Alex Varone is the RTC correspondent for the Mid-American Conference.
A Look Back
First, a quick look at the Mid-American Conference Standings (with conference records only).
Kent St. 4-2
Miami (Ohio) 4-2
Bowling Green 4-2
Ball State 5-1
Western Michigan 3-3
Northern Illinois 3-3
Central Michigan 2-4
Eastern Michigan 2-4
The conference season is just heating up, but the early returns in league play indicate that this conference is wide-open and full of surprises. This is most true in the East Division, where the preseason favorites were Ohio, Akron, and Kent State. Only the Golden Flashes have lived up to the promise so far, and are arguably the MAC’s most complete team. With quality talent coming back at Ohio and Akron, both teams were supposed to be right there with Kent State competing for a MAC regular season championship, but now thanks to the surprising strong play of Buffalo and Bowling Green, the Bobcats and Zips might just have a tough time escaping from the cellar of the standings.
Out West, Ball State has taken control of the division without much resistance. Overall, this was supposed to the season where the West narrowed the gap between itself and the East, but the bottom of the West is as weak as ever. Meanwhile, three-time defending West regular-season champ Central Michigan stumbled out of the gate and hasn’t recovered to this point. Considering the expectations surrounding the Chippewas this season, Central Michigan has been as disappointing as any team in this conference.
Buffalo’s surge to the top of the MAC East standings can be attributed to the surprising play of Javon McCrea, Byron Mulkey and Zach Filzen. The freshman McCrea is third on the Bulls in scoring at 10.7 PPG, and his 67.8% field-goal percentage is good for third in the nation. The senior Mulkey is second on the Bulls in scoring at 14.3 PPG, and his 3.0 steals per game is the sixth-best total in the country.
But Buffalo’s leading scorer is junior Zach Filzen (14.8 PPG), who has emerged as one of the top offensive threats in the MAC after only playing just over seven minutes per game last season. In the Bulls’ last two wins, Filzen has made 11 three-pointers, and on the season, Filzen is shooting 42.2% from three-point range and his mark of 62 treys on the campaign pace the conference and ties him for tenth in the nation.
Power Rankings (last week’s ranking in parentheses)
1. Ball State (1)
13-6 (5-1), RPI: 139, SOS: 316
The excitement of a seven-game win streak and a 13-4 (5-0) start has worn off a little after Ball State’s current two-game losing streak, which includes a sloppy two-point non-conference home loss to Morehead State, and a discouraging 13 point home loss to Kent State. The two losses don’t change the fact that the Cardinals have been the best team in the Mid-American Conference to date and should still cruise to a West Division title.
A Look Ahead: Jan. 29 vs. Ohio, Feb. 1 at Miami (Ohio), Feb. 5 vs. Buffalo, Feb. 9 at Bowling Green
2. Kent State (2)
13-7 (4-2), RPI: 83, SOS: 84
After establishing itself as the top team in the MAC during the non-conference season, Kent State struggled through a perplexing three-game losing streak to ring in the new year. The Golden Flashes have since rebounded with four wins in five games, culminating in the most impressive conference win of the season by a MAC team–a 13-point win at previously unbeaten Ball State. Kent State has a chance to put some distance between itself and the rest of the East Division with home games coming up against three of the worst teams in the MAC.
A Look Ahead: Jan. 30 vs. Toledo, Feb. 2 at Western Michigan, Feb. 5 vs. Central Michigan, Feb. 9 vs. Eastern Michigan
3. Buffalo (7)
12-6 (4-2), RPI: 130, SOS: 228
After a pair of three-point losses against Bowling Green and Miami (Ohio) to open the conference season, Buffalo responded with a three-point victory of its own against Akron. Buffalo also rolled over Kent State by 24 points, and won road games at Ohio by five points and at Western Michigan by eleven points. Four straight wins have vaulted Buffalo into contention, and with home games coming up against bottom-feeders Northern Illinois, Toledo, and Central Michigan, the Bulls should remain near the top of the East Division standings.
A Look Ahead: Jan. 29 vs. Northern Illinois, Feb. 2 vs. Toledo, Feb. 5 at Ball State, Feb. 8 vs. Central Michigan
4. Miami (Ohio) (3)
9-11 (4-2), RPI: 100, SOS: 8
A 21-point road loss at Kent State this past Sunday was not a good sign for Miami (Ohio), but the RedHawks got a much-needed road win Thursday night at Central Michigan to snap a win-loss-win-loss streak that has occurred over their previous four games. After a tough schedule to start MAC play, the RedHawks’ slate finally gets a little easier over the next couple of weeks, with games against Eastern Michigan, Northern Illinois, and Toledo coming up.
A Look Ahead: Jan. 29 vs. Western Michigan, Feb. 1 vs. Ball State, Feb. 5 at Eastern Michigan, Feb. 9 vs. Northern Illinois
5. Bowling Green (8)
9-11 (4-2), RPI: 249, SOS: 281
Is Bowling Green really the fifth-best team in the MAC? Probably not. But Bowling Green is playing as well as anyone in the conference lately, having won eight of its last ten games. The Falcons recently defeated Miami (Ohio) and Ohio by comfortable margins before suffering a five-point setback at Akron. Bowling Green avoided a further letdown by beating lowly Toledo on the road by six points. With three of their next four at home, the Falcons have a chance to continue its climb into contention.
