Akron will play Bowling Green at noon on Sunday at Rhodes Arena.
Humpty Hitchens drilled two critical free throws to clinch a road victory for Akron at Buffalo, 62-57.
With a two point lead, Nate Linhart made a costly turnover with a minute left. Buffalo did not capitalize. The Bulls gave the ball back on an offensive foul. Buffalo fouled Hitchens with 14.9 seconds left, where the freshman gave Akron an insurmountable four-point lead.
Akron shot 52 percent from the field, compared to Buffalo's 41 percent. Rodney Pierce led the Bulls with 20 points. Chris McKnight led Akron's team effort with points (11) and rebounds (four).
The win moves Akron into great position in the division. Bowling Green held off Kent State at home. Ohio dominated Miami in Athens. Therefore, Akron, Buffalo and Bowling Green are tied at 9-4. Bowling Green holds a tiebreaker over Buffalo. Akron has a chance to earn a tiebreaker over Bowling Green on Sunday.
I will preview the game tomorrow.
It seemed like this day would never come.
Akron's coaching staff formally decided to implement the 3-4 defense, a source told me.
The unpopular, gimmicky 3-3-5 had a few proud moments. For the most part, though, it was ineffective. A week ago, 59 percent of you voted that Akron use a 3-4 defense, 40 percent of you voted for a 4-3 scheme, and only 1 percent voted that Akron retain a 3-3-5 defense.
Now that fan disdain has hit a crescendo and the Zips' personnel does not match the 3-3-5, the coaches have finally settled on moving to a 3-4. It is likely that J.D. Brookhart and Jim Fleming wanted input from their new linebackers coach, Vince Okruch, before telling players of the decision.
The coaches had been watching tape of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens -- pro teams that use the 3-4. Only a handful of college teams use the 3-4, including Al Groh's Virginia Cavaliers.
What does this mean for the players? I have to believe that Almondo Sewell moves back to his natural position of outside linebacker. Shawn Lemon also will man a linebacker position.
I feel like Brookhart has given fans a gift for every week of February with the recruiting class, Shane Montgomery, Walt Harris and now the resurrection of the defense through an impressive linebackers coach and abandonment of the 3-3-5.
This is almost getting comical. How many overqualified assistant coaches can J.D. Brookhart possibly corral?
ESPN.com is reporting that the Zips found a linebackers coach who was previously a defensive coordinator at Illinois and Colorado. Vince Okruch is his name, and in 2006, he led the Illini to a 33rd-ranked defense.
Okruch left Illinois' staff due to personal reasons in July 2007. He replaces Mike Dawson, who took the linebacker job at Boston College.
At least one writer believes Kevin Grant is a bona fide pro. He plays smart and was active in 2008. To me, it would be all about his speed at the Akron Pro Day.
Athletic director Mack Rhoades will remain at Akron, as Rutgers chose its radio announcer to be the new AD.
The winner, Tom Pernetti, is also a vice president at CBS. He played tight end at Rutgers. Scarlet Knights' football coach Greg Schiano was Pernetti's high school coach for a year. The Big East nearly chose Pernetti as its commissioner in the fall.
With all of these connections, Rhoades faced a clear uphill battle. His consideration should be a testament to the direction in which Akron's athletic department is heading. A lot of credit, of course, also is due to Mike Thomas' administration and the undying support from president Luis Proenza.
I am one of three statewide finalists for the Associated Press' award of Best Blogger.
The award includes the biggest newspapers in Ohio -- ones with a daily circulation of more than 75,000. My competitors are both from the Columbus Dispatch: Aaron Portzline, who covers the Blue Jackets; and Darrel Rowland, who covers public affairs.
I will know the results in May. I am really excited. I'll use this opportunity to give a shout-out to this blog's creator, Mike Waddell, who might find a new AD job before Rhoades.
Akron tips off against Buffalo tonight at 7.
With every week, the MAC Tournament picture becomes clearer.
