There's no point in mincing words -- there are no changes in the rankings this week. The conference has basically settled into three tiers: Akron, Bowling Green and Central Michigan at the top, Kent State, Miami and Ohio at the bottom, and everyone else in a jumbled middle.
To illustrate, consider this...
The top three teams are 26-1 against the other nine. The bottom three are 4-23 against the other nine teams. Meanwhile, the middle six are all within two games of one another.
At this point, there's no indication that this hierarchy is going to change anytime soon, and with four weeks left in the regular seaosn, there are really three pieces of drama left. Can Akron break through and finish first or second in the overall standings? Who will emerge from the middle to earn a bye to the quarterfinals as the fourth seed? Finally, which middle team will fail to secure a home game for the MAC tournament? We may not know the answers to these until the final day of the season, especially in the case of Akron, who must wait until that final day for their rematch with Bowling Green.
Now, let's get on with those rankings...
1. Central Michigan Chippewas (15-8; 11-0 MAC) -- LW: 1
Last week: at Ball State (W, 84-81 OT), Buffalo (W, 74-63)
This week: Miami (2/15, 2:00 p.m.)
The Chippewas had their biggest scare of their MAC schedule to date in their overtime victory over Ball State. They had to overcome a huge second-half deficit, but they survived to keep their undefeated conference record intact. In the process, Crystal Bradford became the first MAC player to ever have multiple triple-doubles in a career. CMU then defeated Buffalo to improve to 11-0 in the MAC.
Central Michigan's lone game this week is on Saturday. They should have no problem at home against Miami, in a game that will serve as a tune-up for their much-anticipated trip to Bowling Green in eight days.
2. Bowling Green Falcons (20-3; 10-1 MAC) -- LW: 2
Last week: Western Michigan (W, 72-50), Miami (W, 91-45)
This week: at Eastern Michigan (2/15, 4:30 p.m.)
The Falcons let an early lead against the Broncos slip away and actually trailed 30-29 late in the first half. However, they re-claimed the lead on a 3-pointer just before the buzzer, and after that, they absolutely dominated the rest of the week. Over the final 60 minutes of action, they outscored WMU and Miami by a combined 66 points (131-65).
Unlike CMU, Bowling Green will prepare for "the rematch" with a tricky game in Ypsilanti. Eastern Michigan has recovered to win two games in a row and already has the experience of facing the Falcons. I would anticipate a BGSU victory, but it's as glaring a trap game as you'll ever see.
3. Akron Zips (14-8; 8-3 MAC) -- LW: 3
Last week: at Northern Illinois (W, 71-67), Western Michigan (W, 79-66)
This week: at Ball State (2/15, 1:00 p.m.)
The Zips have now won seven consecutive games, but they weren't quite as dominant or precise on offense as they had been in previous weeks. However, they're winning games, and that's what really matters. Rachel Tecca and Hanna Luburgh continue to be the most powerful combination in the MAC.
This week's only game for Akron is in Muncie against Ball State. The Cardinals have already pushed BGSU and CMU in home games, so Akron should be prepared for a game-long struggle.
4. Buffalo Bulls (13-9; 6-5 MAC) -- LW: 4
Last week: Ohio (W, 55-43), at Central Michigan (L, 74-63)
This week: Northern Illinois (2/15, 12:00 p.m.)
The Bulls split their two games last week and dropped into a fourth-place tie with Toledo in the overall MAC standings. You'll have to forgive me, though, if I believe that the Bulls are better than their record indicates. Four of their five MAC losses have been against Central Michigan, Bowling Green and Akron. They're 6-1 against the rest of the league. This indicates that they're a step below those three, but they should have an advantage in pursuit of a quarterfinal bye in the MAC tournament. This is particularly true when you consider that Buffalo has a win over Toledo and gets BGSU and Akron at home in the season's final weeks.
Buffalo resumes their season on Saturday with a home game against Northern Illinois. The Bulls have had a habit of playing down to their competition, especially at home, so this could be a close game even if Buffalo emerges with a win.
5. Toledo Rockets (11-11; 6-5 MAC) -- LW: 5
Last week: at Miami (W, 73-65), at Kent State (W, 83-55)
This week: Ohio (2/15, 2:00 p.m.)
The Rockets responded nicely to home losses against Akron and Bowling Green with a pair of road victories against lesser teams. Toledo may need to win out to get a bye in the MAC tournament, so last week's results are encouraging, especially the destruction of Kent State. That was perhaps Toledo's most thorough win of the entire season.
