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2013-2014 MAC Preview: Toledo, West Division looks to narrow the gap

Oct 23, 2013, 12:00 PM EST

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Buffalo Athletics

All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To see the rest of the Conference Previews we’ve published, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

In recent years the East Division has dominated things in the MAC, with Western Michigan being the last West Division team to earn the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament back in 2004. With the key departures at both Akron and Ohio, is this the season that the West narrows the gap? One program that will factor into the equation is Toledo, which returns four starters from a team that earned a share of the West Division crown last season.

Head coach Tod Kowalczyk has a squad capable of winning the MAC, with Rian Pearson (17.9 ppg, 6.8 rpg) and Julius Brown (13.1, 6.0 apg) leading the way. Add in Loyola (MD) transfer Justin Drummond and the Rockets have a trio capable of competing with anyone in the MAC.

As for their most likely challenger, Western Michigan has to replace Nate Hutcheson and Darius Paul but the Broncos welcome back a pair of fifth-year seniors in center Shayne Whittington and guard David Brown. And Eastern Michigan returns four of its five starters from last season, including Glenn Bryant, and Duquesne transfer Mike Talley should be an impact player on the perimeter.

But even with the West showing signs of improvement the East’s run of success can’t be ignored. Defending champion Akron lost center Zeke Marshall but head coach Keith Dambrot welcomes back two quality forwards in Nick Harney and Demetrius Treadwell. The Zips have some questions to answer, most notably at point guard, but they once again have the pieces needed to reach the NCAA tournament. Ohio also lost multiple key contributors, most notably point guard D.J. Cooper, but the Bobcats will be a factor provided their young front court rises to the challenge.

And then there’s Buffalo, which has a new head coach in Bobby Hurley but also has the league’s best player in senior forward Javon McCrea. McCrea averaged 18.0 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game last season, and with three other starters returning the Bulls should be a contender. Kent State shouldn’t be overlooked either, with point guard Kris Brewer and forward Darren Goodson expected to lead the way.

PRESEASON MAC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: F Javon McCrea (Buffalo)

McCrea (18.0 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 2.6 bpg) isn’t just one of the most talented forwards at the mid-major level, he’s one of the most talented forwards in all of college basketball.

FOUR MORE NAMES TO KNOW:

  • F Demetrius Treadwell (Akron): Treadwell is the guy that the Zips will lean heavily on with Zeke Marshall and Alex Abreu gone.
  • G Rian Pearson (Toledo): McCrea’s the clear favorite to win POY, with Pearson being the MAC’s second-best player.
  • G Julius Brown (Toledo): With D.J. Cooper gone Brown may be the MAC’s best point guard.
  • C Shayne Whittington (Western Michigan): Whittington made a major jump production-wise last season, earning second team All-MAC honors.

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @HustleBelt

PREDICTED FINISH

East Division
1. Akron
2. Ohio
3. Buffalo
4. Kent State
5. Bowling Green
6. Miami (Ohio)

West Division
1. Toledo
2. Western Michigan
3. Eastern Michigan
4. Ball State
5. Central Michigan
6. Northern Illinois

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