Six games into MAC play, UB Men's Basketball was at the same 3-3 record as in 2015.
Nine game in, they're at the same 6-3 record as in 2015.
The difference? The 2016 edition has even more games at home in the back nine than last year, and has already gotten wins over fellow teams at the top of the conference.
Realistically, sitting at #2 in the conference right now thanks to head-to-head-to-head tiebreakers, UB doesn't need much to snag a top-six finish, which was for most people an upper goal this season, and a top-four finish and quarterfinal bye* seems now more likely than not. The current standings:
|2||Buffalo||6-3||2-0 H2H2H CMU, KSU|
|3||Central Michigan||6-3||1-1 H2H2H vs UB, KSU|
|4||Kent State||6-3||0-2 H2H2H vs UB, CMU|
|5||Northern Illinois||5-4||1-0 vs #3 CMU|
|6||Ball State||5-4||0-0 vs #3 CMU|
|7||Toledo||4-5||1-1 vs Ohio, BG||1-0 vs #1 Akron|
|8||Bowling Green||4-5||1-1 vs Ohio, Toledo||0-0 vs #1 Akron|
|9||Ohio||4-5||1-1 vs BG, Toledo||0-1 vs #1 Akron|
|10||Western Michigan||3-6||1-0 vs EMU|
|11||Eastern Michigan||3-6||0-1 vs WMU|
*The MAC has gone back to the old four team bye to the quarterfinals format. The stepladder, semifinal format did its job in protecting the #1 and #2 seeds, but Akron and Kent were rarely in that position over this stretch, and the staggered series of games really hurt the MAC Tournament in Cleveland.
UB will first and foremost need to avoid the three-game skid that came at this point this year, but a more favorable schedule will help with that. Beyond their own game against EMU, here's what we're looking for this weekend:
Central Michigan at Akron: Central Michigan. You could make a case for either here - we definitely don't want CMU to win too much - but UB has and will maintain the tiebreaker over the Chippewas, while the best they can get to is 1-1 against Akron. Right now, let's try to catch the Zips.
Northern Illinois at Ohio: Northern Illinois. This one is another that isn't bad either way, but here's my logic: Once again, UB's got the tiebreaker locked up on the Huskies, while there's still two games against Ohio, who despite their record have some solid players. Furthermore, I think an NIU win here really simplifies things for UB down the stretch - I don't see anyone threatening a bye from 4-6*, and even if NIU hangs around UB's level, there's the tiebreakers and there's just fewer teams involved.
*would require a 6-2 finish at worst
Western Michigan at Ball State: Ball State. Another one that can go either way. With UB's unbreakable tiebreaker advantage over Ball State, I don't mind keeping them around - as with NIU and CMU, those things can be useful in a three-way tie - but Western Michigan can also push them another game back of the byes. Ultimately I go against the Broncos not because I see them as a threat for a bye from 3-6 (see above), but because UB's loss to them is less detrimental in a possible tiebreaker if they're lower in the standings.
Bowling Green at Miami: Miami. Around now last season was when Miami and Eric Washington caught fire and helped UB just as much as the Bulls helped themselves. It is just short of impossible for the RedHawks to get into the top four, so we're pretty much rooting for them the rest of the way.
Toledo at Kent State: Toledo. UB has wins over each, but also another game against each, so let's go with the option that pulls them each more toward the middle of the pack and clears room for the Bulls. Compared to the situations with CMU, Ball State, and Northern Illinois, UB could still lose a tiebreaker to either, but Kent at 6-3 with the Bulls is more likely to challenge for that tiebreaker.
It is worth watching, though: Xavier Pollard and Alonzo Walker are both out for the Kent season with foot injuries and Deon Edwin is hobbled with a sore knee. Add in an expected redshirt and the Flashes are down to eight scholarship players.
Best Case scenario Sunday morning: UB is in a three-way tie for #1 with Akron and CMU at 7-3. The specific breakdown of those top three is up in the air depending on the middle of the conference.
Worst Case: UB is at #4, either winning a three-way tie with NIU and Ball State, relying on head to head over one of them, or all alone. One of Akron (even with a game against the Zips remaining) or Central Michigan will have a big leg up on the Bulls.
Most likely: Akron and UB win, and whatever else happens, that leaves the Bulls at #2. The Kent-Toledo game in particular has my attention: How will Kent hold up with such a short bench?