Headline: Does the East division still control the MAC?
Storyline: The defending champs at Akron may have lost POY Zeke Marshall and point guard Alex Abreu but it may not matter for Keith Dambrot and company. They do return league tournament MVP Demetrius Treadwell, the 6-8 Nick Harney who is skilled enough with the ball you may see him playing some point this season and the league’s top 6th man two seasons ago in Quincy Diggs. B.J. Gladden is a 6-6 versatile freshman that may see big minutes this year and this is a roster loaded with size, only guards Luke Avsec (5-10), Carmelo Betancourt (5-11) and Nyles Evans (5-11) check in under 6-4. Former Duke standout Bobby Hurley takes over at Buffalo and his cupboards are far from bare. The Bulls are led by one of the more underrated players in the country in senior forward Javon McCrea and a pair of capable point guards; Jarryn Skeete a sophomore who earned All-Freshman honors last year and senior Jarod Oldham who led the conference in assists two years ago but missed half of last year with a wrist injury.
Keep an eye on: Toledo is the one team in the West division that could give the league’s top dogs a fight. The Rockets return four starters from the team that won its first division title in six years led by All-MAC guards Rian Pearson and Julius Brown. Coach also welcomes seven new faces including Ohio State transfer J. D. Weatherspoon and redshirt freshman 6-7 Aubrey Williams.
Headline: Can Norfolk State finish the job this year?
Storyline: Two years ago Norfolk State was one of two 15 seeds to defeat a #2 when they upended Missouri, last year they finished league play undefeated at 16-0 only to get bounced in the quarterfinals of the MEAC tournament. This year they return four starters from their 21-win NIT Team. Pendarvis Williams (14.3 ppg) and 7-0 center Brandon Goode lead the pack hoping to get the Spartans back to the NCAAs. If it seems like Morgan State is mentioned as a contender in the MEAC every year it is because they are, and should be again. The Bears have made the tournament finals five of the last six years and return four starters hoping to get back there again on the backs of guards Justin Blake and Blake Bozeman and big men 7-2 Ian Chiles and 6-9 Shaquille Duncan.
Keep an eye on: Delaware State is a team capable of beating you from the inside or the outside. Guards Tahj Tate (12.8), Casey Walker and Tyshawn Bell can hit daggers from the perimeter. On the interior Kendall Gray averaged 2.6 blocks per game but needs to be more of a force on the glass as a 7-0 big man.
Headline: Some Valley teams breathe a sigh of relief Creighton is gone, but Wichita State remains.
Storyline: Creighton is not in the Missouri Valley for the first time in 54 years but that doesn’t mean the league is up for grabs. Fellow Valley member Wichita State made an improbable run to the Final Four last season before falling to eventual champion Louisville. The Shockers must replace the likes of Carl Hall in the frontcourt and Malcolm Armstead on the perimeter, but they have plenty of experience returning led by a trio of seniors; 6-8 forward and All-America candidate Cleanthony Early, 6-6 Nick Wiggins and big man 6-9 272lb. Chadrack Lufile. The Shockers will likely have to fend off Indiana State as the Sycamores have the league’s 2nd best player in point guard Jake Odum who led the team in scoring (13.6), was 2nd in rebounding (4.5) and finished 2nd in the conference in assists (4.6). Gonzaga transfer Manny Arop has the ability to be electric as he showed when he dropped 27 on Mississippi and junior Justin Gant will be looking to build upon his sophomore year when he averaged 7.5 points and 4.4 rebounds.
Keep an eye on: Missouri State has 6-5 senior Jamar Gulley returning from an injury and Marcus Marshall was named the league’s Freshman of the Year last year. The interior should be deeper as well with Christian Kirk being joined by 6-10 freshman Tyler McCullough and graduate transfer Emmanuel Addo who tips the scales at 6-7 220.
Headline: Topping last year will be a tall task.
Storyline: Duplicating last year’s success as a conference will be difficult, Steve Alford surprisingly left New Mexico to coach UCLA, UNLV lost four starters and San Diego lost its best player when Jamaal Franklin went to the NBA. That doesn’t mean the Mountain West won’t be one of the country’s best conferences again, it will. New Mexico still has point guard Kendall Williams, the league’s reigning Player of the Year and the formidable frontcourt of 7-0 Alex Kirk a double-double machine waiting to happen this season and 6-9 Aussie Cameron Bairstow. Joining Williams in the back court should be another Aussie Hugh Greenwood but don’t be surprised if JuCo star and two-time All-American Deshawn Delaney becomes Williams’ running mate. UNLV lost four starters including #1 overall pick Anthony Bennett but Dave Rice has reloaded a bit, three transfers become eligible this season to join Bryce Dejean-Jones and Khem Birch. Roscoe Smith the former UConn product should make an immediate impact in the Rebel’s frontcourt, Deville Smith joins the team Mississippi State to help in the back court and former Ole Miss forward Jelan Kendrick has found his way to the strip. Given his checkered past (this will be his 3rd school) it remains to be seen whether that is good or bad. SDSU lost Franklin but welcomes back Xavier Thames, J.J. O’Brien and Winston Shepard. To replace Franklin coach Steve Fisher has brought in potentially one of the country’s impact transfers, Josh Davis who joins the team from Tulane.
Keep an eye on: Boise State who just might surpass all the favorites and take home the Mountain West title. They have two of the league’s most dynamic players in Derrick Marks and Anthony Drmic who combined for nearly 35 points a game last season, add to them the league’s deadliest 3-point shooter in senior Jeff Elorriaga and 6-7 Autralian product Nicholas Duncan who joins the Broncos after averaging over 17 points at the Australia Institute of Sport and you can see why a team that returns its top six scorers is one to keep an eye on.