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2012 NIT: Akron Zips vs. Northwestern Wildcats Game Preview

"Why couldn't you be one of those tough... um... err... can't say that again... umm... people?"
"Why couldn't you be one of those tough... um... err... can't say that again... umm... people?"

You can't spell "EXCITEMENT" without N-I-T! Seriously! Look at the words! You can't!

Northwestern plays Akron in its first-round matchup today, and it's at home, so be there! It should be a NIT-illating showdown! (it's like Linsanity, but, uh, never mind.)

Are they good?: Northwestern's a four-seed, they're a five-seed. In Northwestern's favor, Akron hasn't beaten a team as good as Northwestern this season: highlights are victories over Ohio (72) and Marshall (74) and one-point losses to VCU (46) and again to Ohio, in the championship game of the MAC Tournament. Making the finals wasn't as impressive as it sounds, though - they had like a quadruple bye.

What are they good at?: Akron is a very, very well-balanced team: No. 85 on Kenpom in offense, No. 84 in defense. (Somehow, this works out to them being No. 79 overall. Go figure.) Their scoring is spread out, with all starters between 8.2 and 10.2 points. They have good interior play in the form of 7-footer Zeke Marshall, who shot 53 percent from the field while blocking 2.8 shots per game, and shoot the ball well, with starters Brian Walsh and Alex Abreu shooting 46 and 44 percent from deep, respectively. Akron plays a tight man that only allows opponents to shoot 29.5 percent from beyond the arc, the 11th best number in the country.

What are they bad at?: The only thing they're really bad at is turning the ball over, which they do on 21.1 percent of offensive possessions.

So, um, the Zips? Akron is noted for its rubber production: tire companies Goodyear, Goodrich, and Firestone have all been at some point headquartered in Akron. At one point, Goodrich made rubber overshoes called "zippers". So, uh, zips. They go fast and their name starts with a Z. Okay?

So, um, why is it a kangaroo?: Look, just shut up.

Interview with a guy in a Wisconsin-Milwaukee sweatshirt: In a time-honored tradition of NIT basketball, I will interview my friend in a Wisconsin-Milwaukee sweatshirt. (Note: this interview was not conducted while he was wearing a Wisconsin-Milwaukee sweatshirt)

SoP: Hey, guy in a Wisconsin-Milwaukee sweatshirt, wanna come see the NIT game tomorrow?

Guy in a Wisconsin-Milwaukee sweatshirt: Yeah, where is it?

SoP: Here.

GiaWMs: Is it free?

SoP: Yeah.

Hope that was insightful

Why is Akron football your new favorite football team?: Because today, I found out that every year, they play Kent State in a trophy called the Wagon Wheel. If you need to ask why this is important, well, I suggest you stare down the road and pray to God that you see headlights:

Difference between the amount of times Akron has made the NCAA Tournament and the amount of times Northwestern has: 3, including in 2009 and last year. Remember? They lost to Notre Dame? Oh, well, better than anything we've done.

A quick timeline of Akron head coach Keith Dambrot's coaching career:

1986-1991: Dambrot coaches at several D-II schools with a stint as an assistant at Eastern Michigan.

1991: Dambrot is hired to coach Central Michigan

1993: Before a game against Miami (Ohio), Dambrot tells reporters "You know, we need some tough niggers for our team".

1993: Dambrot gets the living crap fired out of him.

1993-1998: Dambrot is an racist who cannot get a job as a head coach.

1998: Dambrot takes a job as the head coach at Akron-area Catholic high school St. Vincent-St. Mary.

1999: A freshman named LeBron James begins playing for Dambrot's St. Vincent-St. Mary teams.

2000-2001: Dambrot's teams win two consecutive state championships.

2001: Dambrot takes an assistant coaching gig at Akron.

2003: James is selected first overall in the NBA draft.

2004: After 11 years of atonement for being a blatantly racist jerk, Dambrot is promoted to head coach at Akron. Which goes to show you: it's possible to make up for past crimes, especially when sheer luck put you in a position to coach LeBron James.

Elsewhere in Akron sports: For reasons I have never understood, Akron has one of the best soccer teams in the nation, including No. 1 rankings at some point in almost every season and a 2010 national championship. Why America's high school stars that aren't good enough to go professional choose the Rubber Capital of the World as their home, I don't know.

Can NU win?: Yes. Akron is good, but not great, and will be playing on the road. Akron presents a tough matchup for NU: a big guy with shooters on the wings is pretty much a scheme designed to lay waste to a 1-3-1 zone. But I think Northwestern should be able to do damage on offense in what will almost for certain by the last home game for John Shurna, so let's see it.