Last week, I had no choice but to move Central Michigan up to the top spot. This week, I have no choice but to give both Akron and Buffalo big bumps. To fans of the Zips and Bulls, we concede -- what your teams did during the last week was mighty impressive. Buffalo won two key cross-division road games, while Akron dismantled both Ohio and Eastern Michigan. At EMU, Rachel Tecca put together one of the best games in conference history for the Zips.
Of course, as some teams rise in these rankings, others have to fall. Ball State and Eastern Michigan both disappointed with winless weeks, as did Northern Illinois and Ohio, whose hot starts in conference play have evaporated.
Now, let's get on with those rankings...
1. Central Michigan Chippewas (11-8; 7-0 MAC) -- LW: 1
Last week: at Kent State (W, 87-53), at Western Michigan (W, 113-87)
This week: Eastern Michigan (1/30, 7:00pm), Ohio (2/2, 2:00pm)
Did anyone really think Central Michigan would have a letdown after their big win over Bowling Green last weekend? No? I didn't either, and they most certainly didn't. It should come as no surprise that they beat Kent State, who is winless in conference play, by 34 points. However, CMU's 26-point win at Western Michigan was a frightening display for other teams in the MAC. The Chippewas put up 68 points in one half and featured three players with 20 or more points. Other than road trips to Bowling Green and Toledo, it's hard to see where this team would slip up before the MAC Tournament.
Never say "never" in the MAC, but CMU's two games this week are ones they shouldn't have too much trouble winning, as they host Eastern Michigan and Ohio. The EMU game, in particular, should be another high-scoring affair. The Eagles just gave up triple-digits to Akron, so what could the Chippewa offense do to them?
2. Bowling Green Falcons (16-3; 6-1 MAC) -- LW: 2
Last week: Eastern Michigan (W, 71-57), Northern Illinois (W, 57-44)
This week: at Ohio (1/30, 7:00pm), at Toledo (2/2, 12:00pm)
The Falcons aren't fancy, but they are machine-like efficient. Once they get a lead, it's very difficult to come back on them, primarily because of their defensive prowess. Both Eastern Michigan and Northern Illinois found that out last week. Bowling Green did not blow out either team, but you got the distinct impression that neither opponent was really in the game during the second half of their contests.
BGSU faces another tough week with two road games. First up is a usually-difficult trip to Athens to face the Ohio Bobcats. Despite their up-and-down nature this year, Ohio has generally been very good at home this season. Then, on Sunday, the Falcons make the short trip to Toledo for a battle with the Rockets. Toledo has been disappointing at times but has the talent to beat anyone in the league.
3. Akron Zips (10-8; 4-3 MAC) -- LW: 5
Last week: Ohio (W, 80-56), at Eastern Michigan (W, 101-79)
This week: at Toledo (1/30, 7:00pm), Buffalo (2/2, 2:00pm)
Akron's dynamic duo of Rachel Tecca and Hanna Luburgh led the Zips to two blowout wins last week. Luburgh posted great numbers in both games, but Tecca stole the show on Sunday by scoring 43 points and grabbing 22 rebounds. Her effort, which set several school records, helped Akron score 101 points on the road against Eastern Michigan. The Zips have now won three in a row following their 1-3 start in MAC play -- and two of those early losses can be forgiven, as they came against Central Michigan and Bowling Green.
Akron has two stern tests this week with a road trip to Toledo and a home game with Buffalo. In particular, the game against Buffalo is important in the race for the MAC East crown and a high seed in the MAC tournament. Buffalo is just as hot as Akron and has a scorer in Mackenzie Loesing that can compete point-for-point with Tecca and Luburgh. The winner of that game could move to within a game of division-leader BGSU.
4. Toledo Rockets (9-9; 4-3 MAC) -- LW: 6
Last week: Ball State (W, 73-61), at Ohio (W, 64-62)
This week: Akron (1/30, 7:00pm), Bowling Green (2/2, 12:00pm)
The Rockets rebounded very nicely from a two-loss week (at Buffalo, at WMU) with a pair of wins. The victory over Ball State at home could be key later in the year where MAC tournament seeding is concerned, and you have to love the perseverance of a team that has gone through what Toledo has this year and still make a 21-point comeback to win on the road. As noted above, Toledo has disappointed at times, but their lineup is as good as any the MAC has to offer.
With all that said, this week is perhaps the most important of the season for the Rockets. They host two huge games against cross-division opponents. The first (Akron) has won three in a row and has the two best scorers in the MAC. The other (Bowling Green) has just one league loss and is the best defensive team in the MAC. If Toledo could sweep these two games, it's not out of the question that they could still get the 2nd seed in the MAC Tournament. After this week, their most difficult remaining game would be at home against CMU -- all their other games are very winnable.
5. Buffalo Bulls (11-7; 4-3 MAC) -- LW: 9
Last week: at Northern Illinois (W, 63-52), at Ball State (W, 73-69)
This week: Miami (1/30, 7:00pm), at Akron (2/2, 2:00pm)
You could fairly say that placing Buffalo in the bottom third of these rankings was probably a gross overreaction to their 0-3 start in MAC play. Two of those losses were to CMU and BGSU, and the third was on the road against Western Michigan. In the last two weeks, the Bulls have proven that the 0-3 start was a mirage. They earned two close home victories over Toledo and EMU two weeks ago, then followed that with two road cross-division wins last week. The return of Mackenzie Loesing to the lineup has been huge, but she has had a lot of help from players such as Kristen Sharkey.
