A Target on Their Backs

The Western Michigan basketball team has no one to look up to now… at least not in the MAC where WMU stands as the only undefeated team in conference play. Now the Broncos hope to hit the quarter century mark on their home winning streak when hosting Northern Illinois at University Arena tonight at 7pm.

Don't tell the Bronco players they have that target on their backs. "I'm not touching that one," said Levi Rost when asked about being the team to beat in the MAC during a post game press conference.

"We don't even think about it really," said Joe Reitz to a similar question.

"It feels good to be there and it certainly beats the alternative," admitted coach Steve Hawkins. "At the same time we're only five games into an eighteen game conference schedule."

But for fans and media it's hard to ignore the obvious stats. Western Michigan has the top scoring combo in Levi Rost and Ben Reed who sit third and fourth in MAC scoring respectively, the Broncos boast the best scoring margin in the MAC at +8.7 and rebounding margin at +6.2. And just this week WMU has landed at #10 in the Mid-Major poll, #26 in the RPI, #30 in the Sagarin rankings and is receiving votes in the AP poll.

"With Kent State's and Bowling Green's RPI, those were very important wins for us," said Hawkins talking about the national attention that is just starting to follow all the recent wins. "With the work of our crack SID we'll start to really get the national attention and this is about the time that things started to take off for us last year and hopefully now we'll get some of that attention this year."

But Hawkins is quick to remind everyone that, "there is still a lot of basketball left to be played. I hate to sound cliché or have it be ‘coach speak' but this thing is a marathon, it is not a sprint. All we've proven up to this point is that we're the rabbit." And the Broncos will have to keep pace if they don't want the tortuous to catch up in a tight MAC West race.

The task at hand in that race is tonight's game against Northern Illinois, a team the Broncos came from behind to beat earlier in the season 72-69 at NIU. "It was a very tough game at their place," said Hawkins. "We really stole the game."

The Broncos were ahead eight minutes into the game in that last meeting, but NIU took a lead that they didn't give up until the last media timeout. With the Broncos down six points Rost hit a pair of free throws, Ben Reed hit a three-pointer followed by a Rost three-pointer and WMU would have the lead the rest of the way.

"They're a very balanced team," said Hawkins of the Huskies. "Their depth is quality, I believe they're the best three-point shooting team in the MAC. We're going to have to make some defensive adjustments."

And what is the key for tonight, and the rest of the season? "It's up to us to maintain our focus, to maintain our intensity," said Hawkins.

Tickets for tonight's game will be available at the door for $13 and fans are encouraged to park in Lot 10 behind the Waldo Stadium press box and take the shuttle bus to the arena.

Broncos Illustrated Top Stories