“Zips fans who thought a little over a week ago that the University of Akron’s men’s basketball team’s winning streak at Rhodes Arena was in danger of being snapped before the end of this season were probably taking a realistic look at the remaining games on UA’s home schedule.””
Zips fans who thought a little over a week ago that the University of Akron’s men’s basketball team’s winning streak at Rhodes Arena was in danger of being snapped before the end of this season were probably taking a realistic look at the remaining games on UA’s home schedule.
After all, the Zips drew the Virginia Commonwealth Rams as this year’s BracketBusters opponent. After defeating Duke in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last season, VCU has posted a 19-6 overall record and a 9-6 mark in the Colonial Athletic Association this season.
Then, of course, there’s the season finale against Kent State. Any KSU-UA game that doesn’t go down to the game’s final minutes is out of character.
But, anyone that said before last Tuesday that the Zips’ 22-game home-winning streak would be halted by Northern Illinois – the team with the worst record in the Mid-American Conference and who had yet to win a road game this season – would have been ridiculed and written off as someone who doesn’t know MAC basketball. Road teams, especially those with inferior records, don’t win conference games.
Fox Sports Net Ohio, which televised the game, continued to show graphics depicting the Zips’ home-court dominance in the game’s latter stages, seemingly waiting for UA to go on one of its patient scoring runs and continue the streak.
The run never came. The streak ended. The game, which was viewed by many Zips fans as simply a tune-up for the team as it prepared for another tour through the MAC East, won’t be soon forgotten.
Give credit to senior guard Nick Dials for his honesty. When asked about the loss Thursday after practice, the visibly frustrated Dials said the team did not come ready to play.
We didn’t give enough effort and that’s pretty sad, he said. We’ve got to give effort for 40 minutes, because you can’t give effort for half of a game (or) you’ll get beat. You have to give effort against the worst team in the league, Northern Illinois, or else you’ll get beat.
That’s just what it all boils down to. I think we’ve got to get a new mindset, an attitude change.
When asked what, if anything, was said amongst the players in the locker room after the loss, the senior’s perspective remained the same
It was quiet, Dials said. At the same time, I don’t understand what we expected. If we didn’t play hard, I don’t know what else you’d expect – we’re gonna get beat.
With all signs pointing to senior-leader Jeremiah Wood returning to UA’s lineup sooner than expected, Zips fans again have reason to believe that the team has a chance to make some noise in the MAC Tournament. At this point, though, I’m not too optimistic. A healthy Wood certainly increases the Zips’ chances, but the team will have to consistently hit open shots. The team lost at Central Michigan with a relatively healthy Wood when it shot under 40 percent (17-43) from the field and only converted 3-9 3-point field goals.
With Wood missing the team’s last three contests and only being able to play 20 minutes against Western Michigan, UA’s young frontcourt players have seen extended playing time. I realize that Chris McKnight is only a sophomore and that Mike Bardo and Brett McKnight are in their first years of playing college basketball. McKnight wasn’t even able to practice until the end of the first semester, but I’m still concerned by the team’s lack of inside presence on offense without Wood.
When asked about the play of all of his younger players, UA head coach Keith Dambrot said that he was satisfied with their production.
I think they’ve done a good job, Dambrot said. The question is, are they capable of winning a MAC Championship right now, and the answer is no. Have they been good plug guys, good role guys? Yeah, they’ve had good years as role players. Most of the time, freshmen take a bigger jump their sophomore year. Those guys will figure out what they have to do to become very good players.
I agree with Coach Dambrot that the team’s younger players have shown signs of being capable of becoming major contributors for the team in the future, but will these role players transform into effective starters next season with the departure of seniors Cedrick Middleton, Dials and Wood? The verdict on that has yet to be decided.