By JEFF FITZWATER
Akron, Ohio and Kent State grabbed the top three spots in this week’s MAC Power Rankings
1. Akron (11-4, 2-0)
Nobody ever seems to want Akron. All they do is win, year after year, both in the regular season and in Cleveland, capturing two tournament and one regular season title in the last three seasons. However, their rivals to the east and south have gotten most of the media attention in the preseason the past few years. Sure, they get some spillover LeBron attention, but I imagine their fans would prefer their own, separate identity at this point. They should be getting more notice than they have, as this is Keith Dambrot’s best team since Romeo Travis and Jeremiah Wood patrolled the paint. Forget the early season shorthanded losses- this is a quality squad that can stand toe-to-toe with most teams. They can score (1.075 points per possession, 38th nationally) and defend (0.905 points per possession, 62nd nationally). Zeke Marshall has finally grown into a consistent offensive threat, last week notwithstanding. And they’ve done what you want your conference’s best teams to do: hammer opponents beneath them.
This week: Ball State (Wednesday), @Kent State (Saturday)

2. Ohio (10-5, 2-0)
The Bobcats are winning by an average of 11.5 points a game, though at least part of that has to do with the opponents they brought to The Convo this year. After a promising November, Ohio had a bad December that turned hopes of a top 25 ranking into panic over the senior seasons of DJ Cooper, Reggie Keely, Walter Offutt, and Ivo Baltic. Cooper’s playing professional-quality ball right now, giving OU its first 2-0 start in MAC play since John Groce’s first season. They’re shooting the ball very well (56% effective field goal percentage, 13th nationally) and turning opponents over (26% of possessions, fifth nationally). The question is whether the team can gel with Jim Christian, a very different personality than Groce and if Offutt can find the high level he finished last season with.
This week: Northern Illinois (Wednesday), Toledo (Saturday)

3. Kent State (10-6, 1-1)

The Golden Flashes graduated a lot of leaders last year, and Chris Evans has filled the void. He might want to dial back the three attempts, but he’s scoring, getting to the line, rebounding, stealing a few, and even picking up an assist here and there. The rest of the team doesn’t look like much on paper, but I suspect they’re going to become a group you don’t want to see in March. It will help if Randal Holt stops chucking so much; 6.5 attempts a game at 34.3% is insane. The Flashes as a whole don’t shoot well (48.4% eFG), but Holt is the worst offender. He’s somehow even worse inside the arc (32%) and leads the team in shots (199). As a result, he’s not distributing (2.1 assists per game and a 0.9 assist/turnover ratio).
This week: @Buffalo (Wednesday), Akron (Saturday)

4. Western Michigan (8-7, 0-2)
The Broncos are shockingly young; only three non-freshmen are getting more than 10 minutes a game. And of those three, only junior Shayne Whittington justifies the minutes he’s getting; seniors Brandon Pokley and Nate Hutcheson are shooting less than 40% from the field. Hutcheson is only making 30.2% of his trey attempts. Pokley is 43.9% from deep, so he should stay out there and not go inside, where he’s at 29%. Freshmen guards Darius Paul and Connar Tava have gotten off to the best starts of the foals, with Paul shooting almost 50% from two. That’s good, as WMU desperately needs people who can put the ball in the basket.
This week: Toledo (Wednesday), @Northern Illinois (Saturday)

5. Toledo (6-7, 2-0)
How do you play out a season knowing you won’t be permitted to play in a tournament no matter what? That’s what Rocket fans are discovering. Tod Kowalczyk continues to lead UT back from the Gene Cross years. They’re not good, but they’re not terrible, either, and that is progress. Despite shooting 29.4% from three (sense a theme?), Rian Pearson continues to play at a high level and will merit Player of the Year consideration. When he’s looking to get others involved instead of his own shot, Juice Brown does a very good job running the offense. Matt Smith is a reliable shooter. He should get more chances to do it.
This week: @Western Michigan (Wednesday), @Ohio (Saturday)

