Within a week of Easter Sunday, Jim Christian accepted an offer to coach at Texas Christian Univerisity. It was a divine turn of events for Zips fans.
Christian, the former Kent State coach, had entertained offers from schools at bigger conferences for years. Someone who knows more than me about college basketball told me that a coach who accepts a lot of junior college players typically is looking to move up, and soon.
Candidates to replace Christian include former Toledo coach Stan Joplin, KSU assistant Geno Ford and Oklahoma assistant Oronde Taliaferro.
Despite my earlier sentiment in this post, don't expect Kent State to fall out of contention. After Gary Waters left, Stan Heath (a former neighbor of mine) took the team to the Elite Eight. After Heath left, KSU athletic director Laing Kennedy found a jewel in Christian.
It is always possible, however, that your coaching selection will be a clunker.
Whether you liked how the season concluded or not, Akron fans must admit this team overachieved.
From being picked fourth in the division to winning a postseason game, it was a tumultuous season. There were injuries upon injuries. Many players, such as Nate Linhart, Cedrick Middleton and Steve McNees, experienced drastic ups and downs.
Heading into next year, the Zips will lose the league's most dominant post scorer, the league's most fiery leader and the league's hardest worker, as well as a situational shooter and athletic role player.
Next year's team will be very young. The roster will feature one senior and two juniors (assuming Jimmy Conyers and Darryl Roberts get their fourth year of eligibility).
Akron's next challenge on the road to Madison Square Garden is Massachusetts. The teams will play on ESPN Saturday at noon.
The Minutement score a lot of points (81.9), but also allow a lot (75.8). The statistics indicate a porous defense, but that isn't quite true. UMass plays a fast-paced game, so that skews the stats.
The Minutemen's weakness comes at the foul line (66.7 percent) and, despite their size, on the glass. They have a rebounding deficit this season. However, the team averages more than seven blocks per game.
On offense, swingmen Gary Forbes and Ricky Harris are Nos. 1 and 7 in scoring in the Atlantic-10, respectively. Forbes and forward Etienne Brower are Nos. 5 and 9, respectively, in the league's rebounding leaders. Point guard Chris Lowe averages 6.1 assists per game, which is 16th in the nation.
On defense, Lowe and Harris are among the league leaders in steals. Big men Dante Milligan and Tony Gaffney are among the A-10's top four shot blockers.
Akron will face a strong challenge from UMass' size. Forbes is 6-foot-7. Milligan, Gaffney and Brower are each around 6-8 or 6-9. Two things work in Akron's favor. First, the Zips have one of the nation's best wing defenders to stop Forbes. Nate Linhart never has had a chance to guard someone his own size. If he can defend that well with mismatches, he should be able to lock down Forbes. Second, UMass doesn't use its big men as offensive weapons. They are mostly defenders and rebounders.
Those big guys will give Jeremiah Wood problems, however. They also will plug any dribble penetration from the Zips. That means Akron must have its 3-pointers falling to win. UMass defends the perimeter well, so that will be a challenge.
The Minutement average about 5,000 fans per game, but only 2,112 showed up at the William D. Mullins Center to watch the first-round game against Stephen F. Austin. The home court isn't likely to provide much of an advantage Saturday, either.
The winner will travel to Syracuse for a game on Tuesday. The Orange beat Maryland Thursday night.
Florida State is Akron's first high-major opponent since 2005 (and we wonder why the RPI never suits the Zips).
Usually, teams from the Power Six conferences feature a lot of size, speed and athleticism. FSU is no different.
Florida State also is a good jumpshooting team. FSU leads the conference at 77 percent from the free throw line. The Seminoles shoot 35.4 percent on 3-pointers. The downside to that is the offense will rely on jump shots, withing getting much movement. The Seminoles are last in the ACC with only 11.1 assists per game.
Despite having a roster with five players taller than 6-foot-9, FSU does not dominate on the boards or block many shots. Uche Echefu, a 6-9 junior from Nigera, is among the league leaders in rebounds at 7.2 per game, however.
In FSU's worst losses, such as versus NC State, South Florida and Cleveland State, the Seminoles have not taken care of the ball and/or allowed a high opponent 3-point percentage. In their best performances, such as versus North Carolina, Florida and Clemson, they have forced a lot of turnovers, dominated the boards and/or puckered up the defense on the perimeter.
Toney Douglas is the main offensive option, scoring an average of 15.6 points per game. The 6-1 junior is a steady scorer who attempts a lot of 3's and forces turnovers. His backcourt mate Jason Rich has been the one carrying FSU the past couple weeks. Rich averages 14.7 points per game.
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Some things running through my mind...
Keith Dambrot called a postseason appearance imperative. He's actually said it a few times this year. I wonder what repercussions he foresaw if Akron got snubbed again.
Clearly, it would have demoralized the players who worked so hard to win 23 games. Next season, once it appears Akron won't win 27 or 28 games, the coaches would find it harder to motivate the team. In essence, the season would come down to the MAC Tournament. Everything before the tournament only serves the purpose of getting a first-round bye in that tournament.
