MAC Basketball Preview: Where will Central Michigan finish in 2012-2013?

Ben Raven breaks down the MAC Conference and gives you an idea of what to expect from Men's basketball this season.

Zach Saylor boxes out vs. LSSU on Nov. 7. Photo courtesy of (Tim Fitzgerald)

Central Michigan University came out of its first public performance looking like the polar opposite of last year’s team under former coach Ernie Zeigler.

It was coach Keno Davis‘ first showing of what he has changed about Central’s basketball program, the most obvious thing being the more up-tempo style of play on both sides of the ball.

CMU defeated Lake Superior State University 86-76 in the team’s first exhibition contest at McGuirk Arena on Nov. 7. Though it was only one game, this marks a 24-point increase in scoring compared to last season’s average of 62 points per game. Exhibition games don’t mean much but they do play a part in getting ready for the regular season. With that said, play within the Mid-American Conference does count and will be a tough task for Central night in and night out this season.

Here’s a sneak peek at what the Chippewas can expect to face this year.

Many fans will probably remember the Ohio Bobcats from last season as they won the MAC tournament and eliminated the University of Michigan from the NCAA Tournament. Ohio took the University of North Carolina to overtime in a Sweet-16 matchup, crowning the underdog Bobcats as preseason favorites.

The Bobcats return for 2012-2013 with their entire starting lineup from last year. They will need this experience more than ever, as the team had to replace head coach John Groce, who took the head coaching job at the University of Illinois in the offseason.

D.J. Cooper is the leader and go-to guy once again for the Bobcats. Cooper enters this season hoping to capitalize off of last year’s impressive 14.7 points per game (PPG) and 5.7 assists per game (APG).

The most surprising fact about the MAC last year to outsiders is that Ohio did not even win its division in the regular season. The Akron Zips took that crown, a team that has reached the MAC Championship game an astonishing seven times in a row. What Akron does best is offense. The MAC is a league that is known for tough defensive battles, and for Akron to score more than 70 PPG speaks volumes about the team’s skill set.

Returning MAC defensive player of the year Zeke Marshall will make it extremely difficult for other teams to score in the paint against the Zips this season. Marshall may provide the championship formula for Akron, as he is a perfect complement to the high-scoring Zips.

Other teams to keep an eye on are Buffalo and Eastern Michigan.

Buffalo has the most experience and consistency at the top of its program with head coach Reggie Witherspoon. He has held the position since 1998, and the Bulls have been in the top half of the conference for a handful of seasons in a row. A coach like Witherspoon is a huge plus for this talented team.

Eastern Michigan is the dark horse to make a run at the league title this season. The Eagles have multiple players who may have been forgotten as they become eligible to play after transferring. Glenn Bryant comes over from the University of Arkansas and his major conference talent can not be overlooked.

Bryant played his high school basketball at the prestigious Oak Hill Academy of Virginia. At Oak Hill, Bryant played the toughest competition in the nation and still managed to be ranked as the 140th prospect in the entire country during the 2008-09 season. Bryant joins the 7-foot Syracuse transfer Da’Shonte Riley in the front court for the Eagles. This team has some serious talent and if they can pull it together, they could be a serious threat to the MAC championship.

Central will face some stiff competition in the MAC this season as they transition into a new era. Davis brings an impressive list of experience and makes one feel that this program is headed in the right direction. Patience will be key for the team and its fans, as not only new leadership takes over, but the players have changed drastically as well. The promising Trey and Ernie Zeigler combination came and went in the blink of an eye, taking a handful of key players out of the program with them.

If the exhibition game showed us anything, it is that Central will play at a high pace this season and will rely on controlling the tempo of the game. A tough non-conference schedule will show how much there is to be expected in the first season of the Davis era with trips to Iowa (lost 61-73 on Nov. 12), fifth-ranked Michigan and other major conference teams in Iowa and Nebraska.

As another disappointing football season nears conclusion, one can only hope that the basketball program can bring some respectability back to Mount Pleasant and the loyal fans of the Central Michigan Chippewas.