Western Michigan Broncos

Julius Brown (AP Photo)

2014-15 Season Preview: Toledo looks to end a 35-year NCAA Tournament drought and rep the MAC

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Julius Brown (AP Photo)

Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are rolling out our Mid-American Conference preview.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

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.

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @HustleBelt

PREDICTED FINISH

East Division
1. Akron
2. Ohio
3. Bowling Green
4. Kent State
5. Buffalo
6. Miami (Ohio)

West Division
1. Toledo
2. Western Michigan
3. Northern Illinois
4. Eastern Michigan
5. Central Michigan
6. Ball State

Western Michigan’s leading scorer to return for sixth season of eligibility

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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.

Washington, Xavier among teams in 2014 Wooden Legacy field

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Thursday morning the full field for the 2014 Wooden Legacy was announced, with 2014 NCAA tournament participants Western Michigan and Xavier among the eight teams. Also in the field is Washington, which is looking to return to the NCAA tournament after missing out in each of the last three seasons, and Long Beach State will serve as the “host” team in the event that annually features a Big West program.

Princeton, San Diego, San Jose State and UTEP round out the eight-team field, with the event being played November 27 and 28 (Thursday and Friday) at Cal State Fullerton and November 30 (Sunday) at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif.

Of the eight teams five participated in postseason play last year, with San Diego playing in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament and Princeton and UTEP landing in the CBI field. As mentioned above, Western Michigan (MAC tournament champions) and Xavier (at-large from the Big East) reached the NCAA tournament with the Broncos losing to Syracuse and the Musketeers falling to NC State.

From a wins standpoint UTEP and Western Michigan were the most successful teams in 2013-14, with each winning 23 games. San Jose State, in its first season as a member of the Mountain West, won just six games last season.

Western Michigan, head coach Steve Hawkins agree to six-year contract

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Nearly three months after leading his program to a MAC tournament title and a spot in the 2014 NCAA tournament field, Western Michigan head coach Steve Hawkins has been rewarded with a new six-year contract. The news was announced by the school Thursday morning, and the new deal bumps Hawkins’ annual base salary up to $225,000.

“I am proud of the things we have accomplished here at the University, but there is still work to do as we build for the future,” Hawkins said in the school release. “This new contract will allow me and the rest of my staff to continue to diligently work for the future of the program both on the court and in the community during an important time.”

WMU’s NCAA tournament appearance this spring was the program’s second under Hawkins, and during his tenure in Kalamazoo the Broncos have won nearly 57 percent of their games. Last season WMU finished with a record of 23-10, winning 14 of their 18 regular season MAC contests.

Unfortunately for Western Michigan they’ll have to account for the loss of their top two scorers from last season’s team, with guard David Brown (19.1 ppg, 3.5 rpg) and center Shayne Whittington (16.1, 8.9, 1.5 bpg) out of eligibility. However forward Connar Tava, who posted averages of 11.8 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game in 2013-14, will be back for his junior season.

Report: Western Michigan loses Hayden Hoerdemann and Leo Svete to transfer

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Western Michigan lost two players on Tuesday night as junior guard Hayden Hoerdemann and freshman guard Leo Svete have both opted to leave the program, according to a report from David Drew of MLive.

Neither player was a significant contributor to last season’s Broncos team. The 6-foot-3 Hoerdemann only scored 95 points over three seasons with Western Michigan and will likely seek more playing time for his senior season.

Svete is coming off back-to-back ACL injuries and hasn’t played a basketball game at full speed in two years after redshirting this season. The 6-foot-5 freshman also missed his senior year of high school with injury and will seek a fresh start.

Western Michigan head coach Steve Hawkins confirmed the two players’ transfers to Drew.

“They’re great kids, tremendous kids,” Hawkins said to MLIVE. “I respect them for their decisions and we’ll do everything they can to help them. It’s all about playing time and them wanting to be on the floor and be competitors.”

Senior starter David Brown could petition the NCAA for a sixth season due to injury and freshman starter Tucker Haymond will also return for the Broncos. Sophomore Taylor Perry, freshman Jared Klein, and incoming guard Thomas Wilder will also be on the roster next season on the wing for Western Michigan.

Trevor Cooney breaks out of his slump in No. 3 Syracuse’s win over Western Michigan

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As the regular season moved closer to its conclusion one of the issues for South Region No. 3 seed Syracuse was their play on the offensive end, as they struggled to knock down shots as their ACC schedule got tougher. Sophomore guard Trevor Cooney certainly had his issues, scoring in double figures just once in Syracuse’s final seven regular season games. And if the Orange are to make a run at their second consecutive Final Four appearance, he’ll need to get going.

That’s what could make Cooney’s showing in Syracuse’s comfortable 77-53 win over Western Michigan in the Round of 64 an important development moving forward. Cooney made eight of his 16 field goal attempts (4-for-8 3PT), scoring 18 points in his highest scoring output since dropping 33 on Notre Dame back on February 3.

With point guard Tyler Ennis running the show and C.J. Fair and Jerami Grant both being capable scoring options at the forward spots, it isn’t as if Syracuse lack offensive weapons. As a team the Orange shot 49.1% from the field, and they also took advantage of their ability to hit the offensive glass (SU rebounded 43.3% of its missed shots) against the overmatched Broncos.

Yet in order for Ennis, Fair and Grant to have the room they need in order to be at their best, Cooney needs to hit perimeter shots at a respectable clip.

In his final seven regular season games Cooney shot 19-for-73 (26.0%) from the field and 11-for-51 (21.6%) from beyond the arc, with both percentages being a far cry from his numbers for the season as a whole (40.5% FG, 37.7% 3PT). Obviously the road will get tougher for Syracuse, beginning Saturday with a game against No. 11 seed Dayton, but Cooney’s shooting against Western Michigan cannot be overlooked.