Sunday , Nov , 05 , 2006 C.Y. Ellis

College Basketball Preview – Mid-American Conference

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) –
OUTLOOK: The 2005-06 season featured one of the closest races in Mid-American
Conference history, as seven teams posted a winning record in league play. When
all was said and done, Kent State claimed both the regular season and
tournament titles. However, the Golden Flashes lost several key components from
last year’s club, so a repeat is unlikely. At 14-4 in conference, Akron
finished second, but unlike KSU, the Zips welcome back the majority of their
starters from a year ago, making them one of the favorites to win the crown
this time around. While the Zips are the cream of the MAC’s East Division,
Toledo is expected to be the best in the West. The Rockets return a healthy
core of players from a team that lost to Kent State in the MAC Tournament
finals last year. Northern Illinois, which won the West last season, welcomes
back some key players and should compete for first place once again. Ohio
University is another team that could come out on top, as the Bobcats return
three starters from last year’s club that finished 19-11 overall. Miami-Ohio,
Ball State, Buffalo and Western Michigan should finish near the middle of the
pack while Bowling Green, Eastern Michigan and Central Michigan are at least a
year away from turning things around.


EAST: 1. Akron; 2. Ohio University; 3. Kent State; 4. Miami-Ohio; 5. Buffalo;
6. Bowling Green

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



AKRON – The Zips are coming off one of their best seasons since joining the
Division I ranks, as they won a school-record 23 games en route to a NIT bid.
It didn’t end there though, as Akron posted its first D-I postseason victory
with an 80-73 overtime win over Temple. The Zips return four starters from last
years club, including Romeo Travis and Dru Joyce. Travis, a 6-7, 220-pound
forward led the team in both scoring (13.8 ppg) and rebounding (6.8 rpg) last
season and could be primed for an even better year in 2006-07. As for Joyce, he
is a three-year starter who averaged 10.0 ppg last season while also running
the offense with a club-best 5.0 apg. Another player that should help the Zips
in their title quest is Jeremiah Wood, who is finally healthy after missing a
season and half with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Wood has good size at
6-6 and 245 pounds and appears ready to regain the form from his sophomore
season when he averaged 10.7 ppg and 8.1 rpg. Nate Linhart (5.3 ppg) will also
see significant time in the frontcourt, while Nick Dials (12.2 ppg) will
accompany Joyce out on the perimeter.

OHIO UNIVERSITY – The Bobcats entered last season with high expectations after
winning the MAC title in 2004-05, but the team failed to live up to the hype
surrounding them, as they were knocked out in the semifinals of the league
tournament. Ohio went 10-8 in league play and 19-11 overall last season and
with six players gone from that squad, depth will be a major concern of the
‘Cats this year. The team, however, does welcome back one of the top interior
players in the league in Leon Williams. The 6-8, 255-pound Williams has the
size to take advantage of most defenders and is coming off a year in which he
averaged 11.0 ppg and a team-high 6.9 rpg. Jerome Tillman (6.7 ppg) and Sonny
Troutman (8.8 ppg) will play alongside Williams and give the Bobcats one of the
better frontcourts in the league. Guard Antonio Chatman returns to run the
offense after averaging 6.7 ppg and 3.8 apg a year ago. He will be accompanied
in the backcourt by Whitney Davis, who averaged 8.2 ppg off the bench last
season. Neither player has much starting experience, but each did average more
than 20 minutes per game last season.

KENT STATE – The Golden Flashes followed a second place finish in 2004-05 by
winning both the MAC regular season and tournament titles in 2005-06. Kent
Sate, however, now must find a way to replace three starters, including MAC
Player of the Year DeAndre Haynes, from a team that went 15-3 in conference
last season. In the frontcourt, Mike Scott will be counted on to help overcome
the losses of Nate Gerwig (6.4 ppg) and Kevin Warzynski (10.5 ppg). Scott
averaged 7.0 ppg and 4.9 rpg a year ago and will be joined by Jacksonville
transfer Haminn Quaintance, who led his team in scoring (13.0 ppg) and
rebounding (8.9 rpg) in 2004-05. In the backcourt, the Flashes will turn to the
duo of Armon Gates and Omni Smith to guide them. Gates started 22 games last
season and averaged 6.9 ppg, while Smith chipped in with 8.1 ppg in a reserve

