Saturday's game at Toledo is the most important contest remaining on the schedule.
The Rockets (12-10, 8-2 MAC) could put themselves in first place with a win over Akron (18-4, 9-1). First place, of course, means you earn the top seed in the MAC Tournament. The top seed, of course, means you probably avoid Kent State and Toledo until the finals.
When the Rockets started the season 4-8, I still believed they were a good team. Actually, I talked a friend out of betting on Ball State against them in the MAC opener. With terrific guards Justin Ingram and Keonta Howell, I figured it would just be a matter of time before Stan Joplin righted his team.
Despite the poor nonconference schedule, Toledo boasts an RPI-boosting win over Virginia Commonwealth (No. 47 RPI). That brings me to another prize Akron would gain with a win Saturday: a certain RPI lift. Toledo has an RPI of 97.
The Rockets don't really have any other quality wins. They failed difficult tests at Ohio and Kent State.
So who are Toledo's weapons? Ingram and Howell come to mind first. They average more than 15 points each. And then there's Florentino Valencia, the 6-foot-5 forward who almost singlehandedly knocked Akron out of the MAC semis with 18 points and seven rebounds. The senior averages 13.1 points and 5.4 rebounds a night and leads the league with a 64.5 field goal percentage.
The Rockets allow the highest field goal percentage in the MAC. Conversely, they allow the second-lowest 3-point percentage. Toledo is also the worst rebounding team in the MAC. These facts tell me Akron should have its way inside.
Of course, there are a few reasons why Toledo leads the MAC West. They commit few turnovers and lead the conference in home attendance, which creates a difficult atmosphere. The Rockets don't lose often at home.
As for Howell and Ingram, both take a lot of 3s. Neither have particularly astounding percentages, though. Ingram is also a good defender. He has accumulated the second-most steals in the MAC this season.
For Akron to win, they must play terrific perimeter defense, keep Valencia off the boards and quell any large Toledo runs that could get the crowd going. On offense, the Zips need to slow the pace and emphasize working the ball into their bigs. A nice goal would be getting Quade Milum, Romeo Travis and Jeremiah Wood into double digits.
I'm guessing the line will be Toledo minus two or three. Take the Zips.