Since last week, Miami and Buffalo lost and fell a game back toward the pack. Akron, Kent State and Bowling Green won, making a big, fat cluster of teams at 8-4. (As Charlie Coles said, teams are looking to transfer to the MAC so they can be in second place, too.)
Ohio, Ball State and Western Michigan are falling out of contention for first-round byes. One of the West teams is guaranteed the No. 2 seed, but the other one is losing hope.
1) Buffalo -- 9-3 2) Ball State/Western Michigan -- 6-6 3) Akron -- 8-4 --Miami -- 8-4 --Bowling Green -- 8-4 --Kent State -- 8-4 7) Ball State/Western Michigan -- 6-6 --Ohio -- 6-6
Therefore, the ultimate consequence of last week's results is that five teams will fight for three first-round byes over the next two weeks. As much as last week simplified the scenarios, Thursday's games should be even better. Here are the games to watch...
Kent State @ Bowling Green -- My predictor formula says Kent State will win. The Flashes are on fire, so I agree.
Akron @ Buffalo -- Predictor formula: Buffalo. Gut feeling: Akron. Bowling Green went to UB and beat the Bulls rather easily last week. If Akron > BG and BG > UB, then Akron > UB ... Right?
Miami @ Ohio -- Predictor formula: Ohio. I will stick with that. My instincts tell me that Ohio will gain momentum. It doesn't make sense that the Bobcats would have a great post player and solid point guard, yet tank this season. It's too late for the Bobcats to get a bye, but I think they'll beat Coles' RedHawks on Thursday.
It took a lot of encouragement, but Valparaiso scored 14 points more than its season average against what is supposed to be a smothering defense.
The Crusaders pulled off an upset over the visiting Zips, 74-66. It was a game in which Akron led by 18 in the first half.
Keith Dambrot said his team played without toughness. Homer Drew praised his Crusaders for not quitting.
Akron plays next on Thursday at Buffalo. I will preview the game on Wednesday, but probably talk a little about the MAC sometime before then.
Mack Rhoades is one of three finalists for the athletic director job at Rutgers.
Most fans realized Akron was a stepping stone for Rhoades. I didn't think, however, that he would want to move up so soon. Tom Gaffney quotes an anonymous source (hey, that's my game!), who says Rhoades would take the job, if offered.
I would have blogged about the Valpo game sooner, but I was out all night celebrating my election as Editor-in-Chief of Akron Law Review. I'm really excited about the job. I have never been more nervous than when I was waiting to get a phone call with my verdict on Saturday afternoon.
Akron Law Review is ranked No. 43 in the nation among law journals. I was completely flattered to accept the prestigious position, but it will mean I won't graduate until May 2010.
In the interview, the current editors asked me if I would continue to blog if I was Editor-in-Chief. My answer was an unequivocal "yes."
The ABJ's Mark Price featured Crouse Gymnasium in his weekly history column. Apparently, it was "the finest gym west of the Alleghenies."
It was the site to Akron's stunning 36-30 victory over Yale in 1907. Two members of that Akron team went on to found General Tire. Like at Rhodes Arena, UA had a history of building impressive winning streaks at home, until the team outgrew the arena and moved to Memorial Hall. Crouse Gymnasium was demolished in 1965.
The ABJ's Patrick McManamon showed his excitement about the Walt Harris hire and talked to Harris about how his career brought him to Akron.
Akron did not have a problem with offense. Still, J.D. Brookhart replaced Joe Moorhead, who served as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, with two former head coaches. I will steal Rotoworld.com's nickname by calling them "the brain trust." It's all very exciting.
Wait, hold on. Isn't the defense the problem -- more particularly, the run defense? Yes! And this has been an ongoing issue.
In 2008, Akron was 11th out of 13 MAC teams in run defense. In 2007, Akron was seventh, but actually gave up more yards per game.
