I'll preface this column by saying I am a huge admirer of Coach Keith Dambrot. He is every bit the coach that Bob Huggins was. However, given the statistics, this is just an adjustment that I see necessary for the Zips to hold a lead on the road.
Here it is...
If you have heart or anger problems, think twice before watching an Akron men’s basketball game.
In five games away from Rhodes Arena this year, Akron has built a large first-half lead. Each of those leads evaporated.
Akron gained a seven-point lead against Clemson, a 21-point lead at Central Michigan, an 11-point lead at Ohio, a 20-point lead at Bowling Green and a 9-point lead at Kent State on Saturday.
On the road, Akron often plays like Duke in the first half. Then they play like Duquesne in the second half.
That shouldn’t happen. Akron has one of the deepest teams in the Mid-American Conference. The Zips should thrive late in the game. Yet that’s when the players look most exhausted.
It happens because Akron shoots too many 3-point shots with a big lead. Shooting 3-pointers leads to long rebounds. That causes a faster tempo because of frequent fast breaks going the other way.
Constantly sprinting back on defense will make any team tired. That’s not to say the Zips stop hustling. However, their long-range shots eventually become less accurate due to tired legs.
In those five games, Akron shot 48 percent on 3-pointers in the first half (26-for-54) and 14 percent in the second half (7-for-50).
Keep in mind, Akron was still good enough to win in overtime after Central Michigan and Bowling Green came back from huge leads. That is only because Akron has some of the most mentally tough players in the country.
But the games never should have gone to overtime.
To avoid a relapse at Eastern Michigan on Saturday, the Zips need to concentrate on the inside game. A post player should touch the ball near the paint on every possession. The Zips have valuable assets in big men Romeo Travis, Matt Futch and Rob Preston.
Travis, in particular, should see the ball more often, and not on the perimeter. He should bang around and draw double teams in the paint. When that happens, he can shoot, allowing Futch or Preston to crash the boards, or he can pass the ball out to Nick Dials or Dru Joyce for an open 3. At the very least, that strategy causes the other team to get in foul trouble.
Some say Akron lost those leads because they played several games in a short span. Maybe fatigue naturally set in due to the rigorous MAC schedule. But if the Zips want to play in the NCAA Tournament, they probably will have to win the MAC Tournament. To win the MAC Tournament, Akron might have to play three games in three days.
It may seem like I am blowing this out of proportion. After all, Akron is still 9-2 in conference play and 16-5 overall. The Zips play smart, cautious basketball. And they are one of the MAC’s best on defense.
Still, the offensive game plan must change if Akron is to go to the Big Dance. That way the faint of heart can enjoy a Zips game, just like the rest of us.