The No. 10 player in the nation scheduled a visit to Akron's campus for April 18.
Despite offers from the likes of Kentucky, Ohio State, Pitt and Tennessee, Akron's campus is Adriean Payne's only scheduled visit.
Payne is 6-foot-10, but his doctors say he has seven-foot potential. He plays on a loaded AAU team, but like Zeke Marshall, he wants to blaze his own trail -- to make his name where few names have been made.
Payne, a Dayton native, will visit with his grandmother and his high school coaches. With Akron's other available scholarship likely going to Darryl Roberts, Payne would be Akron's only recruit in 2010.
But if he signed with the Zips, you better believe it would make national headlines.
Payne wants a school with a great basketball program, solid academics and one that provides a chance to catch the eyes of NBA scouts. The most recent NBA Draft has shown that if you stand out, scouts will find you.
The PD's Elton Alexander wrote about Akron's plans with Zeke Marshall. It's definitely worth reading.
I hope fans are not unreasonably optimistic about Marshall's immediate impact on offense. He is seven feet tall, but that does not mean his footwork or his hands are advanced enough to score on the MAC's physical, yet short, post bangers. I think everyone is justified in believing Marshall will dominate on defense, though.
I played the role of lazy reporter. You asked the questions. J.D. Brookhart answered them.
Question: What will be the defensive scheme? Answer: "We are still going to be use a base 3-3, but we will be more multiple," Brookhart said.
Question: What does Walt Harris think of the quarterback situation? Answer: "I like them both," Harris said. "Chris [Jacquemain] is a veteran quarterback. He has tools to be an outstanding passer. Matt Rodgers is an interesting young man in terms of upside. Chris is a two-year starter. He has experience that you can't buy. But he has to get better. He has to be more confident in what his receivers are doing." Brookhart added this: "Jacq is the quarterback. Matt has to beat him out."
Question: What is the status of the running backs? Answer: DeVoe Torrence and Jeremy Bruce got carries, but the others were still out. Alex Allen dressed and verbally expressed his desire to play from the sideline, but I did not see him on the field.
Question: How is the defensive line looking? Answer: Only five linemen dressed today. In fact, Akron had 20 injured players on Thursday. Ryan Bain's back is bothering him, but he is eligible. (Brookhart stressed that, so it's not like that "foot injury" of last year.) Another lineman, who will go nameless, was cited by police for "driving too slow." On the positive side, Brookhart singled out Dan Marcoux as showing great improvement. Shawn Lemon is looking good on pass rush. Almondo Sewell, as always, is a terror to block, the coach said.
Question: How are the linebackers looking? Answer: Brookhart plans to play six or seven linebackers. The top two are Aaron Williams and Mike Thomas. The coaches have been really impressed with freshmen Troy Gilmer and Brian Wagner, too. Will Fleming might be a factor but they are being careful with his injured shoulder.
Question: Will Larry Dawson play? Answer: The Akron North High School product is listed at linebacker. He is not contending to start.
Question: Why Morgan State? Answer: Brookhart said, "Thank goodness, we get a [Division] I-AA game like the rest of the world." Brookhart was involved in the scheduling process. Division I-A teams get to count one win against a I-AA team for their win total regarding bowl eligibility, so this makes a wealth of sense. Why play a Middle Tennessee State and lose when you can schedule a local I-AA team that brings fans and a cupcake roster? Next time, UA might find an Ohio team to get that added benefit. This year, they were pinched and had to find a team quickly. When Mack Rhodes arrived, the schedule lacked flexibility, but now he is able to do that.
Question: How is Torrence coming along? Answer: He has "lots of learning to do. He needs to go make a lot of mistakes," Brookhart said.
Question: Are there any transfers since the end of the season? Answer: No.
Question: How has Marquinn Davis looked? Answer: Brookhart got excited when I asked this. "He has improved, yeah. He has been a nice surprise. Not there as a starter yet."
Question: Is Da-Von Moore healthy? Answer: No. He has had two surgeries on the same anterior-cruciate ligament since arriving at Akron. He tore the same tendon twice. Moore had his second surgery in September. Two ACL tears on the same knee is awful news for a football player at any position, much less a linebacker who has to move laterally.
Question: What are your thoughts on the coffin corner punt? Answer: Akron has used it a lot, but not as much toward the end of last season, Brookhart said.
Question: How did Pro Day go yesterday? (This is my question) Answer: "Impressive." Three former Zips ran in the 4.3s: Bryan Williams, Brandon Anderson and Andrew Johnson. Merce Poindexter clocked in at a solid 4.6.
Question: Will you name team captains? (My question) Answer: It turns out, Brookhart doesn't run a democracy. He will let the players vote at the end of spring. If he isn't happy with the results, he will wait until the fall.
According to a university source, Akron has agreed to play Morgan State on Sept. 12 to open InfoCision Stadium.
Previously, the opener was planned to be against Indiana the following week. Morgan State is the new university of former Zip Carlton Jackson, who will be the Bears' starting quarterback.
I will have more tomorrow.
With new a new stadium, new coaches and new talent, this football season has more intrigue than any I can remember.
I will attend practice on Thursday afternoon. If you have any questions, post them below or e-mail me, and I will try to find an answer.
I have been neglecting the pigskin, but I promise to play catch-up. Fun fact: My blog statistics indicate that football is the sport of widest interest.
The Washington Post wrote a great story that draws all of the connections between LeBron James and the Zips basketball program.
The feature illustrates how important James has been to Akron's growth, and how big he will be in the future. One quote struck me: "When we do ask [for money], it will be for a lot," Keith Dambrot said about soliciting donations from King James. That sounds a lot like an allusion to a new basketball arena.
Sophomore running back Dale Martin, who transferred from Louisville, will be out until at least late July after tearing his Achilles' tendon, the university announced today.
That link also gives information about April 4's Spring Festival.
After 48 games, Howard Cleveland leads the AK-Rowdies Bracket Challenge by one point.
Romeo Travis never played in the NCAA Tournament, but he sure can fill out a bracket.
He has entered the lead in the AK-Rowdies Bracket Challenge. The former Zips star has made 26 correct picks out of 32. Travis predicted a Sweet Sixteen appearance for Akron. You have to admire that loyalty and trust.
