It's a good thing Akron is playing Loyola Marymount on Friday at 8 p.m., rather than two weeks ago.
In its past two games, the Lions have seen their top two scorers, and senior leaders, fall to knee injuries.
Matthew Knight, a 6-foot-8 forward-center, averaged 17.2 points and 8.7 rebounds before straining his knee in a loss to Long Beach State on Friday. Brandon Worthy, a 6-2 guard, is out for the year after tearing his ACL during a win over Boise State on Dec. 19. He was averaging 18.4 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.7 assists.
You might be thinking this is good for Akron. Not really. For their RPI, the Zips needed Loyola to be better than 8-6 at this point in the season. And they hope the Lions can compete without Worthy and Knight, perhaps snagging a win over conference rival Gonzaga. Right now, Loyola Marymount has an RPI of 117 -- which will still boost Akron's No. 319 strength of schedule.
Of course, you're wondering if Akron can lose. I don't think so. Although much thinner, the Lions still have talent, however. Two seniors stand out: 6-5 guard Adoyah Miller, who led Loyola Marymount with 20 points against Long Beach and 23 against Boise State, and 6-9 center Derick Grubb, the team's fourth-leading scorer at 5.8 points per game.
After the key injuries, LMU's only weapon on offense is Miller, who is shooting 43 percent from 3-point range. He recently earned the West Coast Conference Player of the Week honors.
The Lions have struggled all season in shooting just 40 percent from the field, compared the their opponents' 45 percent. Rebounding is another concern for LMU -- even before Knight went down.
Behind solid point guard Damian Martin, the Lions are able to distribute and take care of the ball. If you want Martin to score, however, he'll need a turn-by-turn directions to the bucket. He averages only 3.4 points in 28.4 minutes a game.
Unlike the game against Nevada, Akron should be able to play its game and win without adapting too much to LMU. But here is a challenge for Keith Dambrot and the staff: Run an effective offense against the zone. Nevada's zone paralyzed the Zips' ball movement and play calling in the second half. It certainly won't be the last zone defense Akron faces, so I am excited to see what progress the staff made this week.
Regardless, Akron wins big. It's time to start a new winning streak at the JAR.
Before the men's game, I recommend coming to watch the women battle Niagara at 5:30.
The Zips (6-5) play exciting basketball. You're likely to get your fill of blown layups and turnovers, but you'll also see plenty of hustle plays from Jodi Kest's Zips.
The team has a nice mix of outstanding underclassmen (Niki McCoy, Riana Miller and Sarah Tokodi) with the experience of Jessie Crooks.