Thanks to wins in the first round of the tournament on Monday, the number 6 seed Western Michigan Broncos will take on the number 7 seed Akron Zips on Wednesday at Quicken Loans Arena.
In their matchup with the number 11 seed Ohio Bobcats on Monday, the Broncos trailed for a majority of the game until David Brown began to heat up. Brown took over and ended the game with a career high 34 points, punching a ticket to Cleveland for the defending champs.
Also on Monday, the Zips easily handled the number 11 seed Northern Illinois, who came in with a four-game win streak. Akron jumped out to a 33-6 lead and never looked back. During the game, the Zips broke the program record for 3-pointers made in a season.
These two teams met twice in the regular season, with Akron winning both. In the first matchup, which opened MAC play, the Zips dominated the Broncos at home in a 72-52 final. In that game, Western Michigan's Connar Tava shot just 2-9 from the floor, and point guard Austin Richie was held scoreless.
Akron Zips vs Northern Illinois Huskies MAC Tournament final score: Zips win 76-52 after blitzing Huskies early and never looking back
A 33-6 run usually does the trick.
The second matchup was much different. Akron headed to Kalamazoo coming off of a tough road loss to Northern Illinois. Jake Kretzer and Pat Forsythe were injured, and didn't play against the Broncos. Unfortunately for the Broncos, Austin Richie was also out for this game. It was tight throughout, but the Zips were able to pick up their first road win of the year in a gritty 71-69 final.
Things have changed a bit since then. Akron has lost freshman point guard Noah Robotham for the season, and the Zips have dropped six of their last eight games. Western Michigan has won six of their last eight.
Akron center Pat Forsythe suffered turf toe at Miami last week, and sat out one game before playing two minutes on Monday against Northern Illinois. In the first matchup with Western Michigan, Forsythe held freshman center Drake LaMont scoreless. Then, when Forsythe was hurt in the second game, LaMont only scored five points. The poor production down low put the pressure on players like Connar Tava, David Brown, and Tucker Haymond to produce.
The matchup to watch in this one will be the point guards. Western Michigan plays well with either Richie, or Thomas Wilder running the point. Running the point for Akron will be freshman Antino Jackson, who has become a star for the Zips since Robotham went down. Austin Richie hasn't done anything to hurt Akron this year, and it probably won't get any easier.
The Zips and Broncos have played in some thrilling games at the Q. Last year in the semifinal, Western Michigan forced overtime after being down by 17 at the half, and they won the game,
I doubt this will be a cake-walk for either team. This has become a bit of a cross-division rivalry in the past seven, or so, seasons. Tip-off is set for around 9:00pm on Wednesday (approximately 30 minutes following the first game), and it will be streamed on ESPN3.