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Central Michigan was the surprise of the Mid-American Conference last year in basketball, winning the regular-season championship after being picked 11th in the preseason poll.

The Chippewas were the preseason favorites in the MAC media poll released Wednesday, picked to win the West Division title and go on and win the MAC tournament as well.

If CMU lives up to expectations, the Chippewas will be competing in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2003, also the last time they won the MAC tourney.

CMU has its top nine players back from last year’s 23-9 team (12-6) that lost to Buffalo in the MAC title game in Cleveland, including senior point guard Chris Fowler (16.2 points, 6.1 assists), a four-year captain; 6-8 senior sharpshooter John Simons (91 3-pointers, 45.5 percent) and guards Braylon Rayson (11.0 points) and Rayshawn Simmons (9.1). The Chippewas made a MAC-high 296 3s, shooting .383 from long range.

“I think because we were the No. 1 seed in the MAC tournament, the regular-season MAC champs and have our top nine players back we’re the preseason favorites and rightfully so,” CMU coach Keno Davis said, “but at the same time, who’s to say a team at the bottom can’t do the same thing we did last year.

“We know there’s not much of a difference between top and bottom in the MAC. Two of our road losses came against Northern Illinois and Ball State. You’d better be at your best and play hard every time you step on the court.”

CMU was picked first in the West over Toledo by a 138-110 margin with the Chippewas receiving all 23 first-place votes. Western Michigan was third, followed by Eastern Michigan, Northern Illinois and Ball State.

Akron was the preseason favorite in the East by a 132-116 margin over Kent State, followed by Ohio, Buffalo, Miami and Bowling Green.

CMU got the nod over Akron to win the MAC tournament by a 15-6 margin.

Buffalo lost its head coach Bobby Hurley to Arizona State and guard Shannon Evans followed him there. Former Romulus head coach Nate Oats replaced Hurley, but soon after MAC Player of the Year Justin Moss was kicked off the team.

Fowler was named MAC preseason Player if the Year by numerous publications, including The Sporting News and Athlon Sports

Fowler joined Simons, WMU senior forward Connar Tava, EMU junior guard Raven Lee and Toledo senior center Nathan Boothe on the All-MAC West first-team by media members covering the conference.

david.goricki@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/DavidGoricki

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