2014 NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament: Akron Will Face Purdue In West Lafayette On Saturday, March 22

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

The Akron Zips are MAC tournament champions and participants in March Madness for the first time ever this season. What does their NCAA Tournament future hold? It all begins on Saturday in West Lafayette.

The Akron Zips, your 2014 Mid-American Conference women's tournament champions, have learned their initial destination and opponent in the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament.  The Zips will be a #13 seed in the South Bend Regional, where they will take on the #4 Purdue Boilermakers in West Lafayette, Ind. on Saturday, March 22nd.

Should the Zips win, they'll face the winner of the game between #5 Oklahoma State and #12 Florida Gulf Coast.

Other teams in Akron's regional include Notre Dame, Kentucky and Baylor.

The Zips currently own a 23-9 record and finished 14-4 in MAC play.  They earned the 3rd seed to the MAC tournament.  They began the season very slowly and won only six of their 11 non-conference games.  Then, they started conference play 1-3, including a loss to Miami, who would eventually finish their conference schedule 4-14.

However, Akron responded to the loss at Miami with a 26-point demolition of Kent State, and that began a school-record 13-game winning streak.  They won 10 of those 13 games by double digits and six of them by more than 20.  They lost an essentially-meaningless game with Bowling Green to end the regular season, then swept three straight games in the MAC tournament by double figures.

Akron's prolific offense ranks ninth nationally with 82.8 points per game and 17th with a 45.3 field goal percentage.  They're also 12th in free throw percentage (77.1) and 38th in scoring margin (+10.1).  If there is a weakness, it's on defense.  The Zips are in the lower third of all Division I teams in scoring defense, as well as blocks and steals per game.

The Zips have a very deep roster and can get scoring from several different options, but don't be mistaken by that.  Their offense runs primarily through three players: Kacie Cassell, Hanna Luburgh and (most of all) Rachel Tecca.

Cassell ia Akron's version of John Stockton and runs their offense seamlessly.  She is in the top 25 nationally in both assists per game (6.3) and assist-to-turnover ratio (2.38).  Of course, she can score, too.  Cassell put up 20 against Youngstown State in December and scored 18 in the MAC semifinal against Central Michigan.

Luburgh and Tecca are everything to this team.  One of the two was the team's leading scorer in all but one of the team's 32 games to date.  One of the two was the team's leading rebounder in 27 of the team's 32 games to date.  You know they're coming, you know what they can do, but stopping them both?  It's almost impossible.  Tecca hits 51 percent of her field goals.  Luburgh sinks 86 percent of her free throws.  Tecca grabs 9.5 rebounds per game.  Luburgh averages two 3-pointers per game and makes nearly 37 percent of her attempts.  And points?  Luburgh scores 22.7 per game and ranks 11th nationally, while Tecca averages 22.2 and ranks 14th.

For Purdue, win or lose, it's not going to be a picnic.  However, Purdue is 4-0 versus MAC teams this year, with wins against Ball State, Bowling Green, Central Michigan and Toledo.

As previously mentioned, this will be Akron's NCAA Tournament appearance.  The Zips have two appearances in the Women's National Invitation Tournament (WNIT) but did not win a game in either tournament.  Last season, they lost at Duquesne 71-66 after dropping the MAC championship game to Central Michigan.  In 1999, the Zips lost 76-65 at Michigan State.

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