The Mid-American Conference women's basketball tournament begins five weeks from yesterday. After Sunday's games, each team has played half their complement of this year's 18-game conference schedule. Things have certainly changed during the last month. Questions about Central Michigan have been answered, while Eastern Michigan's hot start withered into the dark reality of difficult conference competition. Akron and Buffalo both recovered from terrible starts to firmly place themselves near the top of the league standings.
In all, just three games separate the middle eight teams in the conference standings. At stake are two byes straight to Cleveland as well as four home games in the opening round of the tournament. The next five weeks should certainly provide some exciting #MACsketball.
Now, let's get on with those rankings...
1. Central Michigan Chippewas (13-8; 9-0 MAC) -- LW: 1
Last week: Eastern Michigan (W, 82-67), Ohio (W, 80-63)
This week: at Ball State (2/6, 7:00pm), Buffalo (2/9, 2:00pm)
Central Michigan did not do anything unexpected last week. While some may wonder why they didn't beat the Eagles and Bobcats by bigger margins, the Chippewas did not need to sweat at the end of either game. They handily beat two lesser (and younger) teams at home. That's exactly what a top-ranked team should do.
CMU begins the second half of their conference schedule with a trip to Ball State. The Cardinals are coming off a terrible loss to Kent State, but is that really who they are? After playing in Muncie, the Chips return home for what could be a difficult rematch with Buffalo.
2. Bowling Green Falcons (18-3; 8-1 MAC) -- LW: 2
Last week: at Ohio (W, 78-62), at Toledo (W, 66-59)
This week: Western Michigan (2/5, 7:00pm), Miami (2/9, 2:00pm)
Neither of BGSU's wins last week were comfortable. In fact, the Falcons trailed late in both games. I was briefly tempted to move Akron up to this spot, but in the pursuit of a top-two seed and an automatic trip to the conference semifinals, winning is all that really matters. This is especially true when both games were on the road, and BGSU's style doesn't always lend itself to big victory margins.
This week should be easier for the Falcons. They play twice at home, where they generally play better, and they play two teams that are a combined 7-11 in MAC play so far. However, it should be noted that Miami does have a win over Akron, and Western Michigan allowed only 99 points in two games last week. The gave versus WMU in particular threatens to be close and low-scoring.
3. Akron Zips (12-8; 6-3 MAC) -- LW: 3
Last week: at Toledo (W, 82-62), Buffalo (W, 101-92)
This week: at Northern Illinois (2/5, 8:00pm), Western Michigan (2/8, 2:00pm)
No team had a better week in the MAC than the Akron Zips. They posted a 20-point road win over a very talented Toledo team (one that nearly beat BGSU just a few days later) and then ended Buffalo's five-game winning streak and scored triple digits in the process. This team has arguably the best scoring tandem in the country and can rely on several other options, as well. It should be a surprise to no one if they end up as one of the top two teams in the MAC at season's end.
Akron starts this week with a tricky trip to Northern Illinois. The Huskies did lose their last game and scored just 43 points, but they've generally been very good at home, with several 20-point wins against MAC teams. After that, the Zips return home for a should-win game against Western Michigan.
4. Buffalo Bulls (12-8; 5-4 MAC) -- LW: 5
Last week: Miami (W, 58-56), at Akron (L, 101-92)
This week: Ohio (2/6, 12:00pm), at Central Michigan (2/9, 2:00pm)
Buffalo waited until the final seconds to get their fifth straight MAC win in a 58-56 triumph over Miami, then saw their winning streak end at Akron. It was a tough week for the Bulls, who are now three games out of second place in the MAC standings. They're also now at a tiebreaker disadvantage to both Akron and Western Michigan. However, they get moved up here because, at this point, they're better than Toledo. And they have a head-to-head win over Toledo, too.
The Bulls should be able to handle Ohio at home on Thursday, but their game at Central Michigan on Sunday is a key opportunity. Buffalo played the Chippewas very well in their previous meeting in Buffalo, and if Mackenzie Loesing and Kristen Sharkey have another big game, the Bulls have the ability to pull the upset.
5. Toledo Rockets (9-11; 4-5 MAC) -- LW: 4
Last week: Akron (L, 82-62), Bowling Green (L, 66-59)
This week: at Miami (2/6, 7:00pm), at Kent State (2/9, 2:00pm)
Clearly, Toledo would have preferred to win both games last week, but a split could have still been viewed as a success (especially if it had come at the expense of Bowling Green). Unfortunately, they lost both games at home and lost a big opportunity to position themselves for a run at a top-two seed. The result is very disappointing, and now they're left to fight for a bye into the third-round of the conference tournament as the 3rd or 4th seed. However, I keep Toledo in the top five as I still view them as a cut above the teams immediately below them.
One of the problems with Toledo's two losses last week is the fact that they have two road games this week. Miami already has a home win over Akron and played reasonably well against the Rockets in Toledo last month, and Kent State just got their first win of the conference season and is building confidence. Toledo needs to win both games, but somehow, a split seems more likely.
