It will be a battle of one program on the rise and another on the way down when Eastern Michigan plays at Central Michigan tonight at McGuirk Arena in Mount Pleasant.
EMU (11-14, 6-5) is in the driver’s seat in the MAC West race in Rob Murphy’s first year as head coach, holding a two-game lead on its nearest competitors heading into the final five conference games.
Meanwhile, CMU (7-17, 2-9) is in the basement in the MAC West, tied with Northern Illinois.
While the Eagles are coming off their most impressive win, a 68-55 win over 19-6 Ohio Saturday, a program which won the MAC title in 2010, CMU dropped its ninth straight game, falling at Miami 69-50.
Murphy has turned the Eagles into the MAC’s top defensive team with the 2-3 zone. They held Ohio scoreless for the game’s first 10 minutes, 12 seconds. CMU went without a field goal for a stretch of nearly 13 minutes in the first half and trailed 30-15 at halftime against Miami.
Big things were expected from Ernie Zeigler after he guided the Chippewas to the MAC West title two years ago, his fourth season. They finished 15-15 (9-7 MAC) and he was rewarded with a four-year contract. He brought his son, highly-recruited Trey Zeigler into the program.
CMU also used $22 million to renovate Rose Arena, turning it into the beautiful 5,000-seat McGuirk Arena which had a standing-room-only crowd of 5,350 fans attend the first game, a 65-53 loss to Temple Dec. 1, 2010. Zeigler also had a new practice facility to work with inside the arena.
The Chippewas slipped to 10-21 (7-9) last season and are 17-38 (9-18 MAC) during the last two years. They haven’t won in more than a month, since a 60-56 win at EMU Jan. 11. They are shooting just 36.4 percent from the field in conference games, allowing opponents to shoot 40.7 percent from three-point range.
With two years remaining on his contract after this season, Zeigler – 71-107 (40-51 MAC) in his 5 1-2 seasons – will be sitting on the hot seat when the 2012-13 season rolls around. That’s what happens when there’s high expectations and your program struggles, especially when only 933 fans show up for the latest home game, a 66-62 loss to Buffalo last Wednesday.
You know the Eagles want to win tonight to inch closer to their first ever MAC West title, but Zeigler and the Chippewas need it more. They need to know what it feels like to win again. It’s been that long.