“With the Zips football team at 3-5 and entering the final stretch of the season–which consists of four games against quality opponents in three weeks–a bowl bid is a pipe dream in need of Drano. Unlike the Zips football squad, however, the basketball team has high expectations heading into the season.””
With the Zips football team at 3-5 and entering the final stretch of the season–which consists of four games against quality opponents in three weeks–a bowl bid is a pipe dream in need of Drano.
Unlike the Zips football squad, however, the basketball team has high expectations heading into the season. But they also have a similar problem: replacing the loss of irreplaceable players.
The Zips do return three starters and six of their eight-man rotation, but the return to the top of the Mid-American Conference East Division will depend solely on replacing the two starters who moved on.
Dru Joyce and All-American Romeo Travis are playing professional ball overseas and have left the Zips to fill holes left by players who both should have their numbers hanging from Rhodes Arena’s rafters.
Finding a replacement for Joyce is the factor that will determine where the Zips finish.
Head coach Keith Dambrot was looking at two options before the practice season started. Redshirt freshman Steve McNees, a sharp-shooting, offensive-minded lead guard, or true freshman Ronnie Steward, who is more Dambrot’s style of player, which means thinking defense first.
Steward, however, suffered a hip flexor injury and has a few weeks until he can get back on the court. And McNees is the type of player that Dambrot likes to bring off the bench to provide a scoring punch.
Which leaves the Zips with their best option: Start both All-MAC guards in the backcourt with Nick Dials as the lead guard and Cedrick Middleton as the off-guard.
Both players were used last year as shooting guards, but both have the ability to play the point.
Dials is probably the best fit for the position anyway. He’s strong with the ball, a solid defender and is underrated as a passer. It won’t hinder his scoring much either because the senior transfer from Ohio State usually scores within the confines of the offense anyway.
Middleton can spare Dials from time to time, as he did with Joyce last year. And again, no individual offensive production will be spared because Middleton tends to score in transition and off spot-up 3-pointers anyway.
Dambrot hasn’t said if this will be his starting backcourt when the Zips open the season in Alaska in three weeks against South Carolina Upstate in the Top of the World Classic, but it should be.
Replacing Travis will be a far less daunting task for the Zips because of their depth at the position.
Jeremiah Wood (who is battling a strain in his right hand) will be a MAC player of the year candidate and will manhandle anyone in the conference on both sides of the court.
Quade Milum will probably start alongside Wood because he’s stronger defensively than Chris McNight, who is the other front-court option.
Both positions have solid players who are ready to step into the roles left behind by Travis and Joyce which makes reaching the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1986 more than just a pipe dream.