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MAC preseason power rankings: Western Michigan and Kent State lead the way

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Get to know Thomas Wilder.

NCAA Basketball: Western Michigan at UCLA Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

The MAC is one of the most enigmatic conferences in Division I. There isn’t that one team that tramples everyone else on a yearly basis, and there’s not a team that can be viewed as the worst in the league year in and year out. It makes predicting the MAC pretty difficult. But what the heck. Here we go:

MAC Preseason Power Rankings

MAC West

1. Western Michigan Broncos

To some, this may come as a surprise after looking at what James Whitford has done to swing around the Ball State program. But I’m not taking the bait here. Preseason all-MAC West member Thomas Wilder will lead the Broncos, coming off a 19.3 ppg and 121-assist season. Not to mention that Western Michigan graduated just one player after last season, so they have players returning from a team that played Washington and Villanova fairly close.

2. Ball State Cardinals

The Cardinals look like they’ll put a whole host of talent on the floor night in and night out, but let one name stand out to you if no other: Tayler Persons. The junior guard was picked as a preseason all-MAC West player after ranking second in the MAC in assists per game at 4.9 and becoming the first player in school history to record at least 500 points and 150 assists in a season.

3. Eastern Michigan Eagles

Eastern Michigan can be seen as a sleeper in the MAC. The Eagles were picked fourth in the West in the conference’s preseason poll, but I’m throwing them ahead of Toledo because of one player: James Thompson IV. The 6’10 junior center not only has the height, but he can move his feet in the paint. Then, look outside, and the Eagles have a senior guard in Tim Bond who led the team in assists with 4.0 per game last year.

4. Toledo Rockets

Coming off a 2016-17 campaign where the Rockets were .500 both overall and in conference play, coach Tod Kowalczyk and company have a lot of work to do this year. The Rockets graduated five seniors, including studs Jonathan Williams and Steve Taylor Jr., so this team will be fairly young. However, they’ve got a reliable weapon in preseason All-MAC West selection Jaelan Sanford. The junior guard is coming off a year in which he averaged 35.9 minutes a game and scored 461 points, good for the fourth-best by a sophomore in school history. With a lot of young talent on this team, Sanford will have to pick up the slack.

5. Northern Illinois Huskies

The two left in the West could be in a hot race for last place. However, I picked the Huskies fifth because they have some young talent. This is a Husky squad that’s in the middle of it all right now, transitioning from young to experienced. Next season’s outlook will be a lot different, but for the time being, NIU will be toward the bottom of the West. Through all this, the Huskies have one preseason All-MAC West pick in sophomore guard Eugene German, which is another reason to put them above the Chippewas.

6. Central Michigan Chippewas

The Chippewas are going to be, er, not good. They have eight upperclassmen on their roster, but I’m not sold. Central Michigan is the only school without a selection on the Preseason All-MAC West team and they lost one of the best guards they’ve seen in a long time in Marcus Keene. And that’s not to mention how loaded with talent the division is this year.

MAC East

1. Kent State Golden Flashes

The defending MAC champions may have lost the core of their offense in Jimmy Hall, but they didn’t lose guard Jaylin Walker, who’s picked on the preseason All-MAC East team, or Adonis De La Rosa, who is one of the most underrated players in the conference. Walker reigns as the 2017 MAC Tournament MVP, and last season he turned the ball over just 69 times in the 1,057 minutes he played. Also, any time you can throw a seven-foot junior like De La Rosa into the paint, it means that fewer points are going to be allowed inside. Especially with the way this kid moves his feet.

2. Buffalo Bulls

Coach Nate Oats and company are headed into the season looking to build off a respectable 17-15 campaign. The nine underclassmen who were on the Bulls’ MAC title team two years ago are now veterans looking to put together another March run. Additionally, Buffalo is the one of two teams to have two players voted preseason All-MAC in either division. Junior guard C.J. Massinburg and junior forward Nick Perkins both made the list this season. Massinburg played a huge roll in a Buffalo offense that shot 41 percent from the floor. Perkins shot 42 percent from the field with an average of 25.8 minutes a game. His minutes will likely rise, however, creating for opportunity for him to wreak havoc in conference play.

3. Ohio Bobcats

Junior guard Jordan Dartis and sophomore forward Jason Carter rounded out the All-MAC West list this season. Dartis, a 6’3 guard out of Newark, Ohio, is coming off a season in which he was selected to the All-MAC second team and ranked second on his team in scoring. He will only get more minutes and become more dangerous this season. Carter, a 6’8, 230-pound forward out of Johnstown, Ohio, played in all 31 games and started the last 15 of those. He was selected to the all-freshman MAC team as well. Watch out for the Bobcats as they’ll hold their own this year.

4. Akron Zips

The Zips have not finished a season with double digits in the loss column since 2014-15 and they haven’t lost 15 or more since 2003-04, which was also the last time they finished below .500. The program is, however, expected to take a significant step back this year. The Zips will still have a winning season, but it’s hard to see them being in the top half of the seeding when the league tournament comes around.

5. Bowling Green Falcons

It’s been two years since the Falcons finished above .500, and this season shouldn’t be much different. Bowling Green graduated three seniors at the end of last year, but there’s not a lot of hope from those guys who stayed. They shot 43 percent from the field as a team last year, and their opponents shot 46 percent. They gave up an average of 77 points per game, and I just can’t see them keeping up with the rest of the league this year.

6. Miami RedHawks

The RedHawks rid themselves of former head coach John Cooper after five seasons in which they went a combined 59-100, including last year’s record of 11-21. Their new head coach, Jack Owens, comes to Oxford from Purdue, where he was an assistant for nine years. The Miami job is his first head coaching position of his career, so there’s bound to be bumps along the way. The hire made it almost crystal clear that Miami wasn’t going for immediate success, but they want the future to be bright. Their year is coming with Owens at the helm, it’s just not going to be this one.