Ready or not, the Mid-American Conference’s women’s basketball season is about to start. Here are my thoughts about the non-conference portion of the schedule, and what that means for the MAC’s 12 teams as league play begins Wednesday and Thursday. …
1. MIAMI (10-3) (LW #4): Yes, I know this is a bit of a jump. But the RedHawks gained that “signature” win they needed to burnish their resume when they knocked off Cincinnati Dec. 17. Miami’s three losses are all on the road to teams with RPIs in the top 100, so there’s no shame in any of them. Based on the information I have, the RedHawks are the team to beat in the East Division. RPI: 59.
2. CENTRAL MICHIGAN (8-6) (LW #2): The Chippewas also seem to be putting things together, having won six of their last seven –- and the only loss was to a tough Hampton squad. CMU has played a wicked schedule and seems to be surging just in time for the start of the MAC schedule. And that’s going to be important as Central Michigan’s first two challenges are games on the road against Eastern Michigan and Toledo. RPI: 105.
3. EASTERN MICHIGAN (8-5) (LW #1): The Eagles have just been too inconsistent for my tastes. I’m willing to excuse a three-point loss at Seattle in the second game of a two-day tournament, but losing at Detroit a week earlier is inexcusable. EMU will need to have its house in order when it travels to Toledo to take on the Rockets Jan. 11; a win on the road over the Rockets would establish the Eagles as a favorite to win the West Division. RPI: 92.
4. TOLEDO (7-5) (LW #3): You would think losing a player as talented as Naama Shafir would have been a death blow to this team. Well, think again: The Rockets handled Northwestern on the Wildcats’ home floor, and the home loss to Marquette is understandable. I must admit that I expected more of a drop after Shafir was injured, but Toledo remains a solid candidate to win the MAC West. RPI: 96.
5. BOWLING GREEN (10-3) (LW #6): In my last rankings I said we would know more about the Falcons once they played at Creighton, then took a swing through the Rockies to play Wyoming and Colorado State. Well, now we know: BG may be pretty good after all, since the Falcons played well at Creighton and won the other two contests. The schedule was one of the weakest in the league, but 10 wins is still 10 wins. RPI: 140.
6. AKRON (6-8) (LW #5): The Zips suffered a devastating blow when Rachel Tecca tore her ACL in the loss to Duquesne, and Akron has struggled since. After losing to the Dukes, Akron lost three more “toss-up” games before beating an overmatched Chicago State squad. Can the Zips overcome the loss of Tecca? They’ll need to find answers fast, since their first two MAC games are against Miami and Bowling Green. RPI: 193.
7. BUFFALO (5-9) (LW #7): The won-loss record is misleading, since the Bulls have played a difficult schedule. In fact, the only loss I question is a neutral-court setback against Fairleigh Dickinson in late November. But Buffalo needs to get off to a good start in league play; after playing at Ohio in the opener, the Bulls are at Miami, followed by difficult home games against Akron and Bowling Green. RPI: 167.
8. OHIO (7-7) (LW #10): The Bobcats may be poised to sneak up on some teams, having played well in the last month. Ohio has won four of its last six games, and the losses came to national powerhouses Oklahoma and Syracuse. A win at Xavier (and yes, the Musketeers are struggling, but still a good win) also helps add to the Bobcats’ confidence entering league play. RPI: 215.
9. NORTHERN ILLINOIS (6-6) (LW #8): Don’t fall asleep against the Huskies, who have been very impressive at home. NIU is 4-2 at the Convocation Center, including a win over Temple. More impressive to me is that the Huskies are winning the “toss-up” games at home. Bold prediction: The Huskies will spring a home upset that will cost one of the league leaders dearly when it comes to determining seeding for the MAC Tournament. RPI: 185.
10. BALL STATE (4-8) (LW #9): The Cardinals struggled in a rough patch of the schedule, claiming only one win in their last five games. Especially troubling was the home loss to Valparaiso – not because it was a loss, but because it was a 12-point loss at home to what was expected to be an inferior team. BSU needs to improve its defense, especially the field-goal shooting of opponents (42.0 percent, ranked 12th in the league) and turnovers (Ball State commits 2.5 more miscues per game than its opponents do). Earning a win at Western Michigan is critical if the Cards want to right the ship. RPI: 271.
11. WESTERN MICHIGAN (3-10) (LW #12): The Broncos limp into conference play on a three-game losing streak, and the three victories are against teams whose combined record is 8-28. What’s more, that early season loss to Chicago State remains bothersome. Winning at least one of their first two MAC games – home contests against Toledo and Ball State – is essential if WMU wants to get rolling this season. RPI: 328.
12. KENT STATE (1-9) (LW #11): This one is a head-shaker. Coach Bob Lindsay warned us that the Golden Flashes would be a work in progress, but KSU has lost seven in a row, including a head-scratcher at home against Northeastern. Compounding the concern is that Kent State has struggled against one of the weakest schedules in the conference. It may take one of Lindsay’s best coaching efforts just to lift this team out of the basement. RPI: 334.
NEXT SET OF POWER RANKINGS: Tuesday, Jan. 17.