Games given "Game of the Year" billing often fail to live up to the hype. That was not the case for Bowling Green and Central Michigan on Saturday afternoon. It wasn't the cleanest game in the world, but it was an intensely-played contest by two very talented teams. It featured an epic comeback and a dramatic overtime. Does it really solve anything? Just five games into the conference season, probably not, but the glorious part of the Mid-American Conference's move to an 18-game schedule means that each team has two extra cross-over games per year now.
And fortunately for all of us, the MAC was smart enough to pair Bowling Green and Central Michigan in one of those extra cross-over games. This means that there will be a regular-season rematch, on February 19th in Bowling Green, Ohio. There's also the strong possibility that a third game could occur in the conference tournament.
Sadly, the power rankings can't live in the future. We have to deal with the present, and the question here is very simple. Was Central Michigan's win on Saturday enough to warrant a change at the top?
1. Central Michigan Chippewas (9-8; 5-0 MAC) -- LW: 2
Last week: Northern Illinois (W, 65-60), Bowling Green (W, 82-79 OT)
This week: at Kent State (1/22, 7:00pm), at Western Michigan (1/25, 2:00pm)
As "Nature Boy" Ric Flair would say...
Central Michigan is the defending MAC champions, and it's pretty simple -- Bowling Green couldn't finish the job on Saturday. That doesn't mean they won't next month or in March, but as noted above, we're dealing with the present.
The Chippewas gave BGSU a taste of their own medicine by using defense to spur their stirring comeback win, and you have to give much of the credit to Crystal Bradford. Bradford was held in check for much of the game, but one has to wonder if she wouldn't have finished off a quadruple-double if the game had ended up in a second overtime. As it is, she came very close.
CMU has to shake off this win and prepare for two road games this week. I'd be more worried for them if the trip to Kalamazoo was first, but they should handle Kent State without a problem. WMU has been up-and-down all year, but the Broncos are generally tough at home, so that could be an interesting game.
2. Bowling Green Falcons (14-3; 4-1 MAC) -- LW: 1
Last week: at Ball State (W, 72-61), at Central Michigan (L, 82-79 OT)
This week: Eastern Michigan (1/23, 7:00pm), Northern Illinois (1/26, 2:00pm)
I just want to make this clear -- dropping the Falcons one space here isn't a knock on them. Yes, even on the road against the defending MAC champs, you want to hold on to a lead like they had in the final minutes in Mount Pleasant. However, I do not believe that one overtime road loss (to the defending MAC champs) can diminish what this team has already accomplished. If you need any evidence of how good the team can be, all you need to do is look to their comeback road win over Ball State earlier in the week.
This week presents two interesting challenges for BGSU. Eastern Michigan is quite talented and has two outstanding freshmen. The environment might be tough for the Eagles, but I expect them to play well. Northern Illinois has been the surprise of the league so far, and they've played very well on the road. They're 1-2 in conference play as visitors, but those two losses (at CMU and Toledo) have been by a combined seven points. They're dangerous.
3. Ball State Cardinals (8-8; 3-2 MAC) -- LW: 3
Last week: Bowling Green (L, 72-61), at Ohio (W, 79-63)
This week: at Toledo (1/23, 6:00pm), Buffalo (1/26, 1:00pm)
There's no shame in losing to Bowling Green, but I'm sure the Cardinals would have liked to hold on to their halftime lead in that game. The very positive thing for Ball State was their response to that loss. They went on the road to face an Ohio team that had not lost a home game all season and walked away with a convincing 16-point win. Wins like that will help the Cardinals stay firmly within the conversation for a top-four seed in the MAC Tournament.
However, if Ball state wants to remain at the top of the list of teams currently at 3-2 in the MAC, they'll need to get through a tough schedule this week. The Rockets are reeling right now, but with their home crowds, Toledo is always one of the most difficult environments in the MAC. Buffalo started 0-3 in conference play but won twice last week and has a game-breaker in Mackenzie Loesing.
4. Eastern Michigan Eagles (12-4; 2-3 MAC) -- LW: 5
Last week: Western Michigan (W, 83-77), at Buffalo (L, 84-83 OT)
This week: at Bowling Green (1/23, 7:00pm), Akron (1/26, 2:00pm)
Eastern Michigan ended a two-game slide with a nice home win over the Broncos last week, but they may regret not finishing off their comeback attempt at Buffalo when tournament time rolls around. The Eagles fell behind the Bulls by nearly 20 points before storming all the way back to send the game to overtime. The extra period featured several lead changes, but Mackenzie Loesing sank the winning basket with just 2.5 seconds left. EMU is now a game behind the gaggle of teams at 3-2.
The schedule gets no easier for the Eagles this week. First up is a road game against a Bowling Green team that will be wanting to take out their frustrations on EMU. It will likely be the biggest challenge the freshman combo of Janay Morton and Cha Sweeney have faced yet. On Sunday, the Eagles host Akron in Ypsilanti. The Zips have not played to expectation, but Rachel Tecca and Hanna Luburgh are still the two top scorers in the league.
5. Akron Zips (8-8; 2-3 MAC) -- LW: 6
Last week: at Miami (L, 79-76), Kent State (W, 77-51)
This week: Ohio (1/23, 7:00pm), at Eastern Michigan (1/26, 2:00pm)
Like EMU, Akron suffered a close road loss last week that they may come to regret in March. To date, they're Miami's only MAC victim in five games, and it was a game that the Zips desperately needed to keep pace with Bowling Green. The BGSU collapse at Central Michigan helps, and Akron did recover for a rout of Kent State. However, Akron doesn't have much more room for error if they're hoping for a tournament bye.
