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Toledo-Eastern Michigan Women: The Decisive MAC West Game

7 p.m. — Toledo (18-7, 11-2 MAC) at Eastern Michigan (19-7, 11-2 MAC) (MAC-Sports Video Feed, Maybe?)

Sure, the SportsTime Ohio televised game will be Kent State at Miami, and that'll be nifty as Wally Szczerbiak returns to Millett Hall and they're doing some type of ceremony for him. However, Miami is the last-place MAC East team and Kent State ought to be able to handle them. Even if the RedHawks win, it won't cause too much sway in the division. Kent State and Buffalo women also play, but neither are contending for the East.

Which narrows it down to Toledo and Eastern Michigan women for a rather large tilt in Ypsilanti's cavernous Convo. Both are 11-2 in the MAC West, tied for second overall in the division, and a win puts either one in great position to secure that double-bye into the semifinals.

I'm 98 percent sure this game will decide the division because either way the game will effectively be worth two games in the standings. If EMU wins, they sweep the season series (they won at Savage Arena 70-66 last month), owning the head-to-head tiebreaker. And if the Rockets pull off the road win, the division is probably theirs. They would split the season series with EMU, then tiebreaker factors in best record against the top team. That'd be BGSU, so advantage Toledo. And if the Falcons do somehow slip up down the stretch, then Toledo is in prime position to win the overall No. 1 seed. That's something the Eagles are not in great position to accomplish.

But Eastern does come in with an advantage. They're a sparkling 9-1 at home, with the lone loss via puzzling fashion to UMKC in overtime. In fact, every home win has been by at least 11 points, with the average being 22.1 points ... and that's even factoring out the Marygrove College Outlier. Against D1 teams at home, which has included Michigan and Miami, they've spanked the opposition.

I can't write enough about Tavelyn James and her impact on this game, so let's just say she scores 30 and we'll move on. What'll be important for the Eagles their defense (rated best in the MAC on opposing points/possession) to slow down that inevitable UT second-half run, or at least mitigate it by matching them on the other side.

EMU does have big-time scorers besides James, and that's the scary part. Even while James has AVERAGED almost 27 points per conference game — and 33 in her last three — Natachia Watkins has three 20-point games in their last six outings, Paige Redditt has one and Olivia Fouty has three 10-point games in their last five. It's a team that metrically might be the best in the MAC, but they happened to play at BGSU, not at home against them. And on a neutral court you have to wonder if the Eagles wouldn't win a rematch decisively.

But seven wins in a row is nothing. Toledo can see that streak and and raise it. January 11 seems like a distant memory, as that was the date of UT's last loss: Eastern Michigan. Since then it's been 10 straight wins of all sorts: comebacks, blowouts, nail-biters, near-collapses, road wins, rival wins, and they sprinkled in some boring W's for good measure. What the Rockets can prove in this game, which I guess is all they have left, is the ability to win on the road. We know they're good in Savage. They won the WNIT last March, a tournament in which they never had to leave town. They beat Bowling Green in miraculous fashion. But can they beat a marginally better team in their own dwelling? Well ... yes, they can. Better question: will they?

What let them down the last time was their defense. I'm sensing a theme. They let James, Redditt and Watkins combine for 56 points, and much of their scoring was from inside the arc. So it's going to be up to whoever guards James to slow her down and have Yolanda Richardson, that big UT center averaging a MAC-best 2.0 blocks/game, challenge shots from those slashing guards. I'm not expecting Courtney Ingersoll or Andola Dortch to score 20 — if it happens, bonus for them — but they've usually won with a healthy distribution of shots.

The game starts at 7 p.m., and I'm not 100 percent sure the game will be available online for free, since the link isn't on the schedule like it normally would be, but here's the EMU streaming page should it become available. You'd have to hope it will be. If not, WEMU normally does a free web radio feed.