The Zips will play Buffalo tomorrow at 2 p.m. before embarking on a six-game stretch of playing MAC West foes.
The Bulls are 9-8 and 1-3 in the MAC. The team's RPI is 188 and strength of schedule is 212.
Buffalo nearly shocked the basketball community in December when it suffered a close loss at home to No. 2 Pittsburgh. A reporter asked Pitt coach Jamie Dixon after the game whether he planned to schedule any more mid-majors on the road. "I'll get back to you," he said.
I didn't see the game, but I heard the referees grossly favored the Panthers. But the Bulls certainly should blame their 5-of-22 shooting on 3-pointers. In fact, shooting has kept Buffalo back all season.
At 40.6 percent, Buffalo is the second-worst field-goal shooting team in the MAC. The Bulls also are third-to-last from 3, shooting 31.1 percent.
What they give up behind the arc, the Bulls recover on the offensive glass. A 13.94, they average a full offensive rebound more than the second-best team in that category, Akron.
Attribute much of that to Yassin Idbihi, one of the MAC's best big men. He trails only Ohio's Leon Williams for conference supremacy on the boards, averaging 8.9 a night. The 6-foot-10 Morocco native has fallen off this season in field goal percentage, however. Idbihi still manages to score 15.3 points per game.
Sophomore guard Eric Moore has emerged as a quality second option, averaging 13.7 points per game. He is basically the Bulls' only option for a 3-point shot, but he's a good one with a 41.3 percent success rate from long range. That's good for eighth in the MAC.
I didn't realize this until going through the stats, but Akron has three of the top seven 3-point shooters in the conference. Nate Linhart leads the league at 50 percent. Second is Cedrick Middleton at 44.9 percent. Dru Joyce is seventh at 41.6 percent.
That should be a major weapon for Akron Sunday. The Bulls are below-average at defending the 3.
Another should be increasing the game's tempo. If Middleton starts, which I have a hunch might happen, Akron will have a good lineup for running the break. Because coach Reggie Witherspoon relies on a seven-man rotation (and rides his starters really hard), a fast paced game could bring fatigue and foul trouble for the Bulls.
Besides Moore and Idbihi, here's a rundown of Buffalo's other key contributors:
- Senior forward Parnell Smith averages 10.5 points and 5.6 rebounds per game. He probably won't start, but will play just as much. The 6-6 Indianapolis native is a solid shot blocker and tremendous offensive rebounder for his size. Linhart, who is also a decent rebounder for his size, will need to box out on every possession. (Another reason for running fast breaks would be to keep Smith off the offensive glass.)
- Sophomore guard Andy Robinson is a good defender. Last season, he was third on the team in steals and blocked shots, despite being just 6-1.
- Sophomore big man Vadim Fedotov is coming off knee surgery. He is starting, but not playing huge minutes.
- Sophomore Greg Gamble contributes 6.7 points and 5.5 rebounds in almost 30 minutes a night.
This looks like an easy win, especially considering Buffalo has traditionally been an awful road team. Look for the spread to be about 13. I'll have more tomorrow.
For now, read Tom Gaffney's ABJ preview, which talks about Keith Dambrot moving to a seven-man rotation, cutting Jimmy Conyers' and Chris McKnight's minutes. Dambrot and Joyce say the team is focused on avoiding a letdown after the KSU win.
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