Perhaps the only team standing in the way of Kent State winning their third straight MAC Championship is the Western Michigan Broncos. With all five starters back from a team that won 21 games a year ago, Western Michigan should contend for the conference title.
Balance was a major asset for the Broncos last season and that should once again be the case in 2011-12. Only two players averaged more than double figures, led by shooting guard Demetrius Ward who dropped 13.8 points per night. He returns at shooting guard, but WMU has to replace key reserve and three-point specialist Alex Wolf.
Mike Douglas led the team in assists, steals, and three-point percentage and will return to his role as starting point guard. David Brown used a medical redshirt last season after an ankle injury limited him to nine games. He could see some time at the point, or head coach Steve Hawkins can slide Ward from shooting guard to the point.
Everybody from a year ago returns to the frontcourt. Matt Stainbrook, at 6-9, 290 pounds, provides a ton of size inside and made his presence felt right away as a freshman. Flenard Whitfield is a nice complement to Stainbrook in the starting lineup due to the senior's length and athleticism. There are several options off the bench that bring size to the table, with Muhammed Conteh seeing the biggest role last season.
Nate Hutcheson and Juwan Howard Jr. figure to compete for the fifth and final starting spot. Hutcheson is the incumbent, but Howard Jr. put together an impressive freshman campaign and might be ready to take over the role. Both guys are capable of playing either forward spot, and each will see significant playing time.
The Broncos face a challenging non-conference slate that should prepare them for MAC play. However, it will all come down to peaking at the right time and winning the conference tournament, since only one MAC team will likely be invited to the dance.
Player to Watch: Juwan Howard Jr., F
His lineage served him well in his freshman season at Western Michigan as he emerged as the team's sixth man. His versatility allows him to play multiple positions on both ends of the floor, which is a huge asset for Coach Hawkins to have. Howard Jr. has ended up being a great get by the Western Michigan staff and he should only improve this year as a sophomore.
Key Non-Conference Games:
11/17 vs. Temple (Puerto Rico Tip-Off)
11/18 vs. Purdue/Iona (Puerto Rico Tip-Off)
11/20 vs. Alabama/Maryland/Wichita State/Colorado (Puerto Rico Tip-Off)