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3 Things: The race for the MAC title is taking shape

Akron made a statement while Marcus Keene is still looking for some help.

NCAA Basketball: Akron at Creighton Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

The entirety of the MAC took the court on Tuesday night.

This included Ohio visiting Akron in one of the most anticipated games of the early league season. That wasn’t the only contest with conference title implications. Here are three important takeaways.

Akron is the team to beat

Alright, maybe we already knew this. Akron was the preseason favorite and hasn’t done anything to change that line of thinking. But, the Zips still need to get through the toughest competition in the MAC. They took the first step towards that with an 83-68 home victory over Ohio on Tuesday.

The win is Akron’s best to date according to KenPom. Kwan Cheatham Jr. made the difference for the Zips, leading them in both scoring and rebounding with 17 points and 13 rebounds. Akron moves to 5-0 in conference play and has now won eight in a row overall. The win also gives the Zips a two-game cushion in the East division.

Ohio, on the other hand, has now dropped two in a row and falls to 3-2 in conference play. The Bobcats were without their best player, Antonio Campbell, for essentially the second consecutive game after he had to leave during Saturday’s loss to Eastern Michigan with an injury. They will need Campbell healthy if they want to stay competitive and return the favor against Akron when the Zips visit Athens on Feb. 4.

The West division remains tight

Eastern Michigan is the favorite to win the West division and remained in first with an 86-80 win over rival Western Michigan. The Eagles needed to erase a halftime deficit and deal with a hot-shooting Broncos team (13-26 3P). James Thompson IV was too much for Western Michigan to handle, finishing with 26 points on 10-of-12 shooting and 11 rebounds. The Eagles improved to 4-1 in conference play.

But, Eastern Michigan is not alone atop the West division. Somewhat surprisingly, Northern Illinois has kept pace. A 62-58 home victory over Miami (OH) also pushed the Huskies to 4-1 and avenged a conference opening loss to the Redhawks. Northern Illinois has ridden its defense to the hot league start. The Huskies have had the most efficient defense during conference play, and held Miami to just 38.6 percent from the floor Tuesday night.

Both division-leading squads face tough tests next. Eastern Michigan travels to Akron on Friday while Northern Illinois hosts Ohio on Saturday. The two do not face one another until Feb. 4 at Northern Illinois. Whether or not they will still be neck-and-neck in the division race remains to be seen.

Central Michigan still needs more contributors

This time last week we discussed how the Chippewas needed someone other than Marcus Keene and Braylon Rayson to step up in order to be successful. Well, it is a week later and the story remains the same: Keene and Rayson are both great, but Central Michigan continues to lose.

This time the Chippewas fell to Ball State by a 98-83 final. Keene poured in 29 points while Rayson put up 20. But, only one of their other teammates scored more than five points: David DiLeo with 14. Central Michigan’s defense, or more accurately lack thereof, allowed Ball State to shoot 55 percent from the floor. Trey Moses recorded a double-double for the Cardinals with 20 points and 11 rebounds.

Central Michigan was able to defeat Toledo late last week, so they are no longer winless in conference play. However, Tuesday’s setback takes them to 1-4. They will need to tighten up their defense and/or find some other consistent scoring threats to become more competitive. Meanwhile, Ball State has now won three in a row to move to 3-2 in conference play.

Tuesday night’s results:

  • Akron 83 - Ohio 68
  • Eastern Michigan 86 - Western Michigan 80
  • Northern Illinois 62 - Miami (OH) 58
  • Ball State 98 - Central Michigan 83
  • Toledo 85 - Bowling Green 73
  • Buffalo 82 - Kent State 69