I arrived back in Cleveland at 7 a.m. today. That was probably the longest, most grueling day I've been through in a while.
Anyhow, I want to thank the readers of this blog for the privilege of reporting to you about a subject you care so deeply about. Without the dozens of thousands of page views, I would probably have been cut off already. I do enjoy it.
But back to basketball ... Is there a coach in America you would rather have than Keith Dambrot? My answer is, "no." He did his best job coaching this year, for sure. It was mostly mental and less X's and O's. He also is humble enough to be self-examining, cautiously pondering whether his techniques need to be adjusted.
He put the Zips in a position to win. It was a bad shooting game, and there's not much you can do about that. The players got the ball in good positions, and they had open shots. No one player is to blame. You might point to Zeke Marshall's 2-for-13 statistics, but it was almost unfair to start pouring the ball into him after ignoring him offensively since February.
The Zips will lose a lot of scoring next year, but there is potential to improve on the whole. Here is a rough outlook on each position.
The Zips will have the luxury of playing two talented players at this position in Alex Abreu and Xavier transfer Brian Walsh. Whispers are that Walsh is currently the best guard on the roster. Akron would be in the unusual position of losing two senior guards, but perhaps being just as strong the following year.
This is Brett McClanahan's position. With Steve McNees's absence, he will be the senior leader of the team. The difference between Akron being good and Akron being great may be the possibility that McClanahan becomes a shut-down defender. If Blake Justice is ready to play, there could be some minutes for the true freshman. Walsh is likely to get minutes here also.
Quincy Diggs solidified his place in Dambrot's system toward the end of the year. He will likely be the starter, but watch for Chauncey Gilliam to begin earning minutes. Both players can also get minutes at shooting guard.
Another key to next season is whether Nik Cvetinovic returns to school. He would immediately be a favorite to be First-Team All-MAC. If Cvetinovic is gone, then Josh Egner must immediately become a 20-minute-per-game player. And then there's the two X-Factors: Demetrius Treadwell and Nick Harney. Insiders who watched them play in high school rave about these players. Akron has a chance to become a better rebounding team with Treadwell and Harney.
The only senior without a replacement ready is Mike Bardo. Akron will need a backup center. Without Cvetinovic, that would be even more problematic. Dambrot will have to rely on 6-foot-7 forwards Egner, Treadwell or Harney against guys who are several inches taller. But that's not all bad, considering the contrast with the style of Zeke Marshall.
Elton Alexander made a good point last night. He said that Akron will look a lot like an Atlantic-10 team next season, with the team's length and athleticism. What the team gains in those categories, it will lose some in overall skill. You can't count on replacing successful senior guards that easily.
With that said, the team has a lot of upside. And there is no excuse for not having a non-conference schedule with a handful of "big boys." It will be a missed opportunity for taking the program to the "next level" if Akron doesn't get four to seven chances to slay a Goliath.
The other offseason concern is Cvetinovic. Losing him would be akin to losing five games, because I think he makes that big of a difference.
The team will be taking an international trip to Canada this summer, which the NCAA allows every so often. That trip will hopefully give the new components of the team an extra advantage over most years.
Spring practice begins on Wednesday. The annual Spring Game is Saturday, April 16 at 1 p.m.
I will try to make it to a couple practices and the Spring Game to give you an idea of whether there is excitement surrounding the team, as it tries to rebound from a 1-11 season.