The University of Akron men’s and women’s basketball teams started official practices last Monday for the 2016-2017 season, and expectations are high once again for both teams.
The men’s team will begin the season on Nov. 12 in a 7:45 p.m. game versus Youngstown State, while the women’s will play Malone College the same day at 2 p.m.
The Zips men’s team is coming off another excellent season after making it to the MAC Championship Game again. The team lost in a heartbreaker to Buffalo.
The Zips will look to get back there, but will have to do it without three key players, as guard Reggie McAdams, forward Jake Kretzer, and center Pat Forsythe all moved on after playing their senior season at Akron.
Akron will return a team that is still loaded with talent, however. Returning starters are junior guards Antino Jackson and Noah Robotham, as well as big seniors Isaiah “Big Dog” Johnson (6’10”, 295 lbs.) and Kwan Cheatham (6’10”, 235 lbs.).
No matter who will replace McAdams in the starting lineup, the team should be fine. The three most likely choices are sophomore guard Josh Williams, junior forward Aaron Jackson, and sophomore guard Jimond Ivey.
Aaron Jackson and Ivey are the most likely, as both are very athletic, play hard defensively, and can provide scoring. Williams would be the most unlikely to start, as he could serve most usefully off the bench to spell Robotham and Antino Jackson.
The Zips will sport a large freshman class as well, and a couple could work their way into a bench that Coach Keith Dambrot loves to use.
Freshman guards include Tavian Dunn-Martin (Huntington, West Virginia), Marquelle McIntyre (Greensboro, North Carolina), and Ty Dalton (Houston, Texas). Forwards Daniel Utomi (Houston, Texas) and Emmanuel Olojakpoke (Houston, Texas) could join big man Michael Hughes (Liberty, Missouri) in the rotation.
No matter how the rotation turns out, expect the Zips to have another excellent season. They are one of just five teams (Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas, and Ohio State being the other four) to win at least 21 games in each of the past 11 seasons.
The Zips women’s team, coming off a 19-14 season, will also look to continue its excellent play. The team will be hungry after its loss in the semifinals of the MAC tournament to the Buffalo Bulls last March.
The team lost leading-scorer Anita Brown to graduation, but boasts a solid returning class. Senior Hannah Plybon brings in the most excitement, as she scored over 16 points per game last season. She also broke a school-record by making 104 three-pointers on the year.
The team also brings back junior Greta Burry, who started last season. Burry averaged nearly eight points and six rebounds per game, so her post presence will be a big factor for the Zips again this season.
The other returning players provide very little experience, but a lot of talent. None of the players scored over four points per game last year, but could improve with more playing time. This includes senior Alex Ricketts, juniors Alli Ball, Lauren Hung, Kaitlyn Flowers, and sophomores Megan Sefcik and Fredniqua Walker.
Head Coach Jodi Kest has brought in six true freshmen for this season. Alyssa Clay, Shaunay Edmonds, Shayna Harmon, Haliegh Reinoehl, Caitlin Vari, and Brooke Kurucz could all find playing time. Kest found these players in Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.
The women’s team will kick off conference play on Dec. 31 in Kalamazoo, Michigan, when it plays the Western Michigan Broncos. The men’s team will begin MAC play Jan. 3 when it hosts the Bowling Green Falcons.