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YOUR MAC BASKETBALL CHEAT SHEET
Catching up with our UB Bulls and MAC men's basketball as the conference slate looms ahead.
Before we begin: We are in a pandemic, folks, and it continues to affect all aspects of our lives. The Mid-American Conference recently announced that Eastern Michigan is postponing its women’s season opener against Bowling Green on Dec. 29 and moving its Jan. 1 game against Ohio to Jan. 2.
Additionally—and this is relevant to Buffalo fans—EMU is postponing its men’s games on Dec. 28 vs. Ohio and Jan. 1 vs. the Bulls. No rescheduled dates were released.
On Thursday, December 23rd, the MAC announced that it has modified its 2021-22 COVID-19 rescheduling policy. The decision was unanimously supported by the Conference's Directors of Athletics due to the current rise in COVID cases and its impact on winter sport programs. If possible, games that cannot be played as scheduled will be rescheduled. If a game cannot be played and cannot be rescheduled, it will be considered a no contest.
The MAC Medical Advisory Group will continue to monitor and discuss the current circumstances and, if necessary, may adjust the current protocols. All contests will remain subject to national, state and local health guidelines.
This is just something we’ll keep dealing with throughout the campaign. It’s the world we live in.
Now, Back to the Bulls
With a little space until the UB men’s basketball team’s next game—the Mid-American Conference season opener on Dec. 29 against Miami (Ohio) at Alumni Arena, circumstances allowing—let’s take a moment to check out the big picture in the MAC.
The Bulls: Preseason Favorites
Image from UBBulls.com
Buffalo was the MAC’s bridesmaid in the COVID-marred 2020-21 season, finishing second in the regular season standings (16-9 overall, 12-5 MAC) behind Toledo (15-4 MAC) before losing the conference tournament championship game, and its automatic NCAA bid, to Ohio (9-5 MAC).
The Bulls ended up in the National Invitational Tournament as an at-large bid and got knocked out by Colorado State, 75-73, in the first round.
The Bobcats, the #13 seed in the West bracket, upset #4 Virginia—technically the defending National Champions—before falling to #5 Clemson.
UB’s consistency, however, and the return of leading scorer Jeenathan Williams (17.6 ppg, pictured above) and top rebounder Josh Mballa (10.8 rpg) plus seven more seniors and GW transfer Maceo Jack led the Bulls to the top of the 2021-22 Preseason MAC Coaches Poll.
Williams and Mballa were each preseason All-MAC selections, as well.
From the tastefully named official conference website, getsomemaction.com:
2021-22 MAC Men’s Basketball Preseason Coaches Poll
Buffalo – 143 points (11 first place votes)
Ohio – 126 points
Toledo – 107 points (1)
Kent State – 98 points
Akron – 95 points
Bowling Green – 93 points
Miami – 92 points
Ball State – 54 points
Western Michigan – 44 points
Central Michigan – 34 points
Eastern Michigan – 29 points
Northern Illinois – 21 points
MAC Tournament Champions: Buffalo (8), Bowling Green (1), Kent State (1), Miami (1), Toledo (1)
Preseason All-MAC First Team
Daeqwon Plowden, 5th-Sr., G/F, Bowling Green
Josh Mballa, Sr., F, Buffalo
Jeenathan Williams, Sr., F, Buffalo
Ben Vander Plas, R-Sr., F, Ohio
Ryan Rollins, So., G, Toledo
Preseason All-MAC Second Team
K.J. Walton, Grad., G, Akron
Sincere Carry, R-Jr., G, Kent State
Dae Dae Grant, Jr., G, Miami
Jason Carter 5th-Sr., F, Ohio
B. Artis White, So., G, Western Michigan
Williams was also named to the Lou Henson Award preseason watch list for the top mid-major player in the nation.
On The Verge: Our MAC Basketball Conference Play Preview
Let’s work our way down the preseason list:
Buffalo (6-4, NCAA NET: 96)
Image from UBBulls.com
The Bulls have the fifth-best record in the MAC and the second-highest NCAA NET ranking at 96th overall, but it does feel like they’ve left some wins on the table.
There’s the 79-78 loss to Stephen F. Austin (NET: 145). UB trailed by 12 points with less than 15 minutes to play before almost storming back.
There’s the 68-65 loss at the buzzer to St. Bonaventure (NET: 112). The Bulls shot under 35% from the floor in the first half, and under 30% from three for the game before falling to their hated Big 4 rivals.
