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The Zips will be playing their sixth game all-time against Valpo. Akron won all four meetings when both teams were members of the Mid-Continent Conference in the early '90s. The Crusaders pulled off the BracketBuster upset last season, 74-66.
I really wanted to watch the Browns-Raiders game today because it marks Charlie Frye's return to Cleveland. So far, Frye is 4-for-10 with an interception. The Browns lead 10-3.
Valpo, of course, is now a member of the Horizon League, which just might slip past the MAC in prominence if some of these MAC West schools keep skimping on their basketball programs. The Crusaders have played two MAC teams this year, losing by 10 at Ball State and thumping Toledo at Valparaiso by 32.
Valpo has a 7-foot-1 freshman named Hrvoje Vucic. He is redshirting this year.
This end of press row just lost power. Not a big deal for me if it's short-term, but the radio guys got knocked off the air. Oooh. We're back on.
Sophomore guard Brandon Wood leads Valpo in scoring with 20.5 points per game. Junior forward Cory Johnson, who is 6-7, leads the team with 6.8 rebounds per game and also adds 16.3 points per game. Senior point guard Brandon McPherson leads the team in assists and chips in 11.7 points per game. Akron, by contrast, doesn't have a single player averaging 10 points per game.
Akron starters: Steve McNees, Darryl Roberts, Jimmy Conyers, Brett McKnight and Zeke Marshall.
Valpo is 5-7, but the Crusaders have faced the Nos. 6, 2, 25, and 5 teams in the nation. They had a notable moral victory at UNC when they lost by only 11 to the Tarheels.
The Zips are 11-point favorites. The opening line was 8.5. I wonder if someone put a ton of cash on the Zips to extend the spread.
Conyers got a steal and break-away dunk. You have to love how his confidence has grown.
The MAC's RPI is 15th among conferences. Take a look at the strengths of schedule for each team, and tell me if you still think Keith Dambrot and the athletic department are playing competitive teams. There are 347 Division I teams. Only 60 of them play easier schedules. It's the easiest schedule in the MAC, too.
According to the PD's Elton Alexander, Akron plays enough games against top-100 teams, but they play far too many against teams with RPIs between 200 and 300, rather than between 100 and 200.
Dambrot's argument has always been, "Nobody will play us." Well, of course not. Akron is a dangerous team with a low RPI. It's a high-risk, low-reward game for prospective opponents. But if you schedule in a way that maximizes RPI, solid programs won't be so frightened of coming to Rhodes Arena, because it will be to a top-50 RPI team, not a team with an RPI around 125.
Valpo is playing a zone with token half-court pressure.
Man, if you've seen one of these games, you've seen them all. The sad thing is, when Akron shows it is capable of losing to an Austin Peay at home, it actually adds intrigue. Otherwise, it's a wear'em-down 10- to 15-point win.
Brett McKnight and Conyers, with 12 apiece, have scored 24 of Akron's 31 points. Conyers just splashed a 3 to make the statistic even more compelling.
Humpty Hitchens forced McPherson into a five-second call. Akron will get the last possession of the half, which Brett McKnight used on a successful spinning floater in the paint.
Halftime stats of note: Conyers has a game-high 15 points and three steals. Brett McKnight has a team-high four rebounds, plus 14 points. Akron is shooting 56.7 percent from the field, compared to Valpo's 47.1 percent. Valpo has 13 turnovers; the Zips have committed seven. Akron leads the rebounding battle 15-10. Akron has done a decent job against Wood, Valpo's top scorer who has nine points but also three turnovers. Akron is 1-for-5 on free throws.
Marshall got a steal at the top of the key and went coast-to-coast. It was ugly, but he spun home a layup while being fouled. On the whole, he has not looked good tonight. Keep in mind, however, that Marshall is not playing at full strength.
Homer Drew just ran to the middle of the court to argue about an illegal screen. Valpo was hit for an offensive foul for a screen at the top of the key. A similar play on the previous possession was not called when Brett McKnight set the questionable pick. Drew got a technical foul for that spectacle, but he probably has a legitimate point.
Cameron Witt of Valpo fouled out with about 17 minutes left in the second half.
The shot clock stopped running for at least 10 seconds during an Akron possession, which eventually concluded with a Hitchens 3-pointer. Drew cannot be happy about this turn of events.
The radio guys are having power problems again. Steve French is is calling the game through the phone.
Conyers has grabbed a couple hard-earned rebounds. He has found a great way to take advantage of his athleticism and hustle.
Akron has made five of its last six free-throw attempts. These shots better fall against the Bobcats, Flashes, Bulls and Redhawks.
Speaking of the MAC, here are some notable team statistics... Akron leads the conference in scoring margin (+8.8). The Zips are seventh in home attendance; Ball State is first at 4,015. Akron is generally top in the MAC in 3-point defense, but the Zips are seventh this season. Akron's rebounding margin of +4.2 is second (Buffalo, +5.1). The Bulls and Zips are are also one-two in assists. Kent State leads the conference with a +5.55 turnover margin; Akron is third at +2.09. Akron leads the MAC in assist-turnover ratio at 1.08.
