It’s hard to call anything an upset anymore in MAC Men’s Basketball Ver-2014-15. Even the “weaker” teams have some quality wins to their credit and can be a dangerous opponent.
Ball State, for example, is 7-12 overall and 2-6 in MAC play. Yet it opened the conference slate with wins over Eastern Michigan and Central Michigan before falling to Western Michigan, 95-93, in double overtime.
Northern Illinois, meanwhile, knocked off Akron and nearly did the same (67-65) to Kent State – both on the Huskies hardwood.
Those two squads, along with Bowling Green, have notably elevated their game. Others are among a group that is likely disappointed at this stage.
Roughly two-thirds of the conference could be considered candidates to make strong runs come MAC tournament time. The rest, as we suggest, are more than capable of spoiling an opponent’s day.
Let’s see where they fall in this week’s MAC Reporter Online Power Rankings.
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2. AKRON (15-6, 6-2 MAC) – Like KSU, the Zips are a perennial power. Also like KSU, they brought a 9-4 mark into MAC play. After thumping Western Michigan in the MAC opener, UA fell at Toledo (84-67). The Rockets were a preseason MAC favorite, so a road loss there was “understandable.” Akron bounced back with two wins before losing at Northern Illinois. Since then, the Zips have won all three, including a 69-68 thriller at Bowling Green Saturday.
3. CENTRAL MICHIGAN (13-6, 5-3 MAC) -- On a given night, the Chippewas might be the most dangerous team in the Mid-American Conference. They average 81.8 points per game (sixth nationally). They also are 19th in field goal percentage (48.5%) and 35th in assists among Division I teams. A word of warning to opponents: Don’t give the Chippewas room beyond the arc. Miami can attest to that advice after watching CMU hit 70.4 percent (19-of-27) from distance in a 105-77 victory over MU Jan. 14. The Chippewas fell to Ball State early and also lost at Akron and Kent State. CMU, however, also counts quality wins against Toledo, Buffalo and Eastern Michigan among its victories.
4. TOLEDO (13-8, 5-3 MAC) – The Rockets were a preseason favorite, but the 8-5 pre-conference play record (albeit against some quality opponents) suggested there might be a chink or two in the armor. An opening loss (at home) to Central Michigan, plus later back-to-back losses against Western Michigan and Kent State suggests conference teams have elevated their play. No one is conceding anything to Toledo, and it is likely in for a fight in the rest of the way. It currently is working off a three game win streak, so taking care of business this week against at home against EMU and at Ball State would give Toledo some momentum heading into a tough stretch the following week.
5. BOWLING GREEN (13-5, 5-3 MAC) – Is it too early to call the Falcons a bonafide contender? New head coach Chris Jans has his squad playing well. BGSU appeared to gain some confidence early in the season and built on that by winning four of its first five MAC games. Defense has been a key. While the Falcons are last among MAC teams in offense (64.3 ppg), they are first in defense (58.6 ppg). They are second – behind only Eastern Michigan – in opponent field goal percentage (39.7%). Wednesday’s matchup against Central Michigan (the MAC’s top offense) should be ultra-interesting!
6. BUFFALO (14-6, 5-3 MAC) – Last Friday’s beat down of Kent State, especially coming on the heels of a win over Western Michigan, reflected the kind of hope Bulls fans had after a 9-3 pre-MAC record. Two of the those losses wee to No. 1 Kentucky and No. 6 Wisconsin. The Bulls, however, have been very up-and-down in conference play. Two of the wins were over a struggling Miami team over a 10-day stretch. The Bulls split with Western Michigan and lost (at home) to NIU. Road losses at Central Michigan and Ohio preceded the current two-game winning streak.
7. WESTERN MICHIGAN (13-8, 4-4 MAC) – After stumbling to Akron, 72-52, on the road to open MAC play, the Broncos ran off four straight wins. That run included an overtime win at Toledo. It hasn’t gone quite as well lately as WMU is riding a three game losing streak. With Kent State (home) and Central Michigan (away) on tap this week, the Broncos will be challenged.
8. EASTERN MICHIGAN (14-7, 3-5 MAC) – After winning 11-of-12 in non-conference play, the Eagles seemed poised to become a front-runner in the MAC West. However, three straight losses – two in overtime – to start MAC competition stalled EMU’s momentum. After a win against Northern Illinois, Eastern dropped two more. (BGSU and Ohio). Eagle fans are hoping EMU turned the corner last week with two home wins. It’s back on the road this week with games at Toledo and Ohio. Eastern needs at least a split. The schedule offers three straight home games after that, so a good run would get EMU back in the MAC West race.
9. MIAMI (8-13, 3-5) – The RedHawks actually beat Eastern Michigan earlier this season and own a victory over every team below them, but that 8-13 overall record is hard to overlook. It’s been a year of transition for the RedHawks, who are integrating a lot of new faces. Will Sullivan is the team’s only senior, and MU has struggled mightily to get inside scoring. Freshman L.J. Livingston has shown some signs of filling that role, but he is still a freshman. A big problem for the RedHawks is on the defensive side. They rank last in opponent field goal percentage (47.3%) and last in scoring defense (71.1 ppg). Of course, surrendering 105 points at Central Michigan didn’t help.
10. BALL STATE (7-12, 2-6 MAC) –
There is considerable talent on this Cardinals team, but depth has become an issue due to a variety of issues. BSU has lost two of three overtime games this year, with the last OT game being a 95-93 double-overtime loss at Western Michigan. That started a seven-game slide, which is still active. One thing that would help the Cardinals get in the win column would be to eliminate some turnovers. They are last in the league in turnover margin (-1.72) and 10th in assist-to-turnover ratio (0.90).Freshman forward Sean Sellers leads the Cardinals scoring with a 12.5 ppg average.
11. NORTHERN ILLINOIS (8-11, 2-6 MAC) – The Huskies own a 64-61 victory over Akron and nearly knocked off Kent State. They are currently on a three-game losing streak, but will get a chance to pay back Miami Wednesday. The RedHawks won in DeKalb, 60-55. The Huskies are 11th in scoring offense (64.5 ppg) and fifth in scoring defense (64.5 ppg).
12. OHIO (7-12, 2-6 MAC) – It’s very strange, indeed, to see a Bobcat team under .500 at this stage of the season. Ohio has won two straight just once this season and it started MAC play with a four-game losing streak. After a pair of wins, the ‘Cats own a two-game losing skein with home games against Akron and Eastern Michigan this week. Defense has been an issue as OU ranks 11th (69.8 ppg). With a 66.4 ppg offensive average, the Bobcats are 11th in scoring margin (-3.4). Senior Maurice Daly Ndour has been a bright spot, averaging 15.1 ppg and 8.7 rpg – both team highs. Classmate Javarez Willis has also been strong, averaging 14.0 ppg and 3.1 assists.