Just two weeks remain until the Mid-American Conference tournament. Oh, where has this season gone?
The teams at the very top have separated themselves from the rest of the pack and have essentially assured themselves of their places in Cleveland. Bowling Green and Central Michigan are each now 13-1 in league play and neither can do worse than the #3 seed and a spot in the third round. Since both have a two-game lead with four to play for the top two seeds, expect these two to pass automatically to the MAC semi-finals.
Akron is 11-3, and while they likely won't catch BGSU or CMU, they have a three-game lead over Buffalo and Toledo for the #3 seed. The Zips have won 10 straight games and still have contests with Kent State and Miami remaining on their schedule. They should end up as the #3 seed and play in the third round on Thursday, March 13.
(Akron, Bowling Green and Central Michigan are 4-4 versus each other and 33-1 against the rest of the MAC.)
The fight for the fourth seed and the final tournament bye is perhaps the most important part of the last two weeks. Western Michigan picked up a huge win in Toledo over the weekend to pull within one game of the Rockets and Buffalo Bulls for that #4 seed. Why is it so huge? WMU now owns the head-to-head tiebreaker over Buffalo and Toledo -- so if they end up in a tie with one (or both) for fourth place, the Broncos will win the bye.
On the other end of the scale, the three teams at the bottom of the East (Ohio, Miami, Kent State) are positioned to fill the final three spots in the MAC tournament and, thus, three of the four road spots in the first round. The battle for the #8 seed (and a first-round home game) will likely come down to Eastern Michigan and Northern Illinois, and the Eagles host the Huskies on Sunday.
Now, on with the rankings...
1. Bowling Green Falcons (23-3; 13-1 MAC) -- LW: 2
Last week: Central Michigan (W, 67-55), at Buffalo (W, 73-63)
This week: Kent State (2/27, 7:00 p.m.), Ohio (3/2, 2:00 p.m.)
Yes, we move the Falcons back to the top this week. BGSU picked up two very impressive wins last week, as they evened the score with Central Michigan and survived a very tough game in Buffalo. Given that they're still fighting for a division title and the #1 seed in the MAC tournament, the Falcons should continue to be focused. This means that they're not likely to have many problems this week with home games against Kent State and Ohio.
2. Central Michigan Chippewas (17-9; 13-1 MAC) -- LW: 1
Last week: at Bowling Green (L, 67-55), at Northern Illinois (W, 85-77)
This week: Ball State (2/27, 7:00 p.m.), at Toledo (3/2, 2:00 p.m.)
Central Michigan lost their unbeaten record in the MAC thanks to their loss at Bowling Green, but they rebounded well with a comeback win over Northern Illinois. The Chippewas are guaranteed a spot in Cleveland and are positioned well to make a run at an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament. This week should provide two challenging games. Their first is at home against a Ball State team that led CMU by 19 in the second half of their previous meeting this season. The second is at an enigmatic Toledo team that would love nothing more than to knock off the Chippewas.
3. Akron Zips (17-8; 11-3 MAC) -- LW: 3
Last week: Northern Illinois (W, 89-75), at Ohio (W, 88-76)
This week: Miami (2/26, 7:00 p.m.), at Kent State (3/2, 2:00 p.m.)
Akron set a school record last week when they won their ninth and tenth consecutive games. Neither win was easy, but they were able to run their style of offense and ripped off two efforts of nearly 90 points. And with the two best scorers in the MAC, Rachel Tecca and Hanna Luburgh, why wouldn't they? Akron can clinch no worse than the #3 seed in the MAC tournament this week with wins over Miami and Kent State, and they should have no problem reaching that goal. They should have no problem with motivation for the Miami game in particular; the RedHawks handed Akron their most recent loss.
4. Buffalo Bulls (15-10; 8-6 MAC) -- LW: 4
Last week: at Kent State (W, 61-53), Bowling Green (L, 73-63)
This week: at Ohio (2/27, 7:00 p.m.), at Miami (3/1, 2:00 p.m.)
Buffalo had what could properly be described as a disappointing week. They played rather uninspired ball in an eight-point win over Kent State, then had opportunities to beat Bowling Green before ultimately falling at home. The loss to BGSU hurts, but they'll need to recover quickly as they have two road games this week. They're important games, too -- the Bulls still have to play Akron and are trying to hold off both Toledo and WMU for that final MAC tournament bye. They simply cannot afford a loss this week.
5. Toledo Rockets (13-12; 8-6 MAC) -- LW: 5
Last week: at Eastern Michigan (W, 80-73), Western Michigan (L, 60-59)
This week: at Northern Illinois (2/27, 12:30 p.m.), Central Michigan (3/2, 2:00 p.m.)
