Published Fri, Mar 15, 2013 12:56 am Dateline
The Western Michigan Broncos (20-11, 10-6) earned the No. 3 seed in the Mid-American Conference Tournament after winning the West Division in the regular season. Head coach Steve Hawkins led his Broncos to a 7-1 start. However, Western Michigan won just two of its next eight games and opened 0-2 against conference opponents, the Akron Zips and the Ohio Bobcats. The Broncos stumbled into the MAC West title after losing two of their final three games heading into the conference tournament. Despite the up-and-down regular season, a convincing 70-55 victory over the in-state rival Eastern Michigan Eagles has the Broncos confident heading into a semifinal contest with Ohio Friday, March 15th.
Austin Richie, 6’2”, Sophomore
Austin Richie fills the starting role at point guard for Western Michigan, but does not extend himself much beyond that. Still developing as a sophomore, Richie averaged just 6.5 points and 3.2 assists per game in 30 games (22 starts) this season. Barely ten minutes into the Eastern Michigan game, Richie committed his third foul and spent much of the rest of the game on the bench in favor of MAC Sixth Man of the Year David Brown. Richie finished Thursday with no points and no assists in 12 minutes of action. It’d be surprising not to see Brown get the majority of the minutes against Ohio’s D.J. Cooper.
Brandon Pokley, 6’4”, Senior
Brandon Pokley spends most of his time around the three-point line. Nearly 70 percent of the senior guard’s shots this season have come from beyond the arc. It’s no surprise when he makes more than 38 percent of his shots from outside on the season, good for ninth in the MAC. Pokely does not provide much of a threat driving the lane, but his defenders—likely Nick Kellogg—will not be able to sag toward the middle on defense with Pokely’s shooting ability. He scored 11 points and added six rebounds and four assists against Eastern Michigan.
Shayne Whittington, 6’10”, Junior
A Second Team All-MAC selection, Shayne Whittington is the muscle behind Western Michigan’s offense. Standing tall and talented, Whittington averaged a team-leading 12.9 points, 8.9 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game. In his past three games, the fourth-year junior has scored at a rate almost 10 points more than his season average, including a 23-point performance against Eastern Michigan Thursday. Whittington has scored 22.3 points per game in that three-game span. Reggie Keely and Ohio’s frontcourt will be given a tall task in handling Whittington.
Darius Paul, 6’8”, Freshman
The only freshman in the starting lineup, Darius Paul provides another big body for the Broncos. In 28 starts Paul played well enough to earn MAC Freshman of the Year honors by scoring 10.6 points along with 5.8 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game. Paul is a versatile player at the power forward position with ferocity on the glass and delicate touch in the passing game. When mixed with his scoring prowess and ability to body up on defense, Paul becomes a tough guard for the Bobcats’ undersized forwards. Depending on who starts for Ohio, Jon Smith, Ivo Baltic or T.J. Hall could have his hands full from the start.
Nate Hutcheson, 6’7”, Senior
Nate Hutcheson provides tremendous value and senior leadership in the starting lineup alongside Pokley. At his height, Hutcheson earns an advantage over many guard-forwards playing his position. Against a team like Ohio, who lists just two active players taller than six feet, eight inches, Hutcheson can thrive. His averages rival Paul’s with 10.3 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game. Hutcheson could give the shorter Walter Offutt fits.
Brown highlights the Western Michigan bench. As mentioned, he won MAC Sixth Man of the Year while only playing in 17 games. Brown is the fourth Bronco to average double-figures in scoring this season with 10.4 points per game. Other contributors include Connor Tava, Jared Klein, Taylor Perry and Dan Loney, each playing in at least 27 games this season and combining for 11.2 points per game. However, only Brown and Tava earned more than four minutes against Eastern Michigan—32 and 12, respectively.