I wrote a special Thursday column today. It is part preview and part column. Here it is...
If you don't have tickets for Saturday's sold-out game against Kent State, you are missing the end of an era.
It will be the last regular season game in which Kent State is favored over the Zips.
If you haven't heard, Kent State will lose two men's basketball scholarships for next year because some of its players transferred from the university with poor grades. Kent State has one of the 10 worst academic ratings in the country, according to the new NCAA guidelines that punish teams for having players who fail classes.
So Kent State will be unable to offer scholarships to two players that it would have otherwise. This year is probably the worst year to have this happen for the Golden Flashes.
After this season, coach Jim Christian will have to replace four senior starters. Those four seniors make up about 60 percent of Kent State's offense and virtually all of its leadership. Next year, Kent State will return only three players who averaged more than 15 minutes per game. The Flashes' three freshmen look decent but have played sparsely this season.
But Zips fans should not take joy in Kent State's future misery yet. This year the Flashes have one of their most dominant teams of the past decade. Guards Jay Youngblood and DeAndre Haynes make up the Mid-American Conference's best backcourt. They combine to average 28 points per game. What's worse is that Youngblood and Haynes always seem to score when the Flashes need it most.
Kent State is 22-7. They are even better than that. The team got off to a 6-5 record this season. Since the calendar changed to 2006, the Flashes are 16-2. They have won 15 out of 17 MAC games, including wins at Ohio, Miami and Buffalo.
The Flashes have the conference's second-best offense, fifth-best defense and second-best scoring margin, beating teams by an average of 7.4 points.
Kent State plays great perimeter defense, rebounds well and has forced the most turnovers in the MAC. As seen in the Flashes' 63-57 home win over Akron, Kent State is well-balanced and shoots best when the game is at stake.
However, don't pencil in Kent State as your MAC Champion just yet. Akron's stats are even better. The Zips have the conference's best offense, fourth-best defense and best scoring margin, winning by an average of 8.4 points.
The Zips certainly must be mentioned when listing the MAC's elite teams. They play well on the road. They are even better at home, with a 26-1 record under coach Keith Dambrot at Rhodes Arena.
Still, in the past two years, Akron is 0-3 against the Flashes. Dambrot's only home loss came against the Flashes last year. And just because the game is at Rhodes Arena on Saturday doesn't mean Akron is assured a home-court advantage. Hundreds of Flashes fans are expected to be part of the sold-out Rhodes Arena crowd.
Both teams have already clinched first-round byes in the MAC Tournament at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. Kent State sealed up the No. 1 seed. Akron will either be third or fourth.
Because of that, some may say Saturday's game is meaningless.
The Zips need the third seed so they can avoid seeing Kent State until the tournament final.
This game is crucial. A win will help in the tournament seeding. A win will give the Zips confidence in Cleveland. And a win could give Akron the last laugh before Kent State tailspins into mediocrity.