Our conference preview series continues with the MAC. Here's a look at the projected standings, three must-see games and the conference's three most intriguing storylines entering the new season.
How will Ohio handle high expectations?
Ohio received so much attention after toppling third-seeded Georgetown in the first round of the NCAA tournament that it's easy to forget the Bobcats' regular season performance was highly forgettable. They finished 7-9 in league, good enough for last in the admittedly tougher MAC East.
Expectations nonetheless are lofty for Ohio entering this season even though leading scorer Armon Bassett passed up his senior season to enter the NBA draft last April and quality guard Steven Coleman reportedly left early to pursue a hip-hop career. Even without those guards, the Bobcats still return dynamic point guard D.J. Cooper, versatile forward DeVaughn Washington and sharp-shooting guard Tommy Freeman, all double-digit scorers a year ago.
With the combination of the returning talent and the experience of last March's surprising postseason success, Ohio enters the season as a slight favorite in the wide-open MAC. Of course, the Bobcats went 0-for-4 in the regular season against division rivals Akron and Kent State last season, so they'll certainly have plenty to prove this year.
Can Trey Zeigler carry Central Michigan as a freshman?
Central Michigan lost four of its top five scorers from a team that won back-to-back MAC Western division titles, but there's reason to believe that a third might not be totally out of the question for the Chippewas. That's because of the presence of freshman guard Trey Zeigler, the highest rated recruit ever to sign with Central Michigan and easily the most decorated incoming freshman in the MAC this season.
Zeigler, Rivals.com's 28th-ranked incoming freshman, was the maraschino cherry atop a Central Michigan recruiting class that already would have been one of the best in the MAC even without him. The son of Chippewas coach Ernie Zeigler chose Central Michigan over the likes of UCLA, Michigan, Michigan State and Arizona State.
Central Michigan will miss high-scoring guards Robbie Harman and Jordan Bitzer, but it returns senior swingman Jalin Thomas, guard Amir Rashid and big man William McClure to provide experience and leadership. If those three mesh well with the newcomers and Zeigler is as good as advertised, the Chippewas will be very intriguing.
Will the MAC's divisions be more balanced this season?
Although the discrepancy between the SEC West and East has garnered far more headlines the past few years, the gap between the MAC's two divisions may be even wider.
Central Michigan has won back-to-back MAC West titles with a 7-9 league record in 2008-09 and a 9-7 league record in 2009-10. The last time the MAC West placed a team in the NCAA tournament was Western Michigan in 2004.
Ohio, Kent State and Akron again may be the MAC's three strongest teams next year, but the West at least figures to be a bit stronger than it has been in the past. Ball State is on the rise under coach Billy Taylor and could post its first winning record since 2005, while Eastern Michigan was the MAC's most improved team last season and Central Michigan will be intriguing with Trey Zeigler.
More Conference Previews:
America East: Will Boston University's recruiting pay off?
Atlantic Sun: Expect a three-way battle at the top
Atlantic 10: How Xavier basketball rose from humble origins, Five A-10 storylines to watch, Ex-Richmond star Greg Beckwith scouts the A-10, 15 must-see A-10 games, Q&A with Dayton freshman Juwan Staten
Big East: Villanova hopes to redeem itself for last year's poor finish, Five Big East storylines to watch, Ex-West Virginia star Mike Gansey forecasts the Big East, 15 must-see Big East games, Q&A with Syracuse's Kris Joseph
Big Sky: It's completely wide open at the top
Big South: Coastal Carolina seeks elusive NCAA bid
Big Ten: Stacked Big Ten is rich in returning talent, Five Big Ten storylines to watch, Ex-Michigan State star Mateen Cleaves forecasts the Big Ten, 15 must-see Big Ten games, Q&A with Illinois freshman Meyers Leonard
Ivy League: Can Harvard win without Jeremy Lin?