There has been a shake-up at the top of this week’s Power Rankings. And that shake-up points to a renewed importance in the Mid-American Conference’s regular-season schedule.
At this point it seems there are five “top” MAC teams, and it’s hard to predict which of the five will claim the four tournament “byes” in the league's format, which gives the two top seeds byes into the semifinals and the next two top seeds byes into the quarterfinals.
Securing one of those top four positions seems more critical than ever for several reasons. One is obvious: A team that doesn’t get one of those byes has to play twice in three days just to reach a game against one of those teams that received a “bye,” making the road tougher.
Second, there’s no guarantee that a team forced to play a first-round MAC tournament home game will win it. If you don’t believe me, ask the folks at Western Michigan or Ohio how they would feel about playing Bowling Green at home -- you know, the BG team that has road wins in both of those venues.
And third, in a league where the difference between teams is as minimal as it ever has been, little “advantages” such as having days off and fresh legs can turn into a huge advantage when two nearly equal teams play.
For those of you new to 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, this week’s Power Rankings for MAC men’s basketball as we moving into the final two weeks of the regular season (The “LW” after a team’s record indicates that team’s standings in “last week’s” Power Rankings) …
1. TOLEDO (23-4, 11-3 MAC) (LW #1): The Rockets won two tricky games last week, winning at arch-rival Bowling Green and at home against Ball State. This week UT needs to make sure there are no slip-ups, beginning with a potential “trap” game at Northern Illinois (Feb. 26) that precedes a potential “championship” game against Western Michigan March 1. And if the Rockets want to keep hopes of an NCAA tournament at-large berth alive, no slip-ups are allowed. RPI: 31.
2. WESTERN MICHIGAN (18-8, 11-3 MAC) (LW #4): The Broncos now have won seven in a row, and many feel they are the best team in the MAC. I will say this: I don’t think anyone can argue they are playing the best basketball in the MAC right now. And, frankly, if WMU can win at Toledo (March 1), I will hand them the top spot in these rankings next week. That is provided the Broncos don’t look past a potential “trap” game at Ball State on Feb. 26. RPI: 86.
3. OHIO (19-8, 9-5 MAC) (LW #3): The Bobcats are getting to be tough to figure. Yes, WMU is playing well … but losing to them by 10 points AT HOME? Then bouncing back with a 16-point win over Akron … ON THE ROAD? Sorry to shout, but it is hard to understand. Can it be that this team responds best to back-against-the-wall adversity? If so, we’ll find out shortly as the Bobcats host Buffalo (Feb. 26) and Kent State (March 1) this week. To keep hopes of East Division title alive, Buffalo is a must-win contest. RPI: 64.
4. BUFFALO (16-8, 10-4 MAC) (LW #5): The Bulls have won five of their last six … and unlike last week, I will move them UP in the rankings. I’m sure UB fans will be upset that their team still is below Ohio, but losing to the Bobcats at home is something I just can’t shake. I also give credit for the win over Akron … but that wasn’t against Akron at full strength. Here’s the good news for Buffalo fans who think I don’t like their team: I picked them to win the MAC tournament before the season began, and at this point I haven’t seen anything that makes me feel I must change that pick. RPI: 92.
5. AKRON (17-10, 9-5 MAC) (LW #2): Losses at Buffalo and home against Ohio are excusable if you consider the Zips were without the injured Jake Kretzer and Reggie McAdams while Nick Harney suffered a suspension. There was some good moments, most notably a furious late comeback at UB. But when coach Keith Dambrot used the “Q” word to describe his team’s effect against Ohio (the word is “quit,” BTW, and it’s a dirty word to Dambrot), that spells trouble. It also makes games at Miami (Feb. 26) and home against BG (March 1) must-win if this team wants a MAC tourney bye. RPI: 101.
6. EASTERN MICHIGAN (15-12, 7-7 MAC) (LW #6): The Eagles saw a three-game winning streak snapped with two losses this week, including a confounding setback at Northern Illinois. If EMU wanted to be considered with the “Big Five,” a win over NIU was a must. The good news for the Eagles is that they return home for their next three games (and they are 11-3 at home this season). Better still, the three games are against CMU, NIU and BSU. A 3-0 record in this homestand also is a must heading into the season finale at Toledo. RPI: 74.
7. NORTHERN ILLINOIS (12-14, 6-8 MAC) (LW #7): My trigger finger was itching when I saw the Huskies knock off EMU. But I took my finger off the trigger and kept NIU at this spot when I found out about the three-point loss at CMU. The good news is that a home MAC tournament game is a sign of progress for this team, and it is within reach. Although the next three games will be a test as the Huskies host Toledo before playing at EMU and WMU. Is two wins in those three games too much to ask? Is one win too much? RPI: 202.
8. KENT STATE (15-12, 6-8 MAC) (LW #9): Yes, the Golden Flashes had won three in a row before losing at home to Buffalo. But the three wins came against BG (on an improbable 3-pointer in the final seconds of a home game), CMU (also at home) and Miami. Not exactly murderers row, those three. KSU will have to do more in these final two weeks to move up the ladder, starting with a road contest at BG (Feb. 26) and a real road challenge at Ohio (March 1). RPI: 189.
9. MIAMI (10-15, 6-8 MAC) (LW #8): Yes, the RedHawks snapped a five-game losing streak with a home win over Bowling Green. But it is hard to ignore losing at home to a struggling Kent State team by 12 points. The schedule offers no favors to Miami down the stretch as it hosts Akron and Ohio while playing road games at Buffalo and Kent State. If the RedHawks want to host a MAC tournament game, at least one win in that stretch is required, and two probably is necessary. RPI: 177.
10. BOWLING GREEN (11-16, 5-9 MAC) (LW #10): Snake-bit, the Falcons are. BG has lost five of its last six games, and the last four losses have been by a combined eight points. Ouch. The win, for that matter, was by just two points. The Falcons game against Kent State (Feb. 26) is must-win if BG wants to move up in the standings, because the Falcons then finish with road games at Akron and Buffalo sandwiched around a home contest against Ohio. RPI: 174.
11. CENTRAL MICHIGAN (10-16, 3-11 MAC) (LW #12): Last week I wondered if a 2-2 record in the Chippewas’ coming schedule was too much to ask. Thank goodness I gave CMU a chance, because they were able to meet that goal with home wins over Ball State and Northern Illinois. This week presents two interesting challenges for the Chips, who play at EMU (Feb. 26) and at Ball State (March 1). Is 2-0 too much to ask there? Probably, but this team has taken enough of a step forward that a 1-1 mark doesn’t seem to be too much to ask. RPI: 273.
12. BALL STATE (4-21, 1-13 MAC) (LW #11): The Cardinals have lost nine straight, including hard-to-swallow decisions such as their two-point loss to Bowling Green and a road loss at CMU. But there is at least small solace in the fact that the CMU loss was on the road and involved overtime, and the loss at Toledo came with BSU trailing by one possession in the final minutes. Close but no cigar, although there is something to be said for that in a case where a team is on a long losing streak. If the Cards want to end that streak, they have two chances this week with the final home contests of the season against WMU (Feb. 26) and CMU (March 1). RPI: 292.
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BONUS: If the MAC tournament started Feb. 24, click here to find out how the 12 teams would be seeded and what place/date/time they would play.