Bowling Green is the defending Mid-American Conference champion, winning the trophy with a 14-4 conference record last year. Ball State won last year's MAC Tournament at Gund Arena. Marshall is the favorite to win this year's tournament and automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Five MAC teams won 20 games last year. What happens this year will shortly be answered as the MAC season begins tonight (Nov. 17) with three teams in action. First up is Northern Illinois facing Hofstra at 5 p.m. in Miami, Florida.
MAC Tip-off On Friday: The 2000-2001Mid-American Conference basketball season begins Friday, Nov. 17 with three teams in action. Two teams will open at home, as Marshall faces the University of Charleston and Buffalo tangles with Niagara. The Northern Illinois Huskies will play Hofstra in the opening game of the Doral/FIU Tipoff Classic.
Late Tip: The latest regular-season opening game for a MAC school is the Nov. 25 contest with Akron at Oakland. Toledo begins its season one day prior, on the 24th, with a game to be played in Kansas City against Southeast Missouri State.
Ranked Foes: Two MAC teams have games in Nov. scheduled against top- 25 teams and another could find one of those ranked teams as an opponent in a tournament. Marshall travels to play at No. 17 Cincinnati on Nov. 21 at 8 p.m. Northern Illinois, which beat Final Four participant Wisconsin last year in DeKalb, will challenge the No. 19 Badgers in Madison on Nov. 25 at 1 p.m. Miami could also match up against No. 5 Stanford in the second round of the Puerto Rico Shootout on Nov. 24.
MAC Student-Athlete Wins National Award
.Again: For the second consecutive year, a Mid-American Conference student-athlete has been presented the prestigious Anson Mount Scholar-Athlete Award as presented by Playboy. Miamis Mike Ensminger, with a 3.80 grade point average in political science (pre-law) was honored for the 2000-2001 season. Last year, T.J. Lux of Northern Illinois was the recipient of the honor.
New Coaches: Three Mid-American Conference schools, all from the West Division, feature new coaches for the 2000-20001 season. At Eastern Michigan, Jim Boone comes from the head coach position at Robert Morris to replace Milt Barnes. Western Michigan welcomes Robert McCullum, formerly an assistant at the University of Illinois, who replaces Bob Donnewald. Defending MAC Tournament champion Ball State called upon Marquette assistant Tim Buckley to replace Ray McCallum, who left for Houston. Buckley had also coached as an assistant at BSU from 1994-99.
First Time Around: University at Buffalo head coach Reggie Witherspoon had the interim removed from his title on March 10, 2000 and will be entering his first full year at the helm of the Bulls program. Initiated with games against national powers North Carolina and Indiana after taking over at UB last December, Witherspoon guided the Bulls to three MAC wins, which was two more than the previous season, and an upset of the Akron when the Zips had the best record in the league.
Top Players Returning: Six players who were selected all-MAC in 2000 return for the 2001 season. The cast is led by two-time first-team all-MAC Greg Stempin, a 6-8 forward/center from Toledo and defending league scoring champion and first-team all-MAC Tamar Slay of Marshall, a 6-9 guard. The lone second-team all-MAC returnee is Kent States Trevor Huffman, a 6-1 forward/guard. Three honorable mention all-MAC players back are 6-9 center J.R. Van Hoose from Marshall, 6-2 guard David Webber of Central Michigan, and 6-9 center Len Matela from Bowling Green.
StatMan: Those MAC players who led the league in stats categories last year and will be back include league scoring leader Tamar Slay (19.9), of Marshall, who also led the MAC in three-point field goals with 3.1 per game. The Thundering Herds Cornelius Jackson paced the conference in assists at 7.27 per outing and Ohio features the return of the leagues top rated ball handler in assist-turnover ratio leader Dustin Ford (3.16/101 assists, 32 turnovers). Ball States Lonnie Jones blocked a league-high 2.71 shots per game and returns for his junior campaign in an attempt to become the first player in MAC history to win three straight shot blocking titles. The leagues top three-point field goal shooter returns in Bowling Greens Keith McLeod (47.7 pct.).
New Dates: The MAC Tournament has moved from its early week sessions to a weekend format. Opening round games will be on campus sites on Monday, March 5. The quarter-finals will be played on Thursday, March 8 at Clevelands Gund Arena, followed by the semi-finals Friday, March 9 and the championship game Saturday, March 10. The previous title game had been staged on a Wednesday night.
MAC (DI)Vision: This season marks the second of full divisional play, featuring round-robin competition within the divisions and crossover matchups which highlight traditional MAC rivalries. Last years West Division race finished in a tie between Ball State and Toledo (both 11-7). The East Division had Bowling Green (14-4) edge Kent State (13-5) by one game for first place with three other teams, Akron, Marshall and Ohio, (all 11-7) in a tie for third. The MAC featured five 20-win teams a year ago the most in league history and over 33 percent of the leagues conference games were decided by six points or less.
