MAC West: CMU was favored, but Toledo looks very good

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.

Toledo (9-2)

  • 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.

MAC standings

MAC statistics

RPI and strength of schedule from WarrenNolan.com.

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