MIAMI-OHIO – The RedHawks put forth yet another solid campaign in 2005-06, as
they finished in a tie for second place in the MAC East with a record of 14-4.
Despite losing three starters from last year’s team that went 18-11 overall,
Miami should still be one of the better teams in the league this season. The
focus of much of the opposition’s attention will fall on the inside tandem of
Tim Pollitz and Nathan Peavy. Pollitz is the team’s top returning scorer at
12.7 ppg, and he is not limited to just that, pulling down 5.7 rpg and dishing
out 2.7 apg as well. Peavy, a 6-8 senior, provided the club with a presence in
the paint and is coming off a solid 2005-06 campaign in which he averaged 11.2
ppg and a team-high 6.9 rpg. In the backcourt is where the RedHawks must find a
way to replace its top scorer and assist man in William Hatcher (14.3 ppg, 4.3
apg). Trying to fill his shoes will be Doug Penno, who averaged 5.1 ppg behind
38.7 percent shooting from long range last season. Carl Richburg, who sat out
the ’05-’06 campaign due to NCAA transfer rules, and freshman Alex Moosmann
will battle it out for the right to play alongside Penno.

BUFFALO – After making a NIT appearance and winning 23 games in 2004-05, the
Bulls fell off a bit last season, going 19-13 overall but just 8-10 in
conference. Three of the team’s key components are gone from those clubs,
although two starters and nine letter-winners are back. The 2006-07 team will
revolve around 6-10 standout Yassin Idbihi, who averaged 14.0 ppg and 6.9 rpg a
year ago. The All-MAC candidate is going into his fourth year as a starter and
should emerge as one of the premier big men in the MAC. Parnell Smith (6-6)
will join Idbihi in the frontcourt and he is a threat around the basket,
averaging 8.6 ppg last season. In the backcourt is where the Bulls have some
holes to fill with no returning starters. Sean Smiley (2.1 ppg) and Eric Moore
(2.1 ppg) are the two likely candidates to earn starting spots, although
neither has proven themselves yet so others could certainly steal playing time.

BOWLING GREEN – The Falcons have fallen on hard times the past few seasons and
last year was no exception, as they stumbled to a last place finish in the
MAC’s East Division at 5-13. The team, however, does welcome back four
starters, although its second-leading scorer, Steven Wright (11.4 ppg), decided
to transfer. Guard Martin Samarco is the club’s top returnee, and he ranked
among the top scorers in the league last season, averaging 18.9 ppg. The 6-3
senior is deadly from long range, knocking down 45.7 percent of his three-point
attempts in 2005-06. John Floyd (6-2) will once again join Samarco in the BGSU
backcourt after averaging 9.7 ppg and 3.2 apg a season ago. In the frontcourt
is where the Falcons lack a big time presence. Erik Marschall and Matt Lefeld
are a pair of respectable interior players and they combined for 14.5 ppg and
7.7 rpg last season. Rebounding was a problem for the Falcons last season,
averaging just 28.3 rpg, and that could be their downfall once again.


TOLEDO – The Rockets came on strong late last season and advanced to the MAC
Tournament title game. Although Toledo lost to Kent State in that game, it
gained valuable experience, and that along with nearly every player returning
to the fold, should have the Rockets poised for another run at the league
title. The biggest concern for UT once again will be its interior game, as just
three of 11 players on the roster are listed as frontcourt players. Florentino
Valencia is the lone returning starter up front and he is a good one, averaging
12.0 ppg and 4.4 rpg in 2005-06. The 6-5 Valencia was one of the best finishers
in the league last season, shooting a sizzling 65.9 percent from the field.
Jerrah Young (6-7) will join Valencia in the frontcourt and he should improve
on the 3.6 ppg he averaged last season with more playing time. In the
backcourt, Toledo will be paced by the triple threat of Justin Ingram, Keonta
Howell and Kashif Payne. Ingram is one of the most well-rounded players in the
MAC and he displayed that by posting 14.6 ppg, 2.9 apg and 58 steals a year
ago. Howell ranked third on the team in scoring (11.3 ppg) and second in
rebounding (4.3 rpg), and his size (6-4) will surely cause matchup problems for
opposing clubs. As for Payne, he showed he can run the offense successfully
last year, as he dished out 4.3 apg.

NORTHERN ILLINOIS – The Huskies won the MAC West Division crown with a record
of 12-6 last year, but that didn’t help them in the league tournament where
they were knocked off in their first game by Toledo. With three starters gone
from that club that went 17-11 overall, Northern Illinois will have its work
cut out for it this time around. In the frontcourt is where the Huskies will
have some problems, as center James Hughes is the only real threat down low.
The 6-11 Hughes is clearly the tallest player for the Huskies and he could be
ready to break through with more touches after averaging 9.6 ppg last season.
Hughes is also a premier defender and he was recognized for that by being named
the 2005-06 MAC Defensive Player of the Year. Guards Mike McKinney and Ben Rand
will try to make up for the lack of a frontcourt with solid play out on the
perimeter. McKinney averaged 9.2 ppg and 2.2 apg a year ago, while the 6-7 Rand
posted 7.7 ppg in more of a reserve role.

