MEN'S BASKETBALL: Despite loss, Cardinals control own destiny in MAC West race

With two road wins to close out season, Ball State will win 2nd-straight MAC West crown

There are myriad scenarios left for four teams to win the Mid-American Conference West Division and the No. 2 seed in the MAC Tournament.

Only Ball State University still controls its own destiny. All the Cardinals have to do is win their remaining two games and they take the division crown, no complications.

Ball State could have wrapped up the No. 2 seed and the first round bye that comes with it Wednesday night, as they got help from Northern Illinois University. It defeated Central Michigan University 67-65 on a last second shot, essentially dropping the Chippewas from the race.

With two games to play, Ball State (8-6 MAC) holds a one-game lead over Western Michigan University, Eastern Michigan University and Central Michigan.

The Cardinals remain focused on winning the division outright, unlike last year when they backed into a three-way tie for the division. Ball State still managed to take the second seed, but center Jarrod Jones doesn't want that scenario to play out again.

"Coming into this game, we were all aware of the standings and the importance of this game," the sophomore said. "Just like last year, it's a tight race in this conference. We knew we needed this game, because once you let one go you can't get it back."

With two games to play, here's how the four teams still in the hunt for the MAC West crown stack up:

1. Ball State (8-6)
Wednesday's result: Lost 72-67 to Eastern Michigan
Remaining games: Saturday at Toledo (0-14), March 4 at Western Michigan (7-7)
Magic number: 2
Tiebreakers: By beating Buffalo and Miami, Ball State holds the tiebreaker over Central Michigan and Western Michigan.

2. Eastern Michigan (7-7)
Wednesday's result: Won 72-67 over Ball State
Remaining games: Saturday vs. Northern Illinois (5-9), March 4 vs. Central Michigan (7-7)
Tiebreakers: If Eastern Michigan defeats Central Michigan, they hold the tiebreakers over all three other teams. It beat Ball State twice and their win against Akron would give it the advantage over Western Michigan and Central Michigan.

3. Central Michigan (7-7)
Wednesday's result: Lost 67-65 to Northern Illinois
Remaining games: Saturday vs. Western Michigan (7-7), March 4 at Eastern Michigan (7-7)
Tiebreakers: If Central Michigan does not defeat Western Michigan on Saturday, they will hold no tiebreakers.

4. Western Michigan (7-7)
Wednesday's result: Won 61-41 over Toledo
Remaining games: Saturday at Central Michigan (7-7), March 4 vs. Ball State (8-6)
Tiebreakers: A win at Central Michigan would give Western Michigan the advantage in that series. The Broncos would lose the tiebreaker to both the Cardinals and the Eagles. 

The MAC West remains far from decided with two games left in the regular season. Tiebreakers can still fluctuate slightly as the conference standings change, but Ball State is determined to simply stay focused on what they can control.

"It's a tight race for the whole thing," forward Terrence Watson said. "We've just got to keep up, keep going to practice and put our hard hats on."

Whatever team falls out of the lead in the division will see a precipitous drop in their seeding in the conference tournament as well. After Wednesday's games, second place in the MAC West stood to snag the No. 6 seed.

"It's wide open," Eastern Michigan coach Charles Ramsey said. "Everybody's come back. It's funny how things change. We'll play it out."

MAC West Standings
1. Ball State (8-6)
2. Eastern Michigan (7-7)
2. Central Michigan (7-7)
2. Western Michigan (7-7)
5. Northern Illinois (5-9)
6. Toledo (0-14)


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