NCAA Basketball: Around the MAC

Rian Pearson has lead the Toledo Rockets tot the top of the MAC - Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

Now that UB has played a couple of games in conference, we'll take a quick look at how things have shaken out in games not involving the Bulls.

Here at BullRun we see both the forest and trees. No need to thank us; it's all in a day's work. So in case your focus has been understandably narrowed to simply the UB Bulls' basketball exploits, here's a look at what's up with the rest of the conference. It's not quite as simple as "MAC East good, MAC West bad" this year, though that's still an ok rule of thumb.

MAC EAST Conference Record Overall Record
Akron 5-1 13-6
Ohio 4-2 14-5
Buffalo 4-2 10-6
Miami 4-2 8-9
Bowling Green 3-3 9-10
Kent State 2-4 11-8
MAC WEST
Toledo 5-1 17-2
Western Michigan 4-2 11-7
Eastern Michigan 3-3 11-8
Northern Illinois 1-5 7-11
Ball State 1-5 4-13
Central Michigan 0-6 7-11

Some things to point out:

Toledo is likely the best team in the conference... The Rockets have been making noise nationally thanks to their 12-0 start to the season. While they lost their first MAC game to Western Michigan, they've now put together another 5 game winning streak thanks an experienced team loaded with upperclassmen transfers. Look for Toledo to take advantage of the weaker teams in their division and ride their schedule and Rian Pearson to one of the coveted top 4 seeds in the conference tournament.

... but not the only solid group in the MAC West. Check out UB's next opponent Western Michigan, who has put together a 4-2 conference record so far, thanks in part to Toledo's only MAC defeat. This Bronco team is the best in Kalamazoo since the days of David Kool, and may sneak into a top four seed if the East division beats itself up.

Eastern Michigan at 3-3 is likely a bit better than their record, as a few years of Rob Murphy-led excellence on the defensive side of the ball have pulled the offense up with it. The Eagles are a definite notch below Toledo, and UB was able to handle them, but they're better than they have been in some time.

The East, by comparison, is wide open. If UB takes care of business against Ball State and holds serve against Northern, I could make a case for them in the upper echelon in the MAC, along with Toledo, who used a buzzer beater on their home floor to top the Bulls. But for now, unfortunately, it's Akron who holds the top spot in the East and joins Toledo as the only other squad with one conference loss. By this point we know what we get from Akron.

The rest of the East is separated by just two games, with UB, Ohio, and Miami jockeying for the right side of that 4th/5th seed boundary. UB's solid win over the Golden Flashes suggests some stratification, but the reality is, even more than in past years, any of these teams can beat or lose to the others on any night. This is good news for Western and Eastern Michigan, who will be hoping that the East beats itself up and helps a second West team sneaks into the top four seeds.

Buffalo's games so far don't really provide us with an idea of where they should fall. Do not misunderstand me: the Bulls are good enough to beat anyone in this conference, even without hoping for a perfect game, and they did play Toledo closer than anyone else (Kent finished within three), but they also haven't yet gotten much of a shot against some of the more complete teams in the conference. Breaking it down:

-A tight loss on the road to the top team in the conference in Toledo (6-1)

-Two wins over a bad MAC West squad in Northern Illinois (1-5)

-A sluggish loss on the road to a bad MAC West team in Ball State (1-5)

-A strong showing against a good-but-not great EMU team (3-3)

-One win over a team from the East cluster - Kent State (2-4)

UB's opponents have a 11-14 record in games not involving the Bulls, and most of those wins are from a team that beat Buffalo.

Only two of those games - the Cardinals and Golden Flashes - tell me much about where this team will fall in this year's MAC hierarchy. Every team vying for a top four bye will beat the Eastern Michigan and lower teams, and every team in the whole conference will have a What The Fleck loss. But right now UB just hasn't faced any of the teams that it will be competing for when it comes to seeding time.

I imagine in two weeks we'll start to see a clearer picture: The top and bottom of the West will continue to drift apart, leaving EMU in the middle, while the East will remain competitive but will likely separate into two groups. It would be a surprise (to me at least) to see the division remain so tight as things continue along.

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