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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

Kent State Golden Flashes

2004 Season
Another year goes by, another 20-win season in the books for the Kent State Golden Flashes. Kent State doesn’t rebuild, they reload, and whether you’re talking about players, or even coaches, that’s exactly what the Flashes have done over the past seven seasons.

It seems like the Flashes took more lumps last season—especially at home, than they have been used to taking in the recent past, but they still got to 20 wins. The way this team took care of business last season only reaffirms them as one of the few examples of a modern day MAC dynasty.

The Good
No matter how many faces change on the bench or on the court they’re putting something in the water in Kent, Ohio. These Kent teams know how to win, and you can’t really pick against them until the year that they finally don’t. They’re too good. They have too many intangibles.

This year’s team has 3 players who should be top performers. DeAndre Haynes is very talented, but is coming off a rough junior season. Haynes was an All-MAC performer during his sophomore campaign and should regain that form in his senior season. It is important for the Flashes that Haynes regains his confidence running the offense, and remembers the way he played in the MAC Tournament during his sophomore season. He could easily be among the conference leaders in points, steals, and assists at the end of the season.

Nate Gerwig is a tough, 5 th year senior. Gerwig is one of those guys where each year you look at the Kent State roster and say to yourself, “Really!?! He’s back again?” It seems like Gerwig has been in a KSU uniform forever, but that’s a good thing for the Flashes. He provides a tough, ruggedness on the front line, and will be a major attribute if he is finally over his knee and shoulder problems.

Kevin Warzynski is the third player that the Golden Eagles are counting on to lead them to another successful year. Warzynski probably couldn’t jump over a phone book, but he provided valuable inside scoring as a JUCO transfer last season. KSU expects another year in the system could turn Warzynski into a 1 st or 2 nd team All-MAC player by season’s end.

KSU only has two other key returning players who figure to be big factors. Those players are Armon Gates and Jay Youngblood. Kent State is going to need to rely heavily on two or three of their six new recruits. The smart money is on A-10 transfer forward Haminn Quaintance, JUCO transfer guard Omni Smith, and true freshman forward Jason Sullinger.

The Bad
Kent State had a lot of outgoing transfers this off-season. Not only does Kent have to replace Jason Edwin, a top performer from last year who graduated out, but Kent lost who many considered the heart and soul of their team, Scott Cutley. Cutley, originally from the West Coast apparently was home sick and wanted to return closer to home. This is a big blow for Kent State who will have trouble replacing everything that Cutley brought to the team. Other notable players that transferred out of Kent; backup point guard Marcus Crenshaw, and athletic wing Meechie Johnson.

Kent State usually relies on superior depth, but could have some depth issues this season as they are going to be forced to count on several newcomers to round out their rotation. Of course this didn’t negatively effect them last season, but you’ve got to wonder how many times Kent can turn over half of its roster and still compete for a conference championship.

If you go to a Kent home game like I have for the past four or five years, and you are interested in game-atmosphere, take special notice of the Kent State pep band. They throw confetti all over each other when Kent scores for the first time. Then everybody in the band meticulously picks up each scrap of confetti for 5 minutes. Then they throw it again when Kent scores again and the process repeats infinitely. By the end of the game you find yourself wondering why the Athletic Department doesn’t give such prime seating to paying fans, or students who actually watch the game. Then you find yourself wondering why a janitor hasn’t yet strangled someone in the KSU band for leaving them such an intentional mess after each home game. Then you usually find yourself wondering how many years in a row you’re going to make the trip to Kent without seeing your team win. Good times.

You can’t pick heavily against Kent. Everyone has been picking Kent to have a rebuilding year for three years. Even with six newcomers this season, you cannot pick Kent to fall flat on their faces until they do it. KSU returns four seniors and has enough talent and experience spread across its roster to be dangerous. They’ll need two or three newcomers to come in and play strong. It already looks like they can get that out of Quaintance, Smith, and Sullinger and that’s not even considering the other three guys who are new to the program.

The publications that are picking Kent to have a “down” or rebuilding year this season haven’t been paying attention to what’s happened in Kent, Ohio over the past seven years. For some reason players on this team step up. Maybe it’s because Christian has pushed the right buttons, maybe it’s because of the caliber of player that has been on that team, and maybe it’s just a coincidence. But that’s why Haynes is going to bounce back, and that’s why Gerwig is going to stay injury free. A lot of things have to go right for Kent to finish with their 8 th straight 20-win season, but they can do it. They’ll finish 4th in the MAC East, but this isn’t a pick that means Kent is going to be scraping the bottom of the barrel this season, it’s just a credit to how good the East is. Kent will also finish within 1 game of the 2 nd place team in the East.

Miami RedHawks

Last Season
Last season was a pretty good one for the Miami University basketball team. To be clear, it could have been classified as “great” until the last game of the regular season when they lost an unceremonious turnover-fest to MAC bottom-dweller Marshall. Miami went on to win their quarter-final MAC tournament match-up against Bowling Green. However, the RedHawks couldn’t keep the season alive, and lost again when they played Ohio University in the MAC semis.

