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NCAA Tournament Preview: #13 Akron vs #4 Gonzaga

Previewing Akron's 1st Round NCAA Tournament versus #4 seed Gonzaga

 

#13 Akron vs. #4 Gonzaga - Thursday, 7:20 PM

There was no bank shot, no heartbreak. Led by Brett McKnight and Humpty Hitchens, Akron finally got over the hump and returns to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1986.

I’m glad to see Akron in the tournament just for the attention to Anthony ‘Humpty’ Hitchens’ name. Hitchens has made any NCAA Tournament All-Name team I’ve seen and brings along a funny little anecdote. The ‘Humpty’ nickname came about when, as a kid, Hitchens would dance and show happiness upon hearing The Humpty Dance by early 90s one-hit wonder Digital Underground. It is tough to beat Chief Kingstallionsims of Alabama State for best but Humpty’s right up there in name and has a good deal of game to go along with it.

The freshman point guard has improved his ball control and despite his youth emerged as another scoring option. Another one of those does not hurt an Akron team that has had its fair share of offensive dry spells over the course of the season.

Unfortunately for the Zips, they run into a very stout opponent in the Zags. Gonzaga steamrolled through the West Coast Conference and has won 18 of its last 19 games (the sole loss to Memphis). Gonzaga has a fleet of guards in Jeremy Pargo, Matt Bouldin, Micah Downs and Steven Gray who can all score and lock you down on defense. Pargo runs the show at the point, with Bouldin able to slash to the hoop and knock down the long-range shot. Downs can sink some threes too and Gray is a sixth man who averages 9.2 PPG…pretty good.



Not only can Gonzaga kill you with guards; it also has forwards who can go inside and out. The dynamic 6-11 Josh Heytvelt shoots 54.5 percent from the field and hits jumpers with range. Along with Austin Daye, the forwards can stretch the defense out and open up lanes to the basket for the guards.

However, Gonzaga is not a physical team and is not particularly inclined to play inside. Heytvelt and Daye both like to play closer to the perimeter than the basket. The Zags are confident in their ability to shoot and will take the jumper or three. A lot of the time their shots are falling, as evidenced by their 26-5 record.

Akron’s best chance in this game is to dictate the pace and impose a physical style. The Zips are very good at contesting the three, seventh in the nation. They need to suffocate Gonzaga around the perimeter and force them to win inside. It is very much possible that Gonzaga can get it done down there but Akron needs to play to its strengths and frustrate the higher seed.

The biggest question for Akron, as it has been all season, will be can this team score enough to stay in the game? The Zips were in the middle of the pack in field goal percentage in the MAC, a league this season that could be described as offensively impotent. They will only be further hindered by the fact that Gonzaga is second in the country in field-goal defense.

 

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Akron has to drain the shot clock every time down the court and find Chris or Brett McKnight down low. This is their best shot on offense and it will limit Gonzaga’s possessions. There is no way that Akron can keep up with the Zags if the scoring gets out of hand. The Zips will get run out of the gym.

It is key for Akron to keep this game close and stick around. If the Zips get down by double digits early, they do not have enough firepower to strike back. MAC Defensive Player of the Year Nate Linhart and Humpty Hitchens will have to embrace the challenge of guarding the Gonzaga guards and at least contain them. This is not the worst matchup Akron could have gotten. Its defensive strengths match up well with Gonzaga’s offensive. However, I just cannot see Akron being able to keep up in scoring or shutdown Gonzaga sufficiently to win.

The game is in Portland, no one in the MAC has beaten a top major conference team this year and Gonzaga is hot as could be. Akron has a daunting task on its hands Thursday night.

Prediction: Gonzaga 80, Akron 61

 

 

By Connor Kiesel
VanDelay Sports Staff Writer
Published March 18, 2009