By: Drew Pilewski
Akron had an impressive 26-8 record last year in all competitions, but five of those losses came in conference play. Akron is coached by Keith Dambrot, who has held the head coaching position since 2004. Under Dambrot, Akron have been overall regular-season conference champions only three times, but all come in the last five years. Over that time, Akron has made it to at least the semifinals of the MAC tournament each year. Last year, they were overall conference champions but lost in the conference finals to defending champs Buffalo off of a three pointer with two seconds left. Akron are retaining two of their leading scorers from last season in Isaiah Johnson and Antonio Jackson, so their offense should not suffer too heavily. On the downside, they are losing Jake Kretzer, who led the team in shooting percentage from behind the arc. Despite this, I fully expect Akron to continue their winning ways and roll on to the MAC title.
Player to watch for: Ray Lee
Redshirt senior Lee is returning to Eastern Michigan University for his final year with the team. Last season he led his team in points, but was only tenth on the MAC points per game leaderboard. Expect Lee to make leaps and bounds this year as he assumes his role as the sole leader of his team with MAC 2015/16 freshman of the year James Thompson waiting in the wings. Many are expecting Thompson to improve this upcoming season, but Lee will be the one that the Eagles give the ball to in crunch time.
Dark Horse: NIU
The Huskie team this year is going to take a step forward into emerging from the shadow of their established football program. I am not saying that they will win the MAC West, but they will win some games over established programs like Akron and the addition of graduate student Sean Damaska is one of the more interesting storylines coming into this MAC season. Damaska was a tight end for Indiana University for the last four years and completed his undergraduate degree in political science in the spring of this year. This experience as a tight end makes him an athletic X-factor for the Huskies this season. NIU also is returning their leading scorer from last season, Marin Maric, who averaged nearly 12 points a game last season.
Bold Prediction: Western Michigan University will make the finals of the MAC Tournament
Western Michigan did not receive a single first place vote in the preseason poll, but I think that they will be making waves this year. This bold prediction hinges on the play of junior point guard Thomas Wilder. Wilder was the second highest scorer of the 2015/16 season and had the 12th most assists of the 2015/16 season. He is now expected to take a leadership role following the departure of many of the leaders from last year. If he plays up to his potential, he can drag WMU all of the way to the finals of the MAC tournament.