The 6th Men of the MAC

Sixth men in basketball aren’t the most recognizable players. MAC basketball fans probably know who is the first player off the bench for their own team, but not so much for the others.

I watch basketball, but I’m far from a great basketball mind. I know my team decently well, and learning about the rest of these players was fun. I pulled every teams stats and made a list of the players that play the most minutes per game, but started fewer than half of the games they appeared in.

Bench players usually have a role when they come into the game. The sixth man’s role is to play starter minutes and at starter quality. All players have their strengths and do different things on the court.

It’s time these guys got their shine.

6th Man All Star Tier

These three players put up starter numbers. Trey Diggs at Bowling Green and Caleb Huffman at Central Michigan are the only players in this group that average more than ten points per game. Malique Jacobs from Kent State isn’t a slouch either. He just isn’t over that double digit mark. 

In addition to his 9 points per game, Jacobs is the best bench player on defense. He leads the group in steals and blocks. He rebounds well also and gets his share of assists. His game might be the most well rounded of the 6th men.

Diggs and Huffman are also active on defense, but they are true assets with the ball in their hands. They are not the leading scorers on their teams but production isn’t automatically lowered when they come in. 

I think any MAC school would gladly take these guys onto their roster.

Shooter Tier

Shooting well is a skill that will earn playing time. The only better shooters in the 6th man group are in the All Star Tier. Keshaun Saunders from Toledo, Isaiah Coleman-Lands from Miami, and Miles Brown from Ohio shoot more three point shots than two point shots. 

Saunders is dangerous from out there. He’s good for at least one make a game. He’s in the top ten in the MAC for three point percentage. Let him shoot more. Make him shoot more.

Miles Brown has taken 68 shots so far this season and 41 of them have been from outside. Brown also plays strong defense, ranking 3rd in the sixth man group for steals and blocks.

Coleman-Lands isn’t as strong from behind the arc but his overall shooting percentage is still high. He takes care of the basketball and distributes it to his teammates as well as anyone in this group. He’s the best overall scorer in this group, even if his three point shooting isn’t as strong as the other two. A strong offensive asset for the Redhawks.

Defensemen Tier

Only LaQuill Hardnett from Buffalo and Miles Gibson from Eastern Michigan make up this tier. Gibson and Hardnett collect a lot of rebounds when they’re on the floor. Hardnett is the only listed Forward in this group and Gibson, according the EMU roster, is flexible.

Hardnett definitely fits the profile of an interior defender not afraid to challenge a shot. He leads the way in personal fouls in this group and has 12 steals and 8 blocks to go with them. His time is limited, he can challenge without fear of his minutes being cut.

He has attempted three shots from deep all season, but shoots 67% from inside. He’s an effective big guy from the bench on a good Buffalo squad.

Gibson has three games with double digit rebounds. Three of them were double-double games.  Not bad coming from the bench. He doesn’t commit fouls the same way that Hardnett does but still collects a steal per game. Gibson comes off the bench and does what he can to extend offensive possessions or end defensive possessions with his rebounding.

Versatility Tier

This tier is a little bit of a catch all. That’s not to say that the players here are bad or any worse than the rest of the players mentioned. They’re sixth men, not tenth. Their coaches trust them to play nearly starters minutes. That’s not nothing. 

Most of these players don’t pour in the points, but they aren’t asked to. Their team’s starters carry the load either by committee or, like Akron, they have one dominant scorer that they build around.

Kaleb Thornton from Northern Illinois earns his time on the floor with shooting efficiency. He’s fourth in this group in shooting percentage and doesn’t take a ton of shots. He distributes the ball to the scoring duo and takes his open shots. 

Greg Tribble of Akron plays the least of the sixth men. Akron wants to lean on their starters, and leave Loren Jackson on the floor as much as possible. He’s an efficient shooter from inside, but doesn’t seem to get much opportunity.

Rafael Cruz Jr. from Western Michigan does provide some offensive punch from the bench. They need it. He sees a lot of playing time, 3rd most minutes on the team and 4th most points per game. His offensive contribution cannot be overlooked to the young Broncos.

Kani Acree from Ball State is a good rebounder, takes care of the ball, and hits his free throws. He’s one of 4 Cardinals to appear in every game for them this season. They have their duo tasked with taking care of the scoring so his shots total is light. Ball State is another team ready to lean on their starting five, but Acree steps in to play tough defense and be a confident ball handler on offense.

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