Coaches picked Central Michigan as preseason favorite to win overall league title and the MAC tournament. And so far the Chippewas have been good at 8-3.
But Toledo has been very good at 9-2, including a near-miss at a signature win for the league in a 77-75 loss to No. 10 UCLA.
Western Michigan also is 9-2 and has won eight in a row. But the Broncos had the weakest non-conference schedule in the league.
Northern Illinois is the surprise team. Picked fifth in the division, the Huskies are 7-4 and second in the country in scoring at 91.5 points a game.
- RPI 102, schedule strength 215 (opponents’ record 44-52). Preseason poll — Tied for second in Western Division. 20th in latest Mid-Major Top 25.
- Best wins: At Dayton (RPI 119, 6-6), 76-72, At Cleveland State (RPI 151, 5-6), 92-59.
- Losses: Vs. UCLA (RPI 29, 9-2), 75-73 in Thanksgiving tournament. Notre Dame (RPI 2, 12-1), 85-68.
- Key stats: 77.3 points per game (second in MAC). Scoring margin +17.6 (first). 11.3 steals (first). Turnover margin +7.4 (second).
- Top players: 5-10 junior guard Jay-Ann Bravo-Harriott (13.6 points, 44.1 three-point percentage, 2.7 three-pointers per game, preseason all-MAC West). 6-foot senior forward Janice Monakana (10.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, preseason all-MAC West). 5-7 sophomore guard Mikaela Boyd (10.8 points, 46.1 shooting percentage, 5.8 rebounds, 2.4 steals).
- Overview: Rockets have routed all competition except No. 2 Notre Dame and No. 31 (No. 10 in AP Poll) UCLA and No. 102 Dayton (four-point win on the road). Team website.
Western Michigan (9-2)
- RPI 185, schedule strength 343 (opponents’ record 36-77). Preseason poll — fourth in West.
- Best wins: At Detroit Mercy (RPI 169, 4-7), 75-65. Bradley (222 RPI, 3-7), 83-64.
- Losses: Michigan State (RPI 31, 10-3), 68-64 in overtime. At Michigan (RPI 36, 12-3), 66-40.
- Key stats: Scoring defense 58.3 (third in MAC). 42.4 field goal percentage (third). Rebounding margin +3.5 (third). 4.3 three-point baskets per game (12th).
- Top players: 6-1 sophomore forward Breanna Mobley (14.2 points, 57.6 field goal percentage, 9.1 rebounds). 5-10 senior guard Meredith Shipman (11.3 points, 3.1 assists, 2.0 steals). 5-7 sophomore guard Deja Wimby (6.0 assists, 2.5 steals).
- Overview: Broncos have won eight in a row after two losses to top 50 RPI schools. But schedule strength is ninth worst in entire Division I (teams Broncos beat are 17-80). Team website.
Central Michigan (8-4)
- 8-3. RPI 184, schedule strength 295 (opponents’ record 43-71). Preseason poll — first in West.
- Best wins: Oakland (RPI 205, 6-5) 70-67, Illinois (RPI 200, 6-8), 82-51.
- Best losses: At Notre Dame (RPI 2, 12-1), 107-47, Elon (RPI 30, 7-4), 71-57, at Purdue (RPI 146, 9-5), 62-51.
- Key stats: 71.0 points per game (third in MAC), 66.3 scoring defense (10th), 34.0 three-point percentage (third), 8.1 three-pointers a game (third), 36.4 three-point defense (12th).
- Top players: 5-6 sophomore guard Presley Hudson (14.7 points, 4.6 assists, 91.7 free throw percentage, preseason all-MAC West, last season’s freshman of the year). 6-3 junior forward Tinara Moore (11.0 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.8 blocks), preseason all-MAC West). 6-foot sophomore forward Reyna Frost (11.6 rebounds). 5-10 junior guard Cassie Breen (3.5 three-pointers, 42.2 three-point percentage).
- Overview: Though Central won the West last season and picked to win it again, the Chippewas have yet to beat a team with a winning record. They have tons of talent — five players are among MAC leaders, including top rebounder, No. 2 shooter, top three-point shooter, top shot blocker. Team website.
Northern Illinois (7-4)
- RPI 122, schedule strength 223 (opponents’ record 49-59). Preseason poll — fifth in West.
- Best wins: Milwaukee (RPI 141, 8-3), 114-104. SIU Edwardsville (RPI 212, 3-9), 97-78. At Bradley (RPI 222, 3-7), 81-51.
