After spending nearly 15 minutes mulling over where his team fits in to the various Mid-American Conference Tournament scenarios, Kent State men's basketball coach Gary Waters tossed down his pen, leaned back in his seat and offered the following educated assessment.
"It's wide open," said Waters. "And that makes Thursday's game at Central Michigan a real big game for us. Winning at Western Michigan (on Saturday) would be nice, but we really need to get one at Central."
The Golden Flashes (7-12, 4-5 MAC) are currently tied for seventh overall with Miami of Ohio (10-7, 4-5), and only eight teams qualify for the tournament. Marshall is one game back (7-9, 3-6), while Northern Illinois (7-10, 3-7) is also in the hunt.
On the positive side, Kent State has already defeated Miami once. But on the negative side RedHawks' star Wally Szczerbiak is set to return from a broken wrist this week, and the Flashes have to go to Miami on Feb. 11.
Meanwhile, Kent State has already lost to Northern Illinois and Marshall, but the Flashes will have an opportunity to avenge a narrow loss to the Thundering Herd at home on Feb. 23.
"Right now, we have four wins in the MAC," said Waters. "I believe 10 will get us into the tournament for sure, and nine should be enough. Eight is questionable.
"We have four games left at home (Toledo, Eastern Michigan, Bowling Green and Marshall), and we need to win at least two of those and steal one or two on the road."
The Flashes have yet to win on the road this season, but they'll have a legitimate opportunity to break that frustrating eight-game string at Central Michigan.
After opening the conference season with a home win over Northern Illinois, the Chippewas have dropped seven straight MAC games _ and few have been close.
Earlier this year, Kent State defeated Central Michigan 84-69 at the MAC Center, but the scrappy Chippewas hung tough until the final minutes.
"They probably gained some confidence from that first game and they'll probably go into (Thursday's game) thinking they can beat us," said Waters. "So it's not going to be easy. We'll have to play well to win."
Thursday's game at Central Michigan will tip-off at 7 p.m., while Saturday's battle at Western Michigan is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m.
The Kent State women's basketball team will attempt to keep two impressive streaks alive this week against the Chippewas and Broncos.
The Golden Flashes (11-6) have reeled off nine consecutive wins to open the conference season and they've captured 22 straight games against MAC foes at the Memorial Athletic and Convocation Center.
Kent State, currently one game ahead of Bowling Green (13-4, 8-1) in the East Division, will battle Central Michigan (7-10, 4-5) at 7 p.m. on Thursday before hosting Western Michigan (4-13, 2-7) at 2 p.m. on Saturday.
The Flashes have already recorded road wins against both teams this season. They defeated the Chippewas 86-68 on Jan. 10, and routed the Broncos 92-63 on Jan. 8.