There is some clarity, true –- Toledo and Central Michigan are the MAC’s two best teams, and Kent State, Northern Illinois and Ohio are at the bottom. But the middle? It is muddled, to be sure.
While I realize Ball State and Akron are tied for the fourth-best record in the league, I firmly do NOT believe them to be equals. In fact, readers with a good memory may recall that, in the first set of rankings, I had the Cardinals 12th -- that’s right, last –- in the MAC. Obviously they aren’t that bad, but it’s hard to reason how BSU suddenly would vault into a spot where it would receive a bye in the MAC Tournament.
So, how would YOU rank Akron, Ball State, Bowling Green and Miami? For example, Miami beat BG, which beat Ball State, which beat Miami … and so the circle goes.
And how would YOU rank Buffalo, Eastern Michigan and Western Michigan? The Broncos have wins over both Akron and Bowling Green, but have lost to both UB and EMU.
Well, here is how I would answer those two questions -– and how I would rank the MAC’s 12 teams heading into Wednesday’s schedule of games. …
1. TOLEDO (22-2, 10-1 MAC) (LW #2): The Rockets have won ten in a row, and there’s no reason to think they won’t advance that to 11 at home against Northern Illinois Wednesday. But 12 in a row? That may be another matter, since that contest is on the road against Central Michigan, the team that handed UT its only league loss this season. If the Rockets want to stump for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament or a Top 25 bid, beating the Chippewas is a must. RPI: 44.
2. CENTRAL MICHIGAN (15-9, 9-2 MAC) (LW #1): After pounding out seven straight wins to start the MAC season, injuries became a chink in the Chippewas armor. Back-to-back road losses to Bowling Green and Ball State have given control of the West Division to Toledo, but CMU can regain command with a home win over the Rockets on Feb. 24. It helps that the Chips only other remaining regular-season challenge also is at home when Ball State comes to visit on Feb. 28. RPI: 62.
3. AKRON (17-7, 8-3 MAC) (LW #5): The Zips bounced back from a three-game losing spin with a five-game win streak that included a nice home win over Bowling Green and an even more impressive road victory at Miami. Akron controls its own destiny in the East Division title hunt but will need some help if it wants a bye to the semifinals, since UA lost to both Toledo and Central Michigan. But a third-round bye? That is well within reach, especially if the Zips can claim a win at BG tonight. RPI: 130.
4. BOWLING GREEN (16-8, 7-4 MAC) (LW #4): While the road ahead won’t be easy for the Falcons -– they host Akron Wednesday and then play at Miami Saturday –- the stakes are easy to understand. If BG can claim two wins this week, it almost certainly will claim a bye into the third round of the MAC tournament. Funny how wins over both Central Michigan and Ball State give the Falcons the tiebreaker advantage over their East Division rivals … but those tiebreakers will be moot if BG can’t manage to tie those schools. RPI: 98.
5. BALL STATE (11-13, 8-3 MAC) (LW #6): I could lie to you and say, ‘Yes, I’m finally convinced that Ball State is one of the upper division schools in the MAC this season.’ But I’m not convinced. I am glad I had lots of positive qualifiers when I ranked them last in the MAC early in the season, though. And I am convinced of this: Barring a setback, the Cards have set themselves up for an 11-5 league record. If the East Division schools beat one another up, BSU will get a tournament bye. And if the Cardinals can win at Toledo or at Central Michigan in the final weeks of the season, I promise to be convinced. RPI: 203.
6. MIAMI (14-10, 6-5 MAC) (LW #3): The RedHawks enter this week on a three-game losing streak that deserves TWO asterisks. The first asterisk is a positive: The three losses are to Toledo, Akron and Central Michigan, and you can see where those teams rank in the league hierarchy. But here’s the second asterisk: All three of those games were at home. If the RedHawks were one of the league’s elite teams, couldn’t they claim at least one victory in that span? Miami has at least one more big home game when it hosts Bowling Green Saturday. RPI: 168.
7. BUFFALO (8-16, 6-5) (LW #7): Lost in all the hoopla of Ball State’s rise from the ashes is a strong effort by the Bulls, who have kept alive hopes of competing for the East Division title with a win at Miami and a win at Eastern Michigan that helped them rebound from a three-game losing streak (with the losses coming at Akron and at Central Michigan as well as against Bowling Green). Wednesday’s home game against Miami is crucial if UB wants to stay in the hunt -– the Bulls' following two games are on the road, and they finish with Akron. RPI: 258.
8. WESTERN MICHIGAN (9-15, 5-6 MAC) (LW #9): Let’s give the Broncos credit for two things. First, WMU rebounded from a three-game losing streak to win three straight, including two road wins (although those wins came at Kent State and at Ohio). Second, the Broncos have been strong at home, knocking off both Akron and Bowling Green. WMU’s next two home games are against Central Michigan and Toledo, which really will test the Broncos' home resiliency. RPI: 238.
9. EASTERN MICHIGAN (6-18, 4-7 MAC) (LW #8): Speaking of home, the Eagles are struggling at the Convocation Center, having posted just a 2-4 record during a recent span of five home games in six contests. Home losses to BG and Ball State are at least understandable, but Buffalo? If EMU wants to take a step forward in the standings, that just isn’t acceptable. The Eagles will have a telling span of games in the next few weeks, with a home game at Western Michigan Saturday and a contest at Northern Illinois next Thursday probably setting their tournament fate. RPI: 245.
10. NORTHERN ILLINOIS (7-17, 2-9 MAC) (LW #10): Well, let’s begin by giving the Huskies credit for doing what they should do: They won at Ohio and at Kent State. All that means, though, is that NIU may be the MAC women’s team most certain to be in the right place in these rankings. The Huskies have been giving some teams trouble at home, which means their games next week against Eastern Michigan and Central Michigan bear watching. But at this point it seems to be too much to ask for NIU to claim a win at Toledo or at Ball State this week. RPI: 265.
11. KENT STATE (3-21, 1-10 MAC) (LW #12): Let’s start by saying something kind: It may not seem like much, but it was important to win at Ohio, because it means a win in the rematch Wednesday at home can pretty much guarantee the Golden Flashes don’t finish last. Other than that? Well, if it isn’t bad enough that KSU is losing to everyone else, the margins of defeat have to be depressing. The closest Kent State has come against an upper division MAC school this season is 15 points in the loss at Ball State. Sigh. RPI: 337.
12. OHIO (5-18, 0-11 MAC) (LW #11): I understand that injuries have set the Bobcats back. And full marks for being plucky enough to hold leads in several games before falling late. But still … an 11-game losing streak is an 11-game losing streak. Making that streak all the more painful is that Ohio played both Northern Illinois and Kent State on its home floor … and lost, including a 21-point loss to NIU. You’d have to think Wednesday’s game at Kent State is the Bobcats’ best chance to avoid a winless MAC season, although a home game against Buffalo Saturday also provides at least an opportunity. RPI: 321.
Click here to look at the seedings for the MAC Tournament entering play Wednesday along with the remaining schedule and seeding possibilities for all 12 schools.