There are five others tied with Travis: Howard Cleveland, Matt Strand, Eric Noland, Matt Kloetzer and (ugh) Kiel Fleming.
Every year, there are No. 4 seeds that appear ripe for the picking. On the other hand, there usually are No. 4 seeds that have just as much talent as the boys at the top. Akron stumbled into the backyard of one of them, fought them punch-for-punch, but eventually succumbed.
If there was ever a loss where Keith Dambrot doesn't have to read negative comments, it should be this one. The Zips were like the little brother who made enough shots to give the older brother a scare in the driveway. Eventually, size, experience and skill became too much for the underdog.
Congratulations to this Nate Linhart-led team, which broke new ground for the program and refused to be satisfied with just seeing its name on the bracket. If you still don't comprehend what Linhart has meant to this team, you have chosen not to. The postseason also revealed the next generation of Zips leaders: Chris McKnight, Brett McKnight, Steve McNees and Humpty Hitchens.
Indeed, the program is in great hands, even without adding a monster shot blocker next season.
Keep refreshing your browser for updates, game starts at 7:25 p.m...
Blog fill-in guy Dan here. Rasor is out of town. Apologies in advance for what is to follow.
Anyway, so it is here. For the first time since 1986, the Akron Zips are dancing. Make sure to scroll through the rest of this blog to find beat writer Tom Gaffney's reports from Portland and Rasor's analysis.
Rasor predicted a 16-point Gonzaga victory. Columnist Patrick McManamon predicts a 12-point Gonzaga victory. Naturally, I predict an eight-point Akron loss, with Gonzaga taking it 62-54.
Most point to several factors, but this game should come down to two things: How well Akron is making and defending threes and the foul situation. Should Josh Heytvelt and Matt Bouldin - two tough size matchups for the Zips - get in foul trouble, the Zips have a chance.
Akron starters are expected to be Steve McNees, Darryl Roberts, Nate Linhart, Chris McKnight and Nikola Cvetinovic. Gonzaga is going with Heytvelt, Bouldin, Austin Daye, Micah Downs and Jeremy Pargo. Still no official word on the health of Humpty Hitchens.
Outside of die-hard Akron fans, who actually thinks the team has a chance of winning? Artie Lange, sidekick on the Howard Stern Show. That's right, you have to be a heroin addict to predict a Zips victory. Hat tip to Kiel Fleming for that line.
The Zips game got pushed back to a 7:40 p.m. start. Looking at the entire NCAA Tournament, it's too bad Akron didn't get the 14-seed American University received. The Eagles are playing Villanova, a guard-centric squad Akron could probably do well against.
It has been six years since a Mid-American Conference team has won an NCAA Tournament game. That was when Chris Kaman and Central Michigan beat Creighton.
Before the game, I really hoped Vern Lundquist wasn't the announcer. Who is the announcer? Kevin Harlan, who did good work during the Browns games. Oh, and immediately it is 2-0 Gonzaga after the tip.
Humpty Hitchens didn't start, so his ankle must still be a problem. However, I really expect to see him at some point.
Currently up 8-7, Akron is doing fairly well shooting, hitting two of three three-point shots.
Austin Daye is giving the Zips guards a lot of trouble. He's already blocked three shots and is easily shooting over defenders.
Someone in the journalism world actually picked the Zips. Joe Posnanski went with Akron. However, it should be noted that he filled out his bracket in 64 seconds and seems to enjoy the name "Humpty." No word on if he likes heroin.
Chris McKnight is looking a little more than overmatched so far in this game. With 11 minutes left in the half, Hitchens is in the game for the first time. It makes you wonder if Akron plans on opening up the game a little more.
I'm notoriously poor at filling out NCAA Tournament brackets. In the AK-Rowdy contest, I'm far out of first place already. That's the bad. The good? I'm tied with Romeo Travis.
Matt Bouldin is the latest in the long, and lame, Gonzaga tradition of having a goofy mop cut. His curly locks follow in the tradition of Adam Morrison and Dan Dickau.
A big three-point shot by Jeremy Pargo puts Gonzaga up 22-18. The Zips are having a little trouble getting back in transition. Gonzaga's players are just bigger and quicker.
Akron is really staying in the game thanks to tough play from Nate Linhart, who already has 10 points. The Zips are on a run right now and need to keep it up. For some reason, Gonzaga has gone away from the low post game.
Miami University re-signed head coach Charlie Coles to a three-year contract extension today. Good move by Miami. Not only is Coles a good Mid-American Conference coach, but he has quite possibly the best scowl in collegiate sports. Watching Miami games might be boring. Watching Coles' expression is not.
Akron is up 33-28 thanks to smart play in the low post. Akron is really using a lot of finesse moves down low with success. Gonzaga's low-post offense is much better than its defense. Austin Daye now has five blocks.
Mike Bardo is in the game, but you wouldn't know it by watching the game. He has done almost nothing and doesn't box out on rebounds.
Akron is going into the half leading 38-35. Incredible. Thank Linhart. He has 13 points with three three-pointers. Someone pass the heroin!
The Zips are doing a nice job collapsing on Heytvelt in the post. On offense, Akron continues to live behind the three-point line with Roberts hitting another. I think that makes Akron six for 11 on threes.
Three minutes into this half, there is some bad basketball being played. Bad shot selection, bad fouls, bad passing. Akron needs to settle down a little and try and put a few good possessions together. It could start with Chris McKnight's three off the top of the backboard.
Chris McKnight lost a contact lens. He may or may not lead the nation in lost lens.
Mike Bardo almost ripped down the basket on a dunk. That was followed with a silly foul by Bardo. Oof. 46-41 Akron.
I didn't hear all of it clearly, but Harlan just talked about the "Humpty Dance" and his wife in the same sentence. I am fortunate to not have heard it.
Live and die by the three. Gonzaga just made one, putting them ahead 50-49. That forced the Zips to take a timeout. Akron needs to get back to getting shots for Linhart, who has no points in the second half.
Fun, and annoying, factoid with 11 minutes remaining: Gonzaga has shot 15 free throws to Akron's eight.
A silly push off foul by Jimmy Conyers already puts Gonzaga in the bonus with just under 10 minutes left. That's no good. Also no good is Brett McKnight shooting one for six.
