Eastern Michigan senior forward Karrington Ward is perhaps best known for his ridiculous poster dunk from the first week of the season. While this Saturday dunk against Miami (OH.) isn’t as good as that, it’s still one of the better dunks of the last few weeks. Notice where Ward takes off from outside of the paint.
It hasn’t been the best season for Michigan athletics. The football program has been a major disappointment and head coach Brady Hoke lost his job. The basketball team is rebuilding after losing three starters from an Elite Eight appearance, but the Wolverines still found themselves in the top 25 in the early part of the season.
After a Saturday home loss to N.J.I.T. followed by another loss on Tuesday night to Eastern Michigan, things aren’t looking good for the basketball team either. The Eagles were able to win on the road to move to 8-1 despite shooting only 32 percent from the field and 31 percent from three-point range in an ugly 45-42 win.
Very concerning for Michigan was the lack of scoring punch outside of its star trio of guards Derrick Walton, Zak Irvin and Caris LeVert. The three combined to go 10-for-32 from the field and scored 29 of the team’s 42 points in the loss and without someone else like Spike Albrecht or Ricky Doyle stepping up, Michigan’s offense is very average.
It’s encouraging that Michigan defended well, but after falling to N.J.I.T., the Wolverines had another letdown game at the worst possible time. The inexperienced pieces besides Walton, Irvin and LeVert need to step up with some more consistency if the Wolverines are going to get out of this funk or it might get ugly during Big Ten season.
Right now, this Michigan team looks like it should be thinking NIT, but we have to remember that they did give Villanova a great game on a neutral court. They might just be going through a rough stretch. But N.J.I.T. and Eastern Michigan? Sure the Eagles are 8-1, but three of those wins came against non-Division I opponents.
LeVert, Irvin and Walton needs others to step up and help on a regular basis or more home losses will happen and Michigan can expect a letdown.
Meanwhile, for Eastern Michigan and head coach Rob Murphy, this is a huge win for a program that is always in the shadow of Michigan. The Eagles now have a legitimate win this season heading into the MAC and they’ll be a tough out in that league this season.
The MAC has become known for parity the last few years, but last season saw the emergence of the league’s West Division after many years of dormant activity.
Before last season’s MAC conference tournament title game between Toledo and Western Michigan, the West hadn’t had a team in the league championship game since 2006 as the East Division and teams like Akron and Ohio usually dominated the league’s NCAA Tournament bid.
That changed dramatically in 2013-14 as Toledo won a school-record 27 games but ultimately fell short of making the tournament by falling to Western Michigan.
The Rockets will be favored to make the Big Dance this season, however, as they return four starters, including two of the league’s top-1o scorers in senior point guard Julius Brown and fellow senior Justin Drummond. If Toledo can improve its shaky defense and get more stops on the defensive end, they could be one of the most dangerous mid-major programs in the country this season because they can really put up points in a hurry.
Western Michigan will still have plenty of gas in the tank after only losing All-MAC center Shayne Whittington from a NCAA Tournament team. Senior guard David Brown was granted a sixth year of eligibility and is the league’s returning leading scorer and he’s joined by senior point guard Austin Richie, junior power forward Connar Tava and sophomore forward Tucker Haymond.
Representing the East Division will be Akron, who has reached 20 wins a remarkable nine consecutive years under head coach Keith Dambrot. If league history is any indication, the Zips might be the favorite to make the NCAA Tournament by virtue of always making it during odd-numbered years. Akron reached the NCAA Tournament in 2009, 2011 and 2013, with breaks one-year in between just like this season. Past history aside, Akron returns all-league forward Demetrius “Tree” Treadwell, who is one of the most productive players in the league and the team will have plenty of talent to compete in 2014-15.
With new head coach Saul Phillips at the helm, Ohio should be competitive this season as well. Senior forward Maurice Ndour is a force on the interior and the senior backcourt of Stevie Taylor and Javarez Willis should be steady for the Bobcats.
From there, the MAC is filled with question marks.
Bowling Green has a new head coach in former Wichita State assistant Chris Jans and he inherits a roster filled with experienced players. All-MAC selection Richaun Holmes returns at forward and senior guards Anthony Henderson and Jehvon Clarke can both score as well while junior forward Spencer Parker also averaged double-figures last season.
One of the surprise teams this season in the MAC could be Northern Illinois, as the Huskies improved by 10 wins last season and return plenty of talent. Head coach Mark Montgomery returns plenty of players with starting experience, including senior center Jordan Threloff, forwards Darrell Bowie and Travon Baker and guard Aaric Armstead, but he also gains Kansas State transfer Michael Orris at point guard, Purdue transfer Anthony Johnson at shooting guard and sophomore guard Dontel Highsmith returns from a ACL injury that robbed him of a promising start last season.
Kent State returns its top three scorers in guards Kris Brewer, Derek Jackson and Devareaux Manley, but the Golden Flashes were inconsistent last season and relied too much on perimeter jumpers. Buffalo begins life after MAC Player of the Year Javon McCrea and must replace his stellar production in the front court this season. Eastern Michigan also returns its top three scorers from a 22-win season, but they’ll have to make it over the hump of beating the top teams in the league.
PRESEASON MAC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Julius Brown, Toledo
The senior point guard known as “Juice” returns to a 27-win team after averaging 14.9 points and a MAC-leading 6 assists per game last season. The 5-foot-10 Brown is the engine that makes the Rockets’ potent offense run and his scoring average increased to 16.2 points per game during MAC play last season.
THE REST OF THE PRESEASON ALL-MAC TEAM:
David Brown, Western Michigan – The 6-foot-4 senior was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA after a career filled with medical issues and the Broncos will be pleased because he’s the MAC’s returning leading scorer at 19.1 points per game.
Richaun Holmes, Bowling Green – One of the MAC’s best athletes, the 6-foot-8 Holmes averaged 13.3 points and 7.7 rebounds per game as a junior while also leading the conference in blocks.
Demetrius Treadwell, Akron – The 6-foot-7, 235-pound forward is coming off of a first-team All-MAC appearance after averaging 15.2 points and 8.6 rebounds per game last year.
Maurice Ndour, Ohio – The 6-foot-9 senior with a 7-foot-5 wingspan put that to good use last season, averaging 13.8 points, 7 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game, good for top-10 in all three categories in the conference.