Akron at Kent State (Mid-American)Memorial Athletics Center - Kent, OH 7:05 PM EST
Kent State has the strongest MAC legacy in the past decade by far -- the Flashes are working on a 10th straight 20-win season, and their four NCAA appearances have yielded four wins. Three of those, of course, came during the stirring march to the Elite 8 in 2002, the first such run for a team at this level since the Seventies. After decades as a Division II power and cradle of coaches (Bob Huggins!), Akron's only made the Big Dance once, when Huggins led the 1985-86 team to within six points of a first-round 15-over-2 upset of Michigan.
Sure, there's a legacy gap, but that matters little on a night like tonight. Kent and Akron are virtually even in their 122-game series (KSU leads 62-60) and are bitter, angry crosstown rivals. Plus, the fact they wear the same colors just makes it all that much more confusing. Akron's also had the better of recent meetings -- in a pitched battle on the last day of the 2006-07 regular season, Akron edged Kent 66-64
in overtime to claim the East division title. The Zips followed that up by eliminating the Flashes five days later in the MAC semifinals
-- and as a courtside spectator at that game, I will tell you that the lingering oneupsmanship from the previous contest was very much in the air that night. Akron knew going in that it had Kent's number, and the Flashes knew it too.
But now it's 2007-08, and once again, the two teams find themselves battling for MAC East supremacy. Akron (14-3, 4-0) is in first place, with Kent (14-4, 3-1) a step behind after losing to Ohio on Saturday
. But it's almost freakish how evenly matched these two squads are -- both have strong guards that force a lot of turnovers and productive scoring from the inside -- the battle of senior bigs between Kent State's Q
(10.7 ppg, 7.7 rpg) and Akron's Jeremiah Wood
(14.5 ppg, 8.3 rpg) should be a dooz. Both teams play at a relatively slow pace, so we're in for a methodical display of excellent basketball tonight.Basketball State Preview/Box