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The Chippewas are the hottest thing going right now. Granted, their current six-game winning streak includes some competition from the bottom of our rankings, but this is a year when virtually anybody is dangerous. Ask Toledo!
In any case, CMU seems to be playing both loose and well. “I think our guys have realized that they’ve exceeded expectations by so much that they don’t feel that pressure anymore when they come to games,” said head coach Keno Davis, who had guided the Chippewas over this “turnaround” season.
2. TOLEDO (18-10, 11-5 MAC)
After water problems on campus forced a one-day postponement of the UT-Northern Illinois game, Toledo fell to the Huskies, 84-82, following a late 3-pointer by Travon Baker. NIU has probably been playing better recently than its record shows, but the Rockets are no doubt disappointed – especially since it was a home game.
The Rockets might just take it out on Ball State Saturday, but then comes THE big game as Toledo meets Central Michigan on the road Tuesday. With the Chippewas up a game in the standings and owning a previous win over UT, Tuesday’s game will be crucial for the Rockets.
3. BOWLING GREEN (18-8, 10-5 MAC)
The Falcons split a pair last week. Nonetheless, they move up one spot. The win over Ohio might not have been all that great (even on the road), but the loss to a somewhat surging Buffalo team probably wasn’t all that terrible either.
There are just three regular games to go. The final two are against Kent State (home) and Buffalo (away). That makes Saturday’s game at Miami even more important. The RedHawks have won four straight and upset BGSU on the road Feb. 18. A game or two swing in tight standings might make a big difference come tourney time. Taking some momentum into the tourney might be helpful, as well.
4. KENT STATE (19-9, 10-5 MAC)
The Flashes appeared to be well on their way to a fourth consecutive victory Saturday when they led by 19 points over Miami in the second half. Instead, the RedHawks rallied to force overtime and then pull out their fourth straight win.
KSU really needs to handle their business at home Saturday against a Buffalo team that manhandled them (80-55) on the Bulls hardwood Jan. 30. A road game at Bowling Green and home tilt against rival Akron follow, so nothing will come easy the rest of the way.
5. BUFFALO (18-9, 9-6 MAC)
Coach Bobby Hurley’s Bulls make the biggest leap up this week, vaulting two spots up to No. 5. Buffalo was impressive with victories at Bowling Green (68-56) and at home against Akron (67-62). Forward Justin Moss posted a double-double of 25 points and 13 boards versus the Zips. Shannon Evans hit 5-of-6 3-point attempts on the way to 19 points in the win over BGSU. Evans is 11th among MAC playes in 3-point field goal percentage (36.7%). When the Bulls get the outside game going, it just adds to opponent difficulties in containing Moss inside.
6. WESTERN MICHIGAN (17-11, 8-7 MAC)
The Broncos continue to hover in our sixth spot after going 1-1 last week. Freshman Thomas Wilder had a breakout game with 34 points in a home loss to Toledo. David Brown hit five threes and contributed 29 of his own, but the Rockets prevailed after hitting 60 percent of their shots and nearly reaching the century mark in points.
It was a little close for comfort in the midweek game as WMU held off Ball State, which trailed by three and had the ball before a turnover and two Austin Richie free throws sealed that win.
Richie (4th, 42.1%) and Brown (12th, 34.9%) remain among the MAC upper echelon in three-point field goal percentage, and the Broncos rank third as a team (36.4%).
WMU hosts Eastern Saturday before traveling to NIU Tuesday and wrapping up the regular season at home against Central Michigan.
7. AKRON (17-11, 8-7)
Given the weather, it’s a bad time to “take the plunge,” but Akron plunged four spots to No. 7 this week after losing two more contests. That’s four straight! Moreover, UA has lost guard Noah Robotham to a season-ending injury. Though only a freshman, he was leading the team in minutes played and averaging 9.9 ppg with 3.3 assists per outing.
