During last year's basketball season, we looked each week at the games ahead and UB fans' rooting interests around the MAC. Each UB soccer team is in the home stretch of their regular season, and Volleyball is halfway through MAC play themselves. The goals are different for each team, but for the final weeks of the fall season, we'll do the same for these three teams.
UB is 2-6 in the MAC, but sits ninth thanks to standings that are right now extremely split. Five teams have six wins or more, and five have three or fewer. A run to a second consecutive MAC Tournament berth would have been preposterous before the season, and it would be helped by an extreme distribution of wins and losses, but given how UB has played in their last two matches, it's not preposterous.
The relevant standings:
6. Eastern Michigan (4-4)
7. Central Michigan (4-4)
8. Ball State (3-5)
9. Buffalo (2-6)
10. Akron (1-7)
11. Bowling Green (1-7)
12. Toledo (0-8)
UB's head-to-head results so far include wins over BG and Toledo and a loss to Akron. The Bulls face Eastern and Central this weekend, though they do hit the road to do so. The rest of the conference, or at least the matchups that matter:
Akron @ CMU: Central Michigan. I'm not interested in playing for tiebreakers or trying to work up the ladder. I'm interested in making the tournament, and that means pushing four teams below Buffalo at the expense of an even longer chance at the 7th seed.
Miami @ Ball State: Miami. Let the top half of the conference continue to dominate the lower half.
Bowling Green @ Toledo: Toledo. UB's got wins over both, and will get another shot at the Falcons, too.
Akron @ EMU: Eastern. I might feel differently about this if UB beats EMU on Friday, but for now the Zips have the tiebreaker on UB.
Miami @ Toledo: Miami.
Bowling Green @ Ball State: A toughie, but go with Bowling Green to try to pull the Cardinals down. Buffalo gets another shot at the Falcons later in the season.
Best Case Scenario after this weekend: Buffalo is in a three-way tie for sixth at 4-6 with EMU and CMU. Ball State is 3-7.
Worst Case: A three-way tie for ninth at 2-8 with Ball State at 6-6.
Prediction: UB goes 1-1, but so does Ball State and both Michigans beat Akron. Still ninth, still a game back of Ball State.
1. Akron (2-0-0)
2. Buffalo (1-1-0)
3. Northern Illinois (1-1-0)
4. West Virginia (1-1-0)
5. Western Michigan (1-1-0)
6. Bowling Green (0-2-0)
Do not consider those an official seeding; I put the tied teams in that order because NIU and UB's losses came to Akron, while WVU beat WMU, and Western Bowling Green. NIU and Buffalo are in the best shape here, having gotten the Zips out of the way, and UB with their win over WVU and close loss to Akron looks better than the Huskies, who beat Bowling Green and lost to Akron by four.
Bowling Green, at one point ranked this season, is in deep trouble, as this Saturday is their last home game. At best after this weekend, they'll be in a four-way tie for third behind Akron and the winner of UB-NIU, but they could be 0-3 with four teams at 2-1 and the loser of UB-NIU in fifth. Western Michigan could also be in trouble with a loss to Akron. Though the Broncos are more experienced than UB and have also spent time ranked, they've got a loss to WVU already on their record and are unlikely to hold serve at home against Akron.
There's a very real chance UB is the second-best team in the conference. A win over NIU would have UB sitting in the #2 seed with two matches to go.
The weekend ahead, all on Saturday:
Akron @ Western Michigan: Akron. The Bulls still have to face WMU, and I'd rather push teams below UB than try to catch the Zips.
West Virginia @ Bowling Green: Draw, then West Virginia. By the same token, push the Falcons out of the race with three losses and make it a four-way race for three spots in the conference tournament. But it would be even better to keep WVU from picking up three points.
Best Case: Either Buffalo, Akron, WMU all in first at 2-1-0, (WVU 1-1-1) or Akron 2-0-1, Buffalo in second at 2-1-0, and WVU in third at 1-1-1. Depends on if you want a shot at first, or a safer shot at a tournament berth, period.
Worst Case: Fifth at 1-2 behind four teams at 2-1.
Buffalo took care of business in their home stretch, but now head on the road for their final three games, including two against fellow frontrunners.
1. Ball State (7-1-0) (Loss to WMU)
2. Western Michigan (6-1-1) (Kent State)
3. Miami (5-2-1) (CMU, WMU)
3. Buffalo (5-2-1) (Ohio, BG)
5. Kent State (5-3-0) (Buffalo, Miami, Ball State)
6. Central Michigan (4-3-1) (Buffalo, Ball State, WMU)
7. Ohio (3-5)
8. Akron (3-5)
9. Eastern Michigan (2-5-1)
10. Bowling Green (2-6)
11. Toledo (2-6)
12. Northern Illinois (1-6-1)
UB's losses compared to the others jockeying for a home quarterfinal game are jarring. They're the only top-half team to lose to someone outside of the top six, and they've done it twice. When considering how the standings might shake out over the final three games, Kent State and CMU have already played everyone in the current top four and finish the season with a much easier schedule. It's good for Buffalo that they have shutout wins over each.
Buffalo needs to win out and hope Ball State does no better than 0-2-1 for the Bulls to claim the #1 seed. Western Michigan is also unlikely thanks to the Broncos' closing schedule. The Miami game is absolutely critical: a loss either keeps the Bulls in fourth by tiebreaker over CMU, or drops them to fifth behind Kent. A tie keeps them tied with Miami, but both teams could be jumped by a victorious Kent on Friday.
Ohio at Toledo: Toledo. Losses to worse teams look bad for the eye test, but for tiebreakers UB wants teams it's beaten to sit higher in the standings.
Western Michigan at Eastern Michigan: Eastern Michigan. Looking three games down the line, EMU and Buffalo wins this Friday would bring UB into a tie with the Broncos at #2, and the Bulls could claim the tiebreaker with a win over Ball State Sunday.
Akron at Ball State: Akron. A man can dream.
Kent State at Central Michigan: Draw, then Central Michigan. With a draw, both teams stay behind UB no matter the UB-Miami result. Worst case scenario with a CMU win is UB holding #4 by a tiebreaker.
Northern Illinois at Bowling Green: Doesn't matter.
These are all pretty simple, with UB-Ball State the only matchup that isn't top-six versus bottom-six.
Western Michigan at Bowling Green: Bowling Green.
Akron at Miami: Akron
Kent State at Toledo: Toledo.
Northern Illinois at Eastern Michigan: Doesn't matter.
Central Michigan at Ohio: Ohio.
Best Case: UB at 7-2-1 in first by one point over a suddenly slumping Ball State.
Worst Case: Fifth place, winning the tiebreaker over CMU at 5-4-1, but locked into a road quarterfinal game.