GAME NOTES: The first-ever meeting between the Akron Zips and the North Dakota State Bison takes place on Friday night as part of the annual BracketBuster event.
Neither one of these teams is an easy target, as both have already won at least 20 games. The Zips are one of just a handful of programs at the Division I level yet to drop a conference decision, sporting a 12-0 mark versus Mid- American Conference foes in 2012-13.
Last weekend, the Zips collected a 67-50 win versus Bowling Green at home to extend the nation's longest win streak to 17 games and keep the squad undefeated in their own building through 13 games as well.
As for NDSU, a team which operates out of the Summit League, it is coming off a 75-39 thrashing of IUPUI over the weekend at home, the team's second win in the last three outings. While it has no bearing on this particular contest, the Bison are 11-4 in conference games this season.
North Dakota State made it look rather easy against IUPUI last weekend in Fargo, limiting the visitors to just 32.7 percent shooting from the floor and forcing them into 15 turnovers. From an offensive standpoint, the Bison were paced by Marshall Bjorklund and Kory Brown who both tallied 12 points, while Lawrence Alexander pitched in with another 10 before the starters were called back to the bench and the reserves were given some quality time on the floor for the Bison.
In spite of the romp over IUPUI, the going has been a bit rough the last month or so for the Bison after losing leading scorer Taylor Braun (15.2 ppg) to injury. Now, Bjorklund (11.8 ppg) and Alexander (10.7 ppg) have been given even more responsibility as the former leads the way with 6.2 rpg and the latter has a team-best 109 assists as he tries to get all of his teammates involved. Thankfully, the defense for NDSU has been superb, one of the best in basketball in fact, allowing a meager 54.9 ppg over 27 games.
Against Bowling Green the last time out, Demetrius Treadwell was the only starter for the Zips not to score in double figures as he finished with a mere four points on 2-of-9 shooting from the floor. Zeke Marshall came up with 15 points and a game-high nine rebounds, followed by Nick Harney and Alex Abreu with 13 points apiece and Brian Walsh 10 as the team outscored the visitors at the free-throw line, 19-9, in order to overcome a mere 36.5 percent effort from the floor overall.
One of the most balanced offenses around, the Zips have only two players scoring in double figures through 25 games, Marshall with 12.6 ppg and Treadwell another 10.6 ppg, yet the squad is generating 73.6 ppg as it gets contributions from all sides. Better yet, the defense has been clamping down on the competition, limiting foes to just 61.5 ppg as those squads hit just 38.5 percent of their total shots.
Clearly, these are two teams that rely heavily on their presence at the defensive end of the floor, which means they both have to be ready to get what they give on a regular basis. Because Akron has been cruising along and this is a home date for the Zips, the hosts have to be considered the favorite, but not by much.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Akron 60, North Dakota State 56