When the season started, Akron's defense was so-so. The offense was unreliable -- at best. Mainly, everyone on the roster could play offense or defense, but not both.
It is inevitable that the spirit of Zips Nation would rise with such a long stretch of cupcakes. However, each facet of the team appears to be improving, game by game.
Two turning points stick out to me:
1) The burning of Brett McClanahan's redshirt on Jan. 17 at Bowling Green. McClanahan has been a nice offensive boost, for sure. This decision was most important, however, for the message it sent to the team. "This is not a rebuilding year. We are not simply waiting for Zeke Marshall's limousine to pull up. We can win a MAC Championship this year, and we are going for it."
2) The overtime loss at Ohio on Jan. 20. Before the game, the Bobcats appeared to be the cream of the MAC. Akron held a lead with a minute to play at their raucous Convocation Center before falling in overtime. Even though it was a loss, it proved to the Zips that they could be conference contenders.
The main question for the rest of the regular season is whether the Zips can secure a first-round bye in the MAC Tournament. Despite winning six in a row, it's not a slam dunk. The winner of the West division will earn one bye automatically. If Western Michigan and Ball State lose only a couple additional games each, they both could earn byes. That would leave two byes for the entire MAC East to fight for.
Winning the MAC regular season is another goal, but Akron would have to make up two games on Buffalo, one on Miami and hope one of the aforementioned West teams doesn't catch fire against its muffin-soft division rivals. There are very few paths to the regular season title that do not include a road win against Buffalo, who already came to Rhodes Arena and beat Akron.
A more realistic goal is continuing Keith Dambrot's streak of consecutive 20-win seasons. The team has reached the mark three straight years. Basketball experts never would have predicted this, particularly after Akron almost lost to Walsh at home in November. Three months later, it appears likely that the Zips reach 20.
Here are the remaining games and my preliminary predictions:
Ball State - W @ Northern Illinois - W Miami - W @ Valparaiso - W @ Buffalo - L Bowling Green - W Ohio - W @ Kent State - L
That gives Akron 21 wins in the regular season. Presumably, the Zips would win another game or two in Cleveland. What do you think?
Michael Beaven compiled a list of all the local high school players who signed National Letters of Intent.
Akron's signing class was strong, but it seems like the coaches passed over a lot of local talent, whose presence would help attendance and community support.
Of the 11 Division I-A signees in the Akron area, the Zips offered scholarships to three of them. Only one signed with Akron.