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Ohio's D.J. Cooper dribbles by a Buffalo player as he drives down the court. The Bobcats defeated the Bulls 60-52 on Jan. 12, 2012. (FILE)

Men's Basketball: Akron, Ohio too close for comfort?

Despite their strong start to the season, the Bobcats might not like who they see in the mirror — their next opponent.

Ohio has plenty of reasons to admire what it has done so far this season, but a road trip to Akron involves a matchup against a team that is uncannily similar to the Bobcats.

Akron (10-6, 2-0 Mid-American Conference) has lived up to preseason expectations due to a deep bench and balanced scoring. Ohio (13-3, 1-1 MAC) is within sniffing distance of a share of the lead in the MAC East and has used its depth to pile on the wins.

The teams have won the past two MAC tournament titles and represented the conference in the 2010 and 2011 NCAA tournaments.

The Bobcats and Zips are next to each other in eight MAC statistical categories. Both squads feature multiple scorers and rebounders capable of putting up impressive figures on any given night.

Though neither team has an undisputed superstar, both units feature specialists in some facet of the game. Ohio point guard D.J. Cooper leads the MAC in steals and assists, while Akron sharpshooter Brian Walsh leads the league in 3-point field-goal percentage at 57 percent.

The Zips also have junior Zeke Marshall as a defensive weapon. Marshall leads the MAC in blocked shots with 46 rejections.

With the teams so balanced, the game might prove to be a predictably unpredictable MAC matchup. Ohio sophomore guard Nick Kellogg said the Bobcats will be keeping their focus on what is in their control.

“I think that’s how we got it done (Wednesday against Buffalo),” he said. “We didn’t shoot the ball particularly well, but we played defense and got stops. It starts with ‘D,’ so that’s what we’re going to focus on heading up to Akron.”

No Zip is among the top 25 scorers in the MAC, but seven Akron players average between seven and 11 points per game. That means every player on the floor — and at least two others on the bench — might be a scoring threat at any given time. Six Akron players have been a leading scorer or rebounder this season.

Ohio has five players who average between eight and 15 points per outing.

The game is Akron’s conference home opener and will be televised on ESPNU.

The Bobcats are 1-2 this season in televised road games but are 5-2 overall away from The Convo.

Success against Akron — and throughout the MAC schedule — requires consistent play every game. Coach John Groce had criticized Ohio’s toughness against Bowling Green, but praised his team’s effort in the win against Buffalo Wednesday night.

“Just keep working hard and being consistent and doing what the coaches ask of us,” junior forward Ivo Baltic said. “It comes down to just being mentally prepared. I don’t know what the game plan is right now, but I’m sure we’ll be ready.”

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