Mid-American Conference coaches have picked Kent State to finish fourth in the Eastern Division this season, behind (in order) Buffalo, Miami and Ohio and ahead of Bowling Green and Akron.
That’s exactly the order the teams finished in the division last season.
The only surprise to me was that Miami got almost the same number of votes (61) as Buffalo (62). The Redhawks actually give five first place votes to Buffalo’s four. Ohio got three.
Buffalo reached the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament last spring and finished with a 29-6 record. The Bulls, at 16-2, were a game behind Central Michigan in the overall conference standings and were the only MAC team to beat Central. But Buffalo lost three starters to graduation.
The two they have back are both on the preseason All-MAC East team: senior guard Cierra Dillard, who averaged 16.2 points a game and was spectacular in the NCAA tournament, and junior forward Summer Hemphill, who led Buffalo in rebounding and blocked shots while averaging 10.1 points a game.
Miami also had two preaeason first-team members in junior point guard Lauren Dickerson and senior wing Kendall McCoy. The Redhawks return five players who started at least 13 games.
Ohio has the fifth member of the preseason all-East team in sophomore guard Cece Hooks, the MAC’s freshman of the year last season. Hooks actually started just eight games; The Bobcats have five others who started at least 10.
Both Bowling Green and Akron have new coaches. BG fired coach Jennifer Roos after four straight losing seasons. Roos was Curt Miller’s top assistant when the Falcons dominated the MAC from 2003 to 2012. She was named head coach when he left for Indiana and went 24-11 in her first season and 30-5 in her second. But she never had another winning season.
Her replacement is Robyn Fralick, who went a spectacular 104-3, including a national Division II championship, at Ashland University. Her 2017-18 Ashkland team went 36-1 and averaged 98.5 points a game. BG returns three starters but lost leading scorer Carly Santoro, who graduated early and transferred to Ohio State.
Akron coach Jodi Kest retired in April. Her teams had been 9-21 in each of the last two seasons. Kest took over a dreadful Akron program in 2006-07 and built a team that won at least 19 games from 2012 to 2016. Her replacement is her top assistant, Melissa Jackson. Akron returns its top two scorers and six players who started at least 11 games.
In the MAC West, defending champion Central Michigan, which also went to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament, was a unanimous choice to win the division. Chippewa guard Presley Hudson and forward Reyna Frost were both on the preseason all-division team.
Toledo was picked second, Eastern Michigan third, Northern Illinois fourth, Ball State fifth and Western Michigan sixth. Eastern is a bit of a surprise to me; the Eagles were last in the division last season but have had the top-rated freshman class in the conference in both of coach Fred Castro’s two seasons.
Ball State’s low ranking surprised me, too, until I discovered two of the Cardinals’ best players had graduated early and transferred. Point guard Carmen Grande, who led the MAC in assists last season, is at Ohio State, and forward Destiny Washington, the team’s second-leading scorer, is now at Florida Gulf Coast.
Joining the two Central players on the all-West preseason team are Eastern Michigan senior guard Danielle Minott, Northern Illinois wing Courtney Woods, and Toledo center Kaayla McIntyre.
(Kent State, by the way, plays West Division opponents Eastern and Western Michigan twice this season, plays Toledo and Ball State on the road and Northern and Central in Kent.)
Nine coaches voted Central to win the overall MAC title. Two voted for Miami and one for Ohio. Eight predicted Central would win the MAC tournament. Three chose Buffalo and one Northern Illinois.