After the Eastern Michigan Eagles climbed to number 2 in our power rankings, they have lost 5 out of the last 6. Scoring has suddenly become an issue for this team.
The Akron Zips responded to their first conference loss on the season by edging out a good Ball State team. Akron doesn’t wow in any particular phase of the game, they just win.
Only 2 games separate 2nd place from 11th in the MAC right now. There are a lot of good teams in the league. I don’t think Akron is heads and shoulders above the pack, though their record says otherwise. For Akron to prove to me they are a great team (I realize that’s not why they are playing the game), these are the types of games they need to keep winning. There are plenty of traps left on their schedule.
When: Friday, February 10th, 7pm
Where: Convocation Center, Ypsilanti, Michigan
Watch: ESPN U or via stream on the WatchESPN app
Listen: WEMU 89.1 in Ypsilanti, or WARF 1360 in Akron. Both teams offer live streams available on their websites
Line: Akron -1
The Zips are an impressive 20-4 on the season, and 10-1 in the MAC.
They are led by center Isaiah Johnson. Not just statistically, but in how they run their offense. A lot of what they try and do goes through the big man, and it works because of his ability to pass.
In fact, the entire team can pass, with the starting 5 each averaging over 1.8 assists per game.
You generally aren’t going to get to 20-4 without playing defense, and Akron is 3rd in the MAC in scoring defense, giving up just 70.5 points a game.
Scouting Eastern Michigan
Eastern Michigan is 13-11 on the season, and 5-6 in the MAC.
The Eagles non-conference schedule had some tough match-ups, and for the most part they played well. They started off conference play by winning 4 out of 5. After the hot start, they dropped 5 of the last 6 their sole win against lowly Miami.
Offensively, they are 6th in the MAC in scoring. When they are clicking, they are a very potent offense. When they are off, they are lucky to break 65.
On defense, Eastern Michigan runs a zone. With their athletic guards, they have the potential to thoroughly frustrate teams. It’s a big reason why they are fourth in the MAC in scoring defense.
Players to Watch
Isaiah Johnson, Akron: Nicknamed “Big Dog”, he plays his best in the biggest moments. His ability to pass might be the biggest factor in this game.
Antino Jackson, Akron: The 5’11 junior guard from Houston will face a defense that can be suffocating at times. The usually reliable Jackson hasn’t made a lot of turnovers on the season, and that trend needs to continue.
James Thompson IV, Eastern Michigan: Thompson is athletic and has good footwork for someone that is 6’10. Capable of some monster games, he scored 26 and grabbed 20 rebounds earlier this season against Miami, and had 26 and 10 against WMU.
Willie Mangum IV, Eastern Michigan: Mangum is a streaky shooter that is capable of lighting it up.
Keys to the Game
Right now EMU is struggling, and a big reason why is they lack a certain chemistry on the floor. In basketball, chemistry can mean many things. In this particular case, there is nothing negative implied by it. While there is a lot of talent on the roster, the pieces just don’t quite fit together at times, especially during this slump. They have 5 players scoring 10 or more per game.
As far as I know, this isn’t a locker room issue, or a coaching issue. In fact, I don’t think that’s what it is at all. It’s just certain play styles don’t always fit together as you would hope. It’s like putting a Porsche engine in a Corvette. In theory and on paper it seems like a good idea, you just might not end up with a fast car.
Against Akron, they are going to need to do a better job of getting their players in their spots.
For Akron, it’s all about handling the zone, and not forcing anything. The entire team can pass, and that’s what it takes to beat a zone.
Eastern could be in desperation mode, and Akron is traveling after an emotional win on Tuesday. If I were a betting man, I wouldn’t touch this game with a 10 foot pole. I am going with Akron doing what they are supposed to do, and winning 70-65, but really nothing is off the table with regards to outcome in this one.