BALL STATE – The Cardinals finished well below .500 in both league play (6-12)
and overall (10-18) last season, and because of that head coach Tim Buckley
lost his job. Stepping in is Ronny Thompson, who is the son of legendary
Georgetown coach John Thompson. Thompson, an assistant at Arkansas the past
three years, inherits a team that suffered some key losses, but does welcome
back Skip Mills. The senior forward was clearly the club’s most consistent
performer last season, and he finished fourth in the league in scoring with an
average of 18.6 ppg. Mills can do more than just put the ball in the basket,
posting 5.4 rpg, 2.5 apg and 41 steals as well. Charles Bass (6-9) will join
Mills in the BSU frontcourt, but he is more of a defensive-minded player,
grabbing 4.3 rpg and blocking a team-high 41 shots a year ago. In the backcourt
is where the Cardinals will receive a big boost with the return of Peyton
Stovall. The 6-1 guard missed all but two games last season with a torn ACL,
but he appears healthy and ready to regain his form from the 2004-05 season
when he averaged 16.7 ppg. Ahmaad Cook, a 6-0 freshman and younger brother of
Georgetown’s Ashanti Cook, is the likely candidate to join Stovall in the

WESTERN MICHIGAN – The Broncos finished in a tie for second place in the MAC’s
West Division (10-8) last season, and despite losing two of their top three
scorers, they still have enough pieces to make a run at first place this time
around. In the frontcourt, the Broncos are deep and talented, and are led by
Joe Reitz. The 6-7, 250-pound forward paced the team in both scoring (15.5 ppg)
and rebounding (7.4 rpg) last season and should once again be one of the top
big men in the conference. Andrew Hershberger (8.1 ppg, 6.6 rpg) and Derek
Drews (3.7 rpg) are expected to join Reitz as starters in the frontcourt, while
freshmen Martelle McLemore and Jon Workman should contribute significantly off
the bench. Cleveland State transfer Mike Redell is slated to be one of the
starters in the backcourt along with Shawntes Gary. The 6-1 Redell is a good
ball handler and will the run the point, while Gary will hope to improve on the
mere 3.6 ppg he averaged last season.

EASTERN MICHIGAN – Only in-state rival Central Michigan had a worse season than
the Eagles did last year, as they finished a dismal 7-21 overall and 3-15 in
conference. EMU lost three starters, including the league’s top scorer John
Bowler (20.1 ppg), so a turnaround is unlikely this season. James Matthews, a
6-8 forward, is the team’s lone returning starter in the frontcourt and with
more touches he should be able to improve on the mere 3.5 ppg he averaged last
season. Craig Cashen (4.0 ppg) and 6-11 redshirt freshman Kyle Dodd will see
significant time on the inside. Out on the perimeter, the Eagles have a rising
star in Carlos Medlock, who was named to the 2005-06 All-MAC Freshman Team
after averaging 11.2 ppg and 3.2 apg. Medlock, a good three-point shooter
(.421), can also defend, posting a team-best 50 steals last season. Nick Freer
(4.9 ppg) and freshman Devon Dumes will battle for the other starting spot next
to Medlock in the backcourt.

CENTRAL MICHIGAN – The Chippewas were clearly the worst team in the MAC last
season, as they finished a woeful 1-17 in league play and just 4-24 overall.
With the poor finish, head coach Jay Smith decided to resign after nine years
and two MAC regular season titles with the school. Taking over for Smith is
Ernie Zeigler, who had spent the previous five years as an assistant at both
Pittsburgh and UCLA. Ziegler inherits a team with just two seniors, but a lot
promising talent. In the frontcourt, the team returns a solid pair in Chris
Kellermann and Justin Blevins. Kellermann, a 6-8 forward, averaged 8.8 ppg and
6.5 ppg as a freshman last season, while Blevins, a 6-7 forward, chipped in
with 5.8 ppg. Drew Walker at 7-1 gives the team some size, although he is still
raw, averaging only 2.5 ppg last season. In the backcourt is where the
Chippewas’ strength resides thanks to the return of Giordan Watson and Sefton
Barrett. Watson (5-10) ran the CMU offense last season and is expected to do
the same this year after leading the team in scoring (13.8 ppg), assists (4.4
apg) and steals (43). Barrett also had a successful campaign last season, as he
averaged 13.6 ppg, in addition to pacing the club in rebounding (6.5 rpg).