CBS has switched to the Michigan/Clemson game. I know the pain of Michael J. Hixenbaugh.
Gonzaga is currently on a 14-3 run to go up 57-52. Bummer. Still no points in the second half for Nate Linhart. If he doesn't get back into the action in a big way, Akron won't win this game.
Heytvelt is really starting to take over the low post in this game. He has 16 points and keeps finding himself wide open near the basket.
Brett McKnight is just having a bad game. No more, no less. He just threw the ball to Gonzaga that led to a Zags basket and followed that up with an offensive foul.
The game has quickly slipped out of Akron's grasp with Gonzaga going up 64-52. If Akron loses this game, you'll know why by looking at the combined field goal percent of McNees and Brett McKnight. Currently they're one for 12 shooting.
Seemingly, everything Gonzaga is shooting is going in. Everything Akron is doing in the second half is not working. The Zips have gone 10 minutes with a made field goal.
Pargo just made a highlight-reel slam dunk, which punctuates this game for Akron. in the last several minutes of this game, it has become readily apparent the Zips have no chance.
Hey, hey! Akron made a basket! Darryl Roberts sinks a three bringing it to 74-58 Gonzaga.
Linhart gets the honorary substitution. He was electric in the first half of this game, but has done almost nothing in the second half.
Tim Carrol (or perhaps Tim Carroll) in the game. What, did the Wizard of Wadsworth finally run out of eligibility? Sorry. This second half has made me quite bitter.
Game over: Akron 64, Gonzaga 77.
Final note from me: This was a good season for Akron. Although this game turned out to be a disappointing one, there is nothing for the Zips to be ashamed of this year. All of the players except Nate Linhart are back next year and some promising young player will be in Rhodes Arena. That all makes Akron the prohibitive favorite to take the MAC next season.
The Zips had a short walk-through Thursday morning at Concordia College in Portland before returning to the team hotel for rest and a pregame meal. The team will leave for the Rose Garden about 2:30 Pacific. Coach Keith Dambrot said his biggest concern is that his team will defend well, but that Gonzaga is so big that it will throw the ball over the top for inside baskets. A personal thought: UA had some foul trouble in Cleveland, but can't afford that against Gonzaga.
The point spread has risen to its highest level of the week at 13.
A weekly newspaper had capsule scouting reports on all eight teams in Portland. It had "Reason to root for" and "Reason to root against.'' The "for" for UA: ""Freshman guard Anthony Hitchens' nickname is Humpty.'' The "against" refers to how LeBron James has scorched the Trail Blazers, including 51 points recently: "Thanks to the connection between coach Keith Dambrot and LeBron James, Akron players sport James' LJ23 Nike gear. Who wants a Blazer-killer like James to be happy?''
The Oregonian, Portland's newspaper, had Gonzaga as its major story in the sports section. The headline is: ''Mid-major no more." The Zips had a short story on page C9.
The NCAA Tournament is in Oregon for the first time since 1983 and in Portland for the first time since 1975. Part of the reason for the state snub was that the NCAA frowned on the Oregon Lottery, which had one game based on betting on the NFL. Proceeds of that went to college athletic departments. But that game was stopped several years ago, and Portland got this tournament not long after. No one said there was a connection between the two, but skeptics believe there was. Skeptics also believe the state was better served by the lottery game rather than one week of having the NCAA in Portland
It seems strange to be watching the NCAA pre-game show at 9 a.m. and seeing LSU over Butler 9-0 after two minutes.
During the press conference on Saturday night, Keith Dambrot iterated the importance of getting a favorable first-round matchup. Then he reiterated it.
Indeed, the opponent makes a huge difference for Akron. The Zips can beat a certain brand of team. And there is a brand of team that the Zips have no chance against.
The former is a team like Michigan State (or many Big Ten squads) that rely on defense without being stunningly athletic. The latter is a team like Pitt, that can score 100 points if the breeze is going the right direction and that has a roster chock full of NBA talent.
When it's a defensive showdown, Dambrot has his Zips playing on par with any team in the country. When it's a shootout... Well, Akron just can't keep up.
Gonzaga, as you have probably inferred, plays a brand of basketball that Akron will struggle mightily to compete with. They average 78.8 points per game, which is the nation's 15th highest total.
The Zags also have gross height advantages at almost every position. Comparing the starting lineups, Akron is giving up 17 inches. Those inches will account for a lot of rebounds and air space for shooting. Consider the shooting guard matchup: 6-foot Darryl Roberts and 6-5 Matt Bouldin.
Also, Akron's depth was a huge advantage in Cleveland, where opponents were dealing with back-to-back-to-back games. In Portland, Gonzaga will have had 10 days to rest since painlessly putting a sleeper hold on St. Mary's in the WCC finals.
Can Akron win? Ehh...
Here is what has to happen: The Zips have to shoot better than 50 percent from the field. Gonzaga has to miss a lot of 3s and have some of its important players get in foul trouble.
Prediction: Gonzaga 77, Akron 61
Here are some quotes from the press conference with the Zips in Portland:
Coach Dambrot on the Zags: ""I think the biggest challenge we face with Gonzaga is simple. I think, that a lot of times, when you coach you can handle tremendous size or terrific skill. But the biggest problem we have with Gonzaga is they not only have tremendous size, but terrific skill.''
Chris McKnight on the Zips work ethic: "'It comes from just working so hard earlier in the year. Coach always pushes us to go hard, especially in practice, because if it comes easier in practice then it will be a lot easier in games.''
Nate Linhart, same topic: "It's always been our motto to play harder than the other team. Coach is always constantly reminding us that we're not very skilled or talented. We had to find other ways to win. Playing hard just goes hand in hand with that.''
Darryl Roberts on the possibility of an upset: ""We are trying to stay away from that and stick to what we do. We just want to perform well and show we are capable of playing with a high conference team.''
Steve McNees on being in the tournament: ""It's been a heck of a ride for the entire group. It means a lot for not just the team, but the whole school, to make the tournament for the first time in 23 years. We are here to have fun and take it all in, but we're here to win and compete.''
