If it ain't broke, don't fix it. And if "it" refers to attendance at a MAC basketball game, you better not do so much as sneeze near it.
Akron and Kent State often sell out their arenas. It's the most raucous game in the conference, save maybe (maybe) Miami and Ohio.
But MAC officials got cute this year and swapped it into the leadoff position on the schedule -- before students return from winter break. It's one of those issues that nobody can really figure out.
As Dave Carducci points out, the league hasn't done the teams any favors with them playing in the final game of the regular season, either.
Once the whistle blows, however, the complaining will end and the heated basketball will begin. Just how the game will turn out is anyone's guess, though. Generally, Akron and Kent have four common opponents within three weeks leading up to their first matchup. By this time most years, they've both drilled Bowling Green and Buffalo, and they've played grinding games against Ohio and Miami.
This year, the Zips and Flashes have two common opponents: Cleveland State and Youngstown State. Both lost to CSU and beat YSU. But Kent played a closer game with the Vikings -- a game that was held at the Wolstein Center. Kent beat the Penguins comfortably, while Akron relied on a miracle shot by Brett McClanahan to send the game to overtime.
Both teams have suspended a key player indefinitely. Brett McKnight has returned after being suspended earlier in the season for Akron for reasons often whispered but never made public. KSU guard Carlton Guyton is out after being charged with felony theft -- an issue coach Geno Ford expects will be cleared up in the coming weeks.
KSU also has two starters fighting injuries: Justin Greene and Michael Porrini. Greene is a bouncy athlete who is fun to watch. (No word on whether Justin is related to Alvin Greene (see below), although Alvin probably would have won a majority of votes on Kent's campus.)
(Did you really think I would escape a Kent blog post without a quick cheap shot? Of course not.)
Back to business... There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding how the teams match up. The Zips have been consistent in one thing: inconsistency.
Kent State is not feeling very good about its play lately, either
"We certainly are not playing well right now," Kent State's Geno Ford said at this morning's press conference. "We've had two poor performances since we've been back for Christmas. That's alarming because we want to be playing our best heading into conference play."
The Flashes have 10 first-year players, along with three solid returners. Frontcourt depth is one of the bigger concerns.
"We are looking for a second player to go along with Justin Greene." Ford said. "Several of them are hit-and-miss. One game, they give you good rebounding, and then they forget out to box out."
And Kent would really benefit from another solid rebounder, because most teams will double-team Greene. Kent also will miss Guyton's shooting.
"We don't have a lot of other 3-point threats like he is," Ford said.
Most years, the coaches talk about how critical the rivalry game is. Akron coach Keith Dambrot downplayed it, in the context of it being only the first conference game.
"If you win the game, it doesn't mean that you're going to win the regular season or win the tournament," Dambrot said. "If you lose the game, it doesn't mean anything."
It's certainly a different feel from most Akron-Kent matchups, when the fans know what both teams are bringing to the table and everyone expects a rowdy sell-out crowd.