The Bulls ought to get their fifth straight win at home on Thursday against Miami. The big match-up this week occurs on Sunday afternoon at Akron. I said it earlier in this piece and will emphasize it again -- the winner of Sunday's game will have a leg up in the race for the MAC East title and good seeding in the MAC Tournament. Remember, Sunday's game marks the halfway point of the conference season. And, as I also noted, the winner could be within a game of BGSU in the East when the week is over.
6. Ball State Cardinals (8-10; 3-4 MAC) -- LW: 3
Last week: at Toledo (L, 73-61), Buffalo (L, 73-69)
This week: Western Michigan (1/29, 7:00pm), at Kent State (2/2, 2:00pm)
The Cardinals did not have a terrible week; they lost their two games by a combined 16 points (one on the road) against two very good teams. However, losing both games really hurts their long-term seeding prospects for the MAC Tournament. They're going to need a very strong finish to compete for a top-4 seed, but their schedule is a problem. They still have two left with CMU, plus rematches with Akron and Toledo. The Cardinals have shown that they can beat the lower-echelon teams in the MAC but not the higher ones, so this ranking seems to be a good fit.
Fortunately for Ball State, this week provides a bit of a respite. They get Western Michigan at home before playing at Kent State. If the first three weeks of conference play are any indication, the Cardinals should win both games.
7. Western Michigan Broncos (8-10; 4-3 MAC) -- LW: 8
Last week: Miami (W, 86-75 OT), Central Michigan (L, 113-87)
This week: at Ball State (1/29, 7:00pm), Northern Illinois (2/1, 4:30pm)
The Broncos had a golden opportunity to place themselves firmly within the top 3 or 4 teams in the MAC when they hosted Central Michigan on Saturday, but they were run out of the building as the Chippewas blitzed them for 68 first-half points in a 113-87 loss. That probably says more about CMU than WMU, but it's still a lost opportunity.
Western Michigan has two important division games this week. First up is a trip to Muncie to face a Ball State team that is hungry for a win, then they return home to play a pesky Northern Illinois team. The Huskies have sternly tested CMU, Toledo and BGSU on the road, so the Broncos need to be very careful on Saturday.
8. Northern Illinois Huskies (7-10; 3-4 MAC) -- LW: 7
Last week: Buffalo (L, 63-52), at Bowling Green (L, 57-44)
This week: Kent State (1/29, 8:00pm), at Western Michigan (2/1, 4:30pm)
Losing to Bowling Green on the road is certainly forgivable, but NIU's home loss against Buffalo could really hurt come tournament time. NIU had won their first two home MAC games by 23 points each, so that loss was fairly surprising. The Huskies have a should-win game at home against Kent State on Wednesday before playing at Western Michigan on Saturday. They've played well in road losses against CMU, BGSU and Toledo, but they'll need to do better than that against the Broncos.
9. Eastern Michigan Eagles (12-6; 2-5 MAC) -- LW: 4
Last week: at Bowling Green (L, 71-57), Akron (L, 101-79)
This week: at Central Michigan (1/30, 7:00pm), Miami (2/2, 2:00pm)
The Eagles have won two conference games out of seven, and one of those was against Kent State. It's time to move them down. Again, there is no shame in losing at Bowling Green, and I doubt that anyone could have stopped Rachel Tecca on Sunday. However, you have to win games at some point, and with their schedule, they could not afford to start 2-5.
EMU should be able to win their weekend game against Miami, but a trip to CMU comes on Thursday. And after this week? They still have two games with Toledo, rematches with CMU, BGSU and Ball State, and trips to Ohio and WMU. If EMU's fortunes don't change in a hurry, they'll be looking at an opening-round road game in the MAC Tournament.
10. Ohio Bobcats (8-10; 3-4 MAC) -- LW: 10
Last week: at Akron (L, 80-56), Toledo (L, 64-62)
This week: Bowling Green (1/30, 7:00pm), at Central Michigan (2/2, 2:00pm)
Reality appears to have set in for the Bobcats. They started 3-1 in MAC play with home wins over Miami and Western Michigan, but they've since lost three in a row with home losses to Ball State and Toledo. This week will not be kind, as they play the MAC's top two teams. At least the game against Bowling Green will be at home. This is a young team that will eventually rise to the top of the league, but for now, they're learning some rough (but valuable) lessons.
11. Miami RedHawks (6-12; 2-5 MAC) -- LW: 11
Last week: at Western Michigan (L, 86-75 OT), Kent State (W, 72-62)
This week: at Buffalo (1/30, 7:00pm), at Eastern Michigan (2/2, 2:00pm)
Miami still has that win over Akron on their resume, but their only other conference win is at home against Kent State. Ultimately, the RedHawks may be able to rise above a couple of other teams and may even be able to get a home game in the conference tournament, but for now, there's no reason to give them a rankings bump. Two difficult games await this week, as Miami is on the road against Buffalo and Eastern Michigan. A split of these two games would be very positive.
12. Kent State Golden Flashes (3-15; 0-7 MAC) -- LW: 12
Last week: Central Michigan (L, 87-53), at Miami (L, 72-62)
This week: at Northern Illinois (1/29, 8:00pm), Ball State (2/2, 2:00pm)
Well...Kent State had their "best" game of the conference season at Miami, as they lost by (only) ten points. They gave up 26 fewer points to CMU than Western Michigan did. Am I missing any positives here?
The home game on Sunday against Ball State might be interesting, but the Golden Flashes' best remaining chance to win a conference game probably doesn't come until Feb. 23rd when they host Miami.
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