by Kevin O'Neill
Notre Dame is ready to lose the stink of its second half collapse against Louisville a week ago, and the NCAA tournament is just the venue for a fresh start. The Akron Zips, winners of the Mid-American Conference Tournament, will be the opponent when the Fighting Irish take the floor of Chicago’s United Center on Friday at 1:40PM Eastern time.
Akron will try to beat overwhelming odds to earn a victory against the Irish. #15 seeds have beaten #2 seeds just 4 times, the last time in 2001 when Hampton upset Iowa State. However, the Zips play good defense and take care of the ball, arguable the most important ingredients in an upset.
It’s game time.
What you need to know about Akron
- #6 scoring offense in the Mid-American Conference (12 teams), 69.2 ppg
- #4 scoring defense in the Mid-American Conference, 65.1 ppg
- #4 free throw percentage in the Mid-American Conference, 71.5%
- #8 field goal percentage in the Mid-American Conference, 44.1%
- #1 field goal percentage defense in the Mid-American Conference, 42.1% (tied with Kent State)
- #4 three-point percentage in the Mid-American Conference, 36.1% (tied with Miami)
- #8 rebounding margin in the Mid-American Conference, -1.0
- #2 assists per game in the Mid-American Conference, 14.8
- #6 turnover margin in the Mid-American Conference, +0.8
- #1 assists/turnover ratio in the Mid-American Conference, 1.2
6’8″ junior Nikola Cvetinovic is Akron’s leading scorer with 11.9 points per game. No other Akron player has a double digit average, but 5 of them average between 8.0 and 9.9 points – Zeke Marshall, Darryl Roberts, Brett McClanahan, Steve McNees, and Brett McKnight. McClanahan (40%) and Roberts (39%) are the best three point shooters; and Marshall, a 7’0″ sophomore center, is the most reliable inside threat.
Nine Zips average double digit minutes, but none of them plays more than 27 minutes per game; so they don’t pace themselves, especially on defense. Cvetinovic has an excellent rebounding average, 7.4 per game; but the next best rebounder, Marshall, only gets 4.6 per game, and nobody else averages more than 3.
McNees, the 6’2″ point guard, is excellent with the ball – a 3.3 assists/turnovers ratio that is tops in the MAC by more than a full point.
What you need to know about Notre Dame
- #3 scoring offense in the Big East, 71.7 ppg
- #9 scoring defense in the Big East, 66.9 ppg
- #6 free throw percentage in the Big East, 71.0%
- #2 field goal percentage in the Big East, 46.8%
- #9 field goal percentage defense in the Big East, 42.9%
- #1 three-point percentage in the Big East, 40.4%
- #6 rebounding margin in the Big East, +1.7
- #4 assists per game in the Big East, 15.3 per game (tied with Syracuse)
- #12 turnover margin in the Big East, -0.8
- #1 assist/turnover ratio in the Big East, 1.4
Big East Player of the Year Ben Hansbrough led the Irish with a 20.3 point scoring average, third in the Big East. He added 4.1 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 43% three point shooting, and 58% shooting inside the arc, a very good percentage for a power forward and a remarkable percentage for a guard.
Tim Abromaitis (14.7 points), Carleton Scott (10.2), Scott Martin (9.4), and Ty Nash (9.3) complete the starting lineup as well as most of the team’s scoring. Scott is the team’s leading rebounder with 7.4 per game, fifth in the conference. Abromaitis’ 47.3% shooting beyond the arc is second in the conference. Jack Cooley brings bulk, toughness, and occasional scoring outbursts off the bench, and Eric Atkins’ 2.7 assist/turnover ratio is tops in the Big East.
The Irish played three excellent quarters in the Big East Tournament. Hansbrough played his worst game of the year, and Louisville’s aggressive defense in the second half bothered all shooters. The result was an overtime loss that told the Irish they have work to do. We’ll see how well they prepared this weekend.
Notre Dame’s four 6’8″ starters create an immediate match-up problem for Akron. The Zips don’t lack size on the front line with 7’0″ and 6’8″ starters; but they usually play three guards, only one taller than 6’0″. Notre Dame will try to exploit a size mismatch in the lane; and Akron will rotate Marshall, its leading shot blocker, from the weak side to contest shots. ND’s interior passing will be a key to its success on offense.
Three point shots are an important part of Akron’s offense, and ND’s defense is vulnerable to it. Threes account for 39% ot the shots taken, but just 30% of the shots made. If Akron can get hot from outside, Notre Dame will be forced to alter its defensive approach, perhaps with the kind of aggressive zone it played against Marquette. If Akron can’t hit a high percentage from long range, it’s in trouble because its inside game isn’t strong enough to beat Notre Dame by itself.
- #2 seed Notre Dame (26-6/14-4) vs #15 seed Akron (23-12/9-7)
- Friday, March 18th at 1:40PM (ET)
- The United Center, Chicago, Illinois
- Television: TBS
- Internet: cbssports.com/collegebasketball
If Notre Dame Wins
If the Irish win, they will play the winner of the game between #7 seed Texas A&M (24-8) from the Big 12 and #10 seed Florida State (21-10) from the ACC. I’ll post a preview Saturday.
(Note: All cited statistics are for the teams’ conference regular seasons.)
- Kevin O’Neill