While it doesn't get very much publicity, the Mid-American Conference tournament is a sight to behold. Since the tournament moved to Cleveland's Quicken Loans Arena (formerly Gund) in 2000, upsets have been a yearly occurrence. Best of all, the league's No. 1 overall seeds are rarely immune to this madness, winning only twice in the last seven years.
The MAC's sheer unpredictability has been great for the conference's diehard fans, but plenty of people out there are still missing out on some exciting basketball tucked away in Big Ten country. Heck, the last two championship games needed an extra period to decide a champion. And that has actually happened three times since Dan Gilbert got his greasy fingers on the league's postseason tourney.
Akron's second trip to the Big Dance in the last three years comes after a moderately successful 9-7 campaign in conference play. The Zips entered the tournament with a 6-seed, and left it with a ticket to the NCAA Tournament. MAC basketball at its finest...
A breakdown after the jump...
Location: Akron, Ohio
Record: 23-12 (9-7)
Leading scorers:(11.9 ppg); (10.3); (10.1)
What to know:
- ZEKE - A seven-foot sophomore from McKeesport, Pennsylvania, Zeke Marshall literally ate Kent State's frontcourt for lunch in the MAC title game. His line: 33 minutes, 9 points, 13 rebounds, 9 blocks, and 2 assists. The problem? Zeke hacks at everything moving. That's why he only saw about 22 minutes of court time throughout the season. Think about this: Marshall is 20th in the country in blocks per game (2.5), and yet he only gets to play a half of a game each night because of excessive foul trouble. Unreal. The Zips are 6-0 this year when Big Zeke hits eight rebounds.
- Unsuccessful Non-Con - The Zips played five top 100 opponents over the course of their non-conference schedule, and lost all of them. The average margin of defeat was 14.4, including a 35-point waxing at the hands of Temple (a game that admittedly skews the margin). Not once did the Zips come within seven points in each of these games though, which is especially telling because we're talking about losses to Dayton, Cleveland State, Minnesota, Temple and Miami. The verdict here is simple: Akron can't beat mediocre teams from foreign conferences. Keep that mind.
- Live By The Three - Five players on this roster average close to one three-pointer per game, so there's plenty of variety from behind the arc. The Zips get 34% of their offense from the long-ball, and are very much the type of group that will continue to jack up shots to 'shoot their way out' of a cold streak. Because of its perimeter-oriented style, Akron does an extremely poor job getting to the free throw line, so the popular inside-outside cliche doesn't exactly apply here. Listen, the three-point shot can be a devastating weapon for a mid-major, but Akron's reliance on it when Marshall inevitably heads to the bench might be an Achilles' heel.
Seed/Outlook: #15. The Zips drew a disciplined Notre Dame squad in the opening round, which certainly doesn't bode well for their chances. The Irish could have problems with Marshall on the interior, but their half-court style is a serious threat to put the big man in early foul trouble and alter the game. The committee certainly didn't do Akron any favors here.
Know Your Small Conference Winners