Before I get to the articles, let me give credit to Kent State for a huge win over St. Mary's last night.
A great performance by point guard Al Fisher and an awful shooting night for the Gaels led to a 65-57 Flashes win.
Unlike Akron, Kent State has managed to improve throughout the season. The Zips, of course, have been hampered by injuries. They still could find momentum before the MAC Tournament.
The nation will watch a matchup of two rising mid-majors tomorrow morning.
The difference between the teams: Virginia Commonwealth has consummated its rise, while Akron is searching for it's first NCAA Tournament berth in 20 years.
The Rams dispatched the Duke Blue Devils in the first round of the 2007 NCAA Tournament.
Eric Maynor's 22 points and eight assists were a large reason. Maynor leads the Rams again this season in points (18.2) and assists per game (5.2). Stopping the 6-foot-2 guard will be a priority for Akron.
Fellow guard Jamal Shuler also shoulders some scoring burden. As Duke found out, you can't leave him alone on the perimeter. Shuler went 4-for-5 on 3-pointers in that game.
Despite the scoring tandem, VCU leads the Colonial Athletic Association because of defense. They give up the fewest points in the CAA (59.5), and it's not even close. The Rams allow 38.7 percent shooting. Larry Sanders, a 6-9 forward, gets a lot of blocks. Shuler is a league leader in steals.
VCU's weakness is interior offense and rebounding, but the Rams are still pretty good. I expect the Zips to open as a five-point favorite.
I will liveblog from Rhodes Arena tomorrow morning. The game starts at 11 a.m.
As the lesser of two deadline-day deals, Cleveland traded Ira Newble and Donyell Marshall to Seattle for Wally Szczerbiak and Delonte West.
It's not too often two college teammates are traded for each other. It's even rarer when they are MAC players.
The other trade was Drew Gooden and Larry Hughes to Chicago for Ben Wallace and Joe Smith.
This trade bodes well for the Cavaliers this season. They essentially traded two rotation players for four. One of the four (Wallace) was a superstar as recently as two years ago. Thinking long-term, Wallace and Szczerbiak might not have much left, while Gooden and Hughes are in their primes.
Overall, I like it. Don't bother discussing this issue here. The ABJ's Brian Windhorst has a nationally renowned blog on Ohio.com. Click the link above.
Cedrick Middleton went to the free throw line with a two point lead over Miami.
There were less than 10 seconds on the clock.
This time, Middleton swished both. Doug Penno, meanwhile, sat on the sidelines as a spectator. No bank shot prayer this time, pal.
The Zips beat the RedHawks 56-52 -- their first victory in Oxford since 2001.
Perhaps the play of the game was when Nick Dials drew a charge from Tim Pollitz. If the referee did not blow the whistle, it would have been a three-point play for Pollitz.
Quade Milum dunked home the winning bucket for Akron with 30 seconds left. Dials sprawled to the rim and Milum crashed the boards. It almost appeared to be a set play.
Both teams played great defense, but Akron's shooting was superb. The McKnight brothers, who both started, made critical shots in the perimeter-oriented offense. Chris McKnight also blocked a key shot from Michael Bramos with a minute left.
Middleton is back. He's making shots, streaking to the hoop and playing confidently. If it continues, Middleton's resurgence is a great story about how a coach's faith in a player can pay off. You might remember a similar occurrence with Nate Linhart after the forward suffered through a tumultuous start of the season. Linhart had a tough game tonight, though, going 1-for-10 from the field.
With the win, Akron opened a two-game lead over Miami and all but secured a first-round bye in the MAC Tournament, considering Akron also holds a tie-breaker over the RedHawks.
This is exactly the kind of game where Jeremiah Wood excels. Without him, Akron's offense was relegated to jump shots and slashing. I can only remember one set play to a post player. The Zips will get him back Saturday for a 11 a.m. game against Virginia Commonwealth.
UofAZips.com is reporting that Keith Dambrot expects Jeremiah Wood to return by Saturday's nationally televised game against Virginia Commonwealth.
While not quite a John Mackey return, seeing Wood back in half the expected time would provide a great boost. My concern is bringing him back against a nonconference opponent. There's nothing wrong with giving him another week in order to get him back at 100 percent, rather than 80.
Jason Taylor will participate in the next season of "Dancing With the Stars."
He will butt heads with the likes of Adam Carolla, formerly of "The Man Show."
Since Akron thumped Miami, the RedHawks have returned to their status as a MAC favorite.
I'm not certain that is 100 percent warranted.
Miami has played an easier crossover schedule. How can it be easy if every MAC East team plays every MAC West team regardless?
