Updated Sat, Mar 10, 2012 6:37 pm
The No.3 seed Ohio Bobcats take on the No.1 seed Akron Zips in tonight's Mid-American Conference Tournament Championship Game at 8 p.m. This is the third meeting between the teams this year, with each team protecting its home court, splitting the season series. The Bobcats road to the finals began with a 65-57 win on Thursday night over the seventh seeded Toledo Rockets. Ohio then knocked off the No.2 seed Buffalo Bulls last night 77-74. Akron, being the top overall seed, just had to beat Kent State to reach the championship. The Zips knocked off the Golden Flashes 78-74 Friday night to set up round three of Ohio and Akron. Ohio is 5-1 all-time in MAC Tournament Championship Games and is 2-0 against Akron in the MAC Tournament.
KEYS TO THE GAME:
*Stay Out of Foul Trouble- Four players fouled out (Smith, Keely, Baltic, Offutt) in Ohio's loss to Akron back in January. Akron shot 44 free throws compared to Ohio's 20. In a 68-63 loss to the Zips, a 15-point disparity at the free throw line was killer. Keely, Smith and Baltic all fouled out trying to guard Zeke Marshall, who led all scorers with 17 points--7-11 from the line. In the Bobcats' win at home, nobody fouled out, no Akron player attempted more than four free throws and Marshall was held to four points on 1-6 shooting. Ohio found itself in foul trouble last night against Buffalo. Six players finished with three or more fouls--T.J. Hall 4, Reggie Keely 3, Jon Smith 3, Ricardo Johnson 3, Ivo Baltic 3, Walter Offutt 3--and the fouls especially hampered Ohio bigs, who found themselves in foul trouble trying to guard Mitchell Watt and Javon McCrea. A similar situation tonight against a post presence like Marshall could mean trouble for the 'Cats.
*Keep the Hot Shooting Touch- The Bobcats were red hot last night against Buffalo. Ohio shot 50 percent from the field in the first half including 10-19 from deep in the first 20 minutes. Ohio finished the game shooting 45 percent and 12-25 from beyond the arc. it's no secret that when Ohio shoots it well they are a different team. The Bobcats have relied on its defense all season long, but when the 'Cats D is locked in and the shots are falling, Ohio is very tough to beat. The Bobcats shot 35 percent overall and 23 percent from three-point land in the loss at Akron. The second game was a totally different story. The 'Cats shot almost 57 percent overall and 43 percent from deep in a 24-point rout.
*Control Marshall and Abreu- Speaking of a hot shooting touch, Alex Abreu had 13 points including 3-4 from deep against Kent State in the tournament semifinals. If you're going to beat Akron, stopping Abreu is key. He is the Zips' floor general, emotionl leader and has a little bit of a Dj Cooper in him in that he can take over a game if need be, but would rather set up teammates for easy baskets. As you saw above, Marshall was huge in the win over Ohio (17 points) and was held in check (4 points) in the loss. Other than Abreu and Marshall, no other Akron player can really take over and win a game. Cvetinovic would be the third option on the "must stop this player" list, but don't expect him to take over and win a game single-handedly.
Expect to see a chippy, physical, emotional game tonight. These teams simply do not like each other. Do not be surprised if you see Cooper and Abreu jawing back-and-forth from the opening shoot-around. A last key could be which team doesn't let the moment get the best of them.