The team got their first look at the Rose Garden, where they will play Gonzaga Thursday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Coach Keith Dambrot and players Nate Linhart and Chris McKnight took part in a formal press conference with the assembled reporters. The general tone of the session was how hard the Zips play. That was a followup to an earlier comment by Gonzaga Coach Mark Few: "I dont think I've ever in 20 years of watching game tape seen a team that plays that hard.''
In addition, Steve McNees, Darryl Roberts, Humpty Hitchens and Brett McKnight answered questions from tournament officials that were distributed to the press.
After that, the Zips had their alloted 40 minutes on the floor, the same as the other seven teams in Portland. The small crowd of UA fans gave them a round of applause. Most of the time was spent on shooting. At the end, Dambrot assembled the players at center court and spoke for several minutes.
I will include some of the best quotes in 15 minutes.
I had a chance to walk around Tuesday afternoon and again Wednesday morning. I like Portland, but perhaps not as much as other Pacific Northwest cities Seattle and Vancouver, where I have been recently.
It's a city that has a European feel with old buildings and half-city blocks that are easy to navigate. It has signs that say it has been honored as the Most Eco-Friendly City in America. It has parks, gardens, bike trails and fountains right in the city.
I took a long walk on the Westside Riverwalk that borders the Willamette River. Lots of walkers and bikers.
Also saw a small area dedicated to the lost art of newspapering. It had front pages of the Oregonian newspaper featuring the end of WWI, the shooting of JFK and the walk on the moon. None that said, "Oregonian closing," thankfully.
I also enjoyed Pioneer Courthouse Square, an amphitheater that is a site for entertainment. It has a pole with 20 arrows pointing to places such as Australia (8,000 miles) and Mount St. Helen (72).
Saw some people with Gonzaga gear on, but none with Akron.
Getting ready to head to the Rose Garden, where all teams will have a media session and 40 minutes on the court. The Zips are one of the last, at 515 Pacific
Ken MacDonald was the Zips sports informaton director in 1985-86 when UA made its first appearance in the NCAA Tournament. He is in Portland for the game and brought a post-season yearbook from that year.
As with the 2008-09 Zips, that team was not highly regarded headed into the season. They were picked to finish sixth in the Ohio Valley Conference, but tied with Middle Tennessee for first in the regular season and then defeated MT in the tournament final to make the NCAA Tournament.
It was interesting to see photos of a much younger Bob Huggins and assistant Frank Jessie, and of players such as Marcel Boyce and Mike Dowdell.
As a newcomer to this area that very same year, I liked seeing the list of UA employees from that season in the yearbook. I got to know and like many of them through the years, but was not completely aware of their connections to the university. In that group were the likes of Chris Bame, Pat Ciccantelli, Loralee Bolinger (later Daley), Russ Swartz, Gary Robison, Jim Corrigall, and Rocco Cona. I also liked MacDonald talking about past UA radio announcers Denny Schreiner, Whitey Wahl and Don Ursetti, who have the misfortunate of being friends of mine.
There is no question that the Gonzaga fans love their team and that the Zags are a state-wide phenomenon. I have been interviewed by five radio stations in the state, including two from Seattle. Also a newspaper reporter from Seattle called for details on the Zips. Seattle is on the other side of the state from Spokane, Gonzaga's home.
Here is more: UA ticket manager Keith Ford said he has requests for 200 tickets from Zags fans wanting to get some of the Zips allotment. Ford said between 175-200 UA fans have requested tickets.
On Tuesday night, I was watching the play-in game between Morehead State and Alabama State when the Zips got some love from the announcers. In talking about names, Humpty Hitchens of UA was mentioned. Seconds later, the zags vs. zips game was mentioned.
I am headed over to the Rose Garden in a bit after a walk around Portland, where the forecast is 55 and rain.
I arrived for my flight to Baton Rouge a few hours early, so my girlfriend could give me a ride. She's heading to Arizona.
It just so happened that Zips' fans who comment on this blog as Captain Kangaroo and Fred212 were taking the same connecting flight to Chicago as my girlfriend, en route to Portland. Ironically, the Buchtelite's Vincent Dorsey was also ready to board the jet with his brother, Nicholas. So we had a nice impromptu discussion of the Zips' hopes.
The Zips got a vote of confidence from none of us, but obviously, none of us would hold regrets over a one-and-done trip to the NCAA Tournament as long as Akron plays hard.
I strongly commend the fans making the trip. It is a helluva commitment to pay in the neighborhood of $2,000, miss work and other obligations to watch two hours of basketball. And yes, only two. Many fans booked a return flight after the first-round game, regardless of Thursday's result.
For those of you headed to Portland, I would love for you to comment on your experience. Tom Gaffney will be checking in daily, as well.
Kent State lost to Oakland tonight 80-74 in the CollegeInsider.com postseason tournament, and the Flashes missed an opportunity to extend their streak of 10 consecutive 20-win seasons in Geno Ford's first season.
If there's a silver lining, Al Fisher hit the 1,000 point mark for his career.
Ford will have a difficult time next season, but every new coach goes through the growing pains of establishing his system and finding players who best suit it.
I am back after a radio interview with a Seattle station. It's interesting how the state of Washington loves the Zags, perhaps more than the University of Washington, which also plays here in Portland. Maybe it is the underdog thing.
Anyway, kudos for the members of the athletic department for putting this trip together on short notice. No snags, a bag of food for everyone, timetables met. Dr. Proenza, you have good people in that department.
The players did look tired after a week of playing late, preparing for the next game, celebrating, doing media interviews, prepping for the Zags. The players and many in the traveling party slept for the first half of the trip.
Mum is the official word on Humpty's ankle, but he appeared to be walking well.
The Zips will practice at 4 p.m. Pacific (7 in Ohio) Tuesday at Concordia College. Another walk through is set for Wednesday there, then a press conference and 40-minute practice open to the public at 515 Pacific at the Rose Garden.
Talking informally to a few people here, most expect a Zags win.
This is Tom Gaffney. I will be blogging a bit here with the team as Mike Rasor attends to law-school duties.
The Zips traveling party includes the team, members of the athletic department, boosters, media, cheerleaders and band members. The total on the plane is 106.
