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2005-06 MAC Basketball Preview - MAC East

VanDelay Sports previews MAC basketball for the 2005-2006 season.


Team Links: Akron | Bowling Green | Buffalo | Kent | Miami | Ohio



Akron Zips

2004 Season
Sadly, the Mid-American Conference got less interesting last season. Always a home for crazy and colorful coaches, MAC fans shed a tear whenever they lose one of the best. It was sad to see Greg White leave Marshall a couple years back. There was a collective sigh of relief when Dan Dakich’s jump from BG only lasted a week. MAC fans certainly had the same type of feelings when Dan Hipsher hit the pavement after the 03/04 basketball season.

Not only did MAC fans miss Dan Hipsher last season, but they missed his whole family. There was Andy Hipsher, Dan’s power-forward son who graduated and was no longer able to taunt opposing crowds across the conference. Bryan Hipsher, Dan’s lesser talented son, gave up his scholarship and his seat on the very end of Akron’s bench. MAC fans even missed Mrs. Hipsher, who was known to elegantly wave at hostile crowds in Kent and Athens—albeit with one finger.

Seriously though, with Dan Hipsher’s firing came a new and better coach, Keith Dambrot. Hipsher had long been known for great recruiting classes, but mediocre on-court results. Although Dambrot’s team did not make either postseason tournament, they had an excellent season, competing from an underdog position all-year.

Dambrot installed a fast-pace, high-intensity game plan and as the Akron players learned the new system, they began to excel. They did this even after losing their arguably best player, Jeremiah Wood, and being forced to play at times without another valuable, yet injury-ridden cog, Darryl Peterson.

Akron returns much of its roster from last season, and if Dambrot can continue to motivate, and get such outstanding results from his system, the sky’s the limit for this team.

The Good
Akron proved last season that they have a very good core of players who know the system, know their roles, and don’t deviate from either. This Akron team is filled with a slew of very good role-players, but no real superstars. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. They already have a great 9-man rotation ready to go, if everyone’s healthy with. Dru Joyce III, Nick Dials, Cedrick Middleton, Bubba Walther, Darryl Peterson, Romeo Travis, Matt Futch, Rob Preston, and Jeremiah Wood.

Jeremiah Wood could be a POTY candidate if healthy, but he’s probably not. Romeo Travis is getting a lot of early pub as a potential POTY selection, but that’s going a little too far. Travis is a good player, but his numbers got inflated by the absence of Wood last season, and the fact that he had to do most of the banging up front. Show me a 12/8 average from him with a player like Wood next to him, and I’ll be a believer.

Dru Joyce III has turned into a very competent point guard with a great touch from outside the arc. He’s short, but what he lacks in height he makes up for with quickness and sharp passes. Hopefully he did some major conditioning this summer, because until Nick Dials gets back from an off-season ACL tear, Joyce is pretty much it at the point.

Bubba Walther is the skinniest guy you’ll ever meet named Bubba. Walther is about 6-4 and rail-thin. Also, he looks like he’s not a day older than 15 years old. Seriously though, Bubba proved as a true freshman last year that he can play in this conference and could turn into one of the league’s premier 3pt shooters by the time he graduates. He has a great touch from behind the line and might be asked to share some of the ball handling responsibilities when Joyce needs a rest.

Cedrick Middleton is another sophomore who’s comfortable at the off-guard spot, but might need to play some point while Dials recovers. Middleton proved himself adept at creating shots, driving to the hoop last year.

Darryl Peterson is a 5 th year senior who is a proven scorer, but can sometimes be a liability on defense. Peterson needs to do his best to stay healthy because the Zips really need his scoring ability and experience on the court.

Matt Futch and Rob Preston should both prove to be valuable contributors, especially if Wood is unable to go for some/all of the season. Both are big-body guys who like to bang, and who like to be very physical. Akron could be a very tough team for other MAC contenders to match-up with in the frontcourt.

The Bad
The injury bug has bit the Zips hard for the past several seasons. Jeremiah Wood’s status for the upcoming season has to be the #1 concern. Early word is that Wood could miss the entire season as he’s had setbacks recovering from last season’s ACL injury, which ended that season in early January. Luckily the Zips have a lot of front-court depth, but it’ll be a true shame if such a talented player is forced to miss another entire season.

Wood is a better player, but Nick Dials ACL tear may actually hurt the immediate future of this team more than that of the big man. The Zips have very little guard depth and were counting on Dials to split time at both guard spots this season. With Dials unable to go until sometime into conference play, the Zips two sophomore 2-guards could really have to cut their teeth running the point early on. As a result this team could be turnover-prone and have difficulty facing pressure defenses.

Akron’s depth looked like a major strength, especially with Dambrot’s propensity to run, but with the injuries to Dials and Wood their rotation suddenly shrinks to seven. Akron is going to need to rely on at least one newcomer, or inexperienced returning player. Look for 6-5 freshman guard Jimmy Conyers to be the one that cracks the rotation. If his athleticism and perimeter play is as good as advertised, Conyers could be an impact freshman much like Walther and Middleton were a year ago.