6. Ball State Cardinals (9-11; 4-5 MAC) -- LW: 6
Last week: Western Michigan (W, 56-43), at Kent State (L, 60-57)
This week: Central Michigan (2/6, 7:00pm), at Northern Illinois (2/9, 2:00pm)
Just ignore the Cardinals' win over Western Michigan. The story of last week for Ball State was their loss at Kent State. The Flashes had not won at all in two months and had lost their first eight conference games by at least ten points. Teams in the middle of the pack have little margin for error where conference tournament seeding is concerned, and this loss could be a complete anchor for the Cardinals.
This week's games are even more troubling for Ball State. They play at home on Thursday, but the opponent is Central Michigan. Next weekend, they have to travel to NIU. As noted earlier in this piece, the Huskies have played well at home. An 0-2 week would be devastating for the Cardinals, but it's a distinct possibility.
7. Western Michigan Broncos (9-11; 5-4 MAC) -- LW: 7
Last week: at Ball State (L, 56-43), Northern Illinois (W, 56-43)
This week: at Bowling Green (2/5, 7:00pm), at Akron (2/8, 2:00pm)
Western Michigan had a rather pedestrian week, as they won at home 56-43 and lost on the road by the same score. Fortunately for the Broncos, they're still tied for the fourth-best record in the MAC with Buffalo. That is unlikely to last long, though. WMU has to travel to Bowling Green and Akron this week. BGSU is 8-1 in MAC play and is very difficult to beat in Bowling Green, while Akron has won five MAC games in a row.
8. Northern Illinois Huskies (8-11; 4-5 MAC) -- LW: 8
Last week: Kent State (W, 65-43), at Western Michigan (L, 56-43)
This week: Akron (2/5, 8:00pm), Ball State (2/9, 2:00pm)
The Huskies had a very similar week to Western Michigan (and were the Broncos' victim in Kalamazoo). The results for both mean that neither team moves up or down in the rankings, and WMU gets the edge based on the head-to-head victory. Northern Illinois is now 3-1 at home against conference foes, and all three wins were by at least 20 points. They have two more home games this week, and they ought to at least pull out a split. Can they upset Akron? It's going to be very tough, but I don't think it's out of the question.
9. Miami RedHawks (7-13; 3-6 MAC) -- LW: 11
Last week: at Buffalo (L, 58-56), at Eastern Michigan (W, 71-65)
This week: Toledo (2/6, 7:00pm), at Bowling Green (2/9, 2:00pm)
Miami moves up two spots in this week's rankings on the coattails of their near-victory in Buffalo and their comeback road win over Eastern Michigan. They're playing better than either the Eagles or the Ohio Bobcats at this point. The upcoming week will provide sterner tests, though, as they host Toledo before traveling to Bowling Green. However, this is a team that's already beaten Akron, so anything is possible with this group.
10. Eastern Michigan Eagles (12-8; 2-7 MAC) -- LW: 9
Last week: at Central Michigan (L, 82-67), Miami (L, 71-65)
This week: Kent State (2/6, 7:00pm), at Ohio (2/9, 2:00pm)
The Eagles clearly have two rising stars in Janay Morton and Cha Sweeney, but when those two falter, they're not able to generate what they need to win games. EMU will get better, and they certainly weren't embarrassed in either of their games last week, but they're likely looking at a road game in the opening round of the conference tournament at this point. This week, they get a chance for a second win over Kent State, then they travel to Athens for a game they really must have if they're to have any chance at at home game in the tournament.
11. Ohio Bobcats (6-12; 2-5 MAC) -- LW: 10
Last week: Bowling Green (L, 78-62), at Central Michigan (L, 80-63)
This week: at Buffalo (2/6, 12:00pm), Eastern Michigan (2/9, 2:00pm)
Ohio's in a very similar position to Eastern Michigan. For the Bobcats, they had golden opportunities to steal wins at home over both Toledo and Bowling Green but failed to maintain leads. In future years, things might be different, but not now. The best the Bobcats can probably achieve this week would be a split. The trip to Buffalo for a mid-day game on Thursday will be very difficult, then they host EMU in a game that will probably seal one team's fate as a bottom-four tournament seed.
12. Kent State Golden Flashes (4-16; 1-8 MAC) -- LW: 12
Last week: at Northern Illinois (L, 65-43), Ball State (W, 60-57)
This week: at Eastern Michigan (2/6, 7:00pm), Toledo (2/9, 2:00pm)
Kent State remains at the bottom of these rankings -- but they won! The Golden Flashes can relax a little now, as they finally got rid of that goose-egg in the MAC win column with their 60-57 victory over Ball State. They have reeling Eastern Michigan on the road this week, followed by Toledo at home. They won't be favored in either game, but now that the first win is out of the way, more is certainly possible.
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