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MAC Men’s Basketball Quarterfinal Preview: Akron vs. Eastern Michigan

Is Eastern Back?

Kenneth Bailey

After losing 7 in a row, the Eastern Michigan Eagles finished the season by winning 3 out of their last 4. The Akron Zips lost three of their last 5 games after dominating most of the season. Were they cruising because they had already locked up the number 1 seed, or is there something else going on? This game should be a good indication.


Game Details

When: Thursday, March 9th, Noon

Where: Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland

Watch: Spectrum Sports or ESPN3

Listen: WEMU 89.1 in Ypsilanti, Fox Sports 1350 in Akron


Scouting the Eagles

The Eagles come into the game 3rd in the conference in scoring margin. What does it mean when a team is 7-11 in conference play, but third in scoring margin? They under perform in some games. I am not going to talk about the bad Eagles, but instead focus on the good Eagles.

They have athletic guards and one of the better big men in the country, in James Thompson IV. Ray Lee, the senior guard, has been playing much better as of late, including a 50 point performance.

Tim Bond is one of the best defenders in the league. For those old enough to remember the showtime Lakers, think Michael Cooper.


Scouting the Zips

The Achilles heal of the 2-3 zone, which Eastern Michigan predominately runs, is a big man that can pass. Isaiah Johnson, the 6’10 center, can certainly handle that.

Akron is 2nd in the MAC in scoring defense, and 2nd in scoring margin. If there is a statistic weakness, they are 11th in the MAC in rebounding, though they have enough guys that can crash the glass when needed.


Players to Watch

Kwan Cheatham Jr., Akron: The versatile 6’10 senior from Cincinnati can play both inside and out.

Isaiah Johnson, Akron: An imposing presence at 6’10, 290, don’t let his size fool you. He is a highly skilled player that can hurt a team a variety of ways.

James Thompson IV, Eastern Michigan: 6’10 and quick, Thompson can take over a game. He can also disappear at times, but I think that is partly due to the offense and type of guards that Eastern Michigan has.

Ray Lee, Eastern Michigan: The senior guard has 1845 career points. After slumping in the middle of the season, he has scored over 20 in 5 of the last 6 games.


Keys to the Contest

Akron needs to handle the 2-3 zone. With a pair of skilled 6’10 guys that can camp out at the elbow and find the weak spots, it shouldn’t be a problem.

Being aggressive on both sides of the court and attacking the glass are the Eagles biggest hope. When this team is playing full throttle, yet still in control emotionally, they are one of the best teams in the conference. It just doesn’t happen as often as I, and I am sure coach Murphy, would like.

Kwan Cheatham Jr. for Akron, and Ray Lee for the Eagles are two of the streakiest players in the country. If Lee can stay hot for the Eagles, they have a shot to win this game and the MAC tournament. If Kwan Cheatham Jr. can heat up for the Zips, they can win the MAC tournament and make a run to the sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament.


Prediction

Akron won both games in the regular season. They are set up to handle a 2-3 zone team, so there is no real reason to think they wont win this game. I do believe Eastern will put forth a great effort, but fall in the end, 80-78.