With just a week to go until the Mid-American Conference takes over Quicken Loans Arena, there are teams who are surging to the finish line and teams who are staggering to the finish line. For a while, it looked like an order had settled itself. But now, there is a lot of flux and byes are still very much up for grabs. If last week's games are any indication, this will be an exciting final week.
Consider it a lesson in just how hard it is to go undefeated. Even if you're a 95 percent favorite to win 16 times, your chances of winning all 16 times is very small. And Buffalo played Akron quite well at the JAR in the first place, with Javon McCrea making his case for Player of the Year (even if voters will dismiss him based on his team's record). I'm more interested in their emotional, thrilling victory at Ohio than losing to a game UB. And on the plus side, it's such a soft bubble this year, the loss doesn't take the Zips completely out of the at-large discussion. But they need to win the next three games and win them big. Zeke Marshall and Demetrius Treadwell are going to get theirs, but UA needs their outside shooting more than people might think. They only shot 19 percent from behind the arc at Buffalo, a big factor in their loss. They have plenty of weapons in the backcourt and it's rare for all of them to misfire.
This week: Miami (Tuesday), Kent State (Friday)
2. Ohio (21-8, 12-2) LW: 2
Believe it or not, the Bobcats captured their first win at Bowling Green for the first time since 2007- their longest drought at any MAC foe. OU can still hope Akron falters again and capture a share of the regular season title, though their focus is almost certainly rounding into postseason form. Currently, OU is outscoring opponents by 9.6 points per game. To compare, last season's Sweet 16 was +7.7 per game. The Gary Trent-led 1993-94 'Cats were +11.3. Some fans have been claiming this year's team is not as good as last year's. At least one important stat says otherwise. And while they continue to get virtually nothing from Ivo Baltic, Nick Kellogg dropped in 16 points at BG. They need him to find his shot again.
This week: @Buffalo (Tuesday), Miami (Saturday)
3. Kent State (17-12, 7-7) LW: 5
That's right, a 7-7 team is in our three spot. The Golden Flashes are playing that well right now. They're a credible threat to ruin Akron's Senior Night on ESPN2 and are your official “I Don't Want to Play This Team” in the MAC tournament. What happened? Randal Holt is playing smarter and making more shots. Chris Evans has established himself as the team's alpha dog. Kris Brewer has improved quite a bit as the season has gone along. And, most importantly, they believe they can win every night. They're also currently projected to meet Akron next Friday in the semifinals. There could be a lot of fireworks between the rivals these next two weeks.
This week: Bowling Green (Tuesday), @Akron (Friday)
4. Buffalo (12-17, 7-7) LW: 6
Speaking of playing better than one's record, here are the Bulls. I've said it before, but Javon McCrea is an absolute beast. He's an NBA-level talent who knows he is going to be the focal point of every opposing defense but delivers anyway. Most importantly, he's making his teammates better. Akron couldn't stop McCrea, so they were doubling and even tripling him when he got the ball in the paint. Smartly, he would find Will Regan for a layup or kick it out to the open man for a three. He has smarts to go with his skills. He was overshadowed last year by Mitchell Watt, but this year he could be the man to single-handedly carry his team to success in Cleveland. Like KSU, the Bulls are getting better.
This week: Ohio (Tuesday), @Bowling Green (Saturday)
5. Western Michigan (18-10, 9-5) LW: 3
Well, they have the #3 seed clinched. That's good, because the Broncos are not playing like the third-best team. Don't get me wrong, the win at Toledo was strong, but UT is not playing as well as they had been, either, and losing to Eastern Michigan does nothing to help the confidence. WMU is just 2-3 in the last 5 MAC games and haven't won a game in convincing fashion since January. Am I being too hard on a team that has exceeded expectations? Perhaps, but it's March and the bar gets raised. They have a pretty easy week to end things. Winning strong will do a lot for a young team's confidence.
