CANMORE, Alta. — The 2017-18 season tips off on November 10th, which means the final month without college basketball is finally upon us.
Fans all across the country are gearing up for another exciting college basketball season, and with the recent scandal involving the FBI and several power conference programs across the NCAA, the level of anticipation is through the roof.
Conference preview pieces are starting to circulate from various media outlets, and conferences are hosting their annual media days and announcing their preseason polls and award winners. It’s always interesting to see how coaches and media rank teams in their respective conferences.
With the season right around the corner, we are starting to release our Preseason Player of the Year awards for each conference, along with three All-Conference teams. Picked at random, we will release two sets of awards each day.
Looking at the Mid-American Conference for the 2017-18 season, a ton of talent returns for all 12 teams. From experienced guard to up-and-coming big men, the conference race will be one of the more exciting ones to watch.
Entering the season, a handful of teams look like top contenders to represent the conference in the NCAA Tournament. With so many teams so close together, the MAC will be home to some competitive games over the course of conference play.
As we gear up for another year full of MACtion, take a look at our pick for Preseason Player of the Year, and who slots in where on our Preseason All-MAC teams!
2017-18 Player of the Year: Thomas Wilder, Western Michigan Broncos
Following a strong junior campaign for the native of Montgomery, IL, it was unclear if Thomas Wilder would return to the Western Michigan Broncos for his senior season in 2017-18. In the end, Wilder opted to return, and instantly made the Broncos one of the favourites in the MAC.
The 6’3” Wilder enjoyed a career year across the board in 2016-17. He averaged 19.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 3.8 assists per game, all while shooting 45,8% from the floor, 44.4% from three point range, and 83.2% from the free throw line. Wilder also eclipsed the 1,000-point mark for his career last season, and currently sits 10th on the all-time scoring list at Western Michigan with 1,437 points.
Known as one of the top scoring guards in the country, Wilder has the ability to take over a game at any given time with his shooting ability from long range. He made at least one jumper from three point range in 30 of the 32 games he played in. Wilder also scored in double-figures in 31 of the 32 games on the year.
The only game that Wilder didn’t score in double-figures came on January 3rd against the Ohio Bobcats. Wilder finished with nine points, and it was one of the two games in which he failed to hit a three point jumper.
Simply put, Thomas Wilder is one of the nation’s top scoring guards that doesn’t get his due from the national media. That all changes this season, as he looks to lead the Broncos to the NCAA Tournament in his final season at Western Michigan.
2017-18 All-MAC Teams
Thomas Wilder showed the college basketball world what he is capable of on February 14th against the Bowling Green Falcons. He scored a career-high 38 points in 29 minutes of action, leading the Broncos to the 10-point win at home. What’s even more impressive is that he scored 31 of his 38 points in the second half alone, nearly outscoring the entire Falcons’ roster by himself (BGSU-42, Wilder-31).
In 2016-17 as a sophomore, Detroit, MI native Jaylin Walker emerged as one of the MAC’s top up-and-coming stars. He showed why he is one of the conference’s top scoring guards, finishing second on the Kent State Golden Flashes in scoring with an average of 15.8 points per game. He doubled his freshman average (7.7), and did so by shooting just under 40% from the field (39.5). Despite a loss to the UCLA Bruins in the NCAA Tournament, Walker put together a strong performance in front of a national audience. He went for 23 points and six rebounds in a 97-80 loss. Walker closed the season by scoring in double-figures 16 times over the final 18 games.
After a strong freshman campaign with the Northern Kentucky Norse in 2014-15, guard Tayler Persons transferred back to his home state of Indiana, committing to the Ball State Cardinals. After sitting out the 2015-16 season, Persons enjoyed a strong debut season with his new program last year. The 6’3” native of Kokomo, IN scored a team-high 15.5 points and dished out a team-high 4.9 assists per game as a sophomore. Persons was one of just two Cardinals to average double-digit points per game last season. The sharp-shooting Persons hit on 41.9% of his threes last season, as well. The Cardinals are expected to contend atop the MAC-West Division this season with Wilder and the Broncos, and Persons is a big reason why.
James Thompson IV has been a model of consistency over his first two years with the Eastern Michigan Eagles. The 6’10” forward saw his minutes dip slightly last season from his freshman total, but he still averaged 14.8 points per game for the second consecutive season. Add in his 11.2 rebounds per game, and Thompson IV is a double-double threat each time out. In fact, he recorded 20 double-doubles last season, including six straight to close out the season. Thompson IV now has 39 such performances over his first two years in the NCAA. It’d be a crime to expect anything less from the Baton Rouge, LA native over his junior season.
Demajeo Wiggins averaged under 25 minutes per game last season as a sophomore, but still put up numbers that left fans wanting more from the 6’10” big man. The native of Toledo, OH averaged 10.0 points and 7.8 rebounds per game, and he shot 48.7% from the floor. At 6’10” and 240 pounds, Wiggins is a big body in the paint who is extremely tough to move. He recorded six double-doubles on the season, highlighted by an 11-point, 22-rebound performance against the Central Michigan Chippewas back in January. Wiggins had double-digit rebounds in nine games total. As he gains more playing time up front for the Bowling Green Falcons, look for Wiggins to average a double-double each game, much like Thompson IV.
