Column: Is EMU hoops the best in the MAC?

Eastern Michigan seniors Anali Okoloji, Jerome Hunter, Mike Talley and Karrington Ward. 

The Eastern Michigan men’s basketball non-conference schedule has officially wrapped up. The Eagles finished with an 11-2 record including a big win over the University of Michigan and their only two losses were at the hands of Dayton and Michigan State.

They are coming off their best non-conference record since joining the Mid-American Conference in 1971.

With MAC play starting on Wednesday for the Eagles against Ball State University, the Eagles are looking to continue their early success and push towards winning the MAC.

The Mid Major poll has Eastern Michigan currently ranked at number 14 which is the highest ranking it has held since the poll was created 16 years ago.

Now the question remains: Is this the best team in the MAC this year?

“We feel like it. We just need to prove it,” senior point guard Mike Talley said after the team’s big win over Michigan in December.

Michigan coach John Beilein credited EMU, saying that their 2-3 zone was “as good of a zone defense as I’ve ever seen, as quick of a zone defense as I’ve ever seen anytime, anywhere.”

Even Michigan State coach Tom Izzo had high praises for the Eagles.

“Eastern has a chance to do very well in the MAC,” Izzo said. “They’re going to win a lot of games this year. [I] Really believe that. Well coached. Play hard. [I’m] Happy for Murph; [he’s] off to a great start.”

It remains to be seen if this EMU team is the best in the MAC, but it definitely has a case. As it stands right now after non-conference play, the Eagles are second in the standings behind only Central Michigan who are 10-1.

Central Michigan’s only tough win came in their 80-67 defeat of Northwestern, in Evanston, Ill.

It looks as if the other big threat to the Eagle’s MAC title hopes is the University of Buffalo, where Duke legend Bobby Hurley is in his second year as head coach. Buffalo had an impressive first half showing against the number one team in the country--Kentucky. At one point in the game, they lead the Wildcats 38-33, but ultimately Buffalo lost 71-52. It was impressive nonetheless. Buffalo's only other losses came at the hands of Wisconsin and St. Bonaventure.

Current RPI rankings, which measure strength of schedule and how a team does against that schedule, have three MAC teams in the top 100. Buffalo is 37, EMU is 89 and CMU is 100.

This year, the Eagles are led by sophomore guard Raven Lee with 14.8 points per game and Karrington Ward with 13.8 per game. They will need this continued effort out of both players as the season rolls forward.

Eastern Michigan hasn’t won the MAC tournament since the 1998 season, when they were led by former NBA player Earl Boykins.

It’s a tough road ahead for the Eagles but this could and should be the year that Eastern Michigan wins the MAC Championship. Anything less will be a disappointment.

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Follow Andrew Mascharka on Twitter: @amascharka

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