Akron is on Gonzaga’s schedule for a reason.
“We scheduled this thing because Akron is a top 50-type team,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “Those are what you want on your resume at the end of the year.”
Gonzaga is on Akron’s schedule for a reason, too.
“What we’re trying to do with this is get prepared so if we do get into the NCAA tournament we’ve played enough people of high caliber that we won’t be in awe of the situation,” Akron coach Keith Dambrot said.
The eighth-ranked Zags are attempting to go 10-0 for the first time since joining Division I in 1958-59. They’ve pummeled five visitors to the McCarthey Athletic Center this season by an average of 29 points. The closest margin was 21 points against San Diego State, a game Gonzaga led by 30 with 8 minutes remaining.
Akron (7-2) has no plans of showing up, collecting a nice check and exiting with a blowout loss. The Zips are the preseason Mid-American Conference favorites and have won at least 21 games the last 11 seasons under 13th-year coach Dambrot, who coached LeBron James at Akron’s St. Vincent-St. Mary High.
Akron shot 47.4 percent and won the boards 33-32 in an 82-70 loss at No. 10 Creighton last week. The Zips have won at least one game against a Power Five Conference opponent each of the last five years.
“I watched them against Creighton,” Zags wing Jordan Mathews said. “I know they’re good, they’re really good. So it’s not going to be one of those games, oh, we’re playing Akron. It’s going to be a dogfight.”
Including some big dogs. For one of the rare occasions this season Gonzaga’s Przemek Karnowski will be roughly eye-to-eye and pound-for-pound against an opposing center.
Isaiah Johnson is Akron’s version of Karnowski, a 300-pound center who can pass and has great touch around the basket. Johnson, first-team All-MAC last year, leads the Zips at 2.8 assists per game while averaging 15.2 points on 70-percent shooting.
“I call him ‘Big Dog,’” Dambrot said. “He’s one of the best mid-major centers in the country, if not the best. I know Creighton brought two guys at him and really when they didn’t he was a handful for them.”
Akron’s Kwan Cheatham Jr., a 6-9, 235-pound power forward, contributes 8.7 points and 7 boards. The backcourt includes Antino Jackson (12 ppg, 42 percent on 3-pointers) and junior Noah Robotham (10.1 ppg), a Bishop Gorman High product, alma mater of Gonzaga freshman Zach Collins.
Robotham missed the last two games with an ankle injury but Dambrot was optimistic he’ll play Saturday.
Akron and Ohio State are the only schools in the nation equipped with LeBron’s trademark Nike shoes and gear.
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