Buses left the JAR at 6 and arrived at Akron-Canon Airport's McKinley Air at 620. The charter plane is a 737 run by Southwest Airlines. The plane left at 723 and the ride was smooth all the way. It landed to rain in Portland at 931. Busses then took the party to the team hotel, which is six blocks from the Rose Garden.
I was able to sit and talk with Keith Dambrot for a bit. He said the last few days have been a blur and that the game schedules in the MAC and NCAA is like "cramming for exams."
He said the key to the Gonzaga game will be controlling the tempo. He said a score in the 80 s will spell doom for his team
More in a few minutes, i have a radio interview with a Seattle station.
The Zips traveling party, with me along for the ride as a paying customer, will leave by charter at 7 a.m. Tuesday from A-C Airport. The plane is scheduled to arrive at 9:15 Pacific time.
Plans are being made to practice somewhere Tuesday, but nothing is firmed up.
On Wednesday, the Zips will have a press conference at 5:15 p.m. Pacific, followed by a workout from 5:55-6:35 on the arena floor. That's right, 40 minutes. The practice is open to the public.
I will be blogging the next few days, but not during the game.
Zips fans often desire for their team to become the "Gonzaga of the East."
Akron will have a chance to measure itself head-to-head against its role model on Thursday.
No. 13 Akron will play No. 4 Gonzaga in Portland for the program's first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1986. The winner will play Illinois or Western Kentucky in the Second Round. No. 1 North Carolina potentially awaits in the Sweet Sixteen.
It might feel like a home game for the Bulldogs. Portland is a five-hour trip from Gonzaga's campus in Spokane, Wash.
Gonzaga relies on two seniors, big man Josh Heytvelt and point guard Jeremy Pargo. The Bulldogs have lost two games to solid mid-majors, Utah and Portland State. However, they have only lost once since Jan. 7 -- and that loss was to Memphis.
I will have more on Gonzaga as the week progresses. Remember to sign up for the AK-Rowdies Bracket Challenge, now that the brackets are released.
I'm starting an NCAA Tournament Bracket Challenge of Facebook.
It is intended for AK-Rowdies, but even you "oldies" can join if you have a Facebook account. Here is the link. I will post the leaderboard directly on the blog, but you can check them on Facebook, too.
Is this sinking in for you?
I don't think I will truly believe what happened this week until I see the word "Akron" on my bracket.
It doesn't make sense that the Zips had the scare of a lifetime against Toledo. Then the team breezed through what should have been a three-day gauntlet for an exhausted team without its point guard. Akron won its three final games by a combined 30 points.
It doesn't make sense that the Zips would win the MAC this year, when most Akron fans would have been satisfied with the 20-win season because knowing brighter days were ahead, as opposed to the last two years, when Akron fans left Cleveland on Saturday terribly disappointed because the Zips seemed like a team that could make a dent in the NCAA Tournament.
Then again, Keith Dambrot's career hasn't made sense. Dumb luck allowed one of the three best athletes in the world, LeBron James, to fall into his lap. But a lack of luck (and perhaps foresight) got him fired at Central Michigan. Dumb luck put him in the right place at the right time to take over the job at his alma mater. But a lack of luck (and perhaps foresight) allowed Doug Penno's shot to fall.
As a fan, an NCAA Tournament berth is special, particularly at a school that hasn't been there since the Ronald Reagan administration. Something other than that choked me up, though. It was the ramifications for Dambrot, whose life is begging for a biography. It is a beautiful reward for someone who has fallen into controversy and vindication, into misery and triumph. This triumph is a gold star on Dambrot's resume, and he will start to get more of the credit that he deserves as being one of the nation's best mid-major coaches.
I was also happy for Nate Linhart. It is heart warming to see someone's hard work pay off in the twilight of his career. He will leave Akron as the winningest player in the program's history. It's no coincidence. As I have written several times, Linhart is everything that is right about college basketball. He cares. He leads. He respects others. He expends every ounce of energy.
You might compare this to the football team's title in 2005, the year after Charlie Frye left. But it feels different. The football team won a tiebreaker to get to Detroit, then it beat a heavy favorite on a last-moment Hail Mary. That was highway robbery. This is an overdue reward.
Freshman Jenna Compton became the second national champion in Akron history this afternoon, winning the NCAA Collegiate Individual Air Rifle Championship.
Coach Newt Engle called it the "crown jewel" of the program's accomplishments.
This season, the rifle team finished with a 5-4 record and won its sixth-straight WIRC championship.
Track athlete Christi Smith won Akron's first national championship in 1990's outdoor heptathlon.
One more team stands in Akron's path to a third-straight MAC Championship appearance.
More than just Bowling Green, there is another major obstacle. I foresaw it the moment Akron took Toledo to overtime.
I thought, even if Akron advances past Miami, the semifinals will be very difficult. Akron will be playing its third game in four nights. Plus, the Zips will not have the benefit of adrenaline that naturally comes from playing for an NCAA berth. Also, the team's starting point guard is doubtful to play.
Yes. It is a huge obstacle.
But look at it from another angle. Bowling Green also must see tonight's game as a challenge in uncharted waters. The Falcons knew they can beat Ohio. They drubbed the Bobcats by 34 just four days earlier. Akron, on the other hand, has tournament experience and beat the Falcons at home.
In the first meeting, Humpty Hitchens scored 15 points and the Zips held Bowling Green to 28 percent from the floor. That game was at Anderson Arena, and Akron won by 10. In the second meeting, it was Akron who went cold, shooting 30 percent from Rhodes Arena's floor. Brian Moten carried the Falcons and made the play of the game with a deep, fall-away 3-pointer as the shot clock wound down. Bowling Green won by four.
To avoid tired legs (which leads to poor shooting), Keith Dambrot must rely heavily on his bench. He should even consider giving Eric Coblentz and Tim Carroll some minutes.
You can see this as a No. 1 seed vs. a No. 4 seed. I prefer to see it as two equally talented teams who have to climb equally large mental mountains. The winner will get a chance to play Buffalo or Ball State and possibly stamp a landmark moment in its program.
Buffalo's Andy Robinson stole the ball with five seconds left, depriving Kent State of a chance for a game-tying 3-pointer.
The Bulls moved to the semifinals with a 65-62 win.
