Steve Hawkins’ Western Michigan Broncos won 12 of 13 games before falling to Syracuse in the NCAA tournament Round of 64, and one of the keys to their run was guard David Brown. One of the best players in the Mid-American Conference, Brown led WMU with an average of 19.1 points to go along with 3.5 rebounds per contest.
With Shayne Whittington out of eligibility, losing Brown would have meant that the Broncos would attempt to return to the NCAA tournament without their top two scorers. Luckily for WMU that won’t be the case, as it was tweeted Thursday evening by David Drew of the Kalamazoo Gazette that Brown will return for his sixth and final season of eligibility.
Brown played in a total of 19 games in 2010-11 and 2011-12, with an ankle injury ending the first season after nine games and a knee injury being the reason ten games into the 2011-12 campaign. In the two seasons Brown has played since then he’s won the MAC’s Sixth Man of the Year award (2012-13) and was a first team All-MAC selection in 2013-14. Brown was also named MVP of the MAC tournament this past spring.
In addition to Brown the Broncos also welcome back forward Connor Tava, who averaged 11.8 points and 5.7 rebounds per game in 2013-14. In total four of the team’s top five scorers from last season return to Kalamazoo. And with their go-to option leading the way, Western Michigan will be one of the preseason favorites to win the MAC.
Not only is Wyoming senior guard Josh Adams the lone returning starter from a team that won the Mountain West tournament last season, but he’s also one of college basketball’s best dunkers. And if anyone may have forgotten about his jumping ability, Adams put it on display Saturday during the Cowboys’ win over Montana State.
After splitting two Montana State players at the top of the key Adams attacked the basket, dunking with two hands over a late-arriving help-side defender. If you’re going to rotate over, have to do it quicker than that.
Video credit: Wyoming Athletics
Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.
Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.
Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.
Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.
Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.
But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.