One game down, 17 more to go. We're nine weeks away from the Mid-American Conference Tournament. With football over now, that really doesn't seem like much time, does it?
The first conference games did not provide a whole lot in the way of surprises, but we do have some movement in the power rankings.
The MAC schedule really gets ramped up this week, as each team has two conference games. Buffalo and Western Michigan are scheduled for Tuesday night, while the other teams have their weekday game on Thursday. Sunday features a full slate of games, including important ones in Akron at Bowling Green and Central Michigan at Buffalo.
1. Bowling Green Falcons (11-2; 1-0 MAC) -- LW: 1
Last week: Buffalo (W, 62-50)
This week: at Kent State (1/9, 7:00 p.m.), Akron (1/12, 2:00 p.m.)
For a few minutes, it appeared as if the Falcons would actually stumble at home. Then, Buffalo's Mackenzie Loesing left the game after just five minutes with an injury, and Alexis Rogers took over. Bowling Green fell behind 12-4 while Loesing was still in the game but then went on a 23-5 run to take a ten point lead. After that spurt, they controlled the remainder of the game.
Bowling Green's defense was already leading the MAC by a significant margin in points allowed per game, but they bettered their season average by six points in this contest while holding Buffalo 21.5 points below their normal offensive output.
The Falcons have a should-win midweek game before the Tecca-Luburgh express comes to town on Sunday. That Zips-Falcons game will go a long way to determine who ultimately wins the East in 2014.
2. Eastern Michigan Eagles (11-1; 1-0 MAC) -- LW: 2
Last week: at Kent State (W, 88-70)
This week: Ball State (1/9, 7:00 p.m.), at Northern Illinois (1/12, 2:00 p.m.)
The Eagles used the freshman tag-team of Janay Morton and Cha Sweeney to score 40 of the team's 88 points, and EMU cruised to an easy opening win over Kent State.
Eastern Michigan's home opener is against the struggling Ball State Cardinals. They have a good opportunity to start 3-0 in league play, but the trip to DeKalb next Sunday could be tricky.
3. Central Michigan Chippewas (5-8; 1-0 MAC) -- LW: 3
Last week: Toledo (W, 84-71)
This week: at Akron (1/9, 7:00 p.m.), at Buffalo (1/12, 2:00 p.m.)
Central Michigan badly needed a confidence-booster in their MAC opener against Toledo, and the Chippewas got it with an 84-71 victory. Toledo controlled Crystal Bradford early, but Bradford had a fantastic second half with 22 points and seven rebounds. CMU broke the game open with a 32-8 run after Toledo had taken a 49-43 lead.
The win is arguably CMU's best of the year, and their upcoming schedule shows that it's one they had to have. Their two games this week are on the road against Eastern Division contenders, and in particular, the game in Akron will be difficult, as the Zips have the firepower to keep up with the Chippewas.
4. Akron Zips (7-5; 1-0 MAC) -- LW: 4
Last week: Ball State (W, 87-78)
This week: Central Michigan (1/9, 7:00 p.m.), at Bowling Green (1/12, 2:00 p.m.)
Akron got their MAC schedule underway in positive fashion with a cross-division win over Ball State. After the Cardinals kept it close for the first ten minutes, Akron built a 22-point lead. Ball State was able to cut the lead to just eight in the second half but was not able to get closer.
The Zips have possibly their most important week of the entire conference season coming up over the next seven days. With games against both CMU and BGSU, it would be fantastic if the Zips could go 2-0. However, even a split of the two games should set Akron up for the rest of the conference schedule.
5. Ball State Cardinals (5-7; 0-1 MAC) -- LW: 5
Last week: at Akron (L, 87-78)
This week: at Eastern Michigan (1/9, 7:00 p.m.), Kent State (1/12, 2:00 p.m.)
After a couple of solid road wins to close non-conference play, it has to be disappointing for the Cardinals to lose their MAC opener to Akron. They didn't play poorly on offense and did make a strong effort at a comeback, but a loss is a loss. Ball State can make amends with an upset over Eastern Michigan on Thursday. Then, they get a reprieve on Sunday with a home game against Kent State.
