The Ohio Bobcats and Akron Zips have a lot in common. Spotless records in conference play. A good win and a bad loss. Super quick point guards. Athletes galore. Three point shooters. And one word that truly describes both teams: resilient.
I'm not going to define what resiliency means because you all should know. But, believe me, both these teams have it. Take yesterday for example. Ohio takes an eight point lead on Kent State with a little under eight minutes left in the game. Now, no lead is safe on the road, but the Golden Flashes had just turned the ball over three times in a row and the momentum was turning the Bobcats way. Not for long. Kent State goes on a 13-2 run to take a three point lead with under four minutes left. This is where most teams would get a little shaky, start missing shots and committing turnovers. But that's when Ohio's resiliency showed off.
Seasoned veterans DJ Cooper and Reggie Keely knew what to do. Cooper found Keely in a hole in the Kent State zone three straight times, amounting to three straight buckets. With 56 seconds left down one, Cooper draws a foul. The free throws are must-haves. Swish. Swish. The Bobcats played good defense in the last minute and closed out the game winning by one. Ohio survives. Resilience.
Now, let's head fifteen minutes west to the James A. Rhodes Arena. Twelve minutes have been played, and Buffalo leads 32-12. All five thousand and some change Zips fans are in stunned silence. Yes, Buffalo is a decent team, but down 20 this early? Akron really hadn't faced this much adversity all year. At this point I was thinking in the "maybe this team needs a loss" realm. Akron worked hard to cut it to six at the half, but Buffalo came out on fire to start the second. The Zips were down 49-34 with fifteen minutes to go. Searching for answers, Keith Dambrot pulled out his bag of tricks. The latest bit of magic? 1-3-1 Zone.
The Bulls wanted nothing to do with it. After some back and forth, Akron went on a 19-0 run, including back-to-back-to-back threes from Jake Kretzer, Brian Walsh, and Kretzer again. Buffalo didn't score for six and a half minutes. In what started as an inconceivable loss turned around as an unlikely win. Going from down twenty to up six is a major accomplishment, especially with how good Reggie Witherspoon's game-plan was in the first 35 minutes of the game. Then Akron did their best Ohio impression. Up only one with thirty seconds left, Alex Abreu makes one of two free throws. The Zips play great defense and Brian Walsh is fouled. Swish. Swish. Now the Zips are up four. After a layup on the other end by Javon McCrea, Buffalo cuts it to two with eight seconds left. Abreu is fouled again. Swish. Swish. Ballgame. Akron survives. Resilience.
Both teams echo what Steve Carell's character in The Office tells John Krasinski's character in this clip: BFD. That stands for Big (Bleeping) Deal. As Michael Scott famously says, "engaged a'int married," and the Zips and Bobcats can apply that to any situation they face. Down one with less than a minute left shooting huge free throws? BFD, I'll make them. Down twenty in the first half and fifteen in the second against a team you should be beating soundly? BFD, we'll pull it out. I only played organized basketball until my freshman year of high school, but I would imagine the "we've been here before we can do it again" mindset is a rather important thing to have on any team.
Both teams found a way to win, and that's the mark of truly great teams. Akron shouldn't have won that game yesterday. Ohio probably shouldn't have beaten both Kent State and Western Michigan on the road. But, they both gutted it out. Resiliency.
Looking ahead, it's conceivable that both Akron and Ohio will end up with 15-1 records in MAC play. Akron beat the hay out of the best team in the West in Western Michigan, and Ohio beat them in a close one in Kzoo. The Zips and Bobcats also beat the third best team in the East (Kent State) on their home floor. Both teams got the toughest part out of the way.
That's not to say the rest of the schedule for both teams is cupcakes. Akron has a tough one Wednesday at Bowling Green, and another tough one at Eastern Michigan in February. If the same Buffalo team shows up when they meet again, that could be another grinder. But, other than that, nothing really scares Zips fans. The Bobcats on the other hand have it very simple. Outside of road games at Bowling Green (where BG won last year) and Buffalo, the rest should be easy victories. Head-to-head will probably be a split, but we'll see how accurate that prediction is come next Saturday.
Unfortunately, life in the MAC is never easy. Most of the regular season is really just a warm-up until the conference tournament in March. Neither team has much of an at-large resume, so they're going to have to win the tournament to get in. So while it would have been a bad loss by both teams, it probably wouldn't have mattered in the end. Barring unforeseen circumstances, it's going to be Akron and Ohio again in the MAC Tournament Championship again, no matter what the seeding is. Nothing is ever given, but it wouldn't be surprising at all to see both teams end up with one loss in conference play.