Perhaps most notorious: the 65-64 loss to Canisius (NET: 276) at Key Bank Arena, a game Buffalo scored almost 20 points beneath its season average and trailed the two-win Griffs by as many as 14 points in the second half before losing on another buzzer beater.
Let’s not be overly negative—there’ve been some good wins, though, too. A come-from-behind 69-66 victory at North Texas (NET: 67). A 77-67 road win over Western Kentucky (NET: 136). A bounce-back 106-90 blowout of Illinois State (NET: 223) in the Cancun Challenge after the SFA loss.
Even the season-opening 88-76 loss to Michigan in Ann Arbor, in which the Bulls outscored the then-#4 Wolverines, 40-37, in the second half, gained UB some respect nationally.
The Bulls are monsters on the glass. UB is currently ninth in rebounds in NCAA Division 1 with 42.6 per game, and 42nd in rebounding margin, grabbing six more boards per game than their opponents.
Even more numbers from NCAA.com:
The Bulls are tied with DePaul for 23rd in scoring offense (81.6 ppg), 28th in defensive rebounds per game (28.9), 50th in blocked shots per game (4.8), and are 90th in assists per game (14.8).
UB is shooting 45.8% from the floor—that’s 105th in the nation—and are 140th in field goal defense, allowing a shooting percentage of 41.4% per game.
They’re 165th in turnovers, with 13.1 per contest, and have struggled from the three-point line, shooting under 34%, or 171st overall. Buffalo’s opponents, however, are shooting 31.6% behind the arc.
On an individual level, Williams has been as advertised. He’s third in the MAC and 51st nationally with 18.4 ppg.
Mballa is second in the conference in boards and 94th in D-1 with 7.8 rpg. The 6’7, 220-pound forward from Bordeaux, France, is also fifth in the MAC in steals (1.8 per game) and shooting percentage (.556%).
Senior guard Ronaldo Segu (pictured above) leads the MAC and is 38th in D-1 with 5.1 assists per game. He’s also eighth in the conference in three-point percentage (43%).
All of which is a long way of getting to the main point: there’s no shortage of talent or experience on Head Coach Jim Whitesell’s team this year.
With this veteran-laden squad, it’s now or—well, not never, but perhaps not for a few years—for UB to break out of the mid-major pack and make some noise in the Big Dance.
The team’s showed flashes of brilliance. It’s time for the brightest spotlight.
Ohio (9-2, NCAA NET: 87)
Image from ohiobobcats.com
The defending MAC tourney champs are off and running with a 7-0 home record at Convocation Center and signature non-conference wins over Belmont (9-3, NET: 35) and Cleveland State (NET: 166).
Sophomore guard Mark Sears (pictured above) is second in the MAC in scoring with 18.5 ppg and is shooting 47% from three-point range. He also dishes 3.5 assists per game.
Big man Jason Carter, a 6’8, 227-pound senior forward from Jonestown, Ohio and a preseason second-team All-MAC selection, is fourth in the conference in rebounding (7.4 rpg) and blocks (1.3 bpg) while averaging nearly 14 points per contest.
Senior forward Ben Vander Plas, a preseason All-MAC first team pick, is matching his 2020-21 numbers so far with 12.4 ppg, 6.6 rpg, and 3 apg.
Head coach Jeff Boals, a longtime Ohio State assistant, is in his third season wrangling the ‘Cats.
Toledo (8-3, NCAA NET: 81)
Image from utrockets.com
The 2020-21 regular season champ and, like Buffalo, an at-large NIT invitee (and also a round one loser, falling 76-66 to Richmond), the Rockets are off to a hot start with wins over Bradley (6-6, NET: 131), Charlotte (7-5, NET: 150), and Coastal Carolina (4-4, NET: 152).
Talented sophomore guard Ryan Rollins (pictured above), last season’s MAC Freshman of the Year, currently leads the conference and is 29th nationally in scoring (19.6 ppg). He’s also tied for the MAC lead in steals with two per game.
Head coach Tod Kowalczyk has trod the sidelines since 2010.
Kent State (5-5, NET: 160)
Image from kentstatesports.com
The Golden Flashes finished last season on an 8-3 run in MAC play before losing to Ohio in the first round of the conference tournament. Kent State had been scheduled to face the Bobcats at home on March 2, but the game was canceled; 10 days later, they faced each other in the tourney. How the world would be different if the Buckeye State rivals met? We’ll never know.
Second-team All-MAC preseason selection Sincere Carry (pictured above), a Duquesne transfer and a guard on the 2018-19 Atlantic 10 All-Rookie team, leads the Flashes with 15 points and 5.1 assists per game.