A Look Ahead: Jan. 29 vs. Eastern Michigan, Feb. 2 at Northern Illinois, Feb. 5 vs. Western Michigan, Feb. 9 vs. Ball State
6. Akron (4)
11-9 (2-4), RPI: 153, SOS: 165
With only one win in its last five games, Akron has suddenly turned into one the MAC’s biggest mysteries. During this slump, the Zips have struggled on the defensive end, allowing 79 points in a home loss to Ohio, 73 points at Buffalo, 84 points at Miami (Ohio), and 83 points at Northern Illinois. The next four games will be crucial to Akron’s season, as all four are winnable contests against the league’s worst teams. But a couple of losses could put the Zips in a hole that it won’t be able to climb out of.
A Look Ahead: Jan. 30 vs. Central Michigan, Feb. 2 at Eastern Michigan, Feb. 5 at Toledo, Feb. 9 vs. Western Michigan
7. Western Michigan (6)
10-9 (3-3), RPI: 218, SOS: 249
All season, Western Michigan has shown flashes of being a quality team and the type of team that could challenge Ball State in the West Division. A 17-point thrashing of Eastern Michigan and an 82 point offensive outburst against Northern Illinois are recent evidence of that, but each of those wins was followed up with an equally disappointing loss. A 13 point loss at Toledo and a 11 point home loss against Buffalo could haunt the Broncos later in the year.
A Look Ahead: Jan. 29 at Miami (Ohio), Feb. 2 vs. Kent State, Feb. 5 at Bowling Green, Feb. 9 at Akron
8. Ohio (5)
9-11 (2-4), RPI: 209, SOS: 127
As has been documented in this space previously, Ohio has been victimized by some uncharacteristically tough losses. That stretch of close losses continued with a one-possession loss to Kent State, and was followed by losses at Bowling Green and vs. Buffalo that dropped the Bobcats to 8-11 (1-4) and last place in the East Division, a place that most Bobcat fans didn’t expect to see their team this season. Ohio bounced back with a double-digit win over Eastern Michigan, but this team needs to get on a hot streak soon, otherwise the Bobcats might have to once again win the MAC Tournament as a No. 9 seed (or worse).
A Look Ahead: Jan. 29 at Ball State, Feb. 2 at Central Michigan, Feb. 5 vs. Northern Illinois, Feb. 9 vs. Toledo
9. Northern Illinois (9)
7-11 (3-3), RPI: 277, SOS: 278
If you watch a Northern Illinois basketball game, chances are it’s going to be a close contest. Just over a week after defeating Eastern Michigan by two points, the Huskies lost on the road at Central Michigan and at Western Michigan by a single basket each. Northern Illinois did manage to pick up its third conference win of the season in a comfortable nine-point win over Akron that once again showcasedXavier Silas’s outstanding scoring ability. Silas scored 39 points in the victory, his sixth 30-point game of the season, to lift his average to 24.4 points per game (tied for second in the nation).
A Look Ahead: Jan. 29 at Buffalo, Feb. 2 vs. Bowling Green, Feb. 5 at Ohio, Feb. 9 at Miami (Ohio)
10. Central Michigan (10)
5-14 (2-4), RPI: 309, SOS: 263
Central Michigan’s disappointing season continues, as the Chippewas have now squandered multiple opportunities to win important games. After getting to 2-2 in MAC play with a win over Northern Illinois, Central Michigan dropped an ugly 41-38 affair at Eastern Michigan that saw the Chippewas only score 13 points in the first half. Thursday night’s home loss to Miami (Ohio) leaves Central Michigan gasping for air and with a very difficult upcoming slate, which includes three of the next four games on the road, all against quality MAC opponents.
A Look Ahead: Jan. 30 at Akron, Feb. 2 vs. Ohio, Feb. 5 at Kent State, Feb. 8 at Buffalo
11. Eastern Michigan (11)
5-14 (2-4), RPI: 331, SOS: 273
Eastern Michigan manages to stay out of the basement of the Power Rankings thanks to the aforementioned 41-38 victory over Central Michigan. But in the victory over Central Michigan, Eagles leading scorer and double-double machine, Brandon Bowdry, only contributed 6 points, and only followed that up with 8 points in a 14 point loss at Ohio.
A Look Ahead: Jan. 29 at Bowling Green, Feb. 2 vs. Akron, Feb. 5 vs. Miami (Ohio), Feb. 9 at Kent State
12. Toledo (12)
4-16 (1-5), RPI: 325, SOS: 216
Much as it did during the non-conference season, Toledo continues to compete in every game, which may not be enough to win often, but occasionally it will lead to a double-digit victory, as it did when Toledo defeated Western Michigan. Sophomore Malcolm Griffin shone brightly in that victory, as he has for the past four games, where he has averaged 25.8 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 4.5 assists per contest.
A Look Ahead: Jan. 30 at Kent State, Feb. 2 at Buffalo, Feb. 5 vs. Akron, Feb. 9 at Ohio