This week: Ball State (Tuesday), Central Michigan (Saturday)
6. Toledo (13-13, 8-6) LW: 4
And all of a sudden, the Rockets have dropped 3 of the last 4 in conference. Fatigue? Quite possible; at some point, such a shallow rotation is going to run out of gas. Just ask any team coached by Mike D'Antoni. The West title is all but lost now. But they can still ruin things for Eastern Michigan and reach 10 conference wins. Those are worthy goals.
This week: Northern Illinois (Tuesday), @Eastern Michigan (Saturday)
7. Eastern Michigan (14-15, 7-7) LW: 7
The Eagles hold the tiebreaker over Buffalo, a valuable asset when a bye is at stake. And beating your division leader is always a good thing. But whether EMU wins seems to be based more on how well the opponent players than how well they play. They're just sort of... there. Again, perhaps I'm being unfair, but it's hard not to think that while watching whatever it is they're trying to do on offense.
This week: @Central Michigan (Tuesday), Toledo (Saturday)
8. Ball State (13-14, 6-8) LW: 9
Look at the Cardinals, winners of 5 of the last 6 (including the BracketBuster). BSU looked very much dead in the water, but have rallied despite no real prospects of grabbing a tournament bye. And look at Jauwan (not Bo!) Scaife. He scored 23 points against Toledo Jan. 30 and since then has not scored less than 17, including five games of 20 points or more and two games of 30 or more. He's thrown in a couple subpar shooting performances in there, but for the most part, he's played at an All-MAC level. Combine that with Majok Majok, and you have a strong one-two punch. The rest of the team? Well...
This week: @Western Michigan (Tuesday), Northern Illinois (Saturday)
9. Bowling Green (12-17, 6-8) LW: 8
Saturday, Cameron Black logged 20 minutes, Richaun Holmes 15. I bring this up because Holmes is orders of magnitude better than Black; Holmes is one of the best pure shot blockers in the country and shoots 62 percent from the floor, while Black is a 6'10” forward who has only shot 18 free throws all season. In other words, teams don't feel the need to defend the man so closely he gets fouled. I might foul him a bit, though, because he's only made four of those 18 shots. The rotation has raised – and continues to raise -- many questions here.
This week: @Kent State (Tuesday), Buffalo (Saturday)
10. Central Michigan (10-18, 3-11) LW: 12
Of the bottom three teams, the Chippewas are the only one who has won a game in the last month. Of course, it was against another bottom three team, but you take 'em where you can get 'em. Another weekly routine has been charting CMU's journey toward the bottom of Division I in defensive efficiency. Well, they dropped another four spots to 335th nationally, allowing 1.083 points per possession. Only 12 places to go! IUPUI is last at 1.144 D-PPP. As bad as the Chips have been, they probably won't go that low.
This week: Eastern Michigan (Tuesday), @Western Michigan (Saturday)
11. Miami (8-19, 3-11) LW: 11
It's shocking to think the RedHawks went just 1-for-8 at home this season. Obviously, it's a season to forget for MU fans. I don't believe in judging a coach by his first season unless it's clear he's going to ruin a program or strap a rocket on it. And I don't think either are true about John Cooper. Fact is, basketball is third banana at a school that can't really even afford two bananas. While Cooper looks like he'll be a fine coach, he's facing an uphill battle.
This week: @Akron (Tuesday), @Ohio (Saturday)
12. Northern Illinois (5-22, 3-11) LW: 10
The bottom has dropped out for the Huskies, who have lost eight in a row after upsetting Kent State. Talk about teams that have gone in different directions since, huh? Their best offensive showing after January has been 0.929 points per possession. Again, that's the best showing. Mark Montgomery needs to make clear his boys better spend the summer in the gym shooting -- a lot! And I imagine he'll bring in some guys who can find the net every now and then.
This week: @Toledo (Tuesday), @Ball State (Saturday)
J. Scott Fitzwater is a regular contributor to MAC Report Online. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @jscottfitzwater.