Conference play is here! Enough with blowout losses to top ten competition and blowout wins over Division 3 teams (unless you're Miami). We'll learn a lot about these teams this week, and while you can't lose the conference during the first week of conference play, you can certainly put yourself in a position to be a factor in the end.
1. Toledo Rockets (12-1), LW: 1
Last week: at Kansas (L)
This week: at Western Michigan (1/8), Central Michigan (1/11)
Toledo showed the nation that they are for real, even in a loss at Kansas. The Rockets played well against one of the country's best teams and will be tough to beat for anyone in the MAC. It'll be interesting to see how they play against Western Michigan as the first game in conference play is always an adjustment for a team with many new players. But, the Rockets will be favored in both games and will have a really good shot at starting out the conference season 2-0.
2. Ohio Bobcats (10-3), LW: 3
Last week: Longwood (W), at UNC-Asheville (W)
This week: at Kent State (1/8), Akron (1/12)
Ohio blasted Longwood and also picked up a nice victory at UNC-Asheville yesterday. Now, UNC-Asheville isn't UNC, but a road win in an unfamiliar environment is important especially for conference play preparation. Yesterday's win came at a price though, as Ricardo Johnson suffered what looked like a major leg injury and may be done for the year. That would be a huge loss for the Bobcats, as Johnson had been averaging 8.4 points per game. It'll be tough to replace Johnson's 26 minutes per game especially with Ohio's unproven bench. Conference play starts with a bang as a tough road game at Kent State is followed with the rivalry game against Akron.
3. Kent State Golden Flashes (9-4), LW: 2
Last week: at Princeton (L)
This week: Ohio (1/8), Ball State (1/11)
Kent State took a tough loss at Princeton as they were really in a great position to win that game. Princeton is a good Ivy League team and a road loss to them certainly isn't something to be ashamed of. The schedule-makers gave the Flashes a nice start to the conference season with two home games. The Ohio game will be tough but it'll be a great measuring stick for both teams. Ball State is struggling, but Kent State should take care of business.
4. Buffalo Bulls (6-4), LW: 4
Last week: No games
This week: Northern Illinois (1/8), Eastern Michigan (1/11)
Buffalo's only game last week was a home game against South Dakota State, but that's being postponed due to the winter storm hitting the Northeast. Buffalo opens conference play with two home games against MAC West foes, and both should be winnable. This will be the first time Bobby Hurley sees Eastern Michigan's zone, so I can see the Bulls struggling at first in that one. But, Buffalo has enough three point shooters and Javon McCrea in the middle to break that zone up.
5. Akron Zips (8-5), LW: 5
Last week: Coppin State (W), Marshall (W)
This week: at Ball State (1/8), at Ohio (1/12)
The Zips are not playing well at all right now, and it shows how good this team can be that they can still pull out victories when playing awfully. The Coppin State game was a little tighter than it should have been, and the Zips really should have pounded Marshall before letting them back into it. The bad news for Akron is that they hit the road for the first two games of MAC play, but at least they open with Ball State. The Zips really need to clean up the sloppy play especially in advance of the showdown with Ohio next Sunday.
6. Eastern Michigan Eagles (8-5), LW: 6
Last week: at Syracuse (L), Rochester (W)
This week: at Bowling Green (1/8), at Buffalo (1/11)
Eastern Michigan played at little better against Syracuse than last year, but still got blown out. They bounced back with an overwhelming victory over D3 Rochester. The Eagles get two MAC East teams on the road, so we'll really learn a lot about this team over the next week. They could easily win both, split, or lose both. Going 1-1 would probably be where the Eagles are after next week's play.
7. Western Michigan Broncos (7-5), LW: 7
Last week: Siena Heights (W)
This week: Toledo (1/8), at Miami (1/11)
Western Michigan can surprise some people with a good showing against Toledo. We really haven't figured out this Bronco team yet; they can either be really good and challenge Toledo in the West or might go .500. The Miami game isn't a must win, but will probably tell us more about Western Michigan than the Toledo game.
8. Bowling Green Falcons (6-7), LW: 8
Last week: IPFW (L)
This week: Eastern Michigan (1/8), Northern Illinois (1/12)
Bowling Green had a great shot at beating IPFW but just couldn't get it done. Two West division foes come to town, starting off what could possibly be Louis Orr's last go-around in the conference. The Falcons really didn't do anything in the non-conference, so they really need a strong showing in MAC play for the higher-ups to give him an extended contract.
9. Central Michigan Chippewas (7-5), LW: 9
Last week: Marygrove (W)
This week: Miami (1/8), at Toledo (1/11)
The Chips beat Marygrove by 83, so that's that. The game against Miami will be interesting; it'll help us sort out what the bottom of the conference will look like somewhat.
10. Northern Illinois Huskies (6-6), LW: 10
Last week: at Iowa State (L), Bethune-Cookman (W)
This week: at Buffalo (1/8), at Bowling Green (1/12)
Well, how about the Huskies? No one could have projected Northern Illinois at .500 going into conference play and six wins is a huge accomplishment for this program. The Huskies have a chance to surprise some people this year, and they'll beat one of the top four teams above at least once. The season starts off with two tough games, but they can steal one at Bowling Green.
11. Miami RedHawks (4-7), LW: 11
Last week: at Massachusetts (L)
This week: at Central Michigan (1/8), Western Michigan (1/11)
The RedHawks showed a lot of heart in a close road loss to #23 UMass over the weekend. Miami has a chance to get a nice road win at Central Michigan before taking on a tough Western Michigan team at home. If the RedHawks can split these games, that a major accomplishment.
12. Ball State Cardinals (3-8)
Last week: at James Madison (L), Oakland City (W)
This week: Akron (1/8), at Kent State (1/11)
Welcome to conference play James Whitford! The Cardinals picked up their third win of the season against an overmatched opponent and hung tough in a loss at James Madison. If the Cardinals can keep either of their two conference games close I'll be pretty surprised.