Jordan Dartis may only have two years of NCAA experience under his belt, but he’s been a focal point for the Ohio Bobcats since day one of his freshman campaign. Dartis scored in double-figures six times over the team’s first seven games a season ago, guiding them to a 5-2 record over that stretch. He averaged 12.6 points and 3.6 rebounds per contest in 2016-17. The 6’3” guard lives and dies by the three ball, as he had 18 games in which he connected on three or more jumpers from beyond the arc. Dartis attempted 268 field goals last season, with 195 of them being three point attempts, good for 72.8% of his total attempts.
The long list of talented guards continues down our All-MAC teams, and Jaelan Sanford had himself a strong sophomore season with the Toledo Rockets last year. Sanford averaged 13.6 points and 3.1 assists per game, while playing a team-high 35.9 minutes per contest. He is also the team’s top returning scorer, with the departures of Steve Taylor, Jr. up front and Jonathan Williams on the back end. Sanford has shown that he can lead the Rockets over his first two seasons, so expect more of the same from the Evansville, IN native in 2017-18.
CJ Massinburg may have missed the first eight games of the 2016-17 season, but he still put together a rather impressive sophomore season. The 6’3” guard finished second on the team in scoring, averaging 14.5 points per contest, while chipping in with 5.6 points and 2.8 rebounds. When Massinburg returned to the lineup on December 7th, he recorded 14 points and five assists, and almost led the Buffalo Bulls to a road win over the Pittsburgh Panthers. With Blake Hamilton out of the picture, Massinburg becomes the top guy on offense. But, he won’t have to do it alone, as the Bulls return other weapons that will help shoulder the load.
Even with Wilder graduating after this season, Western Michigan won’t have to look hard to find the next scoring guard in line. Sophomore Reggie Jones is coming off a strong debut season for the Broncos, and will be looking to take the next step forwards in 2017-18. Jones averaged 9.4 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 2.3 assists per game as a freshman. He shot 40.4% from three point range over the course of the season. At 6’6”, he adds size to the back court rotation, and his shooting ability adds more versatility to his all-around game.
With Hamilton and Willie Conner gone from the Bulls, juniors Massinburg and Nick Perkins step into expanded roles in 2017-18. Perkins, a stretch four who has shown flashes of being able to hit shots from three point range, will become the focal point of the front court rotation. The 6’8” forward from Ypsilanti, MI averaged 12.1 points and 6.8 rebounds per game, all while averaging under 26 minutes per game. His minutes will increase with the loss of key personnel from last season, and he will be looked upon to lead the team, both on and off the court.
It was a roller-coaster off-season for the Akron Zips, one that saw head coach Keith Dambrot move onto the Duquesne Dukes, and several players transferred from the Zips. Fortunately for Akron, junior guard Jimond Ivey is back to lead the program after a breakout season of his own in 2016-17. The 6’5” Ivey averaged 10.2 points and 5.8 rebounds per game, while shooting 52.0% from the field. With all of the changes that the Zips have had to endure, Ivey has the capabilities to lead the team of offense moving forwards.
On paper, the numbers that Tim Bond puts up won’t blow you away or make you do a double-take, but he’s been a consistent force over his first three years at Eastern Michigan. The 6’7” guard has averaged at least 6.1 points and 2.6 rebounds per game over his first three seasons, and has shot between 42.3% and 44.2% each year. Bond averaged career-highs in points (9.1) and assists (4.0) as a junior last season. He also put together a 2.13 assist-to-turnover ratio.
At 6’11”, Luke Knapke is the tallest player to crack our Preseason All-MAC teams. He limped out of the game as a freshman, recording a combined nine points over his first three games, but showed flashes of what he’s capable of over the course of the year. The native of Maria Stein, OH averaged 6.9 points and 4.2 rebounds per game, and the potential is there for Knapke to average close to a double-double this year. With plenty of size around the conference, Knapke will see his fair share of playing time as the Rockets look to keep pace in the paint.
As a junior, Miami (OH) Redhawks big man Logan McLane saw his minutes double from the year before, and then some, and he made the most of his opportunity. McLane finished the year with a career-high 11.8 points and 6.5 rebounds per game, while shooting 53.3% from the floor. After McLane more than tripled his point per game average from the year before, he won’t be able to fly under the radar as a senior in 2017-18.
The Ohio Bobcats may have found their next star forward, in 6’8”, 224-pound Jason Carter. As a freshman in 2016-17, Carter averaged 9.9 points and 6.5 rebounds per game in a reserve role. Down the stretch, Carter started to find his groove on both ends of the court. He put together 12 double-digit scoring games over the Bobcats’ final 17 games, a stretch that included six double-doubles.
– T. Bennett