Macomb County, Wayne CountyJanuary 7, 2013
Attack of the MAC: Boys basketball division action tips off across conference
By Jason Carmel Davis, Jon Malavolti and Mark Vest
C & G Sports Writers
This week will see the first full slate of boys basketball division games, as league play gets fully under way in the Macomb Area Conference.
Our staff writers canvassed the conference, speaking to several coaches to get the inside scoop. Realignment in the offseason has added a new wrinkle, as the makeup of the league has shifted slightly in some places and significantly in others.
Here’s a division-by-division breakdown:
Last season saw league champ Macomb L’Anse Creuse North reach rarefied air in the form of a trip to Michigan State University’s Breslin Center — the site of the state semifinals and championship games.
The Crusaders wound up falling to eventual Class A state champ Saginaw High in the semifinals, but they bring back most of their lineup, led by reigning MAC Red MVP Tyler Conklin, setting them up for a possible return to the Breslin and leaving them with a big target on their backs in league play.
“We know, as a team, that people are gunning for us this year in the league, as well as some very tough non-league opponents,” LCN coach Jay Seletsky said. “We embrace the fact that we are in this position this year and hope to compete at a high level like we were able to do last year.”
LCN ended up 11-1 and at the top of the league by itself last season, with Romeo High (8-4), Chippewa Valley (8-4), Utica Eisenhower (7-5) and Macomb Dakota (6-6) all jumbled together in the next tier level. Those four squads remain in the MAC Red, while realignment moves Warren Cousino and Eastpointe East Detroit up from the MAC White.
“Our league has always been tough, and with the realignment of East Detroit and Cousino coming in, it should remain competitive,” Seletsky said. “There is never an off night in the Red. It is physical, and there is a wealth of talent coming back for many teams, such as Dakota, Chippewa Valley and Eisenhower. We have some experience back, and Romeo is always in the mix. I expect the chase for the league title to go deep into February.”
East Detroit coach Dave Zauner said he expects the league to be a “dogfight,” with LCN, Romeo and Chippewa as the favorites.
“I think all the teams in the league are improved, so night in and night out, there’s going to be some hard-fought contests,” Zauner said. “You’ve got six teams that can legitimately make deep playoff runs, and I think we’re in that group.”
The MAC Red certainly looked strong in the early portion of the season, before league play began, as it was the only division at press time throughout the conference in which all teams had winning records: LCN (4-1), Chippewa (4-1), Cousino (3-1), East Detroit (2-1), Dakota (2-2), Romeo (2-2) and Eisenhower (2-2).
It can be said that the White is the league in the MAC that saw the most turnover this offseason.
Four new teams join the league — Harrison Township L’Anse Creuse (in the MAC Red last season), Utica Stevenson (Blue), Utica Ford (Red) and Warren Mott (Blue).
Utica High coach Gerry Kraemer, whose team went 10-2 in winning the White last season, said the realignment is nothing new.
“It is something that we, as coaches, are used to every two years,” Kraemer said. “Teams move into different divisions, and all of the coaches in each division have to adjust to the new teams coming in. You may have to do a little more scouting because you may not be as familiar with what the new teams do.”
Stevenson coach Bill Lerch said, because of the turnover, the White is a mystery.
Utica Ford II coach Mark Bray said the team that wins the league will likely have fewer than three losses.
Following Utica in the MAC White standings last season was Warren Cousino (9-3), which moved to the Red. Grosse Pointe North and East Detroit (now in the Red) finished 7-5, followed by Roseville (5-7), Grosse Pointe South (3-9, moved to the Blue), and Port Huron Northern (1-11, moved to the Blue).
Each team in the league has a few games under its belt. L’Anse Creuse coach John Hass said four teams — Mott, Stevenson, Ford and North — stand out at this point in the season.
“I think our league will be competitive with any division,” Hass said. “It will be fun to watch the success of the White Division teams across the area in March. Mott is in a tough district with (Warren) De La Salle, which will, undoubtedly, be the favorite.
“However, Stevenson could win its district; (North) could win theirs, if they are playing to their potential come March. And, likewise, I believe Roseville or our team can win our district, if we are playing to our potential by then.”
According to Grosse Pointe South coach Dave Grauzer, last season, there were some coaches who believed that the best teams in the MAC resided in the Blue Division.
And while he isn’t going to go so far as to say that is the case this season, he does believe there are still some formidable teams within the Blue.
The top three teams from last season are once again expected to be the primary contenders for a league championship.