Six-foot-three guard Malique Jacobs grabs nearly seven rebounds per game, and 6’11 forward Justyn Hamilton collects 6.6 boards and blocks 1.3 shots per game, third in the MAC.
Kent State is coached by Rob Senderoff, who has compiled a program-leading 196 wins over his 10-year career. His Flashes have taken out a pair of ex-presidents this season, knocking off James Madison (NET: 138) and George Washington (NET: 268) at the Naples (Fla.) Invitational.
Akron (7-3, NET: 168)
Image from gozips.com
The Zips were nigh on unbeatable in the James A. Rhodes Arena—The JAR—in 2020-21, compiling a 9-1 home record en route to a 12-6 conference line and a 15-8 finish overall. Akron was bounced by Buffalo in the MAC tournament semifinals, 81-74, and didn’t play in a postseason tournament.
The Zips’ seven wins haven’t come against heavy hitters—they’ve taken out firmly second-tier programs like Evansville, Southern, Marshall, Florida A&M, and Wright State, as well as a couple non-Division 1 foes. But at least they’re winning!
Stay clear of sophomore forward Enrique Freeman (pictured above, with ball)—he’s the nation’s fifth-leading rebounder with 11.8 rips per game. Freeman was also a member of the 2020-21 All-MAC Defensive Team while leading the conference in blocked shots and field goal percentage. That’s a lot of big man in a 6’7, 206-pound frame.
Preseason All-MAC second team selection K.J. Walton, a grad transfer who led Ball State in scoring last season, has been limited to six games this season and last appeared in a 69-60 win over Evansville in the Gulf Coast Showcase on Nov. 24. He scored two points in 11 minutes.
John Groce, a former head coach at Ohio and Illinois, took the reins at Akron in 2017. He’s won 77 games as the Zips’ leader.
Bowling Green (7-4, NET: 201)
Image from bgsufalcons.com
The Falcons finished 14-12 overall in 2020-21, were sixth in the MAC with a 10-8 record. Bowling Green was subsequently knocked out of the conference tournament in the first round by Akron. BGSU accepted an invite to the College Basketball Invitational, and got clipped by Stetson, 63-62, again in the first round.
The Falcons did beat Buffalo twice, though—the first MAC squad to take out the Bulls twice in the regular season since Akron swept UB in 2016-17.
While Bowling Green’s wins this season are littered with the likes of Horizon League retreads Robert Morris and Milwaukee, WAC punching bag Chicago State, and the A-10’s Duquesne in down year, the Falcons did pick off a strong Oakland (NET: 69) squad in a 73-72 home win in the friendly confines of Stroh Arena.
Fifth-year senior Daeqwon Plowden (pictured above), a 6’6, 215-pound swingman from Philadelphia and a Preseason All-MAC first team selection, leads the team in scoring (15.4 ppg), rebounding (7.3 rpg), and blocks (1.4 bpg)—he’s actually second in the MAC in swats.
He also stole Eastern Michigan guard Darion Spottsville’s soul last season:
Old Dominion transfer Joe Reece, a 6’7 forward, averages 11.6 ppg, 6.8 rpg, and a team-high 1.2 steals per game.
Head coach Michael Huger was All-MAC in 1992-93 as a senior at Bowling Green. He’s led his alma mater since 2015.
Miami (6-5, NET: 192)
Image from miamiredhawks.com
Miami returns 99 percent of its scoring and 98 percent of its rebounding from a team that went 12-11 last season. Is that a good thing?
The RedHawks opened the season with a five-game win streak by upsetting ACC stalwart Georgia Tech (NET: 149) and punching down against weak opponents like Lamar, Stetson, and Division 3 jobbers Heidelberg and Defiance.
Things got real: five consecutive losses against much more competitive programs like Western Illinois, Cincinnati (by one point!), Indiana State (again by one point!), Clemson, and Bellarmine.
Miami consoled itself with one final D-3 victim, beating up on Spalding in a 24-point win on Dec. 21.
Junior guard Dae Dae Grant is a Preseason All-MAC second team pick after leading the RedHawks in scoring in 2020-21. He also earned Third Team All-MAC honors.
Grant is currently third in the conference in assists per game (4.3). He’s leading Miami in scoring again, averaging over 16 ppg.
Fifth-year forward Dalonte Brown (pictured above) is a career 1,000-point scorer with a fascinating back story. He set the school mark for career starts this season—119—breaking Miami alum and former NBA star Ron Harper, Jr.’s 35-year record.
Brown’s currently fifth in the MAC with 7.3 rebounds per game.