Rock N Roll City: Two MAC teams will play in Clevelands Rock N Roll Shootout at Gund Arena. On Dec. 30, Kent State will face Xavier and defending West Division co-champion Toledo tangles with defending Conference USA title holder Cincinnati. Last year Bowling Green defeated Cleveland State in the Rock N Roll Shootout.
Best Ever: Five MAC teams won 20 or more games last year: Ball State and Bowling Green at 22, Kent State and Marshall 21 each, and Ohio with 20. That is the first time in league history that as many as five teams reached the 20-win plateau.
MAC Exposure: Two nationally-televised league contests, part of the MACs expanded relationship with ESPN, highlights the regular season schedule. Akrons visit to arch-rival Kent State on Saturday, January 6, will air on ESPN2, while a rematch of last years title game occurs on ESPN2 when Miami plays at Ball State on Sunday, February 11 at 1 p.m. (ET). ESPN2 reaches 72 million homes.
Why wait until March? Three MAC teams are getting the season under way with competition in tournaments. Northern Illinois will play in the Nov. 17-18 Doral/Florida International Tipoff Classic in Miami, Fla. The Huskies face Hofstra in the first round then either FIU or Belmont. Miami plays in the Puerto Rico Tournament Nov. 23-24-25. The RedHawks face Memphis in the first round and either Stanford or Old Dominion in the second round. The final opponent will come from a field comprised of American-Puerto Rico, Georgia, Indiana State and Utah. Toledo takes part in the Energia Systems Thanksgiving Tournament on Nov. 24-25-26 in Kansas City. The Rockets will face Southeast Missouri State in the opening round and follow with a contest against either Robert Morris or Auburn. UTs final game will be against either Cleveland State, Creighton, Providence or Missouri-Kansas City.
Mid-American Conference East Division Notes
Akron: The Zips dropped an 82-79 decision to Marathon Oil on Nov. 2 and dont play again until Nov. 20 versus Premier All-Stars. Andy Hipsher, a member of last years MAC All-Freshman team, posted a team-high 25 points while David Falknor chipped in with 11. Hipsher hit on 9-of-9 FTs and 8-of-14 FGs.
Bowling Green: The Falcons, defending MAC Champions, beat Lithuania, 112-95, on Nov. 4 behind five players who scored in double figures - Trent Jackson with 25, Len Matela 20, Keith McLeod 19, Brandon Pardon 14 and Josh Almanson 12. BG followed with a 94-85 loss to Pella Windows on Nov. 11 with McLeod and Matela both scoring 22 points.
Buffalo: The Bulls did not begin practice until Nov. 1 as part of their self imposed NCAA sanctions, thus do not have any exhibition games scheduled. Three of its first four games are on Buffalos home floor and the other at crosstown rival Canisius.
Kent State: In its lone preseason game, the Golden Flashes thumped Alita (Lithuania) 113-67. Six KSU players scored in double figures in points, led by Trevor Huffmans 27 and Andrew Mitchells 23. Eight players saw at least 17 minutes of action and KSU had 24 assists to just six turnovers. KSUs next action is its season opener Nov. 20 at home versus Mercyhurst.
Marshall: The preseason pick to win the East Division and MAC Tournament, Marshall scored a more than convincing 111-57 triumph over Sport Tours on Nov. 6. Defending MAC scoring champion Tamar Slay paced the Thundering Herd romp with 21 points. J.R. VanHoose and Joda Burgess added 17 each while scoring 12 each were Latece Williams and Travis Young. Marshall hosts Premier Sports Nov. 15 before opening the regular season Friday night.
Miami: On Nov. 5 the RedHawks played their only exhibition game with an 80-47 conquest of MAFC-KE Budapest. All 12 RedHawk players saw at least 10 minutes of play. Eugene Seals 16 points paced the Miami scoring. Among the starting five, Matt Jameson plugged in 11 and Ben Helmers 10. Miami tips its season off Saturday at highly respected Xavier.
Ohio: The Bobcats capture two exhibition wins, 97-78, over Basketball Unlimited on Nov. 8 and 96-80 over Premier All-Stars on Nov. 12. Sophomore Brandon Hunter picked up where two-time MAC rebounding champion Shaun Stonerook left off, grabbing 21 and 13 boards and posting 27 and 15 points, respectively, in the two games. Anthony Jones added 26 points and 10 rebounds in the first game while junior Jon Sandersons 28 points led the Bobcats in their second win.
