CLEVELAND - The defending champions are expected to do just that - maintain their position atop the Mid-American Conference - in this season's men's basketball race.
MAC Tournament winner and East champ Kent State and West champ and overall MAC champion Central Michigan were picked to finish first again in voting by members of the MAC News Media Association announced yesterday.
The University of Toledo was picked to finish third in the six-team West Division, while Bowling Green State University was tabbed fourth in the seven-team East.
Kent State, which finished 24-10 last season and defeated Indiana in the NCAA Tournament, was the top choice to win the league's tournament again.
Stan Heath, who spent the past five seasons as an assistant to Tom Izzo at Michigan State, takes over a Kent team that returns its four best players, including guards Trevor Huffman and Andrew Mitchell.
“The key to winning championships is having a solid backcourt,” Heath said.
“The individual talents of our guards are as good as any. They have an understanding of what it takes to win, and because of that we have a chance to have success this season.”
Central Michigan, 20-8 last year when it won twice in overtime and won two other games by a total of three points, returns MAC player of the year David Webber as well as three other starters.
“These players have been through a championship season and now they understand how one possession can determine the outcome of any game,” CMU coach Jay Smith said.
Tragedies of a personal nature kept Toledo coach Stan Joplin, Bowling Green coach Dan Dakich and Marshall coach Greg White from being able to appear at the event.
Joplin was attending the funeral of a neighbor's high school-age daughter, Dakich was assisting a player who had a death in the family and White's Charleston home burned to the ground about two weeks ago and he continues to deal with the aftermath.
Joplin, who lost four seniors from last year's 22-11 team, said in a prepared statement that he was not surprised that the Rockets were picked behind Central Michigan and Ball State in the West.
“They will both have a lot of senior leadership this year, and we have only one senior,” Joplin said.
“There are certainly going to be some games this season where we will miss our seniors, because they were experienced and knew what to expect in close games.”
Bowling Green has four senior starters back from its 15-14 team. The four were also part of the MAC championship BG won two seasons ago.
Falcon assistant coach Keith Noftz said it will be up to those seniors - Keith McLeod, Brandon Pardon, Len Matela and Brent Klassen - to determine which route this team follows.
“They've played on a championship team a couple of years ago, and they played on a mediocre team last season,” Noftz said.
“Last year we went into the season without a true leader, but these guys moved into that role as the season went on and we became a much better team. With these four seniors to lead us, the expectations are very high, and we feel good about our leadership.”
Bowling Green opens Nov. 15 against Mississippi in the Top of the World Classic in Alaska, while Toledo opens at Dayton on Nov.18.
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