Madison Heights Madison won the division last season with a 12-0 record in league play (22-2 overall). The Eagles were the most offensively proficient team in all of the MAC last season, averaging 75.8 points per game.
Warren Fitzgerald took second place last year (8-4), while Fraser finished third (7-5).
Utica Stevenson, Warren Mott, Port Huron and Anchor Bay rounded out the rest of the division.
There have been some changes this year, as Port Huron Northern and Grosse Pointe South have entered the division, while Stevenson and Mott have moved to the MAC White.
Grauzer understands the kind of competition South will be facing in its new division.
“We’re trying to figure out what we need to do to be competitive in the Blue,” he said. “Warren Fitzgerald’s going to be tough. Very quick. Fraser was one of the best teams in all the MAC last year, and they’ve returned everybody. Great size. I look at those two as the favorites.
“We got Madison in the division. They won 20 games last year. They’re probably just going to re-load.”
Fraser coach Marshall Wandrei has some ideas of his own, in regards to which teams are the most likely to walk away with a MAC Blue championship.
“I expect Madison and Fitzgerald to be very good,” he said. “I am hoping we are, as well. The other four teams are in a bit of a rebuilding mode and should be competitive as the season moves forward.”
Three-time defending league champ Mount Clemens will look to continue its run under new coach Jermaine Jackson.
Jackson, a standout at the University of Detroit-Mercy who played professionally with the Detroit Pistons, Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors, Atlanta Hawks and New York Knicks, takes over for former Bathers coach Kurt Wilson, who guided Mount Clemens to a 10-2 record in MAC Gold play last season.
To help the charge, the Bathers return senior guard Jeremy Landers — the reigning MAC Gold Player of the Year.
Warren Lincoln head coach Jeff McGavin believes the Bathers remain the favorites in the league, along with New Haven, which went 9-3 in league play last year and finished one game behind first-place Mount Clemens.
Clawson High comes to the Gold after winning the Silver the last two years, going 24-4 in the process.
Following Mount Clemens and New Haven in the Gold standings last year were St. Clair High (8-4), Sterling Heights High (8-4), Warren Woods Tower (5-7), Lincoln (2-10) and South Lake (0-12), which moved to the Silver.
“Overall, the Gold is a very tough division. Every team is competitive from top to bottom, and there are no easy games,” said second-year Tower coach Nick Evola, who also sees Mount Clemens as the team to beat. “You have to play you’re A-game every night. Each team takes pride in playing hard and representing its school.”
“The Gold stacks up very well to the rest of the MAC,” McGavin said.
“Last year, the Gold was (arguably) the most talented division in the MAC. … Overall, the teams that are on top of this division can compete with anyone in the MAC. Mount Clemens and New Haven will make serious runs in the state tourney.”
Two-time defending division championship Clawson has moved to the MAC Gold.
A competitive league should be the same this season, as the three teams that finished behind the Trojans — St. Clair Shores Lakeview, Marysville and Clinton Township Clintondale — all finished within one game of each other.
Lakeview, 10-4 in league play in 2011-12, will look to take over the top spot in the Silver after a second-place finish.
Huskies coach John Carr sees his team, along with Marysville and Clintondale, battling for the league title. Lakeview returns seven players, including MAC Silver MVP Robert Shields.
“I believe anybody can beat anyone on any given night,” Carr said. “This is a long season, and it’s tough to stay consistent on a nightly basis. It should be a tight race throughout the year.”
Madison Heights Lamphere coach Ron Levin said he thinks Lakeview will be the team to beat.
“But after that, two through eight, the rest of the way should all be pretty even games, night in and night out. I think (we) should probably fare pretty well,” said Levin, in his first year with the Rams. “I think (we) should be able to compete well with everybody in there.”
Marysville will look to improve on its 9-4 mark and returns the second-stingiest defense (44.4 points-per-game allowed) in the entire MAC.
Clintondale — the second-highest scoring team in the Silver last season at 54.7 ppg — looks to build on an 8-6 record.
Madison Heights Lamphere and St. Clair Shores Lake Shore hope to improve on 5-9 marks in league play. Marine City (4-10) and Center Line (2-12) will look to rebound from down campaigns.
St. Clair Shores South Lake comes to the Silver after going 0-12 in the Gold last season.
Carr said several factors play into winning a league title.
“Staying healthy is always a factor,” the Lakeview head coach said. “Also, the teams that can play consistently throughout the year will put themselves in the running.
“Defense is always a key to any championship. There will be nights where shots are not falling, but if you can sustain an effort on defense, everything can fall into place.”