In this segment, I outline the emerging prospects for the 2011-2012 MAC Conference season.
Zeke Marshall, Akron- Marshall is slowly developing into one of the best midmajor center prospects. He is particularly valuable as a shot blocking presence, ranking 1st in the MAC and 10th in the country in % blocks according to kenpom.com. His presence inside already intimidates the opposition and often forces tough shots. However, Marshall must become more forceful on the low block and not allow the opposition to gain post position on him. On the offensive end, Marshall is still a work in progress. He is capable of attacking the basket with a nice sky hook. And, he limited his turnovers a season ago, which is certainly a positive sign. If Akron's guards can get the ball into him more often, look for Zeke to have a standout year scoring over the opposition.
Javon McCrea, Buffalo- McCrea was the best freshman post player in the conference a season ago. He was remarkably efficient on the offensive end. According to kenpom.com, he led the MAC in Ken Pomeroy's 'Offensive Rating' metric for those who had been used on 24% of their team's possessions. In the post, he often found ways to overpower his defenders. Not only was he efficient scoring the basketball, but he was also a willing passer- ranking 15th in the MAC in assist rate. His greatest strength, however, is his ability to collect offensive rebounds. According to kenpom.com, McCrea ranked 1st in the MAC and 5th in the country in Offensive Rebounding %; in other words, even though McCrea is undersized, he is a prolific rebounder. And, while McCrea was the last player cut from Team USA's Under 19 squad, he will probably only use that as motivation for this coming season. Despite being undersized, McCrea battles for post position and is extremely aggressive edging players outside of the paint. Look for him to have an all conference year in his second season and receive some more national notoriety.
Demetrius Ward, Western Michigan- Ward was one of the most improved players in the MAC a season ago. He increased his Offensive Rating by nearly 40% according to kenpom.com, meaning that he was significantly more efficient this past season despite his higher usage. And, while he functioned predominately as a combo guard, he posted a fairly good Assist Rate, ranking 31st in the MAC. If he is able to cut down on his turnovers and pass the ball with the same proficiency, he may receive some looks from professional scouts. Look for his scoring numbers to increase slightly, but for his efficiency to increase more notably in his second season with starters' minutes.
Jesse Berry, Ball St.- Berry had a decent freshman campaign from a statistical perspective. He shot the ball fairly well from inside the arc despite his limited usage, posting a 53.3% True Shooting Percentage. This means that he was able to finish at the rim with some success. In spite of this, however, he shot the ball poorly from 3 point range, connecting on only 32.9% of his attempts. He should improve on this percentage this coming season. Also, look for his scoring output to increase considerably with the return of point guard Randy Davis. Defensively, Berry was not aggressive enough last year, finishing next to last in his conference in steals % and committing 1.8 fouls per 40 minutes, which means that only 62 players in the country fouled at a lesser rate. If Berry can play more physically on the defensive end and look to score more often on offense, he should be poised for a breakout season.
Tim Toler, Northern Illinois- With the loss of one of the nation's leading scorers in Xavier Silas, Tim Toler should be next in line to take over as the Huskies' go-to player. In his first season with this school, Toler was fairly efficient scoring the basketball, ranking in the top 30 in the MAC in this category. In particular, Toler shot the ball well from the field, posting a 54% true shooting percentage. Even though he played inside, Toler connected on 39.5% of his three point attempts, meaning that he can step outside and keep defenses honest. Despite his accuracy from the field, Toler was only involved in 19.2% of his team's possessions according to kenpom.com. With Silas gone, he should become much more involved in the offense this season and will likely increase his scoring output. On the defensive end, Toler must lose some weight in order to match up with some of the quicker big men in the MAC conference. With that said, he was fairly proficient on the defensive glass. Look for Toler to stand out as his team's top option, and to likely carry the scoring load for the Northern Illinois Huskies.
Cameron Black, Bowling Green- After slipping through most recruiting cracks due to an injury plagued season in high school, Black had a fairly impressive freshman year. He started the first 17 games of the season, gaining valuable experience and ranking third on his team in rebounding and blocked shots. Although he had some success in his first year, it should be noted that Black is a late bloomer who was once forced to shift positions from guard to forward after experiencing a huge growth spurt in high school. With that said, he now is slowly developing his post abilities, and, at 6'10, functions primarily as a finesse post option. Look for Coach Orr to give Black more playing time in his second season and for Black's offensive output to increase relative to his usage. Black will continue to adjust to his body, and therein one should expect him to emerge as one of the conference's top shot blockers by the time the MAC Conference Tournament begins. All in all, look for Cameron Black to develop into one of the more intriguing big men in the MAC when it is all said and done.