Ohio-Akron: Keys to winning MAC bragging rights

Eric P. Mull-US PRESSWIRE

The MAC's signature two teams collide for the first time this season on national television.

It's not much of a debate right now; Ohio and Akron are the sole pillars of dominance in MACsketball. They're both undefeated in conference play, two games ahead of anyone else and three games better than everybody else in their division. They've also met in the MAC Championship in two of the last three years. You have Akron, then you have Ohio. And lucky for the viewing audience, they play twice a year. The first installment will be in Akron and, sorry gang, but it's already sold out. You can watch on ESPU.

If we look at last year's game in which Akron bested the Bobcats at home 68-63, there was a bit of a meltdown on Ohio's part. Players were fouling out left and right, and DJ Cooper had a horrible night from the floor. Akron didn't shoot particularly well at foul shots but they took a metric ton of attempts which made the difference.

The Zips are not a perfect team, but they're modestly good at everything EXCEPT for free throws: 67 percent is 10th in the MAC. However, if they can get anywhere near 40 attempts and on the other side commit few fouls, they can tip the scales in their favor.

As they've shown throughout conference play, they're incredibly balanced with four different leading scorers in seven contests — Zeke Marshall, Nick Harney, Demetrius Treadwell and Reggie McAdams. And I haven't even brought up Alex Abreu, a terrific player who manages the offense yet will understandably be the second-best point guard in the game. Yes, Marshall is their best player — the one most likely to play in the NBA, if anybody - but the reason this team stands out is that no one player quite stands out.

Not unlike: the Ohio Bobcats. Imagine this space with 1,000 words about D.J. Cooper, or just watch this video where Jay Bilas considers him the best passer in college basketball — and that's coming from an honorary Zip. Not unlike Akron, Cooper is the player that moves them forward, but they don't thrive or perish based on his individual performance. If he's struggling from the floor, then Nick Kellogg or Walter Offutt will pick up the slack from behind the arc. Reggie Keely and Ivo Baltic will work inside. Baltic is even a tremendous passer from the point forward position, given he's the second-leading assist man and had nine in the UMass game.

It's kind of trite and obvious to say that if Akron can keep Ohio from scoring, they'll win. That's one way of doing it. But outside of the Winthrop loss, what's ultimately undone the Bobcats has been their defense. You saw Ohio score well against RMU, UMass and Oklahoma, but they just couldn't keep up with them on the other side of the court. Shutting them down is one way, but a better target to try and neutralize Keely and Baltic. Sounds like something Marshall should be able to do, and the question is if Treadwell can also defend one of those two forwards.

Of course, like any excellent sporting event, you start out with a game plan, then about five minutes or so into the contest, the plan has completely gone awry and a new plan must be made on the fly. Watching Keith Dambrot and Jim Christian coach this game will be a delight, especially as both teams have impressive streaks on the line. In a year where much of the conference is inconsistent at best, this game shall be a most acceptable showcase to the rest of the nation, as if to say, "pay no attention to Kent State for the time being."

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