6. Central Michigan (8-7, 1-1)
Who saw this coming? Under Ernie Zeigler, the Chippewas were among the nation’s worst programs. CMU rolled the dice with Keno Davis and the result has been a respectable team. They bleed points on the defensive end (1.059 D-PPP, 302nd nationally) but they can score a little (1.004 O-PPP, 118th). UNC-Greensboro transfer guard Kyle Randall has been great, shooting 41.2% behind the arc and 90.9% at the line. The Chips have a lot of freshmen contributing, so they will be very interesting to watch the next couple months.
This week: @Eastern Michigan (Tuesday), Ball State (Saturday)

7. Miami (6-8, 1-1)
The RedHawks are what is called a “high variance” team; that is, their performance can vary wildly from night to night. Or even half to half, as their win at Buffalo showed. They lost Bill Edwards, and they don’t really have any standouts, and they’re getting used to a very different style of play under John Cooper than Charlie Coles employed, but this is a team that can be dangerous on any given night. They’re probably going to lose more than they win, but I expect them to grab a big win somewhere down the line.
This week: Bowling Green (Wednesday), @Eastern Michigan (Saturday)

8. Ball State (7-7, 1-1)
From here on down, it’s a mess. The Cardinals don’t really do anything well, and I don’t really know how they’ve managed to win seven games already. I don’t know what Billy Taylor is thinking offensively, but Bo Scaife and Jesse Berry are terrible shootings. Yet they (by far) leading the team in shots? You have Majok Majok (Best Name winner!), Chris Bond, and even Zach Fields on the bench who can score at a good clip. Shouldn’t the offense be about getting them the ball? True, none of those three are good at the line, but it’s still a better option than building brick mansions with your guards. Scaife is shooting 28.9% from three, yet he’s taken 76 attempts.
This week: @Akron (Wednesday), @Central Michigan (Saturday)

9. Eastern Michigan (7-9, 0-2)
Remember when people had good feelings about Rob Murphy? That sure faded fast. There were suggestions perhaps Murphy would speed things up in his second year with more of his players in place. Nope. EMU ranks 274th in pace and averaged just 59.4 possessions in the first two MAC games. The Eagles sport a 43.1% eFG, good for 329th in the nation. Da’Shonte Riley just has not worked out at all offensively. He’s getting blocks and a couple boards, but he simply can not score. Highly-touted freshman Ray Lee is injured, which doesn’t help.
This week: Central Michigan (Tuesday), Miami (Saturday)

10. Buffalo (5-11, 0-2)
Coach Reggie Witherspoon, the longest tenured MAC coach, has had something of a star-crossed existence helming Buffalo, and it’s starting to show. With Mitchell Watt gone, the roster is littered with unimpressive upperclassmen. And other than Will Regan, the underclassmen haven’t shown much. Bulls fans will point to the loss of Jarod Oldham, but he was shooting 39.4% from the floor. Other than Javon McCrea, there’s no one to turn to on offense. Or is there? Quietly, Regan has put up comparable numbers to McCrea, even shooting better (54.4% to 51.8%). The high hopes for Xavier Ford have not materialized, though. The real problem is guard play. Normally, Witherspoon is able to develop quality point guards. Oldham was the best they had, but he was average at best. Tony Watson is doing OK, but he’s not scaring any opposing coaches.
This week: Kent State (Wednesday), @Akron (Saturday)

11. Bowling Green (6-9, 1-1)
There are multiple players on the roster who should not be playing Division I, yet they are. Only two players are shooting 45% or better from the floor, and both play less than 20 minutes a game. Yes, BG beat EMU (or perhaps “didn’t lose” is more appropriate, considering that abomination of a game), but I still think this team is worse. What is the justification for Luke Kraus playing 22.3 minutes a game while shooting 18.9% from the field and 9.1% from
This week: @Miami (Wednesday), @Buffalo (Saturday)

12. Northern Illinois (3-11, 1-1)
The Huskies got their third win in their 13th game of the season; last year, that didn’t happen until the 22nd. Simple story: Their two D-I wins have been the two occasions they shot well. It’s about building for the future in DeKalb, and freshmen Sam Mader and Darrell Bowie are the brightest spots for that future. Both are shooting better than 45% from the field and don’t look overwhelmed like freshmen frequently do. Still, NIU is a work in progress. Aksel Nader hasn’t bounced back from his suspension well.
This week: @Ohio (Wednesday), Western Michigan (Saturday)
 


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