Well, Miami played the more difficult teams at home and the cupcakes on the road, which is part of the reason the RedHawks were 5-1 in crossover action.
Despite that, you can't discount their momentum. And they also improved their defense, which was allowing about 70 points per game in their five-game losing streak.
While Michael Bramos has played better, he is still the most inconsistent player in the conference. Tim Pollitz still isn't getting enough touches on offense.
The Zips will travel to Oxford for a 7:30 p.m. game Tuesday. At stake is the third seed in the MAC Tournament. Right now, Akron holds the spot at 8-4, but Ohio and Miami lurk at 7-5.
Millett Hall is a difficult place to win for Akron, but Kent State did it this year. Look for Miami to open as six-point favorites.
Akron weathered a Bowling Green surge with free throws to win, 65-56.
Cedrick Middleton and two other Zips led the team with 14 points.
Although Akron is on a streak of poor play, a resurgence from Middleton could provide a boost to carry the team until Jeremiah Wood returns. The Zips will play next at Miami on Tuesday.
Bob Whaley, who earned All-American honors as a senior at Akron, passed away this week, succumbing to lung cancer.
Whaley is 19th on the Zips' all-time scoring list. He served in Ravenna's school district as a coach and teacher for many years.
If there is one cupcake on the MAC schedule, Akron has reached it.
Northern Illinois has a scoring margin of -10.5. The Huskies have averaged a blowout during their 5-17 season, which includes an 0-9 record away from home.
Their defense suffers from terrible perimeter defense, which allows 41 percent shooting on 3s. The offense averages 18.1 turnovers -- the MAC's worst by a good bit.
When the Zips are at Rhodes Arena, they feed off this very sequence: opponent turnover, Zips 3-pointer, repeat. It's how they open wounds and turn the spear. The Huskies will travel to Akron for an 8 p.m. game tomorrow.
Northern Illinois' strength is grabbing offensive rebounds. Egan Grafel, a 6-foot-10 juco transfer, helps that as a MAC leader in the traditional big-man categories. Grafel averages 5.5 rebounds per game.
The Huskies' scoring is divided among two guards: Darion Anderson and Jarvis Nichols. NIU counted on a third guard, Ryan Paradise, for scoring until he quit the team because of injuries last month. Anderson, nicknamed "Jake," is a freshman who has a chance to be a decent MAC point guard eventually. Nichols is a juco transfer who can shoot the 3.
The truth is, there must be some scorers on every team. NIU is bare bones in that category. The Huskies are in trouble offensively unless they can find a hot shooter each night. Besides Nichols, the other Huskie capable of a big night is Shaun Logan, a do-all juco transfer who resembles a less talented Nate Linhart.
If Akron pays attention to Logan and Nichols, then this won't be close.
Jeremiah Wood will miss four weeks with a torn lateral meniscus in the same knee that caused him to sit out most of the 2005 season.
The Zips will have to rely on Chris McKnight, Quade Milum and Mike Bardo to usurp Wood's 13.4 points and 7.8 rebounds per game.
Ideally, the Zips would love to get him back for the game at Ohio for limited action so he can be closer to full strength when Kent State visits Rhodes Arena on March 9.
It's definitely a setback. It could be good, in a way. Wood's knee has been bothering him for a while. It's better to get him healed before the games that really matter. Also, the Zips need to develop their post players for next season.
There's nothing like a trip to the cellar dweller after losing three out of five.
Ball State scores an anemic 56.7 points per game. By contrast, the Zips' lowest outputs this season have been 55 points against Ohio and 58 at Dayton.
You can blame the Cardinals' shooting: 39 percent from the field, 28 percent from 3. Both are bottoms in the MAC. They also get killed on the boards, suffering a -3.3 rebounding margin.
The Cardinals only give up 12.5 turnovers per game, which is lowest in the MAC. However, their assist totals are second lowest.
That shows Ball State takes a lot of jump shots.
The team does have a couple pretty good players. Anthony Newell would be the conference's leading scorer (18.6 ppg) if he had not sat out nine games with a foot injury. He would also be third in the MAC at 7.8 rebounds per game.
Then there's Peyton Stovall, who seemingly has been on campus since the turn of the century. At 13.1 points per game, he is capable of a big scoring night. Stovall also is a top-10 rebounder in the MAC (6.3 rpg).
Still, the team stats tell a sad story. Despite giving Kent State an overtime scare, Ball State has won just three games. Akron shouldn't be the fourth.
In case you were wondering about Kent State's recruiting class, the ABJ's Stephanie Storm touted their new long snapper.
The real "get" of the class, juco cornerback Josh Pleasant, made coaches nervous by faxing his letter of intent a little late.