The win ends Kent State's streak of 10 seasons with 20 consecutive wins. Love them or hate them, you have to admit that streak was really friggin' impressive.
I'm about to head to The Q to watch Ohio vs. Bowling Green. I will blog a little during that game, I think.
Nate Linhart is the MAC Defensive Player of the Year and Brett McKnight is the Sixth Man of the Year, the MAC announced today.
Miami's Michael Bramos is the MAC Player of the Year and Ball State's Jarrod Jones is the Freshman of the Year. The MAC media voted on Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year. I think if the coaches voted on that (as they vote on the other two individual awards), Bramos would not have sniffed the POY award. I agree with the other three awards.
As I wrote below, Bramos and Linhart will duel tonight. It will be a great show.
Strangely, a lot of my classmates are catching the MAC Tournament fever.
Not even in undergrad have I engaged in so many conversations about Akron's postseason. It should be more unusual in law school, where a vast majority of students pledge allegiances to their own undergrad teams.
This is one instance in a line of instances that inspires my instinct that Akron students will throw tremendous support to the basketball program as soon as it climbs that NCAA Tournament hump. Think about it. For you Zips fans, wasn't there one experience -- or one season -- that handcuffed you to being a die-hard Akron supporter?
I believe Akron students generally are proud of their team's success, but they won't hop on a bandwagon until the team convinces them of its indisputable value. A trip to the NCAA Tournament will do that. Mark my words. If Akron wins the MAC Tournament, you will wonder, "Where did all of these fans come from?"
It might be slightly annoying, but it's the nature of mid-major college sports.
Of course, Akron must win three dogfights to get that. That fact is true of each of the eight remaining teams. Akron has its weaknesses, but they all do. Miami, Kent State and Ohio lack depth. Buffalo, Bowling Green and Ball State lack deep-tournament experience. Central Michigan is solid, but frankly is not very talented.
Miami is Akron's first test, and luckily for the Zips, they matchup well against Miami. The RedHawks are not capable of burying the Zips when Akron's inconsistent offense declines to score for five minutes at a time.
The real reason for Akron's success against Miami has been Nate Linhart. To use the cliche that Linhart is "inside Michael Bramos' head" is an understatement. Linhart owns beachfront property on the RedHawk star's frontal lobe.
Bramos is a first-team All-MAC player. Unfortunately for him, Linhart has the same body type, same athleticism and a sadistic desire to see Bramos pull an oh-fer.
My belief in Linhart's ability to guard Bramos is more than anecdotal. During Bramos' career of 119 games, he has averaged 12.5 points per game on 41.8 percent shooting. In 11 games against Akron, Bramos is averaging 10.4 points per game on 40.9 percent shooting. His highest scoring total was 15.
"Linhart has been a thorn in his side." Miami coach Charlie Coles said after Akron's win over Miami on Feb. 18.
A frustrated Coles added this about Bramos: "I don't have any confidence, I'll tell you that. Akron just stayed on him. I want to send an e-mail to all the coaches. I want to say, 'This guy is shooting 20 percent from the 3 and please stop guarding him.' We don't have anyone who can break the defense down."
Keep in mind, Bramos is a first-team All-MAC player. (Update: Bramos was named MAC Player of the Year.) He has scored more than 30 points several times this season. He is an elite scorer by MAC standards. Linhart played Bramos so tightly that Bramos' own seasoned coach candidly gave up hope for him.
Miami will rely on Bramos during this tournament, especially now that starting point guard Eric Pollitz is done with a knee injury. Pollitz was not a star, but he served as a stopgap due to Kenny Hayes' season-ending injury. Now Miami is down to its third-string point guard, Carl Richburg.
Without a confident Bramos or a point guard, Miami's slow-it-down offense will be lucky to produce 50 points tonight against a good Akron defense. If the Zips shoot with any level of competence, Akron will win and be one step closer to turning potential fan frenzy into actual fan frenzy. These days, however, that's not a given.
Central Michigan beat Akron tonight in the first round of the MAC Tournament, finishing the Zips' season.
The Chippewas ended the game on an 18-4 run, which was more than the difference in the 67-59 result.
Kara Murphy scored 32 points for the Zips. The sophomore led the MAC in scoring and made the All-MAC Team. Also returning is center Kyle Baumgartner, who made the All-MAC Freshman team. She averages 9.8 points and 7.1 rebounds per game.
Jodi Kest has recruited better players than Kelly Kennedy. Some of Kennedy's recruits were trouble off the court, too. Kest must have realized this problem when she purged some talent due to disciplinary reasons two years ago. You can't argue with how she restocked.
I teased you about seeing Humpty Hitchens and Zeke Marshall together for three years. The Lady Zips have a inside-outside corollary in Murphy and Baumgartner.
Tomorrow morning, I will preview the third game in the Akron-Miami season series.
After Day One of the MAC Tournament, 17 of 23 participants in my MAC Bracket Challenge are tied in first place with five points.
Three participants lost a point by picking Eastern Michigan. One dropped a point by predicting Northern Illinois to upset Kent State. Two players, including me, fell back two by picking Western Michigan over Ohio. (Thus, we also missed the extra upset point.)
If you want to see the scores, you can click the link below. If you have a discrepancy (or think I didn't receive your bracket), please e-mail me and we'll figure it out.
Scores after Round 1 (link is fixed)
If you weren't at the game last night, check out the plays of the game on Youtube.com...
A wounded Humpty Hitchens slung his life preserver around the Zips, twice rescuing Akron from a lackluster effort with miracle plays.
The Zips trailed by three with just seconds left in regulation. The ball, like Akron's hope, was squirting away. Hitchens, who had recently sprained his ankle, grabbed the ball and drilled a 3-pointer to tie the game with 1 second left.
Akron faced a similarly dismal outlook with 1.5 seconds left in overtime, down by one. Hitchens lobbed the ball over the defense to Brett McKnight, who dropped in the game-winning basket
Akron won a rollercoaster shootout, 93-92, which gave the Zips a ticket to the quarterfinals and a 20-win season.
"It was an unbelievable pass," assistant coach Jeff Boals said in the post-game radio show. "The pass had to be perfect."
