ppg and 5.8
rpg a year ago, while St. Clair turned in 3.7 ppg and 2.2 rpg. Forwards Nathan
Peavy and Tim Schenke will also see an increase in playing time after
averaging 2.9 ppg and 2.4 ppg off the bench last season.

MARSHALL – Marshall finished just 12-17 overall and 8-10 in the MAC last
season, but with four starters returning from that club, the Herd should
contend for a winning record this time around. The Herd returns one of the
more experienced backcourts in the MAC with the trio of A.W. Hamilton, Ronny
Dawn and Luther Whitted. Hamilton averaged 8.9 ppg and a team-best 5.4 apg
last season, while Dawn and Whitted combined for 14.7 ppg. Center Mark Patton
is the only returning starter in the frontcourt and is primed for a breakout
season after averaging 7.8 ppg and 5.1 rpg a year ago. Forwards Eric Smith
(5.1 ppg) and David Anderson (6.0 ppg and 3.4 rpg) will fight for the other
starting spot alongside Patton in the low post. Reserves Enoch Bunch (6.7
ppg) and LaVar Carter (2.8 ppg) and newcomer Collins Okafor give the Herd the
type of depth needed to finish above .500 this season.

AKRON – The Zips underachieved in 2003-04, finishing in fifth place in the MAC
East (7-11) after being picked by many to contend for the division title. With
just a 13-15 overall finish head coach Dan Hipsher was reassigned within the
athletic department to make way for new leader Keith Dambrot. Dambrot has
strong local ties and coached LeBron James in high school. He inherits a
young, but talented team that welcomes back three starters in forwards
Jeremiah Wood and Romeo Travis and guard Dru Joyce III. Wood produced 9.6 ppg
and a team-best 7.0 rpg as a freshman last season, while Travis added 7.6 ppg
and 5.4 rpg in his first season at Akron. Rick McFadden, who averaged 7.6 ppg
off the bench last season, should give the Zips a solid frontcourt this year.
As for Joyce, he is the only player on the roster with legitimate experience
in the backcourt, averaging 6.2 ppg and 2.5 apg as a freshman last season. The
former high school teammate of LeBron James improved greatly as the season
progressed last year and should break out in 2004-05.

OHIO UNIVERSITY – The Bobcats were young and inexperienced last season which
explains why they finished under .500 overall (10-19) and in league play
(7-11). Ohio is still young this season, but some of that youth brings
experience. The team welcomes back four starters from a year ago, but none at
the perimeter. Reserves Whitney Davis (1.5 ppg), James Bridgewater (2.0 ppg)
and Diamond Gladney (3.5 ppg) are the only players with experience at the
perimeter and will fight for the starting spots in the backcourt. Their
development will determine just how much Ohio improves this season. Up front
the Bobcats welcome back starters Sonny Troutman, Terren Harbut, Jeff Halbert
and Clay McGowen. Troutman and Harbut are the team’s top returning scorers,
averaging 9.2 ppg apiece, and are also solid rebounders, grabbing 4.2 rpg and
3.9 rpg, respectively. As for Halbert (6.6 ppg) and McGowen (2.8 ppg), they
both started last season, but struggled to produce points. If they can’t
improve of their scoring averages this time around, the Bobcats may be in for
another long season.


TOLEDO – Stan Joplin’s squad returns all five starters from last year’s team
that went 20-11 overall, played in the NIT and advanced to the NIT Tournament
semifinals before losing to league champion Western Michigan. In a primarily
guard-oriented league the Rockets have three of the best in returning starters
Keith Triplett, Sammy Villegas and Justin Ingram. Triplett earned all-MAC
First-Team honors this past season after leading the league in steals (2.6
spg), ranking second in scoring (19.6 ppg) and 11th in assists (3.1 apg).
He is also extremely deadly from behind the arc, knocking down 41.5 percent of
his attempts. As for Villegas and Ingram, they captured the last two MAC
Freshman of the Year awards, with Ingram earning that honor this past season.
Villegas is a defensive ace who still found time to score 13.7 ppg, while
Ingram is perhaps the team’s most well rounded player, averaging 10.0 ppg, 3.6
apg and 3.0 rpg during his freshman campaign. In the frontcourt is where the
Rockets are suspect, despite the return of starters Florentino Valencia and
Allen Pinson. Both started as freshman last season, but struggled at the
defensive end of the court. They will each need to improve on their defensive
games, as well as their scoring (combining for just 12.2 ppg) if Toledo is to
advance to the NCAA Tournament this time around. Anton Currie (2.2 ppg) and
Keonta Howell (2.0 ppg) should see an increase in playing time this season and
add solid depth to the team’s frontcourt.

BALL STATE – The Cardinals had a rather successful season in MAC play,
finishing third in the West at 10-8, but went just 14-15 overall. Ball State
lost two starters from last year’s club in top forwards Robert Owens and
Cameron Echols, but return a premier backcourt featuring the trio of Matt
McCollom, Dennis Trammell and Peyton Stovall. Trammell is the team’s top
returning scorer at 13.2 ppg, in addition to pulling down 4.0 rpg and dishing
out 2.9 apg. McCollom is also coming off a solid 2003-04 campaign in which
he averaged 9.6 ppg and 3.5 rpg. As for Stovall, he chipped in 7.2 ppg, while
leading the club in assists with 110. With regards to the frontcourt, Terrance
Chapman is expected to assume a starting role after averaging 7.8 ppg and 4.8
rpg off the bench a year ago. Tom Howland, who is injury prone and untested,
is the team’s tallest player at 6-11 and is the logical choice at center. His
competition will be freshmen Landon Adler (6-9), Charles Bass (6-9) and
Anthony Kent (6-10). If the Cardinals can get some solid play from their
inexperienced frontcourt, they should be a serious contender to win the MAC.

