Rivalry revived by balance in MAC

Matt Goul

Sophomore forward Scott Cutley passes around Buffalo’s Mark Bortz during a game earlier this season. The Flashes play at 8 tonight at Akron.

Credit: Andrew popik

The rivalry game with Akron has not been this big in a while.

Both Kent State and Akron sit in second place of the Mid-American Conference East Division standings.

Akron (13-6, 7-4 MAC) has not been over .500 to finish a season since 2000, when it finished third in the East. Now it is off to its best start since that season. The Flashes (15-7, 7-4 MAC) enter James A. Rhodes Arena tonight winning five of their last six games.

Both are two games behind divison-leader Miami.

Ohio, which was also tied for second, dropped with its loss at Bowling Green on Monday. Both Akron and Ohio have been surprises this season, while the MAC favorites — Toledo and Buffalo — are almost losing as much as they are winning, and no game seems like a sure win.

“This is what everyone knew was coming,” Kent State coach Jim Christian said. “I don’t think there’s one coach in the league that’s surprised with what’s happening. Every time I see the scores, I’m not surprised.”

Even Western Michigan, which jumped out to a 13-3 start, has fallen victim to the MAC’s parity.

The Broncos had lost four of their last six games, all in conference, entering their game with Buffalo last night. Kent State managed to equal them for most overall wins going into this week.

The top three teams get first-round byes in the MAC tournament. The Flashes sit with three other teams in the third spot with six games left in the MAC schedule. Trips to Buffalo and Miami remain after tonight’s at Akron.

“Every game we play from here on out, we have to have every one of them,” junior center Nate Gerwig said.

Gerwig’s last game at Akron included pain and joy.

He had career highs of 21 points and 15 rebounds his last time at the J.A.R. in 2003. While doing so, Gerwig’s shoulder dislocated twice in the win. The two teams split their series last year with Gerwig out, each winning at home.

Now Akron is without its enforcer.

Sophomore forward Jeremiah Wood was lost after 10 games with a knee injury. He led the Zips in rebounding and was second in scoring. Sophomore Romeo Travis has cushioned the blow, as the team’s next best scorer and rebounder.

Bracket Buster set

Kent State’s game with Southern Illinois will air at 6 p.m., Feb. 19 on ESPN2.

Three of the six games televised on ESPN and ESPN2 that day will include MAC teams. Miami plays host to Wichita State and Western Michigan is at Northern Iowa. All three games will be on ESPN2.

Kent State is the only MAC school to play all three of its Bracket Buster games on ESPN2, defeating Creighton last year and losing to Hawaii in 2003. Both were at home, too.

Contact men’s basketball reporter Matt Goul at [email protected].