Before both of Hitchens' heroics, Akron looked utterly hopeless. The Zips trailed by 12 with five minutes left. The team had gone 14 minutes without a field goal. Even in the last two minutes, Akron appeared sunk. The turning point was when Brett McKnight made a layup and was fouled. Nate Linhart put back the subsequent missed free throw to bring Akron within 1. After two Toledo free throws, Brett McClanahan missed a potential game-tying 3, but Brett McKnight grabbed the rebound and fed Hitchens for the game-tying 3.
Akron pulled ahead of Toledo in overtime thanks to 3-pointers from Brett McKnight and Hitchens and a key put-back from Nik Cvetinovic. Toledo found a window when Linhart threw a loose ball out of bounds. Toledo's Clayton Sterling drove and made a shot while falling forward, giving the Rockets a one-point lead. Akron had 1.5 seconds left for the Hitchens-to-Brett McKnight connection.
In an unprecedented abuse of the whistle, refs blew 62 fouls and 34 on the Zips. Akron's highest foul total this season had been 30. As the game neared a conclusion, both teams saw their benches narrow. Darryl Roberts, Chris McKnight and Steve McNees fouled out. Toledo lost Jonathan Amos, Tyrone Kent and Mohamed Lo to fouls, as well.
Kent and Amos combined for 45 points. In their final college games, they played phenomenally. Chris McKnight led Akron with 18 points. Linhart had 11 rebounds.
The game conjured two memories for me. First, it reminded me of the end of this football season, during which the Zips went from first place to irrelevant within a couple weeks. Second, it reminded me of Akron's 2006 loss to Toledo in the MAC semifinals. The Zips were favored but they had little tournament experience. The Rockets team snuck up and stabbed them in the hearts. (Who can forget then-sophomore Tyrone Kent's game-sealing midcourt steal and dunk?)
Young teams fade near the end of the season for several reasons. The large amount of minutes wears out the freshmen and newcomers who are not accustomed to five months of high-intensity basketball. Also, opponents pick up on the youngsters' tendencies.
It has not affected Hitchens.
There is no doubt that Hitchens, a true freshman, wants the ball when Akron faces danger. There is equally no doubt that Keith Dambrot ought to gladly give it to him. If you remember, Hitchens made a fabulous assist on the game-winning shot for Chillicothe in the state title game last spring.
I had a third memory during this game. Last season, I was chatting with Boals about what a certain 7-footer would bring to the Zips. Boals agreed, but he stopped me. He said, "You're going to love Humpty Hitchens."
Indeed. Both the 7-footer and Hitchens will be foundations of this program until 2012.
For now, the Zips will recuperate from a thrilling win. Then they will prepare for their Thursday game against Miami at 9:30.
I love a good sports debate as much as the next guy. But maybe we can bury the hatchet with some friendly competition.
I am organizing a MAC Bracket Challenge. You will compete as individuals and as fan bases for who can best predict the MAC Tournament outcomes. The rules are very clear and the contest is simple. Click the link below to view the contest form and rules.
The individual winner will receive an Ohio.com mug, T-shirt and calculator. The most accurate fan base will win eternal bragging rights.
Contrary to my prior post, Chris Singletary is NOT suspended for the MAC Tournament.
I apologize for the confusion. I heard the news from someone who is credible and who works for the university. Apparently, the suspension is not true at all.
I called Rick Boyages to find out how this miscommunication occurred. I got his voicemail and asked him to call me back.
As the No. 5 seed, Akron will play Toledo in the first round of the MAC Tournament on Tuesday at 6 p.m.
Here are the final standings...
1) Bowling Green -- 11-5 2) Ball State -- 7-9 3) Buffalo -- 11-5 4) Miami -- 10-6 5) Akron -- 10-6 6) Kent State -- 10-6 7) Central Michigan -- 7-9 8 ) Western Michigan-- 7-9 9) Ohio -- 7-9 10) Eastern Michigan -- 6-10 11) Northern Illinois -- 5-11 12) Toledo -- 5-11
If Akron wins Tuesday, the Zips will play Miami on Thursday at 9:30 p.m. The road to the championship theoretically would go through Bowling Green, and then Ball State/Buffalo.
Here are the other first-round matchups...
No. 5 Akron vs. No. 12 Toledo (winner plays Miami) No. 6 Kent State vs. No. 11 Northern Illinois (winner plays Buffalo) No. 7 CMU vs. No. 10 EMU (winner plays Ball State) No. 8 WMU vs. No. 9 Ohio (winner plays Bowling Green)
I quickly went over the scenarios an hour ago and completely messed it up. I apologize if you relied on that. Anyhow, I will break down the Toledo game on Monday.
I got some answers from the MAC's media contact Jeremy Guy. But it created only more questions.
It's true that the MAC West champion will serve as the tiebreaker between two or more teams that cannot settle their tie through the head-to-head tiebreaker.
It's also true that Keith Dambrot is right. The MAC will break the tie for the No. 2 seed before breaking the tie for the No. 1 seed.
That is totally contrary to the rules, which state: "All ties will be broken in the order in which they occur, from top to bottom, in the standings."
If we have to break the tie for 2nd before breaking the tie for 1st, we have a big problem. There is a strong possibility that Western Michigan and Ball State will be tied after tomorrow. Those teams split their season series, so they need an additional tiebreaker. The additional tiebreaker would have us examine how the each fared against the No. 1 seed.
By now, you are probably realizing the problem. If there is a tie for the No. 1 seed, then they need to break that tie (the one for 1st) before breaking the No. 2 seed tie. You break the tie for 1st by looking at the No. 2 seed. We are back to square one again.
If you're going to stick with this sadistic rule, the obvious answer to me is to preliminarily break the tie for 1st by using the both of the teams tied for second (and third, fourth, etc., if needed). Then you can easily break the tie for 2nd by using the single 1st-place team. Now you have your No. 2 seed. You can go back and re-break the tie for 1st using a single No. 2 seed.
It probably won't make a difference, but the system is so convoluted that another step won't hurt.
I will be frank. I'm still confused. I MUST be missing something. There is no way that the conference is misinterpreting its own rules so badly. First of all, the No. 2 seed has no business breaking the tie, considering the No. 2 seed is the seventh-best team in the conference. Second, the rules are clear that you break ties from top to bottom.