It probably would have affected recruiting, too. Zeke Marshall has the attention of the nation's heaviest hitters. Rivals.com featured the 7-footer as one of the 2009 class' most intriguing players. He has visited Rhodes Arena at least once. A second-straight snub, and you can bet Pitt's Jamie Dixon would be whispering in his ear, "Zeke, why waste your time with Akron? You have no shot to do anything special there."
As for Florida State, this won't be a team that overlooks the NIT. The Seminoles are frequent participants in the tournament. They typically play well. Last year, they dispatched Toledo and Michigan before losing in the quarterfinals to Mississippi State. I will break down the opponent tomorrow.
Akron's program is still building to the level of elite mid-major (which I think we all can agree Kent State has reached with 20 wins in the past 10 seasons). That will make the Zips extra pumped to advance to Madison Square Garden for the quarterfinals. [Click here for the bracket.] There is an even earlier light in the tunnel because a win Tuesday gives the Zips a potential home game against Stephen F. Austin. (I promise to limit myself to three "Stone Cold" references if that happens.)
That said, the NIT is a little anticlimactic. The Zips reached the MAC Championship and lost. Usually, that's where your movie or novel concludes.
Some people are calling Dambrot a bad coach. I can't think of a greater fiction without popping in a Michael Moore documentary. If that's the case, there must be only one good coach in the conference -- Jim Christian. Charlie Coles? No. Tim O'Shea? No. Steve Hawkins? No.
Everyone in MAC Land thought Dambrot struck dumb luck by finding Romeo Travis and Dru Joyce. But once those two players were gone, Akron would return to the tank. That didn't happen. They will predict the same thing next fall, too.
Zips fans are faulting Dambrot for not having a good gameplan for beating Kent State. Well, Christian must not have had a good gameplan last year for beating Akron. The more plausible reality is that KENT STATE WAS A BETTER TEAM. Akron had a good strategy for Al Fisher, but Haminn Quaintance, Jordan Mincy and Mike Scott are talented, athletic, smart basketball players. (Yes, despite his demeanor, I believe "Q" has tons of basketball IQ.)
As a fan, it's easy to overreact when unreasonable expectations don't come to fruition. Akron is like any other school in that sense. Just remember, only one team from the conference goes to the NCAA Tournament. It doesn't make you a bad coach or bad player to be part of one of the other 11. If Dambrot swings and misses at the Dance floor for an entire decade, then you start to question his methods.
Dambrot is a gracious winner and an even better loser. For example, an arrogant reporter asked Dambrot a leading trap question during the postgame press conference Sunday. Everyone would have understood if Dambrot unleashed on the young man. Rather, he showed incredible temperance, and he even apologized for asking a rhetorical question in response.
Before you criticize, understand that Dambrot is winning A LOT of games and improving the program every year. He is a superb ambassador for the university. The bottom line is, this program isn't worth a CBI bid without Keith Dambrot.
The Zips drew a No. 6 seed in the NIT, pitting them against Florida State.
The teams will play in Tallahassee on Tuesday at 9 p.m. ESPN Classic will televise it.
The winner will face Massachusetts or Stephen F. Austin. If SFA wins, Akron would get a home game. Syracuse is the No. 1 seed in the Zips' portion of the bracket.
FSU went 19-14 this season and 7-9 in the ACC. The Seminoles took North Carolina to overtime on Feb. 3.
Some Zips fans wanted Akron to travel to Columbus for a showdown with the Buckeyes. Ohio State earned a No. 1 seed and will face 7-foot-7 Kenny George and UNC-Asheville, who won the Big South regular season title. Cleveland State got a No. 6 seed and will play Dayton, who is a 3 seed.
Seven teams this year earned the automatic bid, similar to UNC-Asheville. With the exception of Stephen F. Austin and Virginia Commonwealth, each of those occurrences took away at-large bids. VCU earned a 4 seed.
Among the resources available to the committee are various computer rankings, head-to-head results, chronological results, Division I results, non-conference results, home and away results, results in the last twelve games, rankings, polls and the NABC regional advisory committee rankings. (Source: NIT.org)
Nitology.com's most recent update says Akron is now included the NIT field.
This juggling shows two things: 1) Akron has no chance at getting an NIT home game. 2) Akron will be playing somewhere, since it's firmly on the NIT bubble.
Dambrot -- "The last time we were here, it wasn't too pleasant."
"I thought our younger guys really played well. Brett McKnight and Roberts were really good."
"We did a good job of throwing it inside. Our guards did a good job of taking care of the basketball."
On Wood running the fast break: "I quit arguing with him."
"We didn't do anything different after they hit the 3's. The key was the job that we did on Watson. We started Ceddy on him to tire him. Nate took him later on. That length bothered him. In fairness to Watson, we've caught him tired both times. He played a lot of minutes last night."
WMU "beat us really badly. It was a little misleading because we came back and tried to trap. That's the worst loss we've ever had in the league. It will be a war. We have to match their physicality. They're one of the most physical teams in the country. We're going to have our hands full."
