The 15th-seeded Akron Zips face a tall task this afternoon, as they encounter the second-seeded Notre Dame Fighting Irish in a second round matchup of the NCAA Tournament from the United Center.
Akron will make its third appearance in the Big Dance and its second in three seasons this afternoon. The Zips have yet to win a game however, posting an 0-2 record thus far. They earned a tourney berth this year by capturing the Mid-American Conference's automatic bid in a 66-65 overtime victory over top- seeded Kent State in the league tourney's title game. Akron is now 4-1 in its last five contests.
Not to be outdone, Notre Dame has posted a 12-2 record over its last 14 contests. One of those losses was an 83-77 overtime setback to Louisville in the Big East Tournament semifinals. The Fighting Irish will be making their 31st appearance in the NCAA Tournament, where they have recorded a 30-34 mark to this point. It is the Irish' second straight trip and seventh in 11 seasons under head coach Mike Brey.
Akron and Notre Dame have met twice previously, with the Fighting Irish winning both contests. The teams have not met since the 1995-96 campaign.
Akron is led by junior forward Nikola Cvetinovic. The Second Team All-MAC performer paces the Zips in scoring (11.9 ppg), rebounding (7 rpg), and steals (39). He is aided by Brett McKnight, who ranks second on the team at 10.3 ppg, while Brett McClanahan rounds out the double digit scoring at 10.1 ppg. Sophomore center Zeke Marshall is riding high following a MAC Tournament MVP selection. He averages 8.6 ppg on the year, to go with 4.8 rpg and a team-high 88 blocks. McClanahan has hit a team-high 80 three-pointers. His range from the perimeter proves valuable, as the Zips rely and thrive on the three-ball, converting 7.9 threes a game. They also protect the ball to the tune of a plus-2.2 turnover margin. Defensively, the Zips limit their opponents to 5.3 three-pointers per game and 65.6 ppg.
Notre Dame is led by Big East Player of the Year Ben Hansbrough. He is the fourth player in Notre Dame history to earn the distinction, joining Pat Garrity (1997), Troy Murphy (2000, 20001) and Luke Harangody (2008). Hansbrough leads the team in scoring (18.5 ppg), assists (4.3 apg), steals (41) and three-pointers made (82), behind 48.6 percent shooting from the floor and 44.1 percent shooting from beyond the arc. Tim Abromaitis adds to the potent perimeter attack, as he ranks second on the team in scoring (15.3 ppg) and three-pointers made (72), while shooting 42.4 percent from three-point range. Like the Zips, the Fighting Irish rely on the outside shot, draining 8.1 threes per game at a 39.2 percent clip. The perimeter onslaught leads to a 76 ppg average. Defensively, the Irish hold opponents to 65.6 ppg and post a plus 4.5 rebounding margin.
Expect Notre Dame to earn the win tonight. Akron posts similar numbers to that of the Fighting Irish, but the Zips get it done in a lesser conference. Notre Dame is battle tested against the nation's best and should have no problem dispatching Akron.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Notre Dame 72, Akron 64