You can point to a lot of causes. Akron lost many solid defensive linemen who would have been upperclassmen the past two seasons. For example, the Zips were 0-for-5 in retaining defensive linemen who signed in 2005. The team got two linemen from the 2004 class, but Jared Cecchetti and Eric Lively were recruited at other positions. The 2006 class produced only Shawn Lemon and Mitchell Magloire.
Another excuse could be the opponents. The Zips played great running teams in nonconference games, such as Wisconsin, Ohio State and UConn. Those teams rushed for 404, 196 and 262 yards, respectively.
The third, and most popular cause, is that the defensive scheme is a dead loser against the run. Akron has used a 3-3-5 defense since Brookhart arrived on campus. Early on, it received some positive press -- particularly when its novelty was stumping nonconference coaches. Most fans have soured on it as Akron coughs up 10-yard gains by the dozen.
So you have three potential reasons why Akron's run defense has withered. More than likely, all three have played a role. But at this point in the offseason, the coaches only can fix one of the problems: the scheme.
Here are three options for 2009:
Akron's quarterbacks will learn from a man who coached in the Fiesta Bowl.
Walt Harris coached Pitt for 13 years, including six bowl games. J.D. Brookhart was an assistant for Harris before Brookhart came to Akron. Now their roles are reversed. Harris will coordinate the passing game and serve as quarterbacks coach for Brookhart.
More recently, Harris was head coach at Stanford, which fired him after an injury-ridden 1-11 season.
With Harris' connections to Pitt and Ohio State (former QB coach), he will be a major recruiting weapon, as well. Akron's solid stable of young quarterbacks will benefit from Harris' strong ability to groom quarterbacks.
He joins a loaded offensive staff that also includes former Miami coach Shane Montgomery, whose father confirmed the hiring. The school will announce it today, according to Montgomery's father.
For 40 minutes, Akron and Miami played to a deadlock on Jan. 10.
Akron relinquished a late lead and the momentum in the last minute of regulation. The RedHawks made 6-of-9 shots in overtime, while the Zips went 1-for-6. The disparity led to a 64-51 Miami win.
The teams have both succeeded since that meeting. Miami is 7-3. Akron is 8-3.
Both teams have an extra weapon who was not present on Jan. 10. The Zips tore the redshirt off Brett McClanahan, who has provided scoring in spurts. Miami received the services of sophomore swingman Antonio Ballard, who was out with a thumb injury. He has been a solid scorer and rebounder.
I expect Akron to be a six-point favorite.
The Akron blue and gold must be a soothing sight for Northern Illinois shooters.
For the second-straight year, an underdog Huskies team knocked off Akron with a tremendous shooting performance. Northern Illinois shot 48 from the field and beat the Zips, 83-79.
Akron went on a 16-0 run midway through the second half to reduce Northern Illinois' 19-point lead to three. The Huskies extended the lead and were ahead by nine with only four minutes to play.
A Brett McKnight jump shot tied the game with 1:40 left. Jake Anderson retook the lead for NIU with a three-point play.
Chris McKnight made a layup to cut the lead to one. Akron fouled Anderson, who made both free throws. Chris McKnight missed an open three-point attempt to tie the game. Anderson sealed the game with two made free throws.
Anderson led NIU with 24 points and 10 rebounds. Nate Linhart scored 19 for Akron.
I had a feeling that the Zips were due to lose a winnable game. It is a young team, and these losses happen to even experienced squads. Last year, for example, Western Michigan creamed the Zips by 20.
The Zips play next Wednesday at 7 p.m. at home against Miami. Tomorrow, I will break down the remainder of the MAC regular season.
Akron is in the running for "one of the most coveted players in the nation," according to Rivals.com.
Adreian Payne is a 6-foot-9 center, whom Rivals.com ranks the No. 10 player in the country. Scout.com calls him as the No. 4 center. Both sites give Payne five stars.