6. Toledo Rockets (5-7; 0-1 MAC) -- LW: 6
Last week: at Central Michigan (L, 84-71)
This week: Northern Illinois (1/9, 11:00 a.m.), Miami (1/12, 2:00 p.m.)
Like Central Michigan, Toledo badly needed a win in this game to build some confidence. They played a very good first half against the Chippewas and held Bradford in check. The Rockets even held a six-point lead in the second half. Then, it all fell apart, and now Toledo will likely be playing catch-up to CMU for most of the season.
The upcoming week, which includes two home games against lesser teams, is critical for the Rockets. At this point, they almost have to go 2-0, or they'll already be in deep trouble with regards to tournament seeding.
7. Buffalo Bulls (7-5; 0-1 MAC) -- LW: 7
Last week: at Bowling Green (L, 62-50)
This week: at Western Michigan (1/7, 7:00 p.m.), Central Michigan (1/12, 2:00 p.m.)
Yes, Buffalo lost an important division game, but it shouldn't induce early panic among Bulls supporters. If you take away the BGSU 23-5 run in their Saturday game, Buffalo actually outscored the Falcons 45-39. And while you never really know, it's very possible that the game could have played out much differently if Loesing had played the entire game.
The Bulls will get another shot at Bowling Green, so the key here is to not have a hangover into the next game. They'll need to be at their best to beat Western Michigan in Kalamazoo, then have their home opener against Crystal Bradford and friends. The last thing you want is to end the upcoming week 0-3 in league play.
8. Northern Illinois Huskies (5-6; 1-0 MAC) -- LW: 9
Last week: Ohio (W, 74-51)
This week: at Toledo (1/9, 11:00 a.m.), Eastern Michigan (1/12, 3:00 p.m.)
The Huskies dismantled Ohio by 23 points in their MAC opener, as NIU had five players in double figures and dominated on the inside. They'll face much stiffer competition this week, though, as they play at Toledo before hosting upstart Eastern Michigan.
9. Western Michigan Broncos (5-7; 1-0 MAC) -- LW: 11
Last week: at Miami (W, 88-78)
This week: Buffalo (1/7, 7:00 p.m.), at Ohio (1/12, 2:00 p.m.)
Perhaps the one true surprise of the weekend was Western Michigan's win at Miami. The Broncos led for most of the game and had very solid performances for Miracle Woods, Michelle O'Brien and Marquisha Harris. Seeing this after WMU lost three straight home games has to make you wonder just who WMU really is. The Broncos could start 3-0 in MAC play, too. They host a Buffalo team that may (or may not) be without Mackenzie Loesing, then play at a very young Ohio team.
10. Ohio Bobcats (5-7; 0-1 MAC) -- LW: 8
Last week: at Northern Illinois (L, 74-51)
This week: Miami (1/9, 7:00 p.m.), Western Michigan (1/12, 2:00 p.m.)
Not many positives can be taken from a 23-point road loss to a Northern Illinois team that is in the bottom-half of the MAC. However, the Bobcats have a couple of chances at home to redeem themselves. Both games, against Miami and WMU, are winnable, but the Bobcats have been very inconsistent this year, so there's no way to really know what you're going to get this week.
11. Miami RedHawks (4-8; 0-1 MAC) -- LW: 10
Last week: Western Michigan (L, 88-78)
This week: at Ohio (1/9, 7:00 p.m.), at Toledo (1/12, 2:00 p.m.)
For a team that was regarded by some as a possible Eastern Division darkhorse, Saturday's loss to Western Michigan was particularly rough. If the RedHawks can recover, that loss could come back to haunt them at tournament time. They need to win at Ohio before facing a weekend trip to Toledo, as the Rockets are bound to be in a bad mood.
12. Kent State Golden Flashes (3-9; 0-1) -- LW: 12
Last week: Eastern Michigan (L, 88-70)
This week: Bowling Green (1/9, 7:00 p.m.), at Ball State (1/12, 2:00 p.m.)
Kent State dropped to 3-9 this season with yet another home loss. They never really challenged EMU and continue to give no indication that they'll be a threat to move out of the MAC cellar anytime soon. Thing's don't get any easier for the Flashes this week, either.