MAC Preview: Is the West where the MAC’s power lies?

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Beginning in September and running up through November 10th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2017-2018 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the MAC.

The MAC is in a strange position entering the 2017-18 season. While the league’s East Division has been the dominating force among the league’s two divisions the past few years this year the West Division, led by Western Michigan, is receiving a bigger share of the preseason buzz.

Speaking of Western Michigan, they became the favorite as soon as senior guard Thomas Wilder opted to pull out of the 2017 NBA Draft. A top-100 player in college basketball this season, Wilder is the runaway favorite for Preseason MAC Player of the Year after leading the MAC in three-point shooting while putting up 19.3 points and 3.8 assists per game. Besides having a pro prospect on the roster, the Broncos have depth on the interior and some promising sophomores to keep tabs on. Centers Seth Dugan and Drake LaMont can be tough to contain and sophomores Brandon Johnson and Reggie Jones both showed flashes of strong play last season.

Staying in the West Division, Ball State is quietly coming off of back-to-back 20-win seasons as head coach James Whitford returns quite a bit of production. Junior guard Tayler Persons is a very strong mid-major floor leader while center Trey Moses and floor spacers like Francis Kiapway and Sean Sellers are back as well.

Buffalo is the preseason favorite for the East Division as they combine talented newcomers with solid veterans. All-league candidate C.J. Massinburg is back for his junior season at guard while forward Nick Perkins should also see a bigger role. The Bulls also received some solid additions with Missouri transfer Wes Clark in the backcourt and highly-touted JUCO prospect Jeremy Harris on the wing. With NCAA tournament experience from the upperclassmen on the roster, it wouldn’t at all be surprising to see Buffalo make another postseason run.

After making a surprising NCAA tournament appearance, Kent State has a chance for another strong season. All-MAC forward Jimmy Hall is gone by MAC Tournament MVP Jaylin Walker is back after a very good sophomore season. To maximize their potential, the Golden Flashes need production from newcomers Akiean Frederick and Jonathan Nwanko in the frontcourt.

Toledo has had a tough time winning close games the past two seasons as the Rockets return junior wing Jaelan Sanford and sophomore center Luke Knapke from the starting lineup. Junior forward Nate Navigato is an intriguing floor spacer and Toledo gets some transfer help from Tre’Shaun Fletcher (Colorado) and Willie Jackson (Missouri).

Losing Jaaron Simmons to Michigan was tough for Ohio but they still have a few starters coming back. Sophomore forward Jason Carter has the upside to be a major factor in the MAC while junior guard Jordan Dartis is one of the league’s best shooters.  Eastern Michigan gets back the league’s top big man in James Thompson IV as the double-double machine is only a junior. The Eagles lost a ton this offseason but senior wing Tim Bond is back and Robert Morris transfer Elijah Minnie is a player to watch in the frontcourt.

Bowling Green remains a young team but they have a lot of returning experience. Sophomore guards Dylan Frye and Rodrick Caldwell gave the Falcons a boost when they were inserted into the starting lineup last season while junior big man Demajeo Wiggins is an all-league threat.  

Hit hard by offseason transfers, Northern Illinois still returns some intriguing, but unproven, players. The frontcourt of juniors Jaylen Key and Levin Bradley could be solid and sophomore guard Eugene German gets backcourt help from JUCO All-American Dante Thorpe.  Akron now has former Illinois coach John Groce at the helm as they have eight newcomers on the roster. Junior guard and double-figure scorer Jimond Ivey returns and Oregon State graduate transfer Malcolm Duvivier should also help.

Despite having the scoring prowess of Marcus Keene last season, Central Michigan still floundered to 6-12 in the MAC as they lose Keene and Braylon Rayson. Sophomore forward David DiLeo and senior forward Cecil Williams could be a solid frontcourt but the Chippewas have to replace a ton of scoring while also improving defensively. Miami gets a new head coach in former Purdue assistant Jack Owens as he takes over a very depleted roster to begin the rebuild. Senior forward Logan McLane is a returning bright spot for the RedHawks.

MORE: 2017-18 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

PRESEASON MAC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Thomas Wilder, Western Michigan

One of the most complete guards in the country, Wilder is back for his senior season as he could be a sleeper pro prospect. Leading the MAC in three-point shooting, Wilder was also third in assist-turnover ratio, fourth in scoring and top-ten in assists and steals. The 6-foot-3 Wilder is capable of big scoring nights but also versatile enough to fill up the box score.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON MAC TEAM

  • James Thompson IV, Eastern Michigan: Averaging a double-double during his freshman and sophomore seasons, this junior big man is one of the more underrated post players in the country.
  • Jaylin Walker, Kent State: Last year’s MAC Tournament MVP was strong down the stretch as he could be in for a big season if he improves his efficiency as a shooter.
  • Tayler Persons, Ball State: A former ASUN Freshman of the Year at Northern Kentucky, Persons lived up to the hype in the MAC, putting up 15.5 points, 4.9 assists and 3.9 boards per game last season.
  • CJ Massinburg, Buffalo: A junior guard with NCAA tournament experience, Massinburg had a great sophomore season as he put up 14.5 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game.

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POWER RANKINGS

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