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Akron Zips vs. Kent State Golden Flashes men's basketball preview: A battle for first place

Akron and Kent have had amazing battles over the years. Don't expect this one to be anything less.

James A. Rhodes Arena Whiteout
James A. Rhodes Arena Whiteout
Akron Athletics

The Akron Zips (16-7, 7-3) will host their arch rivals, the Kent State Golden Flashes (16-7, 7-3), on Tuesday at 7:00 pm. Akron took down another MAC East power on Saturday against Buffalo by a 75-72 final. A short-handed Kent State team stole a 61-60 against Miami at home. These teams have identical records, but one of them will have a clear advantage on Tuesday.

Kent State has played its last two games without first year star Jimmy Hall. Hall, a sophomore, averaged 15 points and 7.5 rebounds per game before he came down with mononucleosis. He should still be out for a couple of weeks, and he'll have a long way to go once he is able to return. I know these things from experience. Akron's Reggie McAdams went through the same thing last year.

Starting guard Kris Brewer also did not play against Miami on Saturday. He was suspended for breaking an undisclosed team rule. In turn, Devareaux Manley and Derek Jackson each had to play a whopping 39 minutes against the RedHawks.

Coming into Tuesday's game, Kent State's most important player is Manley. He comes in as the leading scorer at 12.5 points per game, and a 42 percent shooter from the three-point line. Even with a number of three-point shooters in Brewer, Manley, and Derek Jackson, the Flashes do play good defense. Kent blocks four shots per game, and only gives up about 61 points per game. It will be tough for them to match up with Akron's Pat Forsythe, but all-around defense has been sufficient for Kent State this year.

The Akron Zips always look forward to playing Kent State. They would rather play Kent at full strength, but that's how the ball rolls sometimes. One Zip that is playing some of his best basketball right now is Jake Kretzer. In the last two games, Kretzer is averaging nearly ten points, and is shooting over 50 percent from the three-point line. He hit shots down the stretch on Saturday to help put away Buffalo.

The play from centers Forsythe and Isaiah Johnson will be the factor that determines this game, barring a three-point-shooting-competition-like game. Forsythe leads Akron at 11 points per game to go along with five rebounds per game. Johnson, who comes off of the bench, picks up four points and just over three rebounds per game. Those numbers seem pathetic to the uneducated fan, but Johnson is crucial to this team's success.

Khaliq Spicer and Marquiez Lawrence of Kent State will likely be matched up with the two bigs for Akron. It will be tough for Kent State down low because they can't match up with Akron's size. They don't have a real center. Spicer and Lawrence are 6-foot-9 and 6-foot-8, respectively. Not to mention that they both play much smaller than Johnson, who is over 300 pounds, and Forsythe, who is at least two inches taller and 20 pounds heavier than each of them. The Flashes will have to beat Akron with their speed because it will be much more difficult to out tough the Zips.

All in all, this is the biggest rivalry in the MAC. It's a twenty-five minute drive, if that, between the two campuses. No matter who's playing for either team, everyone comes to play. Both teams are playing great basketball this year, and it should be fun. Don't miss this game. You can catch it on ESPN3, or on Time Warner Cable Sports.