Strangely, a lot of my classmates are catching the MAC Tournament fever.
Not even in undergrad have I engaged in so many conversations about Akron's postseason. It should be more unusual in law school, where a vast majority of students pledge allegiances to their own undergrad teams.
This is one instance in a line of instances that inspires my instinct that Akron students will throw tremendous support to the basketball program as soon as it climbs that NCAA Tournament hump. Think about it. For you Zips fans, wasn't there one experience -- or one season -- that handcuffed you to being a die-hard Akron supporter?
I believe Akron students generally are proud of their team's success, but they won't hop on a bandwagon until the team convinces them of its indisputable value. A trip to the NCAA Tournament will do that. Mark my words. If Akron wins the MAC Tournament, you will wonder, "Where did all of these fans come from?"
It might be slightly annoying, but it's the nature of mid-major college sports.
Of course, Akron must win three dogfights to get that. That fact is true of each of the eight remaining teams. Akron has its weaknesses, but they all do. Miami, Kent State and Ohio lack depth. Buffalo, Bowling Green and Ball State lack deep-tournament experience. Central Michigan is solid, but frankly is not very talented.
Miami is Akron's first test, and luckily for the Zips, they matchup well against Miami. The RedHawks are not capable of burying the Zips when Akron's inconsistent offense declines to score for five minutes at a time.
The real reason for Akron's success against Miami has been Nate Linhart. To use the cliche that Linhart is "inside Michael Bramos' head" is an understatement. Linhart owns beachfront property on the RedHawk star's frontal lobe.
Bramos is a first-team All-MAC player. Unfortunately for him, Linhart has the same body type, same athleticism and a sadistic desire to see Bramos pull an oh-fer.
My belief in Linhart's ability to guard Bramos is more than anecdotal. During Bramos' career of 119 games, he has averaged 12.5 points per game on 41.8 percent shooting. In 11 games against Akron, Bramos is averaging 10.4 points per game on 40.9 percent shooting. His highest scoring total was 15.
"Linhart has been a thorn in his side." Miami coach Charlie Coles said after Akron's win over Miami on Feb. 18.
A frustrated Coles added this about Bramos: "I don't have any confidence, I'll tell you that. Akron just stayed on him. I want to send an e-mail to all the coaches. I want to say, 'This guy is shooting 20 percent from the 3 and please stop guarding him.' We don't have anyone who can break the defense down."
Keep in mind, Bramos is a first-team All-MAC player. (Update: Bramos was named MAC Player of the Year.) He has scored more than 30 points several times this season. He is an elite scorer by MAC standards. Linhart played Bramos so tightly that Bramos' own seasoned coach candidly gave up hope for him.
Miami will rely on Bramos during this tournament, especially now that starting point guard Eric Pollitz is done with a knee injury. Pollitz was not a star, but he served as a stopgap due to Kenny Hayes' season-ending injury. Now Miami is down to its third-string point guard, Carl Richburg.
Without a confident Bramos or a point guard, Miami's slow-it-down offense will be lucky to produce 50 points tonight against a good Akron defense. If the Zips shoot with any level of competence, Akron will win and be one step closer to turning potential fan frenzy into actual fan frenzy. These days, however, that's not a given.