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Bowling Green at Central Michigan: Battle of the MAC Elite

The Falcons and Chippewas meet on Saturday as the only remaining unbeaten teams in MAC play. This contest isn't just for bragging rights. Even with three-quarters of the MAC season remaining, the winner will have the inside track to the #1 seed in the MAC Tournament.

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The Central Michigan Chippewas and Bowling Green Falcons have been among the two most consistent and winning-est programs in the Mid-American Conference over the last five years.  The two teams have combined for 115 wins in a possible 160 MAC regular season games during that span, and one of the two has appeared in each of the last five MAC Tournament championship games.  They've also combined to win three of the last four MAC Tournament championships, including the most recent, which was won by Central Michigan.

It appears that nothing has changed during the 2013-2014 season.  The Falcons and Chippewas stand as the only remaining teams with no losses in MAC play after four games, and each leads their respective division.  Bowling Green has one of the nation's best overall records and the MAC's top defense, while Central Michigan survived the most difficult non-conference schedule of all NCAA Division I teams and features the MAC's top offense.  Their rosters are a veritable "Who's Who" of league all-stars, from the Chippewas' Crystal Bradford and Niki DiGuilio to the Falcons' Alexis Rogers and Erica Donovan.

Of all the things you can say about this game, two things are a virtual certainty: there will be a high number of attempted three pointers, and there will be an intense battle on the inside for rebounds.

These two teams are among the best not just in the MAC, but in all of Division I, when it comes to shooting the long ball.  Central Michigan ranks seventh nationally and first in the MAC with 9.3 three-pointers made per game.  They're also 44th (out of nearly 350 teams) with a success rate of 35.7 percent.  Niki DiGuilio's 3.38 made threes per game is third nationally, and she's well inside the top 100 with a 39.1% success rate.  Don't sleep on Bowling Green's ability, though.  The Falcons are in the top 20% of all teams with 7.1 threes per game (56th) and a success rate of 34.9% (55th).  They don't have any individuals (like DiGuilio) near the top of the national rankings, but Deborah Hoekstra, Jillian Halfhill and Erica Donovan all rank among MAC leaders for three-point field goal percentage.  Halfhill and Hoekstra are among the league leaders in three-pointers per game.

Could the difference in this game be in how the two teams defend the three?  Perhaps.  Bowling Green is third in the MAC (and in the top-third nationally) by allowing opponents just a 29.1% success rate on threes.  Central Michigan, on the other hand, is next-to-last in the MAC and allows opponents to make 34% of attempted threes.

If that's not the difference in the game, rebounding certainly will be.  Both of these teams get after the ball extraordinarily well.  BGSU leads the MAC and is 24th nationally in rebounding margin when all games are considered.  They out-rebound opponents by over eight per game.  Central Michigan is fourth in the MAC at +2.4 overall, but their murderious schedule masks their ability.  In just four games against MAC opponents, they have a +8.8 margin, which is best in the MAC, just ahead of BGSU's +6.2.

It's not just straight margin of rebounds that matters, either.  They're both excellent in terms of percentage of possible rebounds earned, too.  In conference play, Bowling Green is second in the MAC by pulling down 72% of all possible defensive rebounds, while Central Michigan's 70.9% is third.  On the offensive end, the Chippewas pull down 38.2% of all possible offensive rebounds, while the Falcons are right behind at 35.7%.  In other words, these two teams do a fantastic job on the boards at both ends of the floor -- and that alone may be the most fun part of this game to watch.

Individually, the best ball-hawks in this game are CMU's Crystal Bradford and Jas'Mine Bracey.  Bradford (11.3 rebounds/game) and Bracey (9.7) are the top two rebounders in the MAC and rank among the nation's best.  Bradford is 13th in the country, while Bracey is a not-too-shabby 53rd.  Bowling Green's rebounds are spread out a little more, but Jessica Stein (8.9) and Alexis Rogers (8.0) are to be reckoned with on the inside.  These two teams have three of the top four (and four of the top ten) individual rebounders in the MAC.

Both the Falcons and Chippewas have dominated their MAC competition thus far, and each owns a scoring margin of +14.5 in their four league games to date.  However, they get after it in drastically different ways.  Central Michigan employs a more wide-open game that features a lot of scoring, while Bowling Green prefers to get the job done with their stifling defense.  Proof?  CMU leads the MAC in scoring offense during conference play (85.0 ppg), and BGSU does the same in scoring defense (53.8 ppg).  On the opposite end, both teams are eighth in the MAC -- Bowling Green's offense gets (only) 68.2 points per game, while opponents are scoring at a 70.5 points per game clip on the Chippewas.

Whose style will win the day?  Again, that battle will be a fascinating watch.

If you want to know more about this rivalry and how intense it's become in recent years, check out Thomas McElgunn's look at the series HERE.

Game time tomorrow is noon ET, and the game will be broadcast live on Time Warner Cable SportsChannel.  You can also view it online via ESPN3 or the MAC Digital Network.