As always, Miami played good team defense last season. They were a deep, athletic team, and were one of the most dangerous 3-pt shooting teams in the conference. Miami’s key strength last season could have been their tenacity on the boards. They rebounded the ball extremely well, thanks largely to seniors Danny Horace and Chet Mason.

The the two seniors, Horace and Mason, carried Miami last season. Horace was first in the conference in rebounds, seventh in scoring. Mason, an explosive point guard who had moved over to the 2-guard to accommodate William Hatcher, finished sixth in rebounding, and fourteenth in scoring.

In their loss to Ohio, Miami was plagued by foul trouble to key contributors Nate Peavy and Monty St. Clair. However, the loss was on seniors’ shoulders. Horace had a respectable enough game with 13 points and 11 rebounds while playing a Herculean 40 minutes. Mason drew the ire of MU fans collecting only 10 points and 8 rebounds on 4 of 10 shooting. Worse, were Mason’s six turnovers and two key misses from the charity stripe. For all intensive purposes the loss to Ohio was Miami’s last game of the season. They were emotionally shot. The egg that they laid at home against inferior competition, TCU, in the first-round of the NIT should be ignored and forgotten all-together.

The Good
Miami will get tested early and often in and out of conference play this season. The RedHawks will play in the Preseason NIT before facing Michigan, Dayton, Xavier, and Cincinnati. Even though they lose their two most talented players from last season, the RedHawks return some decent talent. The three players that Miami will expect the most out of this season are PG William Hatcher, SF Nate Peavy, and to a lesser extent C Monty St. Clair.

Miami fans are familiar with Hatcher now. He’s improved steadily over the past 2 years and was usually the third option behind Mason and Horace last season. Hatcher has a good handle and is a clutch shooter, who can be deadly from behind the 3pt line. Miami is going to look to Hatcher as a team leader this season. Hatcher needs to work on his conditioning as the RedHawks could need him to play lots of minutes this season. Miami has a lot of players who can handle the ball, but lack a solid true point guard to play behind Hatcher.

Nate Peavy began to come into his own as a long, athletic small forward last season. He’s got quickness, and like most players at MU, he can stroke it from 3. It wouldn’t be surprising if Miami went small at times this year and put Peavy at the 4. With the Princeton-style offense that the RedHawks run, there’s only one post-player anyways.

What will affect Miami’s ability to play small-ball is their ability to defend larger frontcourt duos on the opposing teams. Peavy looks ready to make the leap this year. He certainly has the talent to be an All-Conference performer.

Miami has a lot of depth at the wing positions this season, which is certainly a strength and another reason that they could play small-ball with Peavy at the 4. Expect to see Josh Hausfeld, who should finally be healthy again, and Doug Penno log a lot of minutes at the off-guard spot, and drive defenses crazy with their shooting range. Chad Troyer could force himself into the rotation here as well. Also look out for true freshman Michael Bramos, a 6-5 guard out of Michigan. If this kid is as good as he looks coming out of high school, he could be a key cog in Miami’s rotation this year.

The Bad
Miami could have difficulties scoring at times this season. The good news is anybody on the floor not named Nate VanderSluis will be a threat from three. The bad news is Hatcher is really their only proven scorer. Miami is going to need someone to step up and be a legitimate second and third threat on offense consistently. Here’s betting that Peavy and Hausfeld or Penno can remove much of this pressure, but until they can regularly demonstrate this ability, it’s a definite “watch-out” for this team.

Not only did The RedHawks lose their two leading scorers, but they lost their two leading rebounders from last season, and need to replace some of the physical dominance that they lost with the graduation of Horace and Mason. VanderSluis is a big body and should hulk over most opposing centers in the MAC. The problem is he lacks any athleticism and could have problems hitting the boards. Monty St. Clair is another big guy, but lacks a prototypical post-player’s game, and has been described by some as a shooting guard in a center’s body. Much of the heavy lifting on the boards is probably going to come from uber-athletic Nate Peavy and sophomore PF Tim Pollitz, who the RedHawks are really counting on to log some valuable minutes at the power-forward spot.

The RedHawks have a crazy-difficult out of conference schedule. This relatively young roster will get a lot of experience with games versus Alabama, Michigan, Xavier, Cincinnati, and Dayton. There’s a good chance that they could kickoff conference play with a sub-500 record. Mid-American Conference teams can’t let that fool them, and must not sleep on this team.

Finding enough scoring shouldn’t be too difficult, the big obstacle is finding someone who can regularly clean the glass and replace the rebounds that Horace and Mason used to corral. Miami should gain a lot from the early experience and from the underrated coaching of Charlie Coles. The RedHawks’ team defense, discipline and depth make it hard to pick them to have an off year even without Horace and Mason.

Add in the fact that there are at least 6 players on the roster who are considerable threats from three and Miami will at least have a puncher’s chance in any game that they play this season. Miami will finish 2nd in the East, and approach 20 wins.


