Stephanie Storm

Most coaches view preseason polls like people’s opinions. It seems like everyone has one, so it’s hard to take them too seriously.

The Mid-American Conference released its version Tuesday morning, picking the University of Akron and Kent State to finish second and third, respectively, in the East Division.

The Zips received 122 points (including five first-place votes), trailing only Ohio (141 points, 19 first-place votes) in the division. Despite its overall youth and returning of just one starter, Kent State was placed third with 89 points.

Ohio returns all five starters among 12 letterwinners and is coming off a magical run in the NCAA Tournament last season in which the Bobcats advanced to the Sweet 16. In addition, the Bobcats will be coached by veteran Jim Christian, who owns the highest-winning percentage (.704) in MAC history. Christian, the former KSU coach, is making his return to the MAC after a stint at Texas Christian University.

UA is expected to give Ohio a run for the division crown, returning eight letterwinners and four starters from last year’s team: senior center Zeke Marshall (the reigning MAC Defensive Player of the Year), junior guard Alex Abreu (Second-Team All-MAC), senior forward Chauncey Gilliam and senior guard Brian Walsh.

“It’s meaningless. We’ve been picked fourth and won the league. We’ve been picked first and won the league, so it’s irrelevant,” said UA coach Keith Dambrot, whose Zips have advanced to a league-record six consecutive MAC Tournament title games (the second longest active streak in the nation).

“We’re motivated every day. I don’t think the poll matters one way or the other. When you want it more it doesn’t matter what the polls say.”

Heading into the season, the Zips, the defending MAC regular season champions, have been a consensus pick to finish at or near the top of their division by every major college basketball publication. Lindy’s and the Blue Ribbon Report picked the Zips as the favorites in the MAC. Rivals.com, Athlon Sports and CBSSports.com picked them to finish second. They open the season Nov. 9 at Coastal Carolina.

Kent State faces a much different outlook this season. The Flashes lost four starters from a team that went 21-12 last season. The lone holdover — Cleveland native and senior guard Randal Holt — has yet to participate in a full practice due to offseason knee surgery.

Holt is expected to be back in time for the Nov. 9 season opener against visiting Drexel, but the Golden Flashes feature seven new players expected to see extended playing time.

“We have a lot of new faces and with that comes enthusiasm in practice,” Flashes coach Rob Senderoff said, choosing to focus on the positive. “We have four new starters for sure and because of that, guys know jobs are up for grabs and will be based on how well they perform day in and day out. This year, there’s so many positions open and minutes available, our practices have been better than last year.”

Abreu down with injury

Abreu suffered a sprained left ankle when he landed on a teammates foot after taking a shot during practice Monday. He’s currently moving around on crutches and is expected to miss the team’s first two exhibition games, Dambrot said.

“We’re hoping to get him back for the first regular season game, but I don’t know,” he said. “I look at it long term it will help us, short term it hurts us.”

It will allow 5-foot-11 freshman point guard Carmelo Betancourt among others to get some playing time, Dambrot said.

George M. Thomas contributed to this report. Stephanie Storm can be reached at sstorm@thebeaconjournal.com. Read the Kent State blog at https://ohio.com/flashes. Follow her on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.