WESTERN MICHIGAN – The Broncos had arguable the best season in school history
last year, winning the MAC regular season and tournament championship. The
club also finished an impressive 26-5 overall, earning the 11th-seed in the
NCAA Tournament, which resulted in a first round loss to Vanderbilt. A repeat
of last season’s success is unlikely with the departure of MAC Player of the
Year Mike Williams and Anthony Cann, another double-digit scorer. Still, the
Broncos should remain competitive this season with the return of three
starters, all of which are guards. Included in that trio, is all-conference
performer Ben Reed, who was the 2002 MAC Freshman of the Year, and the team’s
top returning scorer from last season with 16.0 ppg. He will be joined at the
perimeter by fellow returning starters Brian Snider and Rickey Willis. Snider
averaged 5.5 ppg and 4.1 rpg last season and also led the team with 149
assists, while Willis chipped in with 3.0 ppg and strong defensive play. In
the frontcourt, Levi Rost will assume one of the starting positions after
averaging 6.9 ppg off the bench last season. Jeff Bronson (1.6 ppg) and
freshmen Dan Hess and Andrew Paolini will fight for the other starting spot in
the low post and will be counted on to produce immediately.

BOWLING GREEN – Dan Dakich’s club disappointed last season, and not being a
sit-still guy, he expects things to change this time around. The Falcons went
just 14-17 overall last season, but return four starters from a team that
finished fourth in the West at 8-10. Among the returning starters is guard Ron
Lewis, who led the team in scoring (17.0 ppg), in addition to grabbing 4.7 rpg
and dishing out 2.9 apg. Guard Steven Wright joins Lewis along the perimeter
and averaged 6.5 ppg and 4.2 rpg as a starter last season. Up front a pair of
starters are welcomed back in John Reimold and Cory Eyink. Reimold produced at
a high level last season, averaging 15.1 ppg and 4.8 rpg, while Eyink added
4.9 ppg and 2.9 rpg along with his strong defensive play. Josh Almanson should
also step into a starting role this season after averaging 8.0 ppg and 4.8 rpg
off the bench a year ago. Forward Austin Montgomery (4.7 ppg) and center Matt
Lefeld (1.4 ppg) should give the Falcons some added size and depth in the low

EASTERN MICHIGAN – The Eagles were supposed to be on the verge of a breakout
season in 2003-04, but finished just 13-14 overall and 7-11 in MAC play. The
team showed its potential by upsetting Toledo and playing well against some of
the league’s better teams. With four starters returning from last year’s
squad, the Eagles have hope for a winning season. Leading the way is forward
Markus Austin, who is already a 1,000 point scorer. He was solid last season
for EMU, averaging 13.5 ppg, 3.1 rpg and 1.9 apg. Forwards John Bowler and
James Jackson will accompany Austin in the low post, and give the Eagles one
of the top frontcourts in the MAC. Bowler averaged 13.3 ppg and 8.3 rpg last
season, while Jackson turned in 10.6 ppg and 7.9 rpg. Michael Ross is the
team’s only returning starter at the perimeter and he will have to do better
than the 6.9 ppg he averaged a year ago if the Eagles are to have success in
2004-05. James Douglas, who averaged 5.5 ppg off the bench last year, will
join Ross in the backcourt in the early going. EMU should also benefit from
two of its best recruits in years in Darryl Garrett and Rico Harris. Garrett
was the Detroit Public School League Player of the Year last season, averaging
27.1 ppg and 12.0 rpg, while Harris is an elite guard who may move into a
starting role by midseason.

NORTHERN ILLINOIS – The Huskies struggled at the free-throw line and with
turnovers last season, which explains why they finished just 10-20 overall and
5-13 in the MAC. Now three starters are gone from last year’s club, including
its top two scorers in guard P.J. Smith (14.5 ppg) and forward Marcus
Smallwood (14.3 ppg). The Huskies also lost forward Rome Sanders, leaving them
thin up front. The team will be decent in the backcourt with guards Anthony
Maestranzi, Mike McKinney and Ryan Paradise all returning. Maestranzi was the
only starter of the three last season, and averaged 6.9 ppg and 3.7 apg. As
for McKinney and Paradise, they will fight for starting rolls this time around
after producing 4.6 ppg and 3.4 ppg off the bench last season. Todd Peterson
is the only returning starter in the frontcourt, and will need to improve
greatly on the 7.4 ppg he averaged a year ago. James Hughes (6-11) will
logically take over at center, averaging 4.7 ppg last season, while 6-10
forward Bryson McKenzie also should see significant playing time.

CENTRAL MICHIGAN – The Chippewas won the MAC and advanced to the second round
of the NCAA Tournament just a few seasons ago, but it seems like an eon
considering the team’s struggles since. CMU finished a horrendous 6-24 overall
last season and a dismal 2-16 in MAC play. This year things may be even worse
with just two returning players in guards Kevin Nelson and Tony Bowne. Nelson
averaged 12.3 ppg and 2.1 rpg a year ago, while Bowne chipped in with 6.5 ppg
and 3.0 apg. Up front the Chippewas have some serious concerns, with Steve
Harris being the only returning player taller than 6-7. This means newcomers
Drew Walker (7-1) will have to log major minutes as a true freshman. Sefton
Barrett (4.6 ppg and 3.0 rpg) and Robert Sevalia (3.1 ppg) will also see a
significant increase in playing time and may even be forced into starting
roles, although neither was too productive off the bench in 2003-04.