Here is a one-sentence summary of this weeks rankings: Ball State owns the West and the East is a morass.
I was hoping we were going to learn something last week. We did, but only that Ohio is terrible, and that doesnt help sort out this very muddy picture.
Hows this for parity: Five teams sit at 3-2 and four at 2-3. Thats 9 of the MACs 12 teams within a game of each other with virtually a third of the season played. Its doubtful these teams will separate much from each during the next 11 games. More than ever, the East race is likely to come down to which team has greatest success against the West.
1. Ball State (13-4, 5-0) (LW: 1)
Also your prohibitive favorite to win the conference regular season title. The Cardinals have quietly been getting faster every year since the 2008-09 season, when they walked the ball up the court at a Charlie Coles-esque 62.2 possessions per 40 minutes, 326th in the nation. This year, they are averaging 66.9 possessions per 40 minutes, 250th in the country. In conference play, which usually slows a team down, theyve actually gotten faster at 67.7 poss/40. Its not run-and-gun basketball, but it might not be a coincidence BSU now has their best offense since Billy Taylor was hired. The increased speed hasnt hurt the defense a bit; conference opponents are managing just .887 points per defensive possession. That is smothering. Randy Davis has also stepped his game up, shooting a white-hot 28-30 from the free throw line and dishing 16 assists in his last three conference games. Only downside: 15 turnovers in the same stretch.
This week: Kent State (Thursday), Ohio (Saturday)
2. Kent State (12-7, 3-2) (LW: 2)
Lost at Buffalo by 25, then beat Miami by 21. You try and extrapolate something from that. Thursdays affair at Muncie will tell us a lot about the Golden Flashes. Carlton Guyton makes them much better on the offensive end, but dont discount the improvement of Randal Holt. Mostly a negative factor the first half of the season, he has been playing the best basketball of his young career the last month, setting a career high in points twice, getting more steals, and reducing his turnover rate. Freshman Eric Gaines secured five steals against Miami and looks like he could develop into the next great Kent State stopper.
This week: @Ball State (Thursday), Toledo (Sunday)
3. Bowling Green (8-11, 3-2) (LW: 3)
As I mentioned in the first edition of this years rankings, the Falcons were not favored in a single game against the East. They went out and won 3 of them, including one on the road. Are they legit? Given their defense (stout even in the loss at Akron), I say yes. Scott Thomas is on a one-man quest to make me look stupid, shooting 50% from the field in conference play. BG has perhaps the most favorite interdivision schedule. They should be able to take advantage and set themselves up for a run at the East title in March.
This week: @Toledo (Tuesday), Eastern Michigan (Saturday)
4. Miami (8-11, 3-2) (LW: 4)
RedHawk fans wont complain about 3-2 after a tough opening round against the East, but they should be concerned about the defense getting lit up on a routine basis. Miami only managed to allow less than a point per defensive possession once (Jan. 13 against Buffalo) in the first five games. Ironically, their worst performance, 1.107 D-PPP, came against Akron, when a season-best offensive performance carried the day. On a more positive note, Nick Winbush has consecutive double digit rebound games for the first time ever. In fact, hes been vastly more effective on the glass this season. He has four games of 10+ boards this season. He came into the year with three for his career.
This week: @Central Michigan (Thursday), Western Michigan (Saturday)
5. Buffalo (11-6, 3-2) (LW: 7)
Saturdays game at The Convo was a great example of what Byron Mulkey and Zach Filzen mean to the Bulls. They were rendered ineffective in the first half, and UB found itself down 18 at the half. Mulkey, and especially Filzen, got rolling in the second, and they stormed back for a big road win. To drive the point home: In Buffalos two losses, the guards shot 26% from the field, turned the ball over 13 times, and had a combined efficiency of 16. In their three wins, theyre shooting 53%, have the same number of turnovers (13), and a combined efficiency of 86. Javon McCrea continues to do an uncanny impression of DuJuan Blair.
This week: @Western Michigan (Tuesday), Northern Illinois (Saturday)
6. Akron (11-8, 2-3) (LW: 6)
Got the must-win against Bowling Green, but it wasnt an inspiring victory. Since Zeke Marshalls coming out party against Kent, he put away all the hats and noisemakers, failing to record double digit points or rebounds since. He did play an efficient game at Miami despite being hampered by foul trouble. Hes attracting far too many whistles (3.4 per game), though, and its easy to think its gotten into his head. Whats wrong with Steve McNeese? The senior is posting career lows in shooting (31.1%) and three-point shooting (31%). Its not helping the Zip offense, which wasnt good to begin with (.986 points per offensive possession) and has gotten slightly worse in MAC play (.977 O-PPP).
This week: @Northern Illinois (Wednesday), @Central Michigan (Sunday)
7. Western Michigan (10-8, 3-2) (LW: 5)
Suffice to say a 13-point loss at Toledo was not expected. The glaring difference was at the line; Toledo made more free throws (26) than the Broncos attempted (21). That wont help WMUs cause, because theyre normally a solid free tossing team (70.9% in conference play) and its the only place they shoot well. Theyre making up for it a bit by recovering 41.8% of their misses, tops in the conference.
This week: Buffalo (Tuesday), @Miami (Saturday)
8. Eastern Michigan (5-13, 2-3)
Only two D-I wins but at least theyre against conference opponents. That has to be a small consolation, right? Somehow, the Eagles have failed to score even .8 O-PPP in three consecutive games. Its even more flabbergasting coming on the heels of consecutive games producing better than 1 O-PPP. We wont even touch the crime against basketball they conspired with Central Michigan to perpetrate.
This week: @Ohio (Wednesday), @Bowling Green (Saturday)
9. Ohio (8-11, 1-4) (LW: 8)
How bad has this season been for the Bobcats? This is already the worst home campaign in Convocation Center history and the most home losses for OU since the 1916-17 season. With five games to go, it could be Ohios worst home season ever. They currently sport the conferences lowest home winning percentage (38.5%). How bad have they been at rebounding? In MAC play, theyre only getting 26.6% of their misses, last in the conference. While bad, its not alarming. What is alarming is the feeble 58.4% defensive rebounding rate. Theyre also 31st in the nation in fouls per game (21.8). It will take hot shooting on a nightly basis to overcome such hurdles.
This week: Eastern Michigan (Wednesday), @Ball State (Saturday)
10. Northern Illinois (6-11, 2-3) (LW: 9)
Two real tough road losses for the Huskies. The Toledo game excepted, all games thus far have been close, win or lose. They were largely competitive in losses last year, but managed larger margins of victory. Are they just treading water or getting better or worse? Unclear at this point, but I figure East teams are not going to let Xavier Silas beat them.
This week: Akron (Wednesday), @Buffalo (Saturday)
11. Central Michigan (5-13, 2-3) (LW: 11)
Trey Zeigler is taking 35% of his teams shots when hes on the floor. Only 10 players in the country have a higher rate. Hes a great example of why per-game stats are misleading. His 17.3 points per game is fourth in the conference and looks good, but it quickly spoils when you see hes taking 16.5 shots to get there. By Ken Pomeroys metrics, he has the lowest offensive rating of Chippewas who play at least 20 minutes a game.
This week: Miami (Thursday), @Akron (Saturday)
12. Toledo (4-15, 1-4) (LW: 12)
Got the win monkey off their back, and in fairly impressive fashion. The light of the end of the tunnel is still far off for Rocket fans, but they should recognize there is one.
This week: Bowling Green (Tuesday), @Kent State (Sunday)
J. Scott Fitzwater is a regular contributor to MAC Report Online. You can send him an email at