By MIKE SMITH
Tuesday’s Mid-American Conference slate offers some HUGE matchups as the schools head into the final week of regular season play. All 12 schools will be back in action again Friday night to wrap up things and determine the final seeding.
Bowling Green, Central Michigan and Toledo all bring 11-5 conference marks into the final week.
Bowling Green (19-8, 11-5 MAC) is one game ahead of surging Buffalo (19-9, 10-6 MAC) and Kent State (19-9, 10-6 MAC), which has dropped two straight. The Flashes will be at BGSU tonight.
Buffalo (19-9, 10-6 MAC) will be heavily favored at home against struggling Ohio (9-18, 4-12 MAC). The Bobcats are on an active six-game slide, while UB is the MAC’s hottest team with four straight wins to its credit.
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Whether or not UT or CMU were looking ahead, they have arrived at their late season matchup tied atop the West (and also tied with BG for top MAC record overall). It’s been a long time since CMU and UT met – way back to MAC Opening Night back on Jan. 6. Central, which finished 10-21 overall and 3-15 MAC in 2013-14, quickly served notice it was a new season. The Chippewas edged preseason media favorite Toledo 65-62.
One might say that kicked off a crazy season, because “upsets” have abounded to the point where any “surprise” factor has diminished. Northern Illinois’s “sweep” of the MAC West’s Big Two last week was just the latest in a string of underdog wins.
That said, Toledo and Central Michigan remain strong teams. They will be fighting for both a MAC West title and favorable seeding in next week’s conference tourney.
CMU had won six straight prior to Saturday’s loss. Two of the wins were very close – 75-74 at Buffalo and 68-66 at home over NIU. The latter, perhaps, should have served as a major warning for the second meeting.
Chris Fowler leads CMU scoring with a 14.8 ppg average, along with 6.1 assists. John Simons is at 11.6 ppg with 6.4 rpg. Sophomore guard Braylan Rayson, who averaged 17.1 ppg in the two contests against NIU, is at 10.1 ppg.
The Chippewas lead the MAC in scoring and are 16th in the nation (78.5 ppg). Central’s 3-point game is especially strong, CMU has a league-best 281 threes and is also tops in 3-point goal percentage (38.9%).
Toledo, meanwhile, also boasts a strong offense. The Rockets (76.0 ppg) are second in the league in scoring and field goal percentage (46.7%). Although they rank 10th in made 3-pointers, the Rockets get to the line. They are third in free throw attempts (664), second in makes (514) and first in free throw percentage (71.2%).
Five Toledo players are scoring in double figures: Julius Brown (16.5), Justin Drummond (13.3), J.D. Weatherspoon 912.9), Jonathan Williams (10.6) and Nathan Booth (10.0).
Central Michigan is No. 1 in turnover margin (3.0), while UT ranks 10th (-0.33). However, the two teams aare 1-2 in assist-to-turnover ration: CMU 1.41 and Toledo 1.16.
While offense will likely be showcased in the CMU-Toledo matchup, defense should be plentiful when Bowling Green and Kent meet.
The Falcons are No. 1 in scoring defense (60.1 ppg) and second in field goal defense (40.1%) behind Eastern Michigan (37.5%). Kent State is right behind BGSU in both categories: second in scoing deense (62.2 ppg) and third in field goal defense (40.8).
Like Central Michigan, Bowling Green has been one of the top surprises this season. New head coach Chris Jans’ crew has posted four-game winning streaks on three occasions. The Falcons wee 12-20, 6-12 MAC last season.
Senior Richaun Holmes certainly deserves a good share of credit for this year’s success. He is averaging 14.4 ppg. and 8.0 rpg. His influence goes even further as a defensive force. He averages a conference-best 2.7 blocks per game (74 total) and impacts much of what goes on in and around the paint.
Sophomore Zack Denny is just off double figures with a 9.7 ppg average and also chips in 5.5 rebounds per outing. He his several big treys late in Saturday’s come-from-behind win at Miami. Jehvon Clarke owns a 9.3 ppg average.
Sophomore guard Jimmy Hall, who leads Kent State scoring(15.3 ppg) and rebounding (7.3 rpg),is bouncing back nicely from an illness (mononucleosis) . He had nine points in 17 minutes versus Ohio, 24 points in 29 minutes against Miami and 18 points in 34 minutes in the loss to Buffalo Saturday. Devareaux Manley (13.6 ppg) and Kris Brewer (10.5 ppg) are also in double figures, while Derek Jackson chips in 9.5 points per contest.
In other MAC contests Tuesday, Akron is at Miami, attempting to avenge the RedHawks 57-52 overtime win at the J.A.R. Feb. 21. That was part of a four-game skid for the Zips, who lost the other three games by a total of 10 points.
Coach Keith Dambrot’s crew no doubt hopes Saturday’s 70-58 victory over Ohio can get the Zips back on track heading into next week’s tournament. The Zips are at rival Kent State on Friday.
Miami also travels to a rival’s den when it meets Ohio in the regular season finale. Coach John Cooper’s RedHawks had won five straight prior to Saturday’s home setback against Kent State.
Suddenly red-hot Northern Illinois hosts Western Michigan Tuesday. For what it’s worth, WMU won the first meeting, 69-65, but that sounds very familiar (as in CMU vs NIU). The Broncos have bounced back in recent weeks, winning four of five after a mid-season three-game losing streak.
Of course, there are streaks, and then there are STREAKS!!
B all State is still trying to break its losing streak (now at 14 games). The good news for BSU is the Cardinals are at home. The bad news is that Eastern Michigan is no fun to play even when you are winning, let alone mired in a massive losing streak.
Eastern has lost three of four itself, albeit against some good competition (losses to WMU, CMU and Buffalo).