The regular season champs of the Sun Belt and MAC are going to do battle tonight in the NIT, as they should. With the way the powers that be are setting up bowl season, the relationship that these two conferences will have going forward is only going to grow. Not only are they natural football rivals, they have a lot of mutual interests, being in the shadow of the titans of college athletics.
The Mavericks have been to the NIT 3 times, and Akron is making their 7th appearance. The winner of tonight’s game advances to the third round, something neither team has done.
- When: Monday, March 20th, 8 p.m.
- Where: College Park Center, Arlington, Texas
- Watch: ESPN U, or stream via the watchESPN app
- Listen: WARF 1350 in Akron
- Line: Mavericks - 4
Scouting the Mavericks
An athletic team with a variety of scorers, there are 6 players on the roster that average over 8 points a game. However, they will be without their second leading scorer, Jalen Jones, who is out for the season with a hand injury.
The Mavericks outscore their opponents by 8.5 points per game, and are second in the Sun Belt at 78.1 points per game.
They lead the Sun Belt in assists, and are second in steals.
Scouting the Zips
Akron is second in the MAC, outscoring their opponents by 6.8 points per game.
Led by MAC player of the year Isaiah Johnson, they are a senior laden team that plays steady team oriented basketball.
Akron shoots 37.5% from three, but can be streaky.
Players to Watch
Isaiah Johnson, Akron: The MAC Player of the Year is an imposing presence at 6’10, 290 lbs, but is also a highly skilled basketball player.
Kwan Cheatham Jr., Akron: The 6’10 Cheatham is a great all around player, and can hit the three. He is streaky, and has only scored in double digits 2 out of the last 9 games.
Kevin Hervey, UT-A: The Sun Belt Player of the Year, he has scored in double figures in 28 straight games, with a high of 34. He had double digit rebounds in 15 of those games.
Jorge Bilbao, UT-A: The 6’9 forward from Bilbao, Spain, is a second presence inside.
Keys to the Contest
The Zips must keep up with the Mavericks, and shoot the ball well. The Mavericks are similar to Buffalo, so the Zips have experience with that kind of athleticism.
Akron will work the ball inside to Johnson, and he will either score or get it to the shooters on the perimeter. BYU was able to score against the Mavericks with that type of play, they just couldn’t keep up.
The Mavericks will need to control the tempo. If it’s a slug fest, I like the Zips chances.