Mid-American Conference West Division Notes
Ball State: The Cardinals had the early playing date with an Oct. 31, 86-82 win over Marathon Oil. The duo of Josh Murray and Patrick Jackson scored 22 points each and Murray added 13 rebounds. On Nov. 12, the Cardinals defeated Pella Windows, 81-60 as Murray and Theron Smith each scored 21 points and added 13 and 17 rebounds, respectively.
Central Michigan: The Chippewas opened up with a 120-99 gouging of the McLaughlin All-Stars on Nov. 4. Three CMU players dropped in 20 or more points - David Webber with 28, Mike Manciel with 26 and Chris Kaman with 20. Kaman grabbed 11 rebounds for a double-double. On the 13th, CMU beat Basketball Unlimited 93-83 as Webbers 17 points led the team. Kaman, a 7-foot center, again provided a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds.
Eastern Michigan: The Jim Boone Era got underway with a slim 87-84 win over GT Express on Nov. 8. Ten Eagles played at least 13 minutes or more. C.J. Grantham and Ricky Cottrill posted team-leading points with 12 each. Rod Wells and Tyson Radney added 11 each and Shammar Herron 10. EMU finishes its exhibition season Nov. 15 versus Grand Rapids Hoops.
Northern Illinois: The Huskies cruised to a 101-86 win over California All-Stars On Nov. 7, led by 24 points from Leon Rodgers. Mike Brown added 21 and Mike Morrison 20. NIU won its second exhibition game on Nov. 13 by edging Marathon AAU, 98-96. Again three Huskies posted 20 or more points - Al Sewasciuk with 25, Rodgers 22 and Jerry Sanders 21.
Toledo: The Rockets won both their exhibition games. On Nov. 3 UT rolled to a 107-78 win over Lithuania Select. Nick Moore and Robierre Cullars led the attack with 20 and 19 points, respectively. On Nov. 9 the Rockets drilled the Ohio All-Stars 82-54 as Craig Rodgers 14 points led the team. UT begins the season with a regular-season win streak of 10 games.
Western Michigan: Head coach Robert McCullums early season debut was successful as the Broncos dropped an 83-64 loss on NBC Thunder. Terrance Slaters 22 points led WMU while Steve Reynolds added 15 and Reggie Berry 11. On Nov. 11, WMU lost a 74-73 encounter to Marathon Basketball. Reynolds popped in a team-high 24 points, Berry added 11 and Taylor Bro contributed 10.
MAC Preseason Poll: For the second consecutive year, the MAC News Media Association has predicted a very close race for the 2001 Mid-American Conference mens basketball championship. If the numbers hold true, expect Marshall to walk off the Gund Arena floor March 10 with the title trophy.
The Thundering Herd was selected by 29 of the 40 voters to win the East Division and by 14 MNMA members to capture the tournament. A total of five teams received votes as candidates to win their respective divisions. East members Marshall (29) and Kent State (11) gained first-place recognition while in the West, Ball State (20), Toledo (19) and Central Michigan (1) were noticed. Tabbed as tournament favorite was Marshall (14), followed by defending tournament champion Ball State (10), Kent State (7), Toledo (6), defending regular season title holder Bowling Green (1), Miami (1) and Central Michigan (1).
Marshall is predicted to edge Kent State for the East Division regular season title by a 265-229 margin. Both the Herd and Golden Flashes return four starters. BGSU, which won the regular season title with a 14-4 mark last year, is selected third with 174 points, just ahead of Miami at 165. The RedHawks have made it to the MAC Tournament championship game each of the last four years. Ohio is slated for a fifth place finish, Akron sixth and Buffalo seventh in the East.
An extremely close race is in store for the West Division with the pollsters pointing to Ball State, with 219 points, as a slight favorite over Toledo (213). The teams tied for the West title last year with identical 11-7 records.
Central Michigan received one first place vote and is in the third spot with 133 points, just ahead of instate rival Eastern Michigan at 122. Northern Illinois is in the fifth position and Western Michigan sixth, with 79 and 74 points, respectively.
Preseason All-MAC Team: Two first-team all-Mid-American Conference selections from the 1999-00 season highlight the mens basketball preseason all-MAC team. Voting for the team was conducted by members of the MAC News Media Association. The five members of the team are: Greg Stempin, Toledo (6-8, 220, Sr., forward); Tamar Slay, Marshall (6-9, 205, Jr., guard); J.R. VanHoose, Marshall (6-10, 245, Jr., forward/center); Theron Smith, Ball State (6-8, 215, So., forward); David Webber, Central Michigan (6-2, 210, Jr., guard). Stempin and Slay were first team all-MAC selections last year and Stempin was also a first team selection in 1999. Smith was the leagues Freshman of the Year, while VanHoose and Webber were honorable mention all-MAC selections.