The Akron Zips travel to the Barn to take on your beloved Minnesota Gophers tonight, and it's an intriguing game to be sure. Not so much because the Zips are great, because they are struggling this year after dominating the MAC the last several seasons and don't have an "All-MAC" type player they usually do, but because they actually bring some size into the Barn. Among their top five players are three post guys, sophomore center Zeke Marshall, senior forward Brett McKnight, and junior forward Nikola Cvetinovic, and they all present some interesting issues.
Marshall is the big tall shot-blocking center (2.7 per game), standing at seven-feet tall with a long wingspan and a good pedigree (was Rivals #43 recruit in the country when he signed with the Zips), but he's rail thin and weighs just 218 lbs., and that's after "bulking up" this off-season. He's capable of putting up some big numbers (22 pts, 8 rebs, 3 blks vs. Youngstown) but isn't generally a huge threat on the offensive end, partially due to his 56% free throw shooting. His height is good, but his lack of bulk is going to be an issue against that big Gopher front court.
McKnight doesn't have to worry about bulk, at 245 lbs. he's a bit of a bull, but he's a bit short on height at 6-6. Still, he's got the game to step outside and hit the three, and is a tough matchup with his inside/outside offensive skills. Good news for the Gophers, however, is that McKnight has been suspended indefinitely by the coach for violating team rules, and hasn't played since the season opener. I can't find anything on if he's going to be able to play tonight, so I would assume not, but I wanted to include him here for completeness sake because if he does play he's a concern for the Gophers as one of the Zips top returning players from last year's 24-win team.
The last post player I want to mention, Cvetinovic, is likely the Zips' biggest weapon. He's 6-8, 230 lbs. so he has the size to play inside with Minnesota, and he's the team's leading scorer at 13 per game and has played some of his best ball against Akron's better opponents (nearly a triple-double against Dayton and 18 and 19 points against Detroit and UIC. I haven't seen Akron play at all, but his lack of three-point attempts and propensity to get to the free-throw line make me believe he's a banger. I'm looking forward to seeing how the Gopher front court handles a legitimate post threat.
As far as the perimeter goes, Akron does return two starters in point man Steve McNees (7 pts, 3 assists per game) and Darryl Roberts (9 and 2), along with Brett McClanahan who has developed into a major weapon and is second on the team in scoring at 12.4 points per game and leads the team in rebounding at 5.9 per despite standing just 6-4. All three of these guys can shoot from 3 (33%, 42%, and 35%) and we all know that is a major issue facing Minnesota's defense right now. Similar to most of the other games against sub-par opponents, the Gophers should handle these guys but if they let one or more of the perimeter shooters get hot things can get interesting in a hurry. Add in the solid front court that Akron boasts, and this could be a pretty interesting matchup.
Adding to that worry is the fact that, despite doing almost nothing well, their one major strength is that they don't turn the ball over, giving it away on just 17% of their possessions which ranks 36th in the country. This tells me that they will get their shots. They don't shoot very well overall as a team, either from 2 or from 3, and they don't rebound their misses, but they will get shots. If the Gophers don't cover well and allow open looks, something that's plagued them this year, Akron will be able to stay in the game.
That being said, it's not as if the Zips have shown much of an ability to upset anybody. As far as quality opponents go they've played Dayton (lost by 12), Cleveland State (lost by 13), and Temple (lost by 35). Wins over Detroit and UIC show they can hang with so-so teams, but when it comes to top 100-type opponents they are staring at a likely double-digit loss. The Gophers are pretty clearly a top 100 team. So why can't I see them winning by double figures?
Minnesota 73, Akron 66
I won't be at the game and probably won't be able to watch the game, unfortunately, since I will be in the city of L.A. Angeles for work purposes. Will their be blogging from the hotel room after a drink or two? Sources say it seems likely.