Last week was set up to help us figure things out. Instead, things are murkier than ever. There are only two games left, yet there is a barrel full of possibilities. The West might have two teams with a bye for the first time since 2004. That's right: 2004! I won't pretend to know what's going to happen, but Akron is giving me the chance to redeem a little prediction dignity. In writing these, I changed the order six times. That's how much of a logjam there is.
1. Akron (19-10, 9-5) (LW: 3)
The Zips are playing the best basketball in the MAC right now and have won 7 in a row. The only thing that gives me pause is they haven't proven they can get the big road win and they'll need to do that this week if they want to win their first regular season championship. Still, the numbers don't lie. Akron has the best scoring margin by a pretty big distance (7.2; Kent State is second at 5). Steve McNees is improving and will be an unwelcome sight for opposing fans in Cleveland one last time. And can we lay off Zeke Marshall? He's not the second coming of Tim Duncan, but his numbers are much improved over last year (he sports a 101.4 offensive rating this season as opposed to 86.4 last year) and all indications are that he is going to be very, very good his last two years.
This week: @Ohio (Tuesday), @Kent State (Friday)
2. Western Michigan (17-11, 9-5) (LW: 4)
The Broncos are one of several teams peaking at the right time. They control their own destiny in the West and are favored to win both games this week. With a little help, they can end East dominance of the top seed. WMU is close to unbeatable when they produce a good defensive effort. Sure enough, they held Toledo and Eastern Michigan to just a shade more than .8 D-PPP and put both games away early. Not many are talking about this team as a contender, but they should.
This week: Ball State (Wednesday), @Central Michigan (Saturday)
3. Miami (15-14, 10-4) (LW: 2)
The RedHawks are best positioned for the East title; all they need to do is win one and have Kent and Akron lose one. Throw in a Western Michigan loss and there's your top seed. Miami's season has been remarkable. They're scoring 1.046 points per offensive possession and allowing 1.051 points per defensive possession. How often does that result in a perch atop the conference standings? They're finding a way. Would any result this week surprise you? 2-0, 1-1, and 0-2 all seem equally likely. Charlie Coles needs to keep playing his bench, though; we almost saw a repeat of the Western Michigan collapse because the starters were in too much against Bowling Green.
This week: @Buffalo (Wednesday), Ohio (Friday)
4. Kent State (19-10, 10-4) (LW: 1)
Fatigue or fading? The Golden Flashes got outscored at home in the first half of both games last week by a combined 85-61. Yet they stormed back both times to take the lead and have to settle for a split. In the process, they squandered the opportunity to get a leg up on Miami and now need the RedHawks to lose a game if they're going to repeat as East champions. The normally stalwart defense is crumbling; opponents are scoring at least a point per possession in 5 of the last 6 games.
This week: @Bowling Green (Tuesday), Akron (Friday)
5. Ohio (16-13, 8-6) (LW: 6)
The Bobcats are starting to put some distance between themselves and the rest of the MAC in offensive categories. Like their rivals in Oxford, this season has been topsy-turvy for Ohio. Normally all but invincible at home, they set a new record for home losses in a season. Normally a weak road team, they sport a winning mark (6-4) away from Athens and broke long droughts in Akron and Kent. Tuesday's throw-down with Akron has huge seeding implications. Both are gunning for a first-round bye, surprising given their slow starts.
This week: Akron (Tuesday), @Miami (Friday)
6. Ball State (17-11, 9-5) (LW: 8)
What could have been a disaster in Mt. Pleasant instead became a comeback win that could propel them through the rest of the season. As much as the Cardinals had struggled, they have also regrouped and still have a good shot at taking out Western Michigan and winning the West. Because of their struggles against the East, though, they face a respect deficit.
This week: @Western Michigan (Wednesday), Northern Illinois (Saturday)
7. Buffalo (16-11, 7-7) (LW: 5)
Bulls faithful are starting to get quite worried, but the team did not acquit itself poorly in two tough roadies. UB is favored to win both their games this week. Rolling into Cleveland with a 9-7 mark would be enough to keep the Bulls a dangerous team in the tournament. Javon McCrea ranks in the top 100 nationally in block percentage and steal percentage and top ten in offensive rebound percentage and shooting. There is simply no case to be made for anyone else to be freshman of the Year.
This week: Miami (Wednesday), @Bowling Green (Saturday)
8. Bowling Green (12-17, 7-7) (LW: 7)
The Falcons have lost 5 in a row and 6 of 7. They get two chances at home to prevent what would be a total collapse, but it doesn't look promising. Opponents have figured out their zone. As a result, they've been getting gashed. Will Anderson Arena pride come through?
This week: Kent State (Tuesday), Buffalo (Saturday)
9. Central Michigan (9-19, 6-8) (LW: 9)
A first-round home game is not out of the question for the Chippewas, but they'll need some help. Not falling apart against Ball State would have been some evidence that this team is improving. Instead, they once again faltered in the second half. Chalk it up to inexperience, perhaps. And your weekly Trey Zeigler update: He's getting better. Only 9-26 from the field, but 17-23 at the line, 9 rebounds, 10 assists, 5 steals, 3 blocks, only 3 turns.
This week: @Toledo (Tuesday), Western Michigan (Saturday)
10. Eastern Michigan (8-20, 4-10) (LW: 10)
Kind of amazing there are two teams in the conference worse than the Eagles. They never even came out of the locker room against Western Michigan.
This week: @Northern Illinois (Wednesday), Toledo (Saturday)
11. Northern Illinois (8-19, 4-10) (LW: 11)
A laudable effort against Toledo to get a win despite missing a few guys, including Xavier Silas. Still, if you want evidence of an abused fanbase, visit DeKalb. The few fans that are still going to games are ready to fly the white flag at the first sign of adversity. It's really sad. Where does NIU go from here?
This week: Eastern Michigan (Wednesday), @Ball State (Saturday)
12. Toledo (4-25, 1-13) (LW: 12)
Almost had it against the Huskies. Two more games until Rocket fans can look forward to the true start of the rebuilding effort.
This week: Central Michigan (Tuesday), @Eastern Michigan (Saturday)