"Hopefully, we can get Woody to play games two and three. We have to be prepared to play whether he can go or not."
"Brett McKnight will lead us in scoring next year. He is an unbelievable talent. We're just scratching the surface. He can shoot it. He's strong. He can shoot on the blocks. He's a good ball-handler, passer. On top of that, he's an unbelievable person."
"It's a big challenge (for Wood to play three games in a row). He's going to try, though. I can guarantee that."
"This team has beaten the good teams and struggled against the average teams. It really doesn't matter (whether it's) Reitz, Quaintance. We have to do a good job on Kool. That's the key."
Linhart -- Watson "is a great player. I just tried to use my length to stay in front of him. I just tried to make it hard on him."
"Thankfully for us, they cooled down."
Wood -- "I just was going to play basketball today. If I see an angle, take it. We're at the point in the season where every game is your last game if you don't play well enough. I don't want to leave anything on the table."
"I can't express how good I felt when we were shooting those free throws (against Miami). One shot, and it was gone."
"I really felt good today. I was moving good. I sat out practice yesterday and watched."
"I'm a God-fearing man, and I pray a lot. We have a good trainer, Mike. They pushed me and were willing to put in the extra work."
"I like hitting the 3. A lot of people think I can't shoot it."
Tim Carroll complained of chest pain before yesterday's practice. He participated anyhow.
The Zips' walk-on collapsed after a shooting drill, the Buchtelite reports. He was taken to Akron General Hospital.
Keith Dambrot said it was the worst thing he's ever been involved with. Nate Linhart said Carroll is doing OK. The team cancelled practice and resumed in the evening.
Central Michigan withstood a strong game from the MAC Freshman of the Year to beat Northern Illinois, 83-71.
The Chippewas held a steady lead for most of the game. NIU's Darion Anderson led both teams in points (22) and rebounds (seven), but it was not enough.
Giordan Watson, a second-team All-MAC player, scored 20 for CMU. He also had four assists and three steals.
Akron will play CMU at 2:30 p.m. tomorrow at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.
CMU beat Akron 65-64 when the teams played Jan. 26 in Mount Pleasant, Mich. Watson tipped the ball away from Nick Dials, preventing Akron from getting off a shot to win.
On the offensive end, it was forward Nate Minnoy, not Watson, whom Akron could not contain. Minnoy had 21 points and six rebounds in the win.
Minnoy has not played as many minutes since that game, but you can rely on coach Ernie Zeigler's memory of Jan. 26.
Thanks to the defense of Nate Linhart and Cedrick Middleton, Akron has limited Watson. That makes this a good matchup for Akron, and one that the Zips should win without much trouble.
Two Kent State players were arrested Friday on burglary charges amounting to a first-degree felony.
Cabroni Mixon and Brian Lainhart allegedly busted down a door and beat the tar out of two men inside.
Mixon was a highly touted linebacker transfer from the University of Michigan. Lainhart was a starting safety. KSU athletic director Laing Kennedy suspended both players.
Oh yeah, and James Harrison was charged with assaulting his girlfriend.
What is it with KSU athletes getting in SERIOUS criminal trouble right before an Akron-KSU game? Last time, it was Eric Thomas who was charged with rape. You guys really don't need to feed Akron fans with material.
As you can see with the preceding rant, the biggest game of the year has arrived.
Those who have tickets for this sold-out game should be pumped.
Akron made more than 60 percent of its shots and committed only nine turnovers in a 80-77 win at Ohio.
"Our guys never cease to amaze me," Keith Dambrot said. "Every play we ran in crunch time worked. We won in two places that are two very difficult places to win (Miami)."
Akron won despite grabbing only half the rebounds that Ohio did (28 to 14). Jerome Tillman scored 18 with nine rebounds. Leon Williams, the Bobcats' other post power, scored 23.
The Zips countered with 19 points each from Cedrick Middleton and Jeremiah Wood.
"We had a hard time with their size and strength, but we shot 60 percent from the field and only turned the ball over nine times. When you do that, you have a chance," Dambrot said.
In other MAC action, Kent State won and Western Michigan lost. That means Akron certainly will be the No. 3 seed. It also means the Zips will win a share of the MAC regular season title by beating Kent State Sunday.
"For four years, we've gone to the last week of the season with a chance to win the MAC Championship," Dambrot said. "I would like nothing more than this team, which has gone through so much adversity, to have that chance."
Ohio had not lost at home in more than a year. Bubba Walther scored the Bobcats' last 13 points and 22 total. Chris McKnight and Wood combined to go 13-for-13 from the field. McKnight had 13 points.
Akron will travel to Athens tomorrow with ramifications on MAC Tournament seeding.
The PD's Elton Alexander writes that the game might also decide which team plays in the NIT.
Since the teams last met, Ohio has beaten Kent State and George Mason at its Convocation Center. The Bobcats will be motivated after Nate Linhart's last second tip sent an angry team back to Athens. Oh, and the fact that Akron fans unleashed on Bubba Walther again.
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