McGuirk Arena in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan, is the site for the matchup between the Central Michigan Chippewas and the Akron Zips tonight. One of these teams is hoping to continue their dominance in the MAC by extending their undefeated streak, while the other hopes to get above .500 in conference play by knocking off a MAC leader. Only one of these teams is performing up to par with where the preseason poll placed them.
The home team, the Central Michigan Chippewas, were unanimously picked to win the MAC West, and were also the favorite to take home the MAC title at the end of the season. Unfortunately, head coach Keno Davis and the Chips haven't been able to get into any rhythms, resulting in an 8-7 (1-1 MAC West) record at the season's halfway mark. The Akron Zips, on the other hand, are playing up to the hype surrounding them in the preseason. The Zips currently sit atop the MAC East, where they were favored to finish first. Sitting with a 13-2 (2-0 MAC East) record, Akron has a reason to feel good about the rest of the season.
The Zips are riding a 10-game winning streak, after dropping two straight, to No. 11 Villanova and Green Bay, respectively. Their winning streak has included victories over two MAC opponents in Buffalo and Western Michigan, winning by a combined 13 points.
In Akron's most recent game against the Western Michigan Broncos, the leading scorers did not all show up. Of the four Zips whose average point total is in the double digits, Antino Jackson is the only one who scored at least 10 points, coming up with fifteen. It was a low-scoring affair, to be fair, as Akron only scored 63 points. Between the other three leading scorers (Noah Robotham, Isaiah Johnson, and Pat Forsythe), a combined 19 points were all that they could score. While allowing one player on the other team to do the majority of the scoring for WMU, the Akron defense stepped up big time. Although they allowed 26 points to Thomas Wilder, they had a nice grasp of control over the rest of the Western Michigan team, who shot 31.8% from the field and 10.5% from beyond the arc.
Central Michigan won its first game against a Division 1 opponent since December 22, 2015, last Saturday over Bowling Green. The Chippewa guards (Braylon Rayson, Chris Fowler, and Rayshawn Simmons) combined for 58 points out of the entire team's 78. Fowler also added eight assists to his stats, and pulling down seven rebounds in the process. The Central Michigan defense proved stout, as they only gave up 67 points on the road.
As we all know, the Chippewas haven't been able to figure themselves out yet. Perhaps the high expectations got to them, but they are not really affecting the lives of others.
A talented team like Central Michigan is always capable of an "upset," which is what should caution opponents heading into Mount Pleasant. CMU is desperate for wins, so this could be a signature win for the season that puts Keno's team over the top, after a very rocky start.
Game time is 7:00 p.m. EST, and the game can be seen on ESPN3.