In this crazy MAC basketball season nothing should come as a surprise. Yet a brief glimpse of the MAC West standings has us scratching our heads as Toledo hosts Western Michigan both sporting records of 3-5 in conference.
On January 19th the Rockets sat at just 3-2, but were sporting wins over Akron and Bowling Green, positioning them as a definite contender for the MAC West crown. On that same date, the Broncos had just given up nearly 50 points in the second half in a game against Ohio in Athens as they fell to 1-4. The picture for Toledo was bright, while for Western Michigan, gloomy. And yet, the two teams find themselves in identical positions, each playing well enough at times to pressure the top tier of the conference while also playing shockingly poor for long stretches of time.
Toledo didn't have an ordinary week last week. It dropped back to back home games to Ohio and Buffalo, shocking considering its previous successes against what were the top two teams in the MAC East. Offensive struggles have been to blame, as the Rockets are in the bottom half of the league in points per game and field goal percentage at 71.8 points per game and 43 percent shooting respectively. For the Broncos, the story has been different. Past offensive struggles have seemingly disappeared, while the play defensively has diminished. Once one of the best defensive teams in the league, the Broncos are now second to last in the conference in points allowed, but have climbed to second overall in points scored with 76.4 per game.
Look no further than sophomore standout Thomas Wilder for an explanation on the offensive surge. Wilder averages 22.1 points per game in the conference season. Wilder is coming off of a career performance against in state rival Eastern Michigan in which he scored 35 points and hauled in 10 rebounds, turning the ball over just two times. Wilder is playing like one of the best guards in the MAC, and he'll have to be to best a Toledo back court that has been good all season despite the 3-5 record. Jonathan Williams is averaging 14.9 points per game in MAC play, and is accompanied by Stuckey Mosely who also averages in double figures for the Rockets. Tucker Haymond is the second option for the Broncos, and he brings with him into the game a conference average of 16.8 points per game as his shooting struggles appear to have subsided. Haymond has hit 7 of his previous 17 three point attempts in the past three games, compared to just 8 of 28 in the five games prior. The increased production from the Junior guard has no doubt helped the Broncos find offense they've sorely missed throughout the season.
The Broncos seem to be hitting their stride, but there's good news for the Rockets on Tuesday, and that's the fact that WMU is 0-6 in true road games on the season. Also in the Rockets favor is the Broncos' inability to string wins together. WMU has not won back to back games against division one opponents since recording wins against Ohio and Central Michigan in March of last year. However, Toledo's struggles at home are well documented. The Rockets are just 1-3 at home in the MAC, including losses to Northern Illinois, Buffalo and Ohio.
Toledo should be able to find an advantage on the inside against Western Michigan. Nathan Boothe brings his 21.3 points per game up against the MAC's second worst defensive team inside the three point line. The Broncos have surrendered big games previously to the likes of Antonio Campbell and Jimmy Hall. Boothe certainly falls within the same pedigree and could have a huge game against the Brown and Gold.
Western Michigan (9-12; 3-5) vs Toledo (12-9; 3-5)
Savage Arena, Toledo, OH
Tuesday, February 2, 2016. 7:00 p.m.
Watch on ESPN3