It’s time to get the Zipmobile back on track. Ohio comes to town Friday night. While the Bobcats pulled out an 83-82 win in the first meeting, OU is riding a five game losing streak and this is on the Zips home floor.
Akron lost three in a row and four of five in mid-to-late February last year before winning five straight on the way to the MAC tournament championship. Can the Zips turn it around again?
8. EASTERN MICHIGAN (17-11, 8-7 MAC)
The Eagles are one of the most difficult teams to figure out. Maybe it’s the matchups, but they’ve neither won nor lost more than two in a row since mid-January. Last week, EMU won at Northern Illinois before losing by 12 at home to Central Michigan in an good offense vs good defense battle. Senior guard Mike Talley led the Eagles scoring in both contests with 25 in the win and 16 in the loss.
Eastern goes on the road for two before finishing the regular season at home against Toledo. Western Michigan plays host this Saturday, followed by Ball State.
9. MIAMI (12-16, 7-8 MAC)
The RedHawks are the only team to go 2-0 last week and not move up. Miami, in fact, is currently on a four-game winning streak. However, the RedHawks last loss was an ugly pummeling at Eastern Michigan – one spot ahead of them.
It’s difficult to string wins together, but head coach John Cooper’s crew has done it against some good competition. Bowling Green comes to Oxford Saturday and will be seeking revenge for MU’s upset win at the Stroh Center Feb. 18. The Falcons are also battling for a high seed in the tournament, so Saturday’s game should be a big challenge. The mid-week game brings Akron to town. Like BGSU, the Zips dropped a home court decision to MU.
The RedHawks won’t wow anybody, but they are playing hard and the defense has improved quite a bit during the current winning streak. Miami has also been getting to the line – home and away.
Point guard Eric Washington is a key cog for MU, but other players are starting to step up, as well. Points off the bench are starting to be a positive for the RedHawks, who barely had a bench last year.
10. NORTHERN ILLINOIS (11-15, 7-7 MAC)
The Huskies broke a three-game losing streak Wednesday with a dramatic 84-82 win at Toledo. Travon Baker, who hit the game-winning trey had 18 points – his third highest total of the season. It was a nice reward for the Huskies, who had come up just short in several recent outings against MAC West heavyweights. They lost by two at league-leader Central Michigan and by four at Western Michigan in the previous outing.
NIU ranks third in steals (7.4 spg) and is first in rebounding margin (plus-4.5). However, it is last in assist-turnover ratio and averages a league-worst 14.6 turnovers per contest.
11. OHIO (9-17, MAC 4-11)
The Bobcats have lost five straight. Four of the five losses were by 11 points, while the other result was a 13-point setback.
With road games at Akron (Friday) and Buffalo preceding the final at home against rival Miami, the ‘Cats could be looking at an unusually bad finish. At this stage, any victory would be a relief.
Suffice it to say that this season will have to serve as something of a building block following last year’s 25-12 (11-7 MAC) mark that included a two-point loss in the CIT quarterfinals. However, graduation will once again hit OU hard. Two of three double-figure scorers are seniors (Maurice Daly Ndour, 14.8 ppg and Javarez Willis, 14.4 ppg)
12. BALL STATE (7-19, 2-13 MAC)
Speaking of any victory being a relief, the Cardinals are still searching for a win after 13 straight losses. They flirted with the “W” Tuesday when the Cardinals trailed Western Michigan by three and had the ball with inside 15 seconds remaining. A turnover and two WMU free throws ended BSU’s upset bid. The Cardinals also lost by five two games earlier at Kent State.
The Cardinals trail (14.4 tpg) only NIU in turnovers and are last in scoring offense (64.3 ppg).
Freshman forward Sean Sellers leads Cardinals with 12.1 ppg. while hitting 45.5 percent of his shots from the field. He tops the MAC in 3-point goal percentage (47.0%) and is second in both 3-point goals per game (2.9) and free throw percentage (82.9%).