Toledo's hopes for a bye in the MAC tournament took a significant hit on Sunday when they lost at home to Western Michigan -- the same Broncos team that had previously lost at home to Kent State and struggled at home against Ohio. Now, the Rockets must finish alone in fourth place to earn that bye, as they would lose tiebreakers to Buffalo and WMU and a three-way tie with both. This week provides no favors, with a trip to NIU and a home game against the Chippewas. A split will be difficult to achieve, but they probably can't afford to lose both if they want that bye.
6. Ball State Cardinals (11-14; 6-8 MAC) -- LW: 6
Last week: at Miami (W, 80-70), Eastern Michigan (L, 62-60)
This week: at Central Michigan (2/27, 7:00 p.m.), at Western Michigan (3/1, 2:00 p.m.)
Like Toledo, the Ball State Cardinals suffered a weekend loss at home that could ultimately cost them a shot at earning the #4 seed and a bye in the MAC tournament. This week's games could end the dream of earning that #4 seed, or it could vault them into that position. They gave CMU fits for about 25 minutes last time before collapsing, so can they finish the job this time? The game at WMU is huge for seeding purposes. A win would give Ball State the tiebreaker edge over the Broncos.
7. Western Michigan Broncos (11-14; 7-7 MAC) -- LW: 8
Last week: Ohio (W, 71-64), at Toledo (W, 60-59)
This week: Eastern Michigan (2/26, 7:00 p.m.), Ball State (3/1, 2:00 p.m.)
It's really hard to figure these Broncos out. They started the MAC schedule 4-2 with wins over Buffalo and Toledo, then lost five out of six. The last of those five losses was at home against Kent State, as the Flashes earned their first road victory of the year. Now, they've won two in a row, including a big road win at Toledo. The Broncos have the tiebreaker edge over both the Bulls and Rockets for that 4th seed. Two more home games this week give the Broncos a chance to leapfrog into that coveted fourth place spot, but they need to win both.
8. Northern Illinois Huskies (8-16; 4-10 MAC) -- LW: 7
Last week: at Akron (L, 89-75), Central Michigan (L, 85-77)
This week: Toledo (2/27, 12:30 p.m.), at Eastern Michigan (3/2, 2:00 p.m.)
Northern Illinois was, at one time, 4-4 against MAC opponents. Since then, they've lost six in a row against a schedule that's included Akron (twice), Buffalo and CMU. None of the games have been blowouts, but the Huskies are now in position to play a road game in the first round of the MAC tournament. Regardless of what happens on Thursday against Toledo, their game at Eastern Michigan might determine whether or not they get a home tournament game. The Huskies beat EMU by 23 in previous first meeting.
9. Eastern Michigan Eagles (15-10; 5-9 MAC) -- LW: 9
Last week: Toledo (L, 80-73), at Ball State (W, 62-60)
This week: at Western Michigan (2/26, 7:00 p.m.), Northern Illinois (3/2, 2:00 p.m.)
Eastern Michigan has won three of five since starting conference play 2-7. Those two losses (BGSU, Toledo) have been by a combined 12 points. If the season ended today, they'd host a first-round tournament game. Unfortunately, they still have trips to WMU and Toledo plus a home game with CMU remaining on their schedule. The Eagles could certainly use a win in Kalamazoo before heading home for their huge Sunday game with NIU.
10. Ohio Bobcats (8-17; 3-11 MAC) -- LW: 11
Last week: at Western Michigan (L, 71-64), Akron (L, 88-76)
This week: Buffalo (2/27, 7:00 p.m.), at Bowling Green (3/2, 2:00 p.m.)
Not much to say here about the Bobcats. They've lost 10 in a row since starting the conference season 3-1, and there's a good chance the streak will reach 12 by the end of Sunday afternoon. This young team is learning hard lessons that ought to pay off in future seasons. As for this year, the Bobcats are likely looking at a first-round road game in the MAC tournament.
11. Kent State Golden Flashes (6-19; 3-11 MAC) -
Last week: Buffalo (L, 61-53), Miami (W, 67-51)
This week: at Bowling Green (2/27, 7:00 p.m.), Akron (3/2, 2:00 p.m.)
Kent State is playing much better of late. After starting 0-8 against the MAC, they've won three of their last six and two of their last three. Among those wins was their first road win of the season. Like Ohio, the Flashes are probably headed to a road game in the first round of the MAC tournament, but if there's one team from these bottom three that could pull a first-round upset, it would be Kent State.
12. Miami RedHawks (7-18; 3-11 MAC) -- LW: 10
Last week: Ball State (L, 80-70), at Kent State (L, 67-51)
This week: at Akron (2/26, 7:00 p.m.), Buffalo (2/1, 2:00 p.m.)
Miami's officially inherited the basement of the MAC from Kent State. They've lost five in a row, including two losses by more than 40 points, and they now have a 16-point loss to KSU on their resume. Now, they have to deal with an Akron team that will undoubtedly have revenge on its mind, and that's followed by home games against Buffalo and BGSU. The RedHawks stand a very good chance of being the #12 seed in the MAC tournament.