- Best losses: At Drake (RPI 33, 6-4), 95-85. At Iowa State (RPI 99, 9-2), 97-89. South Dakota (RPI 60, 10-2), 97-83, at December tournament.
- Key stats: 91.5 points a game, second in the country and first in the MAC. Allowing 81.9 points a game (12th in MAC). 80.7 free throw shooting (first), 44.8 field goal shooting (second), 39 percent three-point shooting (first), 9.0 three-pointers a game (first). Assist/turnover ratio 1.3 (first).
- Top players: 5-10 senior guard Ally Lehman (17.0 points, 10.7 rebounds, 53.8 percent shooting, 6.9 assists, 3.6 assist/turnover ratio, two triple-doubles, 48 points/21 rebounds against Milwaukee), preseason all-MAC West). 5-11 senior forward Cassidy Glenn (18.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, 48.1 shooting percentage, 48.9 three-point percentage), 6-foot sophomore forward Courtney Woods (18.0 points, 42.4 percent three-point percentage, 3.3 three-pointers per game, 92.6 percent free throws).
- Overview: Two years ago, Northern Illinois averaged a league-worst 54.8 points a game. Then they got a new coach in Lisa Carlsen, a Division II coach of the year at Lewis University, and now they’re averaging almost 40 points more. They’re second in the league in field goal percentage, first in three-point percentage and first in free throw percentage. Six Huskies average in double figures. They also give up a league-worst 81.9 points per game. They’ve beaten just one team with a winning record (Milwaukee), but three of their four losses have come to teams in the top 100 RPI. Team website.
Ball State (7-5)
- RPI 235, schedule strength 302 (Division I opponents’ record 44-67). Preseason poll — tied for second in West.
- Best wins: At Oakland (RPI 205, 6-5), 66-59. At Butler (RPI 228, 3-9).
- Best losses: Vs. Auburn (RPI 33, 9-4), 54-40, at Thanksgiving tournament. At Western Kentucky (RPI 131, 8-4), 68-61. Purdue (RPI 145, 9-5), 58-42.
- Key stats: 45.5 field goal percentage (first in MAC). 36.5 field goal defense (third). 18.3 assists per game (second). 69.3 points per game (fifth). 60.7 points allowed per game (fifth).
- Top players: 6-5 senior center Renee Bennett (17.0 points, 7.5 rebounds, 57.4 field goal percentage), 6-1 junior forward Moriah Monaco (13.6 points), 5-8 sophomore guard Carmen Grande (7.9 assists, 2.0 steals), 5-7 senior guard Jill Morrison (10.8 points).
- Overview: Picked in a tie for second in the MAC West, Cardinals have fifth-best record in division. Have beaten teams they were supposed to beat, lost to ones they were supposed to lose to — except for a home loss to 2-10 Lipscomb. Will be interesting to see whether preseason prediction or non-conference record is better indication of how good they are. Team website.
Eastern Michigan (5-7)
- RPI 251, schedule strength 233 (opponents’ record 53-58). Preseason poll — sixth in West.
- Best wins: St. Bonaventure (RPI 186, 6-7), 75-56. Vs. Georgia State (RPI 210, 3-7) at November tournament, 69-59.
- Best losses: Vs. Tulane (RPI 44, 9-4), 62-50, and Northern Colorado (RPI 124, 7-3), 58-57 at Thanksgiving tournament.
- Key stats: 63.8 points per game (10th), 64.3 points against (eighth). 36.1 field goal percentage (10th), 28.1 three-point percentage (11th). Rebounding margin -0.5 (11th), assists 10.2 (12th).
- Top players: junior Sasha Dailey (19.1 points, 42.1 three-point percentage, 2.0 three-pointers a game, 2.5 steals), junior Micah Robinson (12.0 points), senior Phillis Webb (11.1 points, 8.3 rebounds).
- Overview: The Eagles lost coach Tory Verdi to Massachusetts and four starters, including second-team all-MAC guard Cha Sweeney, who graduated early and transferred to Georgia Tech, and third-team all-MAC forward Janay Morton, who transferred to Nebraska. Dailey, who didn’t start at all last year, now is third in the conference in scoring. New coach Fred Castro was a successful assistant at Washington. But the Eagles likely will take a step back this season. Team website.
RPI and strength of schedule from WarrenNolan.com.