By the way, if you haven't heard about the Kevin Hart hoax, you should read about it. It's one of the funniest stories you'll see all year.
Here's the jist: Hart is an offensive lineman at a rural school in Nevada that has never produced a Division I player. Hart held a party/press conference to announce his college decision: Cal, Oregon and others. Problem is, none of these schools had ever heard of Hart, much less offered the full-ride scholarship that Hart claimed.
Of course, word got back to Cal that their newest "commitment" was thrilled to be a Golden Bear. Hart admitted he lied. Then some members of the media rushed to defend his lies as a product of the highly competitive system. Please shut up. The kid lied. Every part of society pressures people to make themselves look better than they really are through fabrications. To excuse this kid and blame the Signing Day media machine is asinine.
It's not a sad story about the state of recruiting, Jay Mariotti. It's a funny story of a loser who couldn't control his ego. Anyone disagree?
Without a healthy Jeremiah Wood, Akron got drilled on the boards, in the paint and on the scoreboard, 86-66.
Here are the news clips...
Akron Beacon Journal
The ABJ's David Lee Morgan wrote about Will Fleming's choice of Akron over the beaches of Hawaii and BCS bowl game winner Boise State.
Out of high school, Dashan Miller was a three-star athlete with offers from UTEP, Oregon State and Arizona State. He spent one year redshirting at UTEP before transferring to Bakersfield C.C.
The two decommitments appear to be Marcus Cooper, who signed with Rutgers, and Ryan Gardner, who signed with Colorado State. Both are talented receivers but Miller looks to be a good substitute.
Kevin Davis' stats are somewhat unimpressive. He had only four interceptions and six pass breakups at his junior college. You'd expect a bit more dominance from a player transferring to Division I.
Possible sleeper: Nadir Brown. The Zips must have thought a lot of Brown to keep following him despite an injury his senior year. He still had offers from Temple and Buffalo. Georgia Tech and Vanderbilt showed interest, too. Because of his injury, Brown is also a sure bet to redshirt.
Jeremy Bruce got nine carries while playing for West Virginia. That really says something about Bruce's running ability, considering all that talent the Mountaineers have at running back. Akron pursued the receiver out of high school.
Ryan Bain, meanwhile, was a four-star player coming out of high school. He turned down UCLA, Wisconsin and others in favor of Iowa.
The Zips are trailing at the half, 47-33.
I'm just listening to the radio like the rest of you.
Western Michigan might be the most balanced team in the MAC.
The Broncos get great interior defense, scoring and rebounding from a corps of big men led by All-MAC center Joe Reitz.
Then they get great guard play from Michael Redell and David Kool. Redell is fourth in the MAC with 4.33 assists per game. Kool is a great shooter with pro potential.
Reitz and Kool comprise the MAC's best inside-outside punch. That's the reason they are 6-2 in the MAC and will end up being one of two teams in the nation to beat Davidson this season. WMU also is 7-1 at home.
The Broncos' weakness is that they don't shoot that well aside from the Big Two.
Still, this will be Akron's third hardest game in the MAC season (behind KSU and Ohio). The Zips can win with a great 3-point shooting night and terrific defense.
In ESPN's BracketBuster game, Akron will play Virginia Commonwealth, the team that knocked off Duke in the first round of last year's NCAA Tournament.
The teams will play at Rhodes Arena on Saturday, Feb. 23. Television schedules will come out tomorrow.
Other MAC action includes George Mason at Ohio, Kent State at St. Mary's and Miami at Valparaiso.
Bring umbrellas Saturday.
It will rain 3s.
Eastern Michigan loves to heave from behind the arc. Carlos Medlock, Jesse Bunkley and Jarred Axon are all top-10 in the MAC in 3-pointers attempted. Medlock, a senior point guard, is among league leaders in points (13.8) and assists (4.2).
The Eagles also give up a lot of 3 pointers, which has been the Zips' specialty at home. EMU rebounds well but isn't great at protecting the ball, with 15.9 turnovers per game.
EMU's biggest win of the year was against Western Michigan, who has only lost twice in the conference schedule. With the MAC West's parity, it's far too early to rule out the Eagles. Their lack of fan support hurts. EMU averages 931 fans per game at the Convocation Center in Ypsilanti.
As I mentioned last game, Keith Dambrot should rest Cedrick Middleton and Jeremiah Wood. The team must take advantage of a mushy week in the schedule by regaining some health.
The game will start Saturday at 7 p.m.
I had fun chatting with Joe Dunn last night on the radio.
My girlfriend was sitting next to me, hoping for my voice to crack (like it regularly does). It didn't.