The rules also provide an example for using the combined records for a tiebreaker, rather than dropping down and breaking a tie for a lower position beforehand. ("Team A and Team B, who tied for second place, would compare against Team X and Team Y who tied for 6th as follows: Team A would compare its combined record against both X and Y against Team B’s combined record against both X and Y.")
I know someone at the MAC, who said the conference has worked out all of the potential scenarios that tomorrow might provide. I'm glad they're prepared. Next year, they need a lawyer to draft some clear tiebreaker rules. I'll do it for $200 an hour. The bill will come to about $40.
With regard to substance, there is a four-way tie for the MAC lead.
After Sunday, there could be an outright winner, which would be either Miami or Buffalo, who play each other. There could be a two-way tie between Miami/Buffalo and either Akron or Bowling Green. Or there could be a three-way tie between Miami/Buffalo, Akron and Bowling Green.
The first tiebreaker (head-to-head) is unlikely to sort out the conference champion. Keith Dambrot is concerned that the confusion relating to the second tiebreaker will cause a coin flip to determine the winner.
With regard to procedure, there are two issues:
1) Who is the "second-ranked" team for purposes of the second tiebreaker? It could be: The MAC West champion, which will occupy the No. 2 seed OR The team(s) with the second-best record, which will come from the East division. I believe it would be more fair to have the tiebreaker decided by competition against the best overall team, but what do I know? Gregg Bach says it's the MAC West team, so I believe him.
2) If there is a tie for the "second-ranked" team, is the initial step to break that tie for second, or are the first-place teams graded against each of the teams tied for second? If I understand it correctly, Dambrot said you have to break the tie for second, then apply the tiebreaker for first. That could create a TON of confusion if the tie for second descended to the second tiebreaker. From reading the MAC's Web site, I disagree.
Dambrot obviously knows what he's talking about. However, here is what the MAC's Web site says regarding my question: "When comparing tied teams against positions lower in the standings, which are also tied, those lower-tied positions will be considered as a single position for purposes of comparison. (Example: Team A and Team B, who tied for second place, would compare against Team X and Team Y who tied for 6th as follows: Team A would compare its combined record against both X and Y against Team B’s combined record against both X and Y.)"
If I am right, there is no need to break the West tie first. For example, if Buffalo and Akron are tied for first and WMU and BSU are tied for the West lead, then UA and UB compare their combined records against WMU and BSU. Akron is 2-0 against those teams. Buffalo is 1-1. Therefore, Akron wins the MAC.
I will analyze the specific scenarios tomorrow. Don't be surprised if I'm completely wrong on this. I'm astonished that a tiebreaker could be so confusing.
At first blush, Nate Linhart did not look like a player with a productive future at Akron.
Early in his career, Linhart's confidence peaked and waned depending on his offense. After his first month with the team, the coaches must have known that Linhart will not be a first, second, or even a third offensive option. He always played hard, but "playing hard" is often a euphemism for "not talented."
Something transformed Linhart from being a serviceable spare part to being an essential cog, to being a "Coach, I dare you to play without me" piece of the Zips. That transformation occurred when Linhart embraced what he is, and ignored what he is not.
It was only when Linhart accepted that truth that defense is his value. That knowledge allowed him to stride back into the locker room, knowing that regardless of how the ball bounced on the rim, he could be proud of grabbing the loose ball after an exhausting defensive stand, proud of keeping his proper crouched stance when the shot clock winded down, proud of smothering the other team's star no matter what position the star plays, proud of being the "what to do" example in Keith Dambrot's long-winded, high-volume rants, proud of convincing the underclassmen that Dambrot's defense-first attitude is an identity worth embracing, and proud of demanding the respect of every butt in the seats at Rhodes Arena -- or any arena, for that matter -- and getting it.
You could tell that Linhart pulled the best traits from players before him: Cedrick Middleton's desire. Nick Dials' toughness, grit and leadership. Romeo Travis' calmness and assurance. Jeremiah Wood's confidence. Dru Joyce's intelligence. Likewise, Nate's name deserves to be mentioned among those names when fans talk about the "good old days" 10 years from now.
Linhart probably won't get any votes for MAC Player of the Year. His season statistics are OK, but he isn't even averaging 10 points per game. His career statistics are approaching the top tier in school history, but that is mostly because of the massive amount of minutes he has played. On any given night, his box score is usually bland.
That is why Linhart is under-appreciated. But if you take him off the Zips, this is a below-.500 team. Akron is at least 15 points better each night with Linhart than without him. With respect for Chris McKnight and Humpty Hitchens, there are no Zips who are as consistently valuable.
And it goes back to Linhart's philosophy -- the one he was forced into. You play defense in the first minute as tightly as you play it in crunch time. You hustle like you're fighting for your family's life. You sweat and scrap and dive and bruise until the job is done. And when it is done, Linhart knows he will have played a more complete game than anyone else on the floor, even if he missed all of his shot attempts.
Linhart probably has no future in American pro basketball, but his size, quickness and work ethic make him a better candidate than any Zip in the past 10 years. He reminds me of a poor man's Tayshaun Prince. Unless Prince makes a stellar defensive play, no one pays much attention. Analogous to Linhart, Prince was a necessary cause for the Pistons' NBA titles.
Indeed, it's easy to overlook Nate's worth in the statbook. While you're watching him tonight in his last regular season home game, pay attention to contributions that statisticians cannot quantify. You'll begin to understand what Dambrot said Sunday: "Everybody thinks we will be a good team next year, but he won't be easy to replace, I will tell you that."
Linhart is the antithesis of the modern-day basketball culture. He doesn't want to mimic the And1 Mixtape guy. He knows he will never score 40 points. He doesn't want all of the attention on him. Nate is a throwback player who is humble, works hard and does it because it's the way you're supposed to play, not for the individual glory.
If Akron wins a MAC Championship in the dusk of Linhart's up-and-down career, it will be an appropriate bounty for one player who deserves it. If Akron does not, Linhart will still have the peace of mind that every moment he was on the floor was a moment where he expended his tank for his coaches, teammates and fans.
For every "hit" in recruiting season, there are several misses.
Akron offers about five scholarships for every one scholarship it has to give. Here is a rundown of what happened to some of the "misses" of the last five years...