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Ohio Bobcats vs. Western Michigan Broncos men's basketball preview: Fighting for their conference lives

Ohio will try to finish the second half strong in this one, while the Broncos are looking to stay relevant in the MAC West.

WMU guard Austin Richie
WMU guard Austin Richie
Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Tonight the Western Michigan Broncos will be hosting the Ohio Bobcats at University Arena with a starting tip-off at 7:00 pm Eastern. The Broncos (15-10, 6-6) are coming off a win over Northern Illinois over the weekend which saw significant first half struggles but a confident performance overall.

Ohio (9-14, 4-8) lost to Miami on Saturday, with whom Ohio is now tied for the bottom of the MAC East. Ohio's performance was in many ways the inverse of the WMU-NIU game, as the Bobcats enjoyed a strong start followed by a competitive second half in which they slowly lost steam.

Senior guard Javarez Willis and senior forward Maurice Ndour are the biggest offensive threats for the Bobcats averaging 14.9 and 14.7 points per game, respectively. Sophomore forward Antonio Campbell led the Bobcats in scoring against Miami on Saturday so look to him to potentially keep a hot-streak going against the Broncos.

As Hustle Belt's Justin Coffin noted, Western's junior forward AJ Avery did a stellar job defending NIU's Jordan Threloff last weekend. We'll see if Broncos' head coach Steve Hawkins decides to use Avery again to stifle some of Ohio's big men.

A big unknown entering this game is the effect of WMU's senior guard Austin Richie. Richie returned on Saturday from an injury that kept him sidelined since January 21, but went 0-for-7 from the field over 30 minutes. Western's offense can certainly have success with the joint forward play of Connar Tava and Tucker Haymond combined with guard David Brown and the young Thomas Wilder, but it would be a tremendous confidence boost for the Bronco faithful to see Austin Richie back to normal.

While it is still possible the Broncos could finish atop the MAC West, essentially at this point in the season, both teams are really only jockeying for the best possible seed in the MAC tournament. The Broncos have maybe a little more hope and more importantly, I believe a little more depth. That's why I'm taking Western in this one, final score 76-70.