Head coach Jack Owens is back in Oxford for his fifth season on the RedHawks bench.
Ball State (5-6, NET: 263)
Image from ballstatesports.com
The Cardinals started their season by losing a home exhibition to Division 2 Michigan Tech, 70-69, at Worthen Arena. Not a great sign!
It’s been up and down for BSU over the non-conference slate. Ball State did rebound from that initial debacle with a win over UMass (NET: 144) and a blowout of Indiana State (NET: 176), but also endured double-digit losses to Georgia Southern, FIU, Weber State, Western Illinois, and Illinois State. Not exactly the mid-eighties Big East there.
The piece de resistance was a 46-point pasting by Xavier, currently ranked 18th in the AP Top 25. What can you do.
Sophomore guard Luke Bumbalough (pictured above), a former Indiana Mr. Basketball finalist, leads BSU with 12.5 points and 3.5 assists per game. He’s also shooting 40% from three-point range, the highest percentage in the conference for any player taking over 2.3 three-point attempts per game.
Bumbalough’s fellow sophomore guard, Tyler Cochran, averages over 10 points and five rebounds per game to go along with a team-high 22 steals.
Ball State’s head coach is James Whitford, whose record against MAC West foes over the previous five seasons is 33-17. The Cards have won three divisional titles in that stretch.
Western Michigan (4-7, NET: 329)
Image from wmubroncos.com
Things get rough at the bottom of the MAC. The Broncos, 5-16 last season, could be the best of a bad bunch. That’s not a compliment: WMU got smoked by 17 points by an intrastate rival earlier this season, and it wasn’t #11 Michigan State—the Spartans beat Western Michigan by 44—it was Saginaw Valley State, a D-2 program. All seven Broncos losses have been by double digits.
Duquesne transfer Lamar Norman, Jr. (pictured above), a junior guard from Grand Rapids, leads WMU in scoring with 18.1 ppg (fourth in the MAC) while dishing out 1.7 assists per game. Butler transfer Markeese Hastings, a 6’7 forward from Wyoming, Michigan, grabs seven boards per contest.
Head coach Clayton Bates, a longtime Western Michigan assistant, took over the big chair in 2020. It…hasn’t gone great.
Central Michigan (1-10, NET: 342)
Image from cmuchippewas.com
CMU was 7-16 in 2020-21 and will be pressed to equal that mark. The Chippewas’ lone win this season was a 62-61 road squeaker over Eastern Illinois. There will not be many more.
There’s been no rest for the weary, either—Central’s faced #4 Gonzaga, #18 Xavier, and #20 Kentucky this season, losing by an average of 38 points. Ouch.
Detroit native Jermaine Jackson, Jr, a grad transfer from Long Island University, is Central Michigan’s top scorer through the non-conference schedule with 11.3 ppg. Ralph Bissainthe (pictured above), a redshirt senior with previous stints at Florida-Southwestern College and Illinois-Chicago, rips seven boards a game, and freshman guard Kevin Miller dishes three assists per contest.
Tony Barbee, a Kentucky assistant for the past seven seasons and a former Auburn and UTEP head coach—he was the 2010 Conference USA Coach of the Year with the Miners—took the Chips’ job in April.
Eastern Michigan (5-6, NET: 236)
Image from emueagles.com
EMU won six games last season—it’s already almost a successful campaign for the Eagles! Eastern Michigan has been up-and-down, beating pretty decent Niagara and FIU squads while giving Indiana a tough game in Bloomington. On the other hand, new head coach Stan Heath’s men had their doors blown off by DePaul and Michigan State, and lost a one-point heartbreaker to a very mediocre Northern Illinois team.
Freshman guard Noah Farrakhan leads the Eagles in scoring (17.1 ppg) and chutzpah. The East Carolina transfer jacked up 17 or more shots in his nine appearances this season, including a macho 5-for-21 performance against the Hoosiers and a confident 8-for-28 against Florida International. Shooters gotta shoot!
Northern Illinois (3-7, NET: 305)
Image from niuhuskies.com
The Huskies finished last in the MAC in 2020-21 and were 3-16 overall. Unlike the football team, we’re probably not going to see a worst-to-first scenario here.
Sophomore guard and Chicago Heights product Keshawn Williams (pictured above), a transfer from Tulsa, leads NIU in scoring with 13.9 ppg. Anthony Crump, a senior guard who transferred in from Middle Tennessee State in 2020, collects a team-high 4.4 boards per game.
The Huskies are coached by Rashon Burno, a well-regarded assistant from Arizona State who accepted the head job in DeKalb this past March.
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