Here are some notable individual stats... Brandon Bowdry of EMU leads the conference in points (19.5) and rebounds (11.1). No Zip is in the top 30 in scoring. Conyers is No. 15 in rebounds. Ohio freshman D.J. Cooper leads the conference in steals and assists. No Zip is in the top 15 in either category. Marshall leads the MAC in blocked shots with 2.18 per game. Only Roberts is in the MAC's top 30 in minutes played.
Valpo had committed eight fouls, compared to Akron's one. Then the referees called four fouls on Akron in a single possession.
Brett McKnight fed Conyers on a fast-break layup. With that, Conyers reached a career high with 19 points. Drew called timeout during a nice ovation from the fans.
After a long possession of failed attempts to work the ball into the post, Ronnie Steward drilled a 3 off the backboard with the shot clock expiring.
Conyers made another bucket. It's the first time all season that a Zip has scored 20 or more.
The overarching theme for all of these statistics is that Akron is deep. They score the third-most, but don't have scorer in MAC's top 30. They have the second-best rebounding margin, but not really a stud rebounder. They boast the top assist-turnover ratio, but no individual player with good assist numbers.
The cynical fan would say, "Sure, your team numbers are nice, but who have you played?" That will be a legitimate gripe. A team like Buffalo or Western Michigan will says it's apples-to-oranges. Akron basically played a few games against cream puffs while the others competed against teams better, faster and taller than them.
On BracketBuster games, the visiting team brings its own league's officials. I assume the same is true on these return games.
Final stats of note: Akron shot 55.4 percent; Valpo was 45 percent. Akron grabbed 33 rebounds compared to Valpo's 22. Akron had 18 assists and 13 turnovers; Valpo had five and 18. Conyers led both teams with 22 points. Wood had 18. Brett McKnight led both teams with nine rebounds. McNees had five assists. Akron scored 38 points in the paint; Valpo had 22.
Marshall and Brett McClanahan played only eight minutes apiece.
Final score -- Akron 77, Valparaiso 57
QUOTES from Homer Drew:
"The whole key was that they had 12 offensive boards. We don't have enough size. Akron did a wonderful job off that."
"We are young. They are learning. We have nine freshmen and sophomores. They are trying to get better."
"This is a good team. Keith has done a wonderful job. We enjoy Akron. We enjoy our friendship with Keith. I like their play. They play hard."
"When the clock ran down, (Ronnie) hit the backboard 3. That was the final nail."
On running onto the court: "We just felt that it was so physical. I felt I had to protect my players. When I'm out on the court, you know I want one. The officials were good. They did not decide this game at all."
"We did a pretty good job of taking away their 3-point shooters. Our goal was to take away their 3-point shooting. The second and third chances just killed us."
QUOTES from Keith Dambrot:
"We felt going into the game that they are a tough defensive matchup for us. I thought they shot the ball extremely well. If we allowed the dribble-drive, it would lead to open shots."
"Two things have happened. Jimmy has become a monster on the backboards. Brett McKnight has become a low-post force. All of the sudden, we become a pretty good team when that happens."
"We had a big advantage in terms of size and strength. If Brett can play like that every night, which he hasn't shown yet, then we'll be a pretty tough team to handle. When you can go five or six guys in the post, that's something the rest of the league doesn't have."
"We were looking to get Bardo more time. With Zeke being a little hurt, we saw this as a good time."
"I thought our guards have been playing a little better. You look at McNees who had zero, but he had five assists and no turnovers."
"We got these two games where they're going to full-court pressure us."
"One thing that has really improved for us is our shooting. A lot of that is selection and playing inside-out."
"We have four teams that are in the top 100 on our schedule. (The uncertainty) makes it damn near impossible to schedule. The other thing you can do is schedule like Miami. They're 3-9. If they don't win the league, they're not going to the NIT. I can't figure out who's going to be good. We bring Rhode Island in. Wyoming has a good tradition basketball-wise but a rotten RPI. If we were playing Butler instead of UIC... It's so hard to know what to do."
"Sports is how you feel about yourself psychologically. It's hard to rally guys when they're losing, even when they're losing against good teams. I'd be miserable if we were 3-9. I think it's helped us big-time to play at home."
"I think (Brett McKnight) has done a better job at getting in condition. We're trying to make him the go-to guy offensively. We had to start him. Since we've started him, he's started to score."
"We put Jimmy on Cory Johnson and completely shut him down. Jimmy is so dang strong, and Johnson is a driver. That is one of the keys to the game."
Goals before MAC play starts: "I want to work against pressure. Work on getting more fluid offensively. Work against zone defense. Work on different lineups."
Marshall's injury status: Hyper-extended one knee during UIC. He has had patella tendonitis in both.
"I know Rhode Island pressed us out of the gym last year. Wyoming is pressing, too."
QUOTES from Brett McKnight:
"I've worked a lot after practice, shooting with the coaches. Getting a lot of confidence, that's the main part about it: knowing every shot's going in."
"I'm going to be in pain regardless of what I do. I've been getting treatment. Half-hour before I'm supposed to be out there. It's not a factor. I just have to play through it."
QUOTES from Jimmy Conyers:
"I was coming into this game kind of nervous. Last year, we blew the lead to them and lost. Coming in, I didn't think I would do as well. I had butterflies I haven't had before."
"This is not even the peak. We have a lot of players who have not reached their potential. Once we get Chris going and Steve going and Zeke going..."
On what has developed his confidence: "Knowing that the coach won't yell at me if I take a shot I don't normally take."