Updated Tue, Jan 7, 2014 5:19 pm
Common logic points to most good teams playing a difficult out-of-conference schedule to prepare for the rigors of conference play. This is exactly what Ohio did with a road game against No. 3 Ohio State and home matchups with No. 19 Massachusetts, Valparaiso and Mercer.
Ohio currently sits atop the Mid-American Conference East Division with a 10-3 record, but the Bobcats have plenty of competition in their division on the road ahead.
Kent State: Kent State enters MAC play in second place in the East with a 9-4 record. The Golden Flashes got off to a hot start this season, winning eight of their first nine games. However, the team has since struggled, losing three of its last four. Two of those losses came against good teams in Cleveland State and Princeton, who have a combined record of 20-9.
Coming into the season, the Golden Flashes were concerned with replacing their two leading scorers from the 2012-13 season, Chris Evans and Randall Holt. However, that does not seem to have been a problem so far this season, as Kent State has three players that average double figure points a game and two players that average at average about nine points per contest. Junior guards Kris Brewer and Derek Jackson have been leading the Flashes, putting up 11.9 and 11.5 points per game, respectively. Forward Darren Goodson averages 10.4 points per game, and Devareaux Manley and Mark Henninger score 9.4 and nine points per game, respectively. Each of these players has shown that he can take over a game and score 20 points, though, giving Kent State plenty of weapons.
Ohio and Kent State play twice this season with the first matchup coming on Jan. 8 at Kent State.
Akron: Last year’s co-MAC regular season champs and MAC Tournament champions got off to a rocky start this season, losing two of their first three games. However, Akron seemingly turned it around by winning its next five games. The Zips then began to struggle again, proving their inconsistency by losing three straight. Akron again seems to be on the uptick, though, as the Zips are the winners of their last two heading into conference play, giving them an 8-5 record.
Much of the team’s inconsistency can be blamed on departures from last season. Akron has been tasked with replacing one of the MAC’s top players from last season in center Zeke Marshall. Last season Marshall averaged 13 points and seven rebounds per game and formed a formidable frontcourt duo with forward Demetrius Treadwell. Treadwell is still at Akron, though there was some doubt when he did not show up to practice earlier this season, and has put up decent numbers this season, averaging 12.8 points and 7.6 rebounds per game. Treadwell leads the team in scoring.
The seemingly bigger departure, though, is that of former point guard Alex Abreu, who was involved in a marijuana possession case in 2013. The Zips have tried several players at the point this season, but they have yet to find a replacement for Abreu.
Ohio’s first game against Akron is at home on Jan. 12. Then the Zips and the Bobcats will square off again on Feb. 22.
Buffalo: The Bulls entered the season with high expectations and with good reason. They brought back the conference’s leading scorer in Javon McCrae. McCrae has not disappointed this season either, as he averages 17.7 and 9.6 rebounds per game.
However, Buffalo has struggled at times this season on its way to a 6-4 record. The Bulls have played an extremely tough schedule, though, with their four losses coming to teams with a combined 33-22 record. The only team that Buffalo has lost to that does not possess a winning record is Niagara, who the Bulls played in the second game of the season.
Buffalo’s largest strength is its ability to rebound the basketball, and with McCrae on the team, that is no surprise. The Bulls rip down on average 38.7 rebounds a game, which is good enough for 66th in the country. The Bulls also do a pretty good job of scoring, as they have hit the 80-point mark five times this season.
Buffalo and Ohio will meet twice this season with the first being a matchup in Buffalo on Feb. 15. The Bobcats and Bulls will play again on Feb. 26.
Bowling Green: The Falcons stumbled out of the gate on their way to a 6-7 record. Part of the reason for the slow start can be blamed on a tough schedule, and part of the slow start can be blamed on departures.
Of Bowling Green’s seven losses, only one has come against a team with a sub .500 record, 7-8 Oral Roberts. Four of the Falcons’ losses came against teams that currently have at least 12 wins, including No. 4 Wisconsin (15-0).
This season Bowling Green has had to replace its two top scorers from last year in A’uston Calhoun and Jordon Crawford. That duo combined for 30.1 points per game last season. It has been a team effort replacing Crawford and Calhoun, as the Falcons have five players scoring in double figures this season.
Ohio and Bowling Green will square off twice this season with the first matchup coming on Jan. 22.
