Bracketology: Resurgent Chips are in
Central Michigan has gone from a basketball program coming off of consecutive 20-loss seasons to earning a spot to represent the Mid-American Conference on ESPN analyst Joe Lunardi's Bracketology board.
The Chippewas are 21-5, owning the MAC's top record at 11-4, and they are legitimate contenders to win their first conference championship since 2003, when Chris Kaman led them to 25 wins, including an NCAA tournament win over Creighton.
CMU's 21 victories match its combined win total of the previous two years, 11 in 2013 and 10 a year ago.
Keno Davis has turned the program around in his third year as head coach.
As of Thursday afternoon, Lunardi had CMU as a No. 13 seed in the South Regional, playing No. 4 seed Northern Iowa in Seattle.
If the Chippewas do win the MAC tournament to make the NCAA tournament, they have the ability to earn an upset with their 3-point shooting.
CMU ranks third nationally in 3-pointers made per game (10.4). The Chippewas made 16-of-37 threes Tuesday night in a 72-56 win at Eastern Michigan with 6-foot-8 junior John Simons (23 points, 7-of-11 threes) and sophomore guard Josh Kozinski (18, 6-of-12) combining for 41 points on 13-of-23 long-range shooting. Sophomore guard Braylon Rayson was 7-of-9 on 3-pointers in a 68-66 win over Northern Illinois last week.
Simons is averaging 11.8 points and 6.5 rebounds, making 45.3 percent of his threes (73-of-161). Junior point guard Chris Fowler is averaging 15 points and 6.2 assists. Fowler is already CMU's all-time career leader in assists (499).
The Chippewas play at Northern Illinois (10-15, 4-10) Saturday before their MAC West showdown against Toledo (18-9, 10-4) next Wednesday in Mt. Pleasant. They defeated Toledo 65-62 Jan. 6 in Toledo.
CMU concludes the regular season March 6 at Western Michigan. The MAC tourney opens up March 9 at home sites with play moving to Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland March 11-14.
The MAC regular-season champion and team with the second-best record earn spots to the MAC tournament semifinals. WMU and Toledo earned semifinal slots last year with the Broncos winning their first MAC tournament championship in 10 years.