MAC Preview: A league on the upswing looks wide open

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Beginning in September and running up through November 11th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2016-2017 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the MAC.

The MAC was represented by Buffalo once again in the NCAA tournament last year but the league appears wide open and on the upswing.

Akron leads the East Division and the conference overall as they return three of their top four scorers from a 26-win team. Center Isaiah Johnson is a load to handle inside and Antino Jackson and Noah Robotham are both capable scorers. The Zips have 11 straight seasons of 20-plus wins and could represent the MAC in March. Ohio could be Akron’s biggest challenge in the East Division and in the conference as reigning MAC Player of the Year Antonio Campbell is joined by junior point guard Jaaron Simmons. The Bobcats will put up points with anyone, but getting stops will be a key this season.

Buffalo shouldn’t be counted out of the MAC race either as they make the East Division race a tough one. Point guard Lamonte Bearden transferred to Western Kentucky but the Bulls get back senior wing Blake Hamilton and talented two-way guard Willie Conner. Leading the West Division race is Eastern Michigan as they get back freshman center James Thompson IV and three more double-figure scorers. If the Eagles bring more consistency and defensive prowess they could easily be the best team in the MAC with the returning talent they have.

Northern Illinois is another intriguing team in the West Division as they get back three key double-figure scorers. Junior forward Marin Maric, senior wing Aaric Armstead and sophomore shooter Marshawn Wilson give the Huskies as good a trio as any in the league. Western Michigan has a strong one-two punch in junior guard Thomas Wilder and senior wing Tucker Haymond as both of them are capable of 20-point games and big nights. If the Broncos find more help in the frontcourt, they could make a big rise up the standings.

Things start to drop a bit with Toledo as they get back all-conference guard Jonathan Williams. The Rockets need some new pieces to step up, mainly Marquette transfer Steve Taylor and redshirt freshman big man Luke Knapke. Kent State is a bit of an unknown with nine new players on the roster but all-MAC forward Jimmy Hall is a new player to focus around. Hall produces from all over the floor and should make things easier on his new teammates.

Ball State will have tons of shooting but its question remains up front. Ryan Weber, Jeremie Tyler, Francis Kiapway and Sean Sellers are all talented shooters but they need someone besides Franko House to produce inside. Bowling Green made a surprise run to the MAC tournament semifinals last season as they’re hoping to build on that. Senior shooters Zack Denny and Wesley Alcegaire are both back from a team that had a lot of freshmen and sophomores contribute last season.

Central Michigan is in rebuild mode but they do have an all-MAC player in senior guard Braylon Rayson. Miami is relying on eight new players from a team that struggled last season. Nobody returning from last season averaged more than six points per game for the RedHawks.

MORE: 2016-17 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

PRESEASON MAC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Antonio Campbell, Ohio

The reigning MAC Player of the year was an easy choice for this as the 6-foot-8 senior was dominant at times last season. Campbell had a breakout season to average 17.1 points, 10.2 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game while shooting 56 percent from the field. Campbell also shot 36 percent from three-point range and his versatility gives the Bobcats the option to space the floor.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON MAC TEAM:

  • Jonathan Williams, Toledo: The talented 6-foot-3 guard averaged 17.6 points, 3.0 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game while shooting 37 percent from three-point range.
  • Thomas Wilder, Western Michigan: Born to score, Wilder led the MAC in free throw attempts and makes as a sophomore as he averaged 18.0 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game.
  • Jimmy Hall, Kent State: A big junior season from the 6-foot-8 forward as he averaged 16.4 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game while shooting 48 percent from the field.
  • James Thompson IV, Eastern Michigan: The MAC’s leader in field goal percentage as a freshman last season, Thompson shot 64 percent from the field and put up 14.8 points, 10.7 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game.

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @MACSports

PREDICTED FINISH

  1. Akron
  2. Ohio
  3. Buffalo
  4. Eastern Michigan
  5. Northern Illinois
  6. Western Michigan
  7. Toledo
  8. Kent State
  9. Ball State
  10. Bowling Green
  11. Central Michigan
  12. Miami