Mid-American Conference women’s basketball always has featured a gap between the teams at the top of the standings and the teams at the bottom. But now, I’m starting to believe a new gap is forming.
That gap is between the best teams in the MAC and the middle of the pack. In years past, the best teams for any particular season had to worry when they were facing a “good” team on the road. The better team might win, but it wouldn’t be easy. And if the better team didn’t play well, the good team could earn the win.
I’m starting to wonder if that’s no longer the case. Can a “good” team -- say, a team that’s in the fifth through seventh spot in these rankings -- expect to beat on the teams at the top? In the case of Central Michigan, I’m thinking not, because CMU walloped two middle-of-the-pack (or better) MAC teams last week.
We’ll have another test of this theory on Jan. 15 when Bowling Green plays at Ball State. Certainly I’m not guaranteeing a Falcon win; my point is that, in years past, a team like the Cards would give BG trouble and either steal the win or at least make the Falcons sweat. We’ll see if that’s the case.
As for these rankings, the premise is simple: If the MAC didn’t have divisions, how would the league’s 12 teams be ranked? These rankings are based on on-court performance, RPI rankings … and gut feelings.
So here they are: In time for the start of MAC play, here are my Power Rankings for MAC women’s basketball (The “LW” stands for a team’s ranking in this poll “last week”) …
1. CENTRAL MICHIGAN (7-8, 3-0 MAC) (LW #1): I know some people disagreed when I had this team at the top of the rankings despite a 4-8 non-conference record. See what I mean now? Not only are the Chippewas 3-0, but no MAC team has come within single-digits of beating them. All eyes will be on Mt. Pleasant Jan. 18 when CMU hosts Bowling Green, where a win over the Falcons would put the Chips in the drivers seat to claim the West Division title and a semifinal bye in the MAC tournament. RPI: 58.
2. BOWLING GREEN (13-2, 3-0 MAC) (LW #3): OK, OK, Falcons fans … uncle. BG’s surprisingly easy win over Akron vaults this squad into the second spot in the rankings. Things are likely to be anything but easy this week, though, as BG is on the road to face challenges at Ball State Jan. 15 and at Central Michigan Jan. 18. Two more wins, and I will be more than tempted to jump this squad even higher in these rankings. RPI: 47.
3. AKRON (7-7, 1-2 MAC) (LW #2): While the Zips’ 1-2 record may not seem impressive, it does come with an asterisk. Akron’s two losses are to the two teams above them in these power rankings, and the Zips already have a win over Ball State. Things get easier in coming weeks (as if they could get harder!) as Akron has games with Miami and Kent State this week; by this time next week, expect the Zips to be back in the picture closer to the top of the East Division. RPI: 163.
4. BALL STATE (7-7, 2-1 MAC) (LW #4): The Cardinals weren’t given any favors with a tough season opener at Akron, but they rebounded nicely with wins at Eastern Michigan and at home against Kent State. It will be interesting to see how BSU deals with the coming weeks as it hosts Bowling Green before hitting the road for challenges at Ohio and at Toledo, especially knowing that the Cards still have two games against CMU down the road. RPI: 118.
5. TOLEDO (7-7, 2-1 MAC) (LW #5): There is no shame in the Rockets’ opening loss at Central Michigan; in fact, my greater concern was the narrow nature of UT’s win at home over Northern Illinois. I think the Rockets have an extremely interesting stretch of road games ahead as they play at Buffalo and at Western Michigan. In past years, I would already have these games chalked as wins. This year, I don’t think there is a lot of chalk on the UT schedule. RPI: 215.
6. BUFFALO (7-7, 0-3) (LW #6): In the first set of Power Rankings, I wrote about Buffalo, “I’ve either got this ranking exactly right, or I may look foolishly wrong.” Believe it or not, I think I had the Bulls in the right spot, this 0-3 start notwithstanding. Losing Mackenzie Loesing was a difficult blow for this team to overcome; now that she is back, I expect this team will get better quickly. Also, remember that two of this team’s losses were to BG and CMU, the two teams at the top of these rankings. I think it will be interesting to watch UB’s home game against Toledo Jan. 15; a win could signal the start of a winning streak. RPI: 184.
7. NORTHERN ILLINOIS (6-7, 2-1 MAC) (LW #11): The Huskies’ 2-1 start is very impressive. NIU has two good wins at home, having beaten both Ohio and Eastern Michigan, while the loss was an impressive performance that nearly resulted in a win at Toledo. NIU will be on the road twice this week (at Central Michigan and at Miami), but I am especially interested to see how this team performs next week, when it is at home against Buffalo Jan. 23 before playing at Bowling Green Jan. 26. RPI: 199.
8. WESTERN MICHIGAN (6-8, 2-1 MAC) (LW #8): I still think this team is a West Division dark horse, but I am wavering a little. I would be a bigger believer had this team not lost at Ohio -- by 17 points, no less. If this team wants to get some positive momentum, it would start with a win on Jan. 15 when the Broncos plays at Eastern Michigan. A win there would set up a chance for a winning streak as the team’s next three games are home -- although two of the Broncos opponents are Toledo and Central Michigan. RPI: 231.
9. EASTERN MICHIGAN (11-3, 1-2 MAC) (LW #7): In the last set of Power Rankings, I wrote that EMU’s first real challenge would come when it hosted Ball State on Jan. 9. I won’t say I predicted a loss, but the Eagles did indeed lose. Then EMU lost at Northern Illinois … and that’s something I never would have predicted. I think it’s important, if the Eagles wish to be considered a West Division contender, that this team claim a home win over Western Michigan Jan. 15, then follow that up with a strong performance at Buffalo three days later. RPI: 152.
10. OHIO (7-7, 2-1 MAC) (LW #10): As you can see, I didn’t have the Bobcats ranked very high despite good work against a decent non-conference schedule. As I am learning, I may have vastly underestimated OU. If I am right about this team’s ranking, I will be proved to be correct shortly as the Bobcats face challenges from Ball State, Akron, Toledo, Bowling Green and Central Michigan after their Jan. 15 contest at Kent State. Run that gauntlet successfully? This team will take a big move up the ladder. RPI: 126.
11. MIAMI (4-10, 0-3 MAC) (LW #9): Things couldn’t have started on a worse note for the RedHawks, who turned a pair of winnable games into double-digit losses before getting swamped at Toledo. The good news? Miami is home for the next two games. The bad news? The RedHawks host Akron (Jan. 15) and a must-win contest against Northern Illinois (Jan. 18), and are in read danger of seeing the season fly south. RPI: 242.
12. KENT STATE (3-11, 0-3 MAC) (LW #12): Let’s be honest: An 0-3 start isn’t exactly a surprise. The problem is that other East Division teams, notably Ohio, have shown signs of life, while this squad’s closest game so far is an 18-point home loss to EMU. I would have thought the Jan. 15 home game against Ohio was winnable, but now I’m not at all sure about that. It looks like the first possible ray of sunshine doesn’t come until Jan. 25, and there’s no guarantee this team can win at Miami. RPI: 305.