Updated Sat, Mar 16, 2013 4:53 pm
You’ve heard the saying, “the third time’s a charm.” For Jim Christian’s Bobcats, the charm couldn’t come at a better time than now.
When Ohio faces off against Akron tonight at Quicken Loans Arena, both teams will be competing for all the marbles.
For Ohio, the marbles come in the form of a second-consecutive NCAA tournament appearance and a third MAC title in four years. All it will take is one win in three attempts this season against the Akron Zips to make these aspirations—which were perhaps considered unreachable four seasons ago—a reality.
For Akron, tonight presents an opportunity to prove the Zips are still for real without junior point guard Alex Abreu. In two games this season, the Puerto Rican averaged 18.5 points and 9 assists against Ohio.
Surely Christian feels more comfortable about battling the Zips minus their emotional leader, right?
“They’re a good team with Alex Abreu; they’re a good team without him,” said Ohio’s coach of the Zips following the Bobcats’ dismantling of Western Michigan last night.
If Akron’s semifinals win over Kent State is any indication, Christian is right.
The Zips staved off a late charge from arguably the hottest team in the MAC despite shooting just 13-of-29 (44.8%) from the charity stripe, holding Golden Flashes star guard/forward Chris Evans to just six points.
Akron center Zeke Marshall gave Evans and Kent State fits with his defense, blocking seven KSU shots in addition to scoring 18 points and grabbing 10 boards.
Akron forward Demetrius “Tree” Treadwell was also dominant, chipping in 14 points and 10 boards despite shooting just 2-of-9 from the foul line.
Will Ohio be able to stop these two behemoths cold tonight?
Marshall has shot a ridiculous 14-of-15 against the ‘Cats this season, good for an average of 16.5 points. At 7 feet, 235 lbs., the former four-star recruit has shown tremendous improvement from a season ago, when he averaged just six points in Akron’s consecutive losses to the Green and White.
While Marshall possesses size, Treadwell brings toughness, averaging 18 points and 9 boards against Ohio despite standing five inches shorter than Zeke.
The intangibles Marshall and Treadwell bring to the table are difficult to coach. With that being said, do I expect Ohio’s big men to bow down and allow these two players to dominate tonight?
Of course not.
But will Zeke and Tree use size and power to post solid numbers whether Reggie Keely, Jon Smith, Ivo Baltic and T.J. Hall like it or not?
Before Bobcat Nation can dust off its dancing shoes and do-si-do down Court Street, the ‘Cats need to focus more so on stopping Zips that aren’t expected to go off for big performances tonight.
Enter freshmen sharpshooters Jake Kretzer and Reggie McAdams.
Feb. 2, 2013: McAdams comes off the bench to knock down three-consecutive first-half triples. He finishes with 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting, 6 points more than his average. Akron uses this momentum to pull away from the ‘Cats and win handily, 86-72.
Feb. 27, 2013: Kretzer shoots a perfect 5-of-5 from beyond the arc and 6-of-6 from the field to finish with a career-high 19 points, 13 above his average. The Zips mount a comeback behind his hot shooting and knock off Ohio on its home floor in overtime, 88-81.
Trying to stop Marshall and Treadwell in their tracks tonight is a much more difficult task than shutting down McAdams and Kretzer. Ohio has proven perimeter defenders in Walter Offutt and Ricardo Johnson provided they're in the right place at the right time.
If Ohio can keep Akron from shooting a high percentage on the perimeter, the Zips will force the ball inside and amount careless turnovers.
Case in point: the Zips’ win over Kent State less than 24 hours ago.
Akron shot a modest 5-of-14 (35.7%) from three. Without an experienced point guard to facilitate the ball and give his teammates easier looks, the Zips coincidentally turned the ball over 17 times.
If Ohio presses Akron frequently and pressures the Zips heavily around the perimeter, turnovers will be abundant and three pointers will be limited.
If Ohio shuts down Akron’s shooters but lets the Zips’ big dogs eat in the paint, the Bobcats' odds of bringing home the MAC title will increase.
Just don’t let them eat too much.