This week, Akron hosts Ohio before playing at Eastern Michigan. Both teams are good, but they're also both young and rather inexperienced. Veteran players like Rachel Tecca and Hanna Luburgh need to take advantage. In Ohio's case, the Bobcats have not been nearly as good on the road as they have been at home. In the other game, given Morton and Sweeney's scoring ability, the Eagles and Zips may play one of the highest-scoring games of the MAC season.
6. Toledo Rockets (7-9; 2-3 MAC) -- LW: 4
Last week: at Buffalo (L, 51-46), at Western Michigan (L, 78-72)
This week: Ball State (1/23, 6:00pm), at Ohio (1/26, 2:00pm)
Toledo and Akron are in a tight race for the label "most disappointing team in the MAC". All three of their losses in 2014 have been on the road, and none of the losses could really be regarded as terrible. Still, there's just far too much talent on Toledo's roster to not expect more. Many were hoping that Toledo would compete with CMU in the MAC West all season, and it doesn't look like that will be the case. They need to find some wins and some confidence, and they need to do it soon.
The Rockets need to be careful or this could be another winless week. Their home game is against Ball State, who just won in Athens, where Toledo plays on Sunday. The Rockets need to lean on players like Zanoguera and Dortch to get through this. It's still possible to save their season, as we've only played a third of the conference season, but they need to get that process started.
7. Northern Illinois Huskies (7-8; 3-2 MAC) -- LW: 7
Last week: at Central Michigan (L, 65-60), at Miami (W, 69-66)
This week: Buffalo (1/23, 8:00pm), at Bowling Green (1/26, 2:00pm)
Any questions left about the Huskies? They started conference play with 23-point home wins over Ohio and EMU and a two-point road loss at Toledo. Last week, they followed those games with a five-point loss at Central Michigan (after leading for much of the game) and a win at Miami. Amanda Corral is surrounded by a lot of good complementary pieces, and it doesn't look like NIU is going to go away.
If anything, after this week, the hardest part of Northern Illinois' schedule will be over. They host Buffalo on Thursday, then play another tough road game at Bowling Green. The Huskies will have to stop Loesing to beat Buffalo, but if they can do that, they'll have a chance to make a huge statement on Sunday.
8. Western Michigan Broncos (7-9; 3-2 MAC) -- LW: 8
Last week: at Eastern Michigan (L, 83-77), Toledo (W, 78-72)
This week: Miami (1/22, 7:00pm), Central Michigan (1/25, 2:00pm)
The Broncos had a rather even week with a solid home win over Toledo and a close road loss against Eastern Michigan. The win over Toledo ended a two-game skid and now have a chance to get on a real roll. Three of their next four games are at home, including two this week against Miami and Central Michigan. They'll be expected to beat Miami, especially after beating the RedHawks in Oxford a couple of weeks ago, but the game against the Chippewas will be much more difficult.
9. Buffalo Bulls (9-7; 2-3 MAC) -- LW: 10
Last week: Toledo (W, 51-46), Eastern Michigan (W, 84-83 OT)
This week: at Northern Illinois (1/23, 8:00pm), at Ball State (1/26, 1:00pm)
The only team other than Central Michigan to win both of their games last week was Buffalo. You might wonder if that warrants a bigger bump than one spot in the rankings, but I don't think so -- yet, anyway. Both wins were at home by a combined six points, and one came in overtime after the team blew a huge lead. I still need some convincing, especially after this team started 0-3 in MAC games. They'll have their chance this week with road games at Northern Illinois and Ball State. A sweep will be difficult to achieve, but Buffalo really needs at least a split to keep realistic hopes alive for a tournament bye.
10. Ohio Bobcats (8-8; 3-2 MAC) -- LW: 9
Last week: at Kent State (W, 76-59), Ball State (L, 79-63)
This week: at Akron (1/23, 7:00pm), Toledo (1/26, 2:00pm)
Given Bowling Green's loss to Central Michigan, Ohio had a very good opportunity to move into a first-place tie in the MAC East at 4-1. Unfortunately for the Bobcats, they fell short against Ball State at home after taking care of business earlier in the week at Kent State. With a young team, this isn't completely unexpected, but I will penalize them a spot for the missed opportunity. Outside of the trip to Kent, Ohio's found life on the road to be difficult this season, so they'll need to play better to get a win at Akron. The home game against the stumbling Rockets is another chance to turn eyes.
11. Miami RedHawks (5-11; 1-4 MAC) -- LW: 11
Last week: Akron (W, 79-76), Northern Illinois (L, 69-66)
This week: at Western Michigan (1/22, 7:00pm), Kent State (1/25, 2:00pm)
After beginning the MAC season 0-3, Miami pulled off a huge win at home over Akron. Then, they spoiled the win by losing at home to Northern Illinois. Now, they're 1-4 and looking up at everyone but Kent State -- and with the game against Kent State on Saturday, that might not even be true for much longer. The RedHawks have a chance to avenge their opening home conference loss to WMU with a trip to Kalamazoo on Wednesday, and they really need to start winning road games after already losing two at home.
12. Kent State Golden Flashes (3-13; 0-5 MAC) -- LW: 12
Last week: Ohio (L, 76-59), at Akron (L, 77-51)
This week: Central Michigan (1/22, 7:00pm), at Miami (1/25, 2:00pm)
Not much can really be said here. They've lost each of their five conference games by at least 17 points, and in their 16 games overall, the Flashes have scored more than 69 points just twice. They're going to be 0-6 after Wednesday's game against Central Michigan. Their two games with Miami might be their best chances to win a conference game, and one of those (in Oxford) takes place on Saturday.