Ohio Bobcats

Last Season
Last season was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the Ohio Bobcats. Well, I guess Tim O’Shea’s squad achieved that goal and then some. With a starting lineup that included 2 freshman, 1 sophomore, 1 JUCO junior in his first year with the program, and 1 JUCO senior in his second year with the program, Ohio was the Mid-American Conference’s lone representative in the 2005 NCAA tournament, where they gave Florida a run for their money as well.

The Bobcats were an up and down team for most of the season. They featured a slew of quick players who were adept at driving to the hoop at one end of the court and tapping loose steals on the other. The high water mark for this team had to be in the MAC Tournament Finals. After already beating Marshall, Kent State, and arch-rival Miami, Ohio looked like they were going to get steam-rolled by Buffalo.

The Bobcats went down 19-points to the Bulls, 57-38, when Buffalo called a 20 second timeout with about 16-minutes left. Fast forward to just inside 9 minutes remaining when Jeremy Fears tied it up at 60 as he drove through traffic and banked in a layup, and did a back flip on his way to the bench. You could say that the Bobcat faithful who had made the trip to Cleveland were a little excited. Eventually Ohio won in overtime when Leon Williams’ tip-in of a Jeremy Fears driving miss, hung on the rim for a second, and then fell in.

The Good
For the first time since Tim O’Shea has been in Athens the Bobcats are a very deep squad. They also return most of their key players from last season’s NCAA tournament appearance. Last year’s exciting freshman tandem, Jeremy Fears and Leon Williams are both back and look poised to put up some big numbers. Last season’s best all-around player Mychal Green is also back for his senior campaign, and should be expected to log some major minutes for this squad.

The next tier of players starts off with Sonny Troutman. Troutman is a lanky wing who is a great defender and racks up the steals. Troutman is a good scorer when he can drive to the hoop, and get to the line. He has an inconsistent shot, but can cause defenses fits when it is falling.

Johnnie Jackson could be the best player on the team this year. The transfer from BC doesn’t ooze talent like Fears or Williams, but has more all-around skill than anyone on this team now. Jackson could be forced to play slightly out of position as O’Shea is thin on the frontline, but that shouldn’t matter. Jackson can drive to the hoop like Troutman, but can shoot like Green. He’s athletic enough and a good enough jumper to still supply rebounds by crashing the boards. He doesn’t need to play on the blocks to do it.

Coming off the bench the Bobcats will have trusted senior Jeff Halbert. He’s a smart, heady player and has a good spot-up shot. Whitney Davis is a fantastic defender, like most Bobcats, has an okay shot and goes very hard after rebounds and loose balls. Antonio Chatman is a JUCO-sophomore from the northeast. Scouts love his quickness backing up the point and think he could score in droves for this team. Ken Ottrix is a JUCO-junior and provides a little depth on the frontline. Ottrix has some decent post moves, but is going to need to rebound to help this team. Jerome Tillman is a true-freshman power forward out of Dayton. Everyone was raving about this kid during fall practice but then he came down with mono, and there are some questions when he can come back.

The Bad
This team could have some major troubles rebounding the ball, especially without Tillman for any extended period of time. They’re going to need the wing players like Green, Troutman, Jackson, and Halbert to crash the boards hard, and out-rebound bigger opponents. Still, opponents will get a lot of second-chance opportunities against this squad. Their best bet could be to cut down on first-chance opportunities—coming up with timely steals and forcing turnovers.

The Bobcats are lacking true frontcourt depth. O’Shea is going to have to get creative with the lineups that he plays. Leon Williams is their only real post threat. Ken Ottrix is unproven, and isn’t expected to be a huge force inside. You could see a lot of small lineups where Johnnie Jackson and Jeff Halbert serve as an acting power forward. This could cause Ohio to have trouble matching up with some bigger teams in the MAC like Akron or Kent State.

While certainly nobody can call this team inexperienced after last season’s run, the Bobcats still feature a cast of very young players, or transfers who haven’t spent a lot of time in the program. You have to wonder if there are going to be any growing pains on the road or even if there are going to be enough minutes and basketballs to go around with this lineup. O’Shea hasn’t shown the ability to be able to spread out minutes to his bench, of course he hasn’t had much of an opportunity prior to this season.

With the run Ohio made though the MAC Tournament last year, and the returning lineup and new recruits that they have coming in they have to be the pick to win it. There’s no other pick to make here. They could face pressure from Miami, Kent State, Buffalo, or especially Akron—who had OU’s number in two big wins last season.

Ohio has too much depth, too much talent, and too much skill. They’re hoping to have Tillman back by mid-December. If he can contribute once conference play begins that should be good enough. O’Shea needs to be able to juggle minutes. Leon Williams, Ohio’s only real post threat needs to stay healthy and stay out of foul trouble. Barring any major injuries to one of their core players they should be able to pick up where they left off last season, and put together a solid season. Ohio University will finish 1st in the MAC East.

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

By Dan Whitmyer, Writer


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