MAC play is just getting ready to enter the midpoint of the season, and both the Bowling Green Falcons and Central Michigan Chippewas find themselves at surprising spots in the standings. But, both teams have very different reasons to be a little shocked at where they stand among their MAC brethren.
Central Michigan (11-9, 4-3) sits tied for second in the West with Ball State. Coming off of a season where they held the number one seed in the conference tournament and lost no key performers, expectations were high. The Chips struggled early on mainly due to the absence of Chris Fowler, who didn't play until December 7th because of injury. The thought was that when Fowler returned, this veteran team would turn the corner and become a dominant force in the conference.
CMU went 3-4 without Fowler, but are just 8-5 with him. The season may be starting to turn around, though, after two comfortable wins at home over Ohio and at Miami after a close loss at Northern Illinois. Against the Bobcats and RedHawks, the Chips have gone into halftime with a narrow lead but have used halftime adjustments to run away with victories. Defensively, CMU allowed just 40 second-half points combined from Ohio and Miami.
Bowling Green (13-7, 4-3), meanwhile, had expectations lowered when the Chris Jans firing and subsequent supposed mass player exodus went down last summer. To their and Michael Huger's credit, the team pushed through it without anyone of note leaving and have really surprised a lot of people this year. They have played well and look to be one of those team you can't sleep on.
The Falcons have been road warriors during conference play. Three of their four wins have come on the road against Eastern Michigan, Ohio and Western Michigan. That bodes well for Saturday afternoon's game against Central, as it shows they aren't afraid to go into another team's arena and beat them. Road wins are so hard to come by in this conference, but BG looks to be smashing that stereotype.
Last time these two teams played, Central Michigan yet again pulled away in the second half to defeat the Falcons 79-67 in Bowling Green. The Chippewas shot lights-out, hitting over 50 percent of their field goals, including 40 percent from beyond the arc and nearly 80 percent from the free throw line. Rayson exploded for 27 points, leaving BG clueless on how to slow him down.
Bowling Green struggled from deep, hitting just 5 of 14 shots (35 percent). They also didn't get to the charity stripe as much as CMU did and were only average (67 percent) at converting. The major key to success for the Falcons is on defense, where BG needs to limit three-point attempts and defend without fouling. The Falcons have pretty impressive defensive statistics, ranking fifth in the conference in 3-point defense (35.2 percent) and third in 2-point defense.
Central Michigan has the benefit of being at home, but that won't phase a team like Bowling Green. To win on Saturday, the Chips really need to do what they've done the last two games: shoot the ball well, limit turnovers and be strong defensively. The Falcons aren't the best shooting team, so winning the rebounding battle and limiting second-chance opportunities will be a factor.
Where: McGuirk Arena, Mt. Pleasant, Michigan
When: Saturday, January 30th at 4:30 p.m. EST
How to watch: Streaming live on ESPN3