Akron will play Niagara tonight at 7.
There are a lot of storylines surrounding the Purple Eagles, whom the Zips beat at Rhodes Arena in 2005's Bracket Buster game.
- The team's best player, junior guard Charron Fisher, won't play. Nor will he for another five games after that. Fisher, who averaged 18.3 points and 7.9 rebounds last season, is suspended for beating the hell out of a Niagara baseball player. Fisher was rehabbing from a torn ACL before the incident occurred Aug. 31 outside a Niagara Falls bar.
- The team suspended a total of seven players from the incident. Their suspensions are staggered. I'm not really sure who is set to sit out tonight. With all this turmoil, it should be no surprise, Niagara is 0-2.
- Binghamton, a future Zips opponent, beat Niagara 74-66. The Eagles lost another home game to Valparaiso last Saturday, 70-58. They have a pretty decent out-of-conference schedule. Unfortunately, it looks really bad losing these games at home.
- There have been some bright spots for Niagara. A trio of freshmen guards, whom coach Joe Mihalich said need to step up, have done so. Tyrone Lewis averages 13.5 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists. Javonte Clanton has played 16 minutes per game.
- You may recognize the third freshman, Rydell Brooks. He is a Buchtel High School product whom Akron recruited heavily with its final scholarship. Brooks was the City Series Player of the Year as a junior and senior. Once Brooks committed to Akron, that spot went to Steve McNees. Brooks has scored 7 points in 16 minutes per game.
- Without Fisher tonight, Niagara will rely on 6-foot-7 senior forward Clif Brown, who is averaging 15.5 points and 14.5 rebounds. He pulled down 21 boards against Binghamton. Because of Brown's presence, this team reminds me a bit of Arkansas-Little Rock.
- J.R. Duffey, a 6-8 senior forward, also will provide points and rebounds.
- Before the series of suspensions, ESPN expected depth to be a problem for Niagara. The site also said the Eagles probably would finish in the middle of the pack in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.
- The problem so far has been shooting at just 32 percent from the field. From 3-point land, Niagara has made only 12 percent. They even struggle with foul shots at 57 percent.
It's pretty obvious that Akron needs to pack in its defense and allow Niagara some space on the perimeter. Rebounding has been a problem for the Zips, but they might mitigate that issue by laying off the Eagles on the perimeter.
Oddsmakers are saying Akron will win by eight. That is a fair spread.
Terry Pluto covered the game for the ABJ.
One nugget interested me: J.D. Brookhart will ask John Mackey to step up into a leadership role next year. Maybe his staff is learning that you can't always expect leaders to emerge; sometimes you have to give them a boost.
As I consider what went wrong last night, I think a lot about the offensive line. But coming in, we knew Western Michigan's defensive front was its strength and that Akron's o-line was a weakness.
I suppose it's a broken record to attack the line. And maybe, you have to fault the coaching staff for not putting more blockers in the backfield. You can't just use a lack of talent as an excuse. Obviously, you must adjust for it. I did, however, see fullback Joe McDaniel on the field more than usual.
I still contend the 3-3-5 defense must go. Akron needs to analyze its personnel on the defensive line to see if such a switch is feasible. Looking at the roster, it's probably a close call. With a 4-3, however, a linebacker, such as Doug Williams, may be able to make a transition, sort of the opposite of what the Browns asked Kamerion Wimbley to do with their 3-4 scheme.
Brookhart told me the defense would stay. I still think he's going to look at some tapes and see his current scheme simply puts defenders in the wrong position to make tackles in rushing situations. It also hindered the pass rush.
A lot of your have commented that you wanted to see Carlton Jackson take over the offense in the second half once it became obvious WMU was taking a wrecking ball to the Luke Getsy statue in Akron's backfield. I agree with that.
However, I also see Brookhart's point of view. If you pull your seniors in their final game, with nothing really riding on the game, you lose trust. Younger players will see that and wonder if the staff will stab them in the back someday, too. Would Jackson have allowed Akron to win? Probably not. Would he have made the game more entertaining for fans? Definitely.
Another thing to keep in mind is that Jackson seems to have character problems. There have been whispers about the Florida product. Brookhart himself admitted Jackson didn't play one game because of an off-the-field problem.
Getsy, on the other hand, is an honor student and a good kid. Looking back, by leading the team to its first bowl game in decades, he probably earned a chance to finish out his career on the field. As a coach, what would you do?
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