Outlook
Akron returns a well-balanced, hungry team. They play good defense, can get scoring from multiple players, and have a big, bruising front line. It’s the injuries that hurt Akron and their chances. With Wood and Dials healthy they’d be co-favorites to win the East. Without the two they will finish 3rd in the East, but could still challenge for a conference championship, and a post-season birth. That’s how deep this well-balanced Zips team is.



Bowling Green Falcons

2004 Season
It looked like the 04/05 campaign was going to be great for the Bowling Green Falcons. They started out 10-2, 4-0 in conference. Josh Almanson and John Reimold were All-MAC performing seniors who were trying to lead BG to their first NCAA tournament in 30+ years.

Then things started falling apart for the Falcons as soon as Germain Fitch went down with knee problems. Outsiders didn’t know Fitch as well as Almanson or Reimold, who were widely regarded as BG’s best two players. But Fitch was the guy who opened things up for the two seniors. Fitch always rebounded, and had a knack for making good passes that led to assists. Nobody could replace all the little things that Fitch did well.

When Fitch went down, so did the Falcons season. They fell from 12-4 (6-2) to 18-11 (10-8) and the #8 seed in the MAC. This season begins with the Falcons missing most of their best players from last season; Almanson, Reimold, Fitch, and senior Cory Eyink. It’s time for BG to rebuild.

The Good
The positives for BG start and end with their talented backcourt. Senior Steven Wright is their best player, and can adequately handle the point, but will probably see more action playing off-guard. John Floyd is more of a traditional pass-first PG, and was really given the reins to the team as a true-freshman in the final half of the 04/05 season. That experience should help him run this team this season, because he’s certainly going to get the chance to show what he can do.

Mawel Soler is the other senior on this team. He’s a defense-first minded swingman, and is probably best known for breaking a backboard on a pre-game dunk before last season’s Miami/BG game. Soler brings a toughness or durability to this lineup and should play a lot at the 3 when Wright finishes healing his broken foot in December.

Wright, Soler, and Floyd will form a fairly experienced, solid backcourt. One thing that the MAC has definitely proven over the past several years is that solid backcourts will win games. Of course it usually helps when a team has a reliable big man or two as well.

Of course, visiting teams better still step it up when traveling to Bowling Green. Quaint Anderson Arena is repeatedly rated as one of the most difficult places to play in the MAC. In fact, Dakich teams have a career winning record at home that is just a shade under 80%. Another thing that the MAC has definitely proven over the past several years is that regardless of talent, it’s tough to win on the road.

The Bad
Bowling Green returns just seven letter-winners from last year’s squad. Only 3 of whom saw any extended playing time. The past couple of years, Bowling Green has been a revolving door for kids transferring out. Two years ago they lost highly-touted Ron Lewis to the Buckeyes. Many considered Lewis their best player, whom Dakich could build around for years to come.

This off-season oft-injured, talented Germain Fitch, Austin Montgomery, and young and promising Scott Vandermeer all transferred out. This left the Bowling Green coaching staff scrambling through the late signing period to try and fill all their remaining scholarships.

Not only have the transfers added up, but Dakich has to worry about replacing All-MAC forwards Josh Almanson and John Reimold. If Gary Trent was the Shaq-of-the-MAC then John Reimold was the Mid American Conference’s own version of Larry Bird—far more athletic than he looked and with a propensity for knocking down big clutch shots.

Bowling Green has what can only be described as a “wait and see” front court. The player up front with the most experience is 6-11 Matt Lefeld. Lefeld, who saw lots of action in his freshman season, only played 64 minutes in the 04/05 campaign. The Falcon faithful are hoping Erik Marschall and/or Lionel Sullivan can step up as true freshmen and play some big minutes in the post.

The Outlook
Right about now BGSU fans have to be wishing that Marshall hadn’t left for CUSA. In the West?—BG could have competed. In the East?—This could be a very long season for Dakich and company. BGSU returns some mediocre talent. The problem is they probably don’t have any spectacular talents, nor do they have deep enough mediocre talent to put up a big challenge to the other 5 teams in the East.

Many publications are predicting doom and gloom for the 05/06 Bowling Green Falcons. I’m not going that far. Yes, BG would be better off playing in the West, where they could load up on the weaker teams twice. Still BG has several things working in their advantage; a fairly weak out of conference schedule, a savvy coach, a solid backcourt, and a very difficult building to play in.

 

This is a textbook rebuilding year in Bowling Green. BG will probably need to land 3 or 4 players on the All-Freshman Team to have any hopes at competing for the conference championship this season. BG will finish 6th in the East, but they should still easily break 10 wins, and be better than the bottom teams in the West.

