An inside look at the Zips run to the NCAA Tournament

It was a season of ups and downs for the UA men’s basketball team, but through the thick of things, the team was able to put what looked like a mediocre season behind and focus on a championship season at hand.

It was a season of ups and downs for the UA men’s basketball team, but through the thick of things, the team was able to put what looked like a mediocre season behind and focus on a championship season at hand.

To get a real understanding of what it took for the Zips to get to the NCAA Tournament in Chicago, it is only fitting to go back to where it all began.

The Zips, who were 12-10 at the time, traveled to Eastern Michigan in Ypsilanti, Mich., on Feb. 2, where they suffered an embarrassing 60-56 loss to an under achieving team that only had five wins and 15 losses.

With this team, we had some moments where we were just awful, said seven-year Akron Head Coach Keith Dambrot. I told Terry Weigand, our assistant coach, when we were 12-10 ‘Terry we’re not very good,’ and he told me, ‘Coach, look, we just have to keep coaching them, we have enough.’ I know it sounds simplistic, but I really think that saved our season.

After the loss to EMU, the Zips went on a tear, winning their next seven games until they faced the 2010 Mid-American Conference Tournament Champion Ohio Bobcats in Athens, Ohio. 

The Bobcats, however, handed the overly confident Zips an 80-55 loss, which later resulted in UA’s second-straight loss to rival Kent State, 79-68, at the M.A.C. Center in Kent, Ohio. This diminished any chance of the Zips getting a top seed in the MAC Tournament, in which the top four seeded teams in the MAC receive a bye in the first round.

After the loss to Kent State, Dambrot still seemed confident about his team’s chances, despite their defensive problems the past two games.

My teams over seven years have been one of the best defenders in the league, said Dambrot. This team has been a little Jekyll and Hyde this year when it comes to that. We either guard one night or we don’t, but I think I know what to do; it’s just [that] we have to do it.

Dambrot was right; he certainly knew what to do as the Zips went on to defeat EMU 67-53 in the first round of the MAC Tournament at James A. Rhodes Arena.

The Zips, who were seeded sixth, faced the daunting task of reaching the MAC Championship game, as the No. 3 seeded Miami Redhawks stood in their way at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio.

During the game, Akron got off to a great start, entering half time with the score at 26-10, but Miami fought back, stretching the game into double overtime. However, the Zips prevailed, wining 82-75.The following day, UA faced one last hurdle before the Championship game in the form of the No. 2 Western Michigan Broncos, who had won the West Division of the MAC during the regular season.

The 79-68 box score win may seem like the Zips handled WMU, but really the game came down to the last few minutes, when guard Brett McClanahan was able to knock down a pivotal three-point basket to seal the win.

Western’s a tough, hard-nosed team, said Dambrot. I think we have good people, we’ve been in a lot of ball games in the MAC Tournament and we’re not scared.

What really mattered though was the MAC Championship game, and who better to face in that game than rival Kent State, who entered the game as the No. 1 seed and back-to-back MAC East regular season champs.

This was a game that was filled with a tremendous amount of excitement in the air, but this was also a game where the Zips had to prove they belonged in the competition.

The  game went into overtime before Akron was finally able to stop Kent’s final offensive drive, thanks in part to center Zeke Marshall’s monstrous block on Kent State’s Rodriquez Sherman.

They had a better year than we had, but we were fortunate for the ball to bounce our way, said an excited Dambrot.

I wanted this Championship so bad and I brought [it upon] myself to step it up, said Marshall. After that Saturday night came Selection Sunday, where the Zips learned their fate as they were seeded 15th and slated to face the No. 2 Notre Dame Fighting Irish at the United Center in Chicago, Ill.

Akron went on to play Notre Dame, where they lost 69-58. However, Dambrot was not unhappy of the result, as his team battled all year to get where they were.

 I refuse to let anything bother me at this point, said Dambrot. This team was 12-10 and showed tremendous resiliency.