Rivals.com asked Payne who is recruiting him, and Payne ran off a list of 10 schools, including Akron. Then Payne said, "I'm still considering everybody. There have been a lot of coaches that have come down to see me."
Payne attends high school in Dayton. The schools that have offered a scholarship include: Ohio State, Kentucky, Dayton, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Tennessee, West Virginia, Xavier and Akron. To this point, he has only visited Dayton and Xavier.
Akron will play NIU Sunday at
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.
Akron unleashed perhaps its most efficient offensive performance of the season in a 87-63 beating of Western Michigan.
Akron dished 20 assists, committed only 10 turnovers and shot 56 percent from the field. By contrast, Western Michigan had seven assists and 19 turnovers.
Brett McKnight led the Zips with 19 points. Chris McKnight led the team with eight rebounds. WMU's David Kool scored a game-high 23.
Akron moved to 6-3 in the MAC, which is tied for third. East Division teams went 6-0 against the West this weekend. Next up is Ball State at Rhodes Arena Wednesday at 7 p.m.
Akron will continue its march through the MAC West on Sunday at 2 p.m. when Western Michigan comes to Rhodes Arena.
Believe it or not, Akron has already extended scholarship offers to about 15 high school juniors who will graduate and sign with their colleges in 2010.
The coaches start the process by using two search firms that scope players in their targeted regions. At this early point in the process, they pinpoint players they know will be worth a scholarship.
The downside is that BCS schools know the same thing. For example, none of Akron's early targets from 2009 ended up signing with the team. Patrick Nicely had such talent, but nobody knew it during his junior year, when he threw lollipops to make sure his receivers could catch the ball. (Once he started to show off his cannon arm, the offers came in.)
Refresh your browser every half-hour or so for updates...
Today is the first day that a high school football player can sign a binding National Letter of Intent. It binds the university to provide a scholarship to the athlete for one year. It binds the athlete to attend the institution for one year. Basically, it's a huge relief to all parties involved. Unless you're Bubba Walther, the signing also marks the point where other schools must cease recruiting you.
The NLI tradition began in 1964 with seven conferences and eight independents. Now it has grown to become the protocol for 610 institutions in Division I and Division II.
For hardcore football fans, it has almost become a holiday. You can analogize it to a hypothetical glorious day when the NFL Draft (incoming players) and all free agents sign with their new teams (transfers). On the other hand, the true dividends normally don't pay until two years later. What do you think?
Updated: 8:55 a.m.
Akron traveled to Eastern Michigan and thumped the hapless Eagles, almost doubling their opponent by a 78-41 count.
The Zips put together their most complete effort, forcing 23 EMU turnovers and shooting 46 percent themselves.
"We're getting good balance," coach Keith Dambrot said on the post-game radio show. "We're getting good bench play. You can see we're getting better. We are shooting the ball better."
Nate Linhart and Darryl Roberts led Akron with 13 points. Linhart also grabbed a team-high seven rebounds.
EMU's best player, Brandon Bowdry, sat most of the game with foul trouble. Because of some garbage-time hoops, he led the Eagles with 12 points. Justin Dobbins snatched 10 rebounds. EMU shot 33 percent from the field.
Akron won its fifth-straight game, moving to 14-8 and 5-3 in the MAC. Buffalo, who leads the MAC, almost lost at home tonight to Central Michigan.
"Pretty soon, if we play well, we have a similar season to what we've had in the past," Dambrot said.
Next up is Western Michigan on Sunday at 2 p.m. I will preview the game on Friday.
Tomorrow is NLI Signing Day. I will cover the event with several posts throughout the day.
Akron will travel to Valparaiso for its BracketBuster matchup on Feb. 21, the ABJ's Tom Gaffney reports.
Valpo is 6-16 and 3-8 in the Horizon League. Also read that story to learn about why Darryl Roberts is not on scholarship.
The fifth step in Akron's midseason breather is tomorrow when the Zips play Eastern Michigan in Ypsilanti at 7 p.m.