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MAC basketball season tips off today

Ohio too talented to suffer, W. Michigan has winning formula

The Mid-American Conference basketball season launches today with a slate of six games, including the University of Toledo at Kent State and Bowling Green State University at Central Michigan.

Here’s how we rank the league’s 12 teams after nonconference play.

EAST

1. Ohio (9-5)

Despite stumbling into league play, losing five of their last seven, the Bobcats should be fine. The talent is too good, and new coach Jim Christian — previously of Kent State — is too proven for Ohio to suffer a major letdown after last season’s march to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.

Opener: Buffalo

2. Akron (9-4)

Nine Zips have started at least one game, which speaks to the team’s excellent bench play that has become a staple under coach Keith Dambrot. Safe money is on Akron advancing to the MAC title game for an astounding seventh straight year.

Opener: Western Michigan

3. Kent State (9-5)

Young and inexperienced, but it is still Kent State. Expect to see some inconsistent results from the Golden Flashes.

Opener: Toledo

4. Buffalo (6-8)

What did the Bulls learn in the nonconference schedule? “How to get hurt,” coach Reggie Witherspoon quipped. Javon McCrea might be the MAC’s best player, but good luck carrying a team that will begin league play without two or three players, including point guard Jarod Oldham.

Opener: at Ohio

5. Bowling Green (5-8)

The crux of any Louis Orr-coached team will be defense. But how about a little more production at the other end? BG reached 60 points just once in its last seven games.

Opener: at Central Michigan

6. Miami (5-7)

New coach John Cooper might not give as entertaining a press conference as his predecessor Charlie Coles, but he’s just as honest. “We have to play unbelievably well to even have a solid year throughout MAC play,” said Cooper, who might soon realize his team isn’t capable of doing that.

Opener: Northern Illinois

WEST

1. Western Michigan (8-5)

Coach Steve Hawkins brought in eight freshmen and ran off his best big man in the offseason. Somehow that formula could end up producing a division title. Of course that partially speaks to the crumminess of the West.

Opener: at Akron

2. Eastern Michigan (7-7)

EMU squared off in the nonconferense season against Syracuse, Michigan, and Kentucky. How did it work out? Let’s just say the Eagles are ready to play the MAC West.

Opener: Ball State

3. Central Michigan (8-6)

Despite a hemorrhaging of the roster in the offseason, the Chippewas have been the MAC’s most pleasant surprise. The addition of UNC-Greensboro transfer Kyle Randall (15.5 ppg) was huge for first-year coach Keno Davis.

Opener: Bowling Green

4. Toledo (4-7)

It has been hard to get the pulse of this road-weary team. They have the pieces to win the division, but first there must be some restitution for that ugly home loss to Chicago State on New Year’s Eve.

Opener: at Kent State

5. Ball State (6-6)

Little evidence suggests this team, which is breaking in five freshmen, is better than the one that dropped nine straight league contests last season.

Opener: at Eastern Michigan

6. Northern Illinois (2-10)

National analysts barked that NIU’s football team was overrated. That argument is not applicable to the basketball team.

Opener: at Miami

Contact Ryan Autullo at: rautullo@theblade.com, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @AutulloBlade.

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