We continue with our league breakdowns for the upcoming season; we'll work backward from league No. 32 to our top-ranked league.
The breakdowns will become more in-depth as the leagues get bigger.
By Steve Megargee
The Mid-American Conference has been out of balance for quite some time.
Last season, the five MAC teams with the best RPIs all played in the East Division (No. 47 Kent State, No. 89 Akron, No. 95 Ohio, No. 108 Buffalo and No. 144 Miami of Ohio). Every team in the West Division had an RPI of 150 or worse, and Central Michigan was the only West team to finish above .500 in conference play.
Two years ago, the East Division had three teams with RPIs in the top 100, while no West Divisions even finished in the top 260. The East Division had four teams in the top 76 of the RPI in 2007-08, while no West Division schools were higher than 119th.
The East again looks stronger this season, though the West seems to be gradually closing the gap.
It's a testament to the East Division's depth that Ohio won the MAC tournament last season after finishing fifth in the six-team division with a 7-9 conference record. The Bobcats went on to upset Georgetown in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Ohio's late-season surge has generated buzz that the Bobcats could challenge for the league's regular-season title this year. Ohio lost half of its dynamic backcourt duo when Armon Bassett entered the NBA draft after being suspended indefinitely, but the Bobcats return D.J. Cooper, a 5-foot-11 sophomore who averaged 13.5 points and led the MAC with 5.9 assists per game last season.
The Bobcats may have more upside, but Akron might be the safer pick. The Zips have won at least 23 games in four consecutive seasons and annually contend for the league title. This season should be no different.
The same goes for Kent State, which went 24-10 last year for its 12th consecutive season with at least 19 wins. The return of Julian Mavunga and Nick Winbush also give Miami reason for optimism.
There isn't quite as much firepower in the West, though Central Michigan could change that. The Chippewas return three starters from a team that won the West Division title, though they only went 15-15 overall. Central Michigan also welcomes 6-5 freshman G Trey Zeigler, the No. 28 prospect in the 2010 recruiting class. He's the son of Central coach Ernie Zeigler.
Central Michigan's main competition in the West should come from Ball State and Eastern Michigan. Ball State F Jarrod Jones and Eastern Michigan F Brandon Bowdry are two of the league's top players.
FACTS AND FIGURES New coaches: Tod Kowalczyk at Toledo (had been head coach at Wisconsin-Green Bay).
Regular-season winner last season: Kent State won the East Division and had the best overall record. Central Michigan won the West Division.
Tourney winner last season: Ohio
League RPI rank in each of past 3 years: 16th in 2009-10, 21st in 2008-09, 12th in 2007-08
Last NCAA tourney win by a league team: 2010, Ohio as a No. 14 seed in first round
2011 conference tournament: March 9-12, Cleveland