Toledo's Jonathan Williams drives past Kent State's Desmond Ridenour during their game Saturday at Savage Arena. BLADE/ANDY MORRISON
This is the point of the college basketball season when it helps to step back and peek at the conference standings and remaining schedules. While things are certain to change — and change quickly — a brief glance can help coaches, players, and fans in preparing for the stretch run of the season.
This is no different for the University of Toledo men’s and women’s teams, who find themselves in slightly different places at this point of the season, but both are fighting to better position themselves for the Mid-American Conference tournament in March.
In the MAC tournament, the top four teams receive byes into the quarterfinals, while the Nos. 5-8 seeds host first-round matchups, with the winners advancing to the quarterfinals in Cleveland.
Both teams have five games remaining on the schedule, including one game against each member of the MAC West Division. With head-to-head matchups the rest of the way, there could be a lot of movement in the standings by the end of the season.
Current record: 13-13 overall, 6-7 MAC
Current seed if MAC tournament started today: 9th (Would play at the No. 8 seed in the first round)
Remaining schedule: at Northern Illinois, Western Michigan, Central Michigan, Ball State, at Eastern Michigan.
Outlook: It has been an up-and-down season so far for the Rockets. A stretch of four losses in five games ended with a heartbreaking double-overtime loss Feb. 4 at Bowling Green.
Toledo then responded with impressive home wins against Eastern Michigan and Kent State.
That two-game win streak was snapped Tuesday in a tough loss at first-place Akron.
As evidenced by an 11-point second-half lead against the Zips and a win at Ohio earlier in the season, Toledo can hang with any team in the conference on a given night. But the Rockets often can be confounding, as evidenced by blowout losses at Western Michigan and Kent State.
In a topsy-turvy race, four other teams are at 6-7 (Central Michigan, Western Michigan, Northern Illinois, and Kent State). Ball State is at 7-6, and Ohio and Buffalo are 8-5. So, with the Rockets just two games out of the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament, a lot can happen between now and the end of the season.
The West matchups start Saturday at Northern Illinois. The Huskies beat Toledo 74-72 at Savage Arena on Jan. 28.
“This league is competitive, and we just have to keep fighting to the end,” UT coach Tod Kowalczyk said after a home win over Eastern Michigan. “The bottom line is get healthy and stay healthy. That’s going to be the big key for how we finish.”
Current record: 17-7 overall, 8-5 MAC
Current seed if MAC tournament started today: No. 6 (Would host the No. 11 seed in first round)
Remaining schedule: at Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Western Michigan, at Northern Illinois, at Ball State.
Outlook: Toledo is in fourth place in what has turned out to be a loaded West. Central Michigan and Northern Illinois are the class of the division at 11-2, and Ball State sits in third at 10-3.
In the overall conference standings, Ohio, which has defeated Toledo twice this season, sits at 9-4, while Kent State, which beat Toledo earlier as well, is 8-5.
The remaining schedule does Toledo no favors as the Rockets are forced to play the three top teams in the conference on the road, starting Saturday with Central Michigan. The Rockets were impressive in beating the Chippewas 74-72 on Jan. 28 at Savage Arena.
Toledo missed opportunities with early-season home losses to Ball State and Northern Illinois. In its MAC opener, UT managed little offense in a 51-45 defeat to the Cardinals on Dec. 31, and the Rockets lost a close 77-73 game to the Huskies on Jan. 14.
However, the Rockets have won three straight and five of their past six after a win Wednesday at Akron, and are trending upward at a crucial part of the season. While Toledo will face an uphill battle moving up the West standings, there still is plenty of room to improve its conference standing.
“I’m glad we’ve been able to do it,” UT coach Tricia Cullop said of the win streak. “There are some things that we are getting better and better at. Part of it [Wednesday at Akron] was not hanging our head when we made mistakes. We continued to look to the future of what we could control, and that is a big part of any game. There is going to be ebbs and flows in any game. I think any team that is successful doesn’t let those down times take control of the game.”
Contact Brian Buckey at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6110.