UT gets another good opportunity for a victory on Saturday when they host the reeling Ohio Bobcats. They won in Ohio by two just a couple of weeks ago, and this will be their final cross-division game of the season.
6. Ball State Cardinals (10-12; 5-6 MAC) -- LW: 6
Last week: Central Michigan (L, 84-81 OT), at Northern Illinois (W, 63-50)
This week: Akron (2/15, 1:00 p.m.)
There was nothing wrong at all with Ball State's week, which included an overtime loss to MAC unbeaten Central Michigan followed by a strong road win against Northern Illinois. The latter was important, because it put Ball State in strong position for (at the very least) a first-round MAC tournament home game.
The Cardinals host Akron next Saturday in yet another opportunity to take down a MAC power at home. They've previously pushed BGSU in an 11-point loss, fell by just four to Buffalo, and lost in overtime against CMU. Can they finally win one? This one will be a rematch of BSU's 87-78 loss at Akron in January.
7. Western Michigan Broncos (9-13; 5-6 MAC) -- LW: 7
Last week: at Bowling Green (L, 72-50), at Akron (L, 79-66)
This week: Kent State (2/15, 2:00 p.m.)
As most expected, Western Michigan lost twice last week on the road against two of the MAC's three best teams. Despite the two losses, there was no reason to punish the Broncos in this week's rankings, given their opponents and game locations last week and the fact that nobody below them really did anything of note. WMU hosts Kent State on Saturday and should emerge from that one with a .500 conference record.
8. Northern Illinois Huskies (8-13; 4-7 MAC) -- LW: 8
Last week: Akron (L, 71-67), Ball State (L, 63-50)
This week: at Buffalo (2/15, 12:00 p.m.)
Want to know why I have NIU placed correctly? They're 4-0 against the teams below them in these rankings and 0-7 against the one's ranked above them. The Huskies have gone 1-5 since a 3-2 start to their MAC schedule, but they've faced some very strong competition during that time. That includes home games last week, both losses, against Akron and Ball State. The slate gets no easier with a trip to Buffalo on Saturday. NIU follows that up next week with a trip to Akron.
9. Miami RedHawks (7-15; 3-8 MAC) -- LW: 9
Last week: Toledo (L, 73-65), at Bowling Green (L, 91-45)
This week: at Central Michigan (2/15, 2:00 p.m.)
The RedHawks played reasonably well in their home loss to Toledo last week, but they were completely embarrassed in their loss at Bowling Green on Sunday. We won't rehash the game here, and there's no reason to overreact since it is just one game. However, it was a disappointing loss for a program that had beaten BGSU twice just last season. Life gets no easier this week as Miami travels to Central Michigan. At least they get a week to recover from the loss to the Falcons.
10. Eastern Michigan Eagles (14-8; 4-7 MAC) -- LW: 10
Last week: Kent State (W, 65-57), at Ohio (W, 68-55)
This week: Bowling Green (2/15, 4:30 p.m.)
The Eagles won twice last week to end a five-game losing streak. However, we simply can't move them up at this point. Why? EMU's wins came against Kent State and Ohio. In fact, EMU is 3-0 against those two teams and 1-7 against the rest of the MAC. At some point, the Eagles need to beat better teams; they certainly have the talent to do so. They'll get a chance to knock off a MAC power when they host Bowling Green on Saturday. They lost by 14 in the first meeting at BGSU.
11. Ohio Bobcats (8-14; 3-8 MAC) -- LW: 11
Last week: at Buffalo (L, 55-43), Eastern Michigan (L, 68-55)
This week: at Toledo (2/15, 2:00 p.m.)
The Bobcats are another team, like NIU, who has seen the conference season come off the rails. After winning three in a row to start 3-1, Ohio has lost seven straight. The schedule has been difficult, including last week's game against Buffalo, but they could have (and maybe should have) beaten Eastern Michigan at home. The schedule gets no lighter with a trip to Toledo on Saturday. They follow that with road games against WMU and BGSU and home games against Akron and Buffalo before finally closing the season with Kent State and Miami.
12. Kent State Golden Flashes (4-18; 1-10 MAC) -- LW: 12
Last week: at Eastern Michigan (L, 65-57), Toledo (L, 83-55)
This week: at Western Michigan (2/15, 2:00 p.m.)
Another week goes by and the Golden Flashes lose two more games. They could have beaten Eastern Michigan for a second-straight win, but the Eagles pulled away late. Then, KSU was rolled at home by Toledo. They have a trip to Western Michigan on Saturday, and the schedule after that does no favors...but hey, at least they got one conference win.
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