Andrew Mitchell has heard all the talk about Akron's ills. And he's not buying one word of it. Kent State's junior trigger man and his teammates are as cautious as ever heading into Saturday's 5 p.m. battle with their backyard rivals at the M.A.C. Center, even though the Zips are apparently suffering through trying times these days. "Akron games are always tough," said Mitchell, who has led the Golden Flashes to a 3-1 record over the last two seasons against the Zips. "No matter what the situation is, Akron comes to play us every time. If we don't come ready to play, Akron will give us a butt-whoopin' and we know it." The Zips were forced to replace four starters heading into the 2000-01 campaign, and that number increased to five when 6-foot-8 sophomore Andy Hipsher was sidelined due to a back injury last month. Coach Dan Hipsher's son has missed Akron's last four games, and may not return this year. Still, despite all the roster turnover, the Zips have compiled a semi-respectable 4-6 record following their overtime victory at Buffalo Wednesday. Senior Nate Schindewolf has emerged as a legitimate scoring threat, averaging nearly 16 points per game while hitting a Mid-American Conference best 52 percent of his 3-pointers. Rashon Brown, a transfer from Western Kentucky, has solidified the point guard position (14.5 points per game). Even much-maligned senior center Bruce Weinkein has stepped up recently, reaching double-figure points in his last four outings. "Akron's playing better and better basketball," said Kent State coach Gary Waters. "No one around here is thinking this is going to be easy." Nothing's been routine thus far for the Flashes (8-4, 1-0 MAC), who have been forced to grind out wins while their guards attempt to shake out of a nasty shooting slump. Veteran backcourt mates Trevor Huffman (32 percent), Andrew Mitchell (39 percent) and Demetric Shaw (37 percent) have all struggled from the field during the young season. The skid has been especially unnerving for Huffman, Kent State's leading scorer (14.8 ppg), who has converted just 20-of-71 field-goal attempts (28 percent) in his last five games. "For some reason our guards are a little tight and not shooting the way they can," said Waters. "Eventually, they'll start hitting some shots." If the Flashes find the range, they'll have an opportunity to open the MAC season in fine fashion. Following Saturday's battle with Akron, Kent State will travel to Athens to face red-hot Ohio on Monday before returning home to take on a struggling Northern Illinois squad on Wednesday. "We're opening the (MAC) season with 3-of-4 games at our place," said Waters, "so we have a chance to get off to a very good start." But first thing's first. "We're not looking past Akron on Saturday," said Waters. "We'll take it one game at a time."