 

Buffalo Bulls

2004 Season
The Buffalo Bulls had a spectacular season in 04/05 and were the talk of the town. They began filling their arena full of rabid fans, and brought a true coalition with them to Cleveland. It was great for true MAC fans to watch the renaissance in Buffalo of a yearly doormat to a top-notch team with top notch fans. It was great for the conference.

Buffalo emerged under the leadership of conference POTY and all-around Buffalo basketball god Turner Battle. Battle had a spectacular season and hit a miraculous fall-away jumper with about 16 seconds in the Conference Championship game that would have won it if Ohio hadn’t made an even more improbable shot/tip with 0.5 seconds remaining.

Buffalo could have some work to do if they want to get back to where they were last year. Not only do they lose POTY Battle, but they also lose sixth-man of the year and fabulous defender Mark Bortz, and important role players Daniel Gilbert and Jason Bird. Buffalo had a great team, a great season, and could have been the MAC’s lone NCAA Tournament team, but they just couldn’t beat Ohio University, losing to them 3 times by a total of 2, 13, and 1 point(s) in each game.

The Good
When talking about “The Good” in Buffalo the first thing that has to come to mind is forward/center Yassin Idbihi. He was a great player for the Bulls as a freshman, and he had a good year again last season in his sophomore campaign. If the Bulls are going to continue to compete on a high level however, Idbihi is really going to need to step it up another notch. He has the talent to do it.

Idbihi could have a tougher time this season without his former running mate Bortz, who combined with Idbihi helped form the twin towers. This year Idbihi is going to need to rely on slightly undersized 6-6 225-pound forward, Parnell Smith. If nothing else playing without Bortz next to him should slightly inflate Idbihi’s number to get him more respect from writers who don’t cover the MAC, only look at the stat sheets, and are leaving the big man from Monoco off their pre-season All-MAC teams.

Calvin Cage is poised to step up big-time for Buffalo this season. Cage probably gave teammate Mark Bortz a run for sixth-man of the year last season and they were on the same team. That’s how deep this Buffalo team was. Cage can handle the ball in small doses, but his real value is with his streaky shot. Cage showed glimpses of what he can do in a full-time role in last year’s MAC tournament, being selected to the All-Tournament team.

Roderick Middleton is probably going to be the guy who fills Turner Battle’s shoes as starting point guard. While Middleton, and really anybody in the MAC, can’t compare to Battle, he does have a solid shot, plays good defense, and is a good distributor.

Buffalo also returns senior starter Mario Jordan. Jordan is a 6-6 wing player who can post up and rebound over smaller defenders. He has a decent shot, but is at his best driving to the hoop and getting to the foul line.

The Bad
Nobody knows who the first guy off the bench is for the Bulls, let alone who the 2 nd, 3 rd, and 4 th guys off the bench are. Buffalo’s key strength last season, their depth, seemed to leave town along with their four seniors who graduated. While they still have the talent and experience to compete for the MAC East division, it is unknown how their rotation will round out.

Buffalo will need at least 3, maybe 4, players to step up out of a group of 4 players who saw very limited action last season and 5 recruits who are new to the program. Right now the Bulls have a solid starting 5, but the guys behind them are largely unknown, many with a tag that should say “wait and see”.

Reggie Witherspoon looks like a genius after turning a program that was in such a sad state so far around. He’s going to need to get several players from this class to pan out if he wants to keep the rabid student section in Buffalo singing his praises.

It’s obviously going to be important for Buffalo to replace the scoring, rebounding, and superb defense that left town with the departure of Battle, Bortz, Bird, and Gilbert. That’s an obvious need, but Buffalo is also going to need an on court leader. Idbihi could be a top player in this league, but he often gets very emotionally charged on the court. Battle and Bortz especially had done a good job working to keep Yassin’s his emotions in check. Idbihi is either going to need to grow up, and take the reins of this team, or Reggie Witherspoon is going to need to find someone else to fit that role, or to do it himself.

Outlook
Losing Turner Battle and Mark Bortz will hurt the Bulls a lot. Even Daniel Gilbert and Jason Bird could have been valuable role-players and provided much needed depth on this year’s team. Instead it’s going to be important for Reggie Witherspoon and the Buffalo staff to begin developing some new players out of the five new recruits and handful of players who didn’t see much action last season.

Buffalo has five talented and experienced players who make-up a pretty good starting lineup. They definitely possess one of the more solid starting lineups in the MAC. The problem in Buffalo is their depth. No matter how good their starters are, you can’t win playing your 5 starters for 35 minutes a game. They need to develop guys six through ten in their rotation, and they need to do it fast. It’s possible that three or four new guys, or players who didn’t see much action last year could step it up in an expanded role, but that’s a lot to ask. Buffalo will finish 5th in the MAC East, and could be a long shot to contend for a conference title. They’ll need to develop some depth to be able to do it.

 



Team Links: Akron | Bowling Green | Buffalo | Kent | Miami | Ohio


By Dan Whitmyer, VanDelaySports.com Writer

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