Team Profile: 2006 BracketBuster Preview: Akron at Nevada
Nevada (19-5) welcomes Akron (17-5) to the Lawlor Events Center in Reno Friday night, where the Wolfpack has compiled an 11-1 record this year. Included in that run was Monday night’s thrilling comeback win over Western Athletic Conference co-leader Louisiana Tech.
Nick Fazekas had a cold shooting night but came up with all the plays down the stretch; plays that he’d better make for 40 minutes against the Akron Zips, if the Wolfpack expect to extend their six-game winning streak.
Akron currently co-leads the Mid American Conference with Kent State, but a win over Nevada and run of the regular-season table is necessary to have an outside shot at an at-large NCAA bid. Of course, the Zips’ best shot at the NCAA’s is to win the MAC Tournament in Cleveland.
The Zips have had big play off the bench in the past couple of games to give them that much-needed depth for upcoming post-season play. Senior center Rob Preston is the primary contributor outside the starting five, and was named the MAC player of the week in recognition of his efforts. Preston averaged 15 points and 4.5 rebounds in 26 minutes off the bench, leading the Zips to a 2-0 mark this past week. He combined to average 69 percent (11-of-16) from the field, including a 50 percent (3-of-6) performance from behind the arc, and went 5-of-6 (83 percent) from the line in those two games.
Akron’s leading scorer and rebounder this season is Junior Romeo Travis. The matchup between Travis and Fazekas will be the key to this game. Travis will need a great defensive effort, and must keep Fazekas off the offensive glass for the Zips to win in Reno. The Zips have cake-walked at home this year, where they are unbeaten, but the road has not been quite as friendly, where they’ve put together just a 7-5 mark.
Akron will have to attack Nevada’s front line, but the Zips’ guards will have push the tempo as well. Head coach Keith Dambrot says, “Our style is a tough, grind-it-out style, but that’s how we win. We can’t grind it out every night and we need to get more off of the break. Most games are won by spurts. Whoever has the most spurts wins games.”
Keying these spurts will be Junior guard Dru Joyce (6’0” 10.3ppg) and Sophomore guard Nick Dials (6’1” 10.8ppg). They may be shorter than the Wolfpack’s starting guards (who are all 6’3 -6’5”), but their quickness, and frequent three-guard sets can force turnovers and produce three-point baskets. Who is this third guard? Cedric Middleton, a 6’0″ Sophomore averaging 7.4 ppg. Middleton has scored in double figures in four of his last five games and is shooting the long ball at a 50% clip (8-16) over that stretch.
For the Wolfpack, everything goes through Junior forward Nick Fazekas. Last year’s WAC player of the year has produced even better scoring (21.4 ppg) and rebounding (9.7 rpg) averages this year, and is developing his game for the NBA. He joins a short list of go-to NCAA forwards with Duke’s Shelden Williams, Gonzaga’s Adam Morrison and J.P. Batista, Texas’ P.J. Tucker and LaMarcus Aldridge, and Louisiana Tech’s Paul Millsap.
Nevada will pound the ball inside early and often in an effort to get Fazekas going. Senior center Chad Bell (2.7 ppg, 3 rpg) has to provide some garbage rebounds and putbacks to give Fazekas some support inside. The battle of the boards should determine the outcome of this game. And there should be plenty of chances for rebounds as the Wolfpack 3-guard rotation is shooting a chilly 36.8% in conference play.
Nevada starts two sophomores in its backcourt, Ramon Sessions (4 ppg, 4 apg, 4 rpg) and Marcellus Kemp (13.3 ppg, 3.3 rpg) and have recently found a sparkplug off the bench in Lyndale Burleson. Burelson was big in the win over LaTech Monday, playing 21 minutes scoring 12 points, half of those on two very timely three-point bombs.
Nevada will use a three forward, two guard lineup for most of the game. Junior Kyle Shiloh and last week’s WAC player of the week Demarshay Johnson will offset Fazekas inside and on the wing. Shiloh is shooting lights out beyond the arc (51% on 25-49 in WAC play), and has really stepped up his game during the conference schedule. If he can stretch the Zips’ defense, it will help Nevada cruise to a win.
Prediction : Nevada 69, Akron 60