Men's basketball favored to repeat as MAC champions

“With the addition of top prospect Zeke Marshall, as well as returning 4 starters, the men’s basketball team is the odds on favorite to repeat as MAC champions. Marshall was ranked as the No. 61 recruit in the nation by ESPNU and looks to make a direct impact on a team that has lacked height at the center position in recent years.”

With the addition of top prospect Zeke Marshall, as well as returning 4 starters, the men’s basketball team is the odds on favorite to repeat as MAC champions.

Marshall was ranked as the No. 61 recruit in the nation by ESPNU and looks to make a direct impact on a team that has lacked height at the center position in recent years.

He is making progress, head coach Keith Dambrot said. We are concentrating on working on the defensive end right now and not so much on the offensive.

The seven foot center has long arms and possesses excellent shot blocking ability on the defensive side of the ball.

Marshall is joining a team that was champions of the MAC last year and played tough in an opening round loss to Gonzaga in the NCAA tournament in March.

Any time you play in big games it helps your program, Dambrot said. The next time we go to the NCAA Tournament, we will be more experienced and ready to play a better game.

The Zips have been chosen by the MAC News Media Association Preseason Poll as the number one team to repeat as MAC tournament champs.

Akron received 19 first place votes and Buffalo, who was chosen to finish second, received two.

We just need to play up to our expectation level, Dambrot said. We know there is not much difference between the very best and very worst teams in the conference. This is a good conference.

The Zips only lost one senior last year in forward Nate Linhart. Because of this, the team will be composed of a lot of players, who through their play last year, are now very experienced.

I think we are diversified, Dambrot said. We have guys that can drive inside or shoot outside. We have good quickness.

Our team is experienced and has played in a lot of games. Our shooting has improved and we have always played good defense here.

Brothers Chris and Brett McKnight are both returning to the team this year.

Brett McKnight led the team in scoring last year at 11.2 points per game (ppg) and was selected as the sixth man of the year last year.

Brett will more than likely come off the bench again this year as that is when he is at his best.

Brother Chris McKnight will not only add a dominant presence down low, but will also add senior leadership to the team.

Chris average 9.2 ppg as well as 4.7 rebounds per game (rpg).

The Zips are also returning sophomore Anthony Humpty Hitchens.

Hitchens along with teammate Brett McKnight has been named to the Preseason All-Mac Team.

Last year Hitchens averaged 8.8 ppg and a team high 2.2 assists per game.

Hitchens made his appearance last year after sophomore Ronnie Steward was redshirted due to a medical injury.

The Zips have one of the toughest schedules that they have had in a while.

Akron opens the season against a tough Austin Peay team and will head directly to North Carolina to face North Carolina State the next week.

Other games standing out in the Zips schedule are Niagara, Texas A&M and Valparaiso, who defeated the Zips last year in their Bracket Busters game.

Our schedule at the beginning of the year is the hardest it has ever been, Dambrot said. We have Austin Peay, NC State and Drake who are all very good teams. We have not traditionally played well to start the year, but we will have to do better.

The main thing heading into the season is for the Zips to remain healthy.

As we prepare for the upcoming season, the biggest obstacle thus far has been dealing with the flu that has been circulating campus, Dambrot said. We must first get healthy, then start to make progress on the court. We must make sure we guard the basketball and work on our rebounding.

The first game on the Zips schedule is an exhibition match against Mount Union at Rhodes Arena.

Game time is Tuesday, Nov. 10 at 7 p.m.

The Zips will embark on the regular season Sunday, Nov. 15 at 2 p.m. against Austin Peay at Rhodes Arena.