Last week I wrote a piece on why I want Dayton back on Xavier's schedule. It was met both here and on social media with the usual mix of Dayton hate (always appreciated) and arguments both for and against adding the Flyers to one of the open spaces in the schedule. Xavier still hasn't filled those spots and, realistically speaking, it's not going to be Dayton when they do. The option is open though, for Xavier to do what the leading program in a region should do.
There is some small amount of responsibility that comes with being the best program in a state. You can see it each year when Ohio State's incessantly hyped football team plays a local school at the start of each season. It boosts the smaller school by giving their kids a chance to play against guys who are going pro, and it gives the Buckeyes a chance to tune things up. OSU basketball doesn't do that for multiple reasons, not the least of which is that Buckeye basketball simply doesn't have that much cachet. Xavier basketball, on the other hand, does. And that brings us to Akron.
If anything else has brought you to Akron, allow me to suggest locking your doors. That aside, UA has built a pretty good little mid-major program. But for a Buffalo buzzer-beater in the MAC final, they'd have brought their frenetic three point shooting game to the NCAA tournament and undoubtedly have given a higher seed a torrid time. The one thing that kept the Zips from slipping in as an at-large was a poor non-conference schedule. They got thrashed by 'Nova, but played a grand total of three other games against KenPom top 100 competition all year. A road trip to the Cintas, even should it end in a loss, would go a long way toward boosting Keith Dambrot's boys toward the NCAAs.
The benefits to Akron are obvious. When faced with the choice of playing Xavier or playing Bethune Cookman, you take the Big East opponent and the money that comes with it. Why would Xavier play this game, though? First off, Akron is good but not great. Last year they were 91st in the KenPom. That puts them just above early season victims Alabama and Marquette and a bit of a drop below USC, Dayton, and Michigan. In short, they don't kill the strength of schedule while also probably not requiring the Musketeers' A game. In so far as pre-Christmas break tuneups for the Big East go, they'd slot right in with the teams Xavier usually has in that spot.
Secondly, playing Akron sets Xavier one more step up on the other programs in the state. Little brother UC already receives the benefits of playing a national power each year, why not work in another Ohio team? OSU continually dodges playing any other in-state teams for reasons best known to them. Xavier taking a schedule slot to get in another in-state team or even start a new psuedo-rivalry only further cements the Musketeers as the genuine basketball leaders in the state of Ohio. This also fits right in with the scheduling of Wright St. and Miami last year, and Miami and Bowling Green back in 2014.
Finally, it's a good basketball move. Akron jacks three pointers as if their very lives depend on it. In 20 of Akron's 35 games last year they took more than 30 three pointers. Three times they took more than 40, including an incredible 20-43 performance in a win over Ohio. Xavier frequently faces trial by three point fire, and no team comes quite so well equipped to test the Musketeers defensive chops as the boys from the Rubber City. Even given that, though, the Zips don't present the kind of risk that Coach Mack would avoid for fear of a confidence damaging loss. The Zips fit right in that sweet spot of being a challenge that the team has to get up for, but also a team they should beat. In the end, doesn't that sound a lot better than another somnambulation past Missouri?