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Pregame Prep: UB faces game of year (so far) vs. Akron

PREGAME PREP

Akron at UB

8 p.m. Friday at Alumni Arena

Radio 1520 AM. TV: CBS Sports Network.

Records: Akron (22-6, 12-3). UB (15-13, 9-6).

The Set-Up: It’s a rematch of last year’s Mid-American Conference championship game, won by UB, 64-61. Akron beat visiting UB on Jan. 17, 91-90. The game means more to UB, which probably needs to go 2-1 to get a top-four seed for the MAC Tournament. Akron is likely to get the No. 1 seed. It’s not clear there’s much of an edge to being No. 1 or No. 2. However, Akron has lost two straight – at home to Kent State and at Bowling Green. So the Zips surely are stinking mad and don’t want to go limping into Cleveland. UB should be in a foul mood, as well, coming off a down performance against the quality Kent State five. Despite the fact Akron is 22-6, the Zips don’t appear to have a good shot an at-large NCAA bid if they don’t win the MAC. Maybe that’s wrong, but it’s reality. Akron is No. 56 in the RPI. The Zips have no top-100 wins (0-2). Akron’s non-conference schedule was 298th in the nation. (UB’s was 75.) UB was 45 in the RPI two years ago when it beat Central Michigan in the MAC final but probably would not have gotten an at-large bid if it had lost that game. Of course, Bona got snubbed with an RPI of 30 last year.

The Matchup: Akron has the best inside-out offense in the MAC, led by senior center Isaiah “Big Dog” Johnson, who’s eighth in the MAC in scoring (16.5) and eighth in rebounding (7.5) and first in field-goal percentage (.622). He’s 6-9 and 290 pounds (although it would surprise no MAC fans if he actually was over three-bills). Big Dog is 17th in the nation in fouls drawn per 40 minutes. In the first meeting, UB’s big men amassed 16 fouls and two (Nick Perkins and David Kadiri) fouled out. Big Dog had two fouls. Akron shot 40 free throws, UB 23. UB wasn’t thrilled about that. Big Dog draws so much attention that Akron can line up a string of shooters on the perimeter to fire away. The Zips attempt 27.8 threes a game. They’re sixth in the nation in percentage of shots from three-ville and eighth in percentage of points from threes. Akron doesn’t defend the three well (302 in the nation) and doesn’t usually force turnovers well (316 in the nation).

Tempo?: Kent and Bowling Green both slowed down the tempo and kept Akron in the 60s. UB likes to play fast. It beat Akron in a slow-down game last March, but that was after three games in three days with both teams tired.

UB Three: UB is not a great shooting team. That’s a weakness that simply is not permanently going away this season. Yet the Bulls shot it well at Akron (10 of 22). Can UB get enough shooting to down the Zips?

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