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Conference Preview: The MAC is Ohio’s for the taking

Oct 31, 2012, 1:30 PM EST

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Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.

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The Mid-American Conference went unnoticed for much of the 2011-2012 season but made up for it with Ohio’s magical Sweet-16 run. While head coach John Groce left for Illinois, sensational scoring guard D.J. Cooper returns for his final season, and will lead the Bobcats under new head coach Jim Christian, who served as head coach at Kent State from 2002-2008. The Bobcats return nine players from last year’s team including Walter Offutt and Nick Kellogg, and will be the heavy favorites to repeat as MAC champs in 2012-2013.

While Ohio may be the odds-on favorite to finish atop the MAC standings, they are not the only talented team in the conference. Akron actually finished with a better record last season, and return on of the few MAC players with real NBA potential, senior center Zeke Marshall. This season, the Zips will be shorthanded however. Quincy Diggs, the conference’s Sixth Man of the Year last season, was suspended in October for the entire season for violation the school’s code of student ethics.

Kent State is a difficult team to read in the East division this season. Much of their production is gone from a year ago, including Justin Greene, the team’s leading scorer. High-flying Chris Evans and senior guard Randal Holt lead a Golden Flashes team looking to find an identity.

In the West division things are just as interesting. Toledo is the most talented team in the division, but due to a low Academic Progress Rating (APR) score, the program won’t be eligible for post-season play. It is a real shame too, because this is arguably the most talented team Toledo has fielded since 1980, the last time the Rockets made the NCAA Tournament.

The Eastern Michigan Eagles should be the team that benefits the most from Toledo’s postseason ban. Former-Syracuse assistant Rob Murphy is in his second year as head coach of the Eagles and didn’t arrive to the MAC empty-handed, bringing along DaShonte Riley, a talented big-man who redshirted a year at Syracuse. Having sat out a season at Eastern Michigan, the 7-foot center will be able to impose his will on the rest of the conference this season. No team outside of Akron has a big-man as talented as Riley, and the Eagles should reap the rewards. But Riley isn’t the only transfer that Murphy reeled in. Wyoming’s Daylen Harrison and Arkansas’ Glenn Bryant will also be able to step in right away and provide an instant impact.

The rest of the west is suffering from key transfer losses. Western Michigan saw Matt Stainsbrook, their best big-man, transfer to Xavier, and Central Michigan two of their best players in Trey Zeigler (Pittsburgh) and Austin McBroom (Saint Louis).

All-Conference Team (* denotes Player of the Year)
G D.J. Cooper (Ohio)
F A’uston Calhoun (Bowling Green)
C Zeke Marshall (Akron)
F Javon McCrea (Buffalo)
G Walter Offutt (Ohio)

Predicted Standings – MAC East
1. Ohio
2. Akron
3. Kent State
4. Bowling Green
5. Buffalo
6. Miami (OH)

Predicted Standings – MAC West
1. Toledo
2. Eastern Michigan
3. Western Michigan
4. Ball State
5. Northern Illinois
6. Central Michigan

Troy Machir is the managing editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @TroyMachir