Miami: The RedHawks sit at the bottom of the MAC East standings with a 4-7 record. The team has played a difficult schedule so far this season. Miami has played and lost to Notre Dame, Xavier, Evansville and UMass this season, all of which are quality teams.
Miami struggles putting points on the board, as the team only averages 64.9 points per game, which ranks 315th nationally.
The Bobcats and the RedHawks will meet for the first time on Feb. 8.
Toledo: Last season the Toledo Rockets were banned from postseason play. This season, however, is a different story, which is bad for the rest of the MAC. The Rockets got off to a hot start this season by winning their first 12 games. The team currently sits at 12-1 with the only loss coming to No. 16 Kansas on December 30.
Toledo is one of the most impressive teams in the country when it comes to offense. The team averages 86 points per game on 16.3 assists per game while shooting 49.5 percent from the floor. All three of those statistics rank in the top 25 nationally.
The Rockets’ potent offensive attack is led by guard Rian Pearson, who scores 16.1 points per game. Pearson is not the only player that can score for Toledo, however. The Rockets’ four other players average double figure points, including Julius Brown who averages 7.2 assists per contest in addition to the 12.9 points per game that he averages.
Ohio will play Toledo twice this season, February 1 at home and February 12 on the road.
Western Michigan: The Broncos made it all the way to the semi-finals of the MAC Tournament last tournament last season where they were bounced by Ohio. This season Western Michigan is eyeing another postseason run, and it finds itself in pretty good shape with a 7-5 record entering conference play.
Star freshman forward Darius Paul transferred to Illinois after last season, so the Broncos knew they would need players to step up in his absence this season, which they have. Senior guard David Brown has upped his scoring from 11 points per game last season to 18.9 points per game this season. Sophomore forward Connor Tava has also elevated his game, going from 4.5 points per game last season to 11.9 points per game this season.
The Broncos do a solid job of scoring, as they average 72.3 points per game. They do a poor job of sharing the ball, however, averaging only 11 assists a game.
Ohio and Western Michigan will square off Feb. 5 in Athens and again on Feb. 19 in Kalamazoo.
Eastern Michigan: It is safe to say that the Eastern Michigan Eagles have surprised some people this season after going only 16-18 (7-9) last season. The Eagles, however, got off to a good start by winning their first five games on their way to an 8-5 record.
Eastern Michigan has played an extremely tough schedule, playing road games against No. 14 Kentucky, No. 16 Duke, No. 2 Syracuse and Purdue. In addition to those difficult road tests, the Eagles also faced No. 19 UMass at home. Eastern Michigan lost all of these games, but the experience of playing high level competition will help the Eagles in MAC play.
One of the largest reasons for EMU’s success this season is the play junior forward Karrington Ward. Ward transferred to Eastern Michigan after playing a year at Moraine Community College. In his first season with the Eagles, Ward is leading the team in scoring and rebounding with 14.2 points and 6.2 rebounds per game.
The Bobcats will take on Ward and the Eagles for the only time this season on Jan. 25 in Ypsilanti, Mich.
Central Michigan: Central Michigan currently stands in fourth in the MAC West with a 6-5 record. The Chippewas put points on the board fairly easily, averaging 77.8 points per game. However, teams also put points on the board against them fairly easily as well. Their opponents have scored over 80 points in four of their five losses this season. Chris Fowler is the leader for Central Michigan, averaging 16.5 points and 5.2 assists per game.
Ohio only plays Central Michigan once this season, and that game will be on Jan. 25 in Mt. Pleasant, Mich.
Northern Illinois: The Huskies wrapped up non-conference play with a record of 6-6. Part of the reason that Northern Illinois has only won six games is the team’s inability to score. The Huskies only average 65.9 points per game. They also only have one player that averages double digit points in freshman guard Dontel Highsmith, who puts up 10.5 points per contest.
Ohio plays the Huskies Jan. 18 in Athens.
Ball State: The Ball State Cardinals hold the worst record in the MAC at 2-8. The largest reason for their struggles is their problems on the offensive end. The team only averages 67.1 points a game, and it has failed to score 70 points seven times this season. The Cardinals have not even scored 60 points six times.
The Bobcats and Cardinals meet for the only time this season on Jan. 15 in Muncie, Ind.