After Friday's fiasco of a win over Providence, where both teams combined to shoot a measly 36% from the field, the Nittany Lions are hoping the irons of the Coliseo de Puerto Rico will be a little more kind in their tournament finale. They face the talented Akron Zips from the MAC conference in the 5th-place game which is set to tip at 1:30pm on ESPN3.
Despite 19 points, 9 rebounds and 7 assists for Tim Frazier, the Lions struggled with a Friars team that fielded five scholarship players and needed overtime to seal the deal. Akron has no such issue. In fact, head coach Keith Dambrot fields one of the more balanced attacks in the country.
Eleven Zips are averaging 10 minutes per game in this young season, and they aren't exactly devoid of talent either. Center Zeke Marshall was a top-100 recruit from McKeesport who turned down scholarship offers from the likes of Pitt (cool), Xavier, and PSU (dammit), and he's coming off a 2011-12 season where he averaged 2.6 blocks per contest--good for 13th in the nation. Penn State will need the N.C. State-version of Jon Graham to show up as opposed to the Providence-version--the sophomore played 13 minutes without a point and registered only three rebounds Friday night.
In the backcourt, Akron boasts a couple of local products. Alex Abreu grew up in Puerto Rico, a short walk away from the arena hosting this tournament, and reserve Carmelo Betancourt is also a native Puerto Rican. Abreu is the team's top scoring guard, averaging a team-high 12.8 points through four games. He also shot 43% from beyond the arc a season ago, but he isn't the Lions' only concern in that area. Akron as a team is shooting 40% from deep this season, led by freshman Jake Kretzer and junior Brian Walsh who are both hitting over half of their three-point attempts so far.
Penn State's play in Puerto Rico has been lackluster at best, and downright dreadful at worst. Turnovers and poor shot selection have doomed the Nittany Lions to scoring only 55 points in their previous outings. Jermaine Marshall shot 4-18 from the field despite making crucial shots against Providence. That simply won't be good enough against an Akron team averaging 79 points per contest through four games. Pat Chambers has kept the spin fairly positive, and the defense has been solid (unless you'd like to argue that bad shooting is contagious), but improvements in most every facet of the game will be needed to beat a team like Akron.
Here's hoping #MACtion is a basketball thing, too.
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