Akron basketball will begin its 2010-11 season on Thursday with a 7 p.m. scrimmage against John Carroll.
Consequently, it's time to stop giving weekly eulogies for the football team and start discussing a team that can make the university proud.
I'm not willing to go through each position, like you'll see in any run-of-the-mill season preview. I think everyone is mostly familiar with the likely player rotation, but I'll breeze through it quickly.
PG: McNees, Abreu SG: Roberts, McClanahan SF: McKnight, Diggs, Egner PF: Cvetinovic, Euton C: Marshall, Bardo
(Key losses: Conyers, C. McKnight, Hitchens, Steward, Sullivan, Sweich)
Here is an insider's guide of storylines for 2010-11.
1) Transfers -- At the end of last season, this blog preached extensively about the need to improve the athleticism on the floor. I trust Keith Dambrot to "coach up" just about anyone, so why not go after some riskier transfers? The coach must have been seeing the same thing, because Akron received three transfers since last season ended. Although only Quincy Diggs is eligible this season, Akron's roster will have a different look also because of the four players who transferred out (namely Humpty Hitchens).
2) Crunch time option -- If the MAC Tournament taught us anything, it's that Steve McNees is an assassin. He pulled out some of the wildest, gutsiest plays you've seen in March. Leading up to the tournament, the Zips had lost several games because Dambrot ran a play for Brett McKnight when the team needed a basket with one possession left. Nothing against Brett, but he's just not that kind of player. McNees showed he is. Will that carry over to this season?
3) Zeke Marshall -- The most anticipated freshman in the program's history led the MAC in blocks and made the All-Freshman Team. We wanted more. We wanted a back-'em-down center who would not get out-muscled by the Kenneth Van Kempens of the world. Word out of Zips camp is that Marshall put on some weight with the help of Mom's spaghetti. Will that extra strength translate to results?
4) Leading scorer -- One of the tenets to the Dambrot system is that no one player will be among the league leaders in scoring. Sometimes I wonder if it's intentional. Sometimes I wonder if it helps Dambrot better control the team if he does not allow the team's scoring needs to rely solely on one ego, or to provide more predictability for the team's hopes not to rely on one shooting arm. Heck, even LeBron James wasn't a totally dominant scorer under Dambrot. Last season, Jimmy Conyers led Akron in scoring with 10.1 points per game -- only the 29th highest average in the MAC. It appears that trend will continue this year, but if there is an offensive weapon on this team, it's probably McNees or McKnight.
5) Shut-down defender -- Lately, the Zips have had the luxury of a shut-down defender at the swingman position. It was Nate Linhart, then Conyers. At first glance, it doesn't look like Akron has a replacement for that role. If either Brett McClanahan or Diggs can become that player, it will be a sure way to get extra minutes.
6) Attendance -- Can I speak to harsh truth with you, Zips fans? We do not have a very good fan base. Akron's home attendance was sixth in the conference last year, despite it being the sixth-consecutive year of exciting, winning basketball. Our arena is not conducive to having a wild student section, but the tiny student section we have is not always full. I have heard plenty of excuses about the venue, the university, global warming, etc. It's irrelevant. We have heard a lot about Tom Wistrcill's ability to build a fan base. It's time to see dividends.
Oh, I'm not done. I'm going to a second paragraph on this. ... Give away tickets if you have to, in order to make the JAR lively during non-conference games. Literally, hand them to folks in the mall. Pride about "maintaining the ticket's value" is only going to retard the program's advancement. I'm a strong believer that the atmosphere is what gets people coming back. And, no, using parents of kids who are doing hula-hoops at halftime to boost attendance does not give you a better atmosphere. (It makes people want to leave after the first half.)
7) Freshmen forwards -- Akron recruited three forwards in this class. It looks like Dambrot will need to use at least one. The easy pick would be Dakotah Euton, the former Kentucky recruit who can bruise you and stroke 3s (like Antoine Walker, without the bankruptcy). Michael Green has a Conyers-like skill set. Ironically, like Conyers often did, Green is also lacking confidence so far in camp. Josh Egner is a high-motor, high-athleticism defender. My guess is that Euton and Egner will play and Green will redshirt, but I reserve the right to change that opinion after seeing the exhibition game Thursday.
8 ) Alex Abreu -- The Zips have lacked a true point guard since Dru Joyce. If there is one definition for Abreu, it's "true point guard." Dambrot's biggest complaint is that Abreu isn't only "pass-first," he is pass-second, -third, etc. However, he will learn under ideal circumstances -- under McNees, a senior who is unafraid to chuck it up from 25 feet at any moment. The question is, can Abreu advance this season to the extent where he can take over the PG role by next season? If you look at the prospective 2011-12 roster, you'll see Dambrot is really counting on it.
9) MAC East competition -- The MAC media is either 1) not paying attention, or 2) getting paid off by Dambrot, in order to give his team bulletin-board material. They picked the Zips third in the division behind Ohio and Kent State.
First, let's discuss the Ohio Bobcats. At the end of last season, they were the undisputed favorites. Then Armon Bassett went pro. Then Alex Kellogg said he's quitting to focus on academics. I think the Bobcats have plenty of talent returning, but hopefully the writers noticed these minor details.
Next, let's talk Kent. The Flashes lost six seniors and have only two contributors returning in Justin Greene and Rodriguez Sherman. I don't doubt Geno Ford's ability to compete, but it's a little presumptuous to put them ahead of Akron.
10) Nik Cvetinovic -- Another story out of camp is that the junior center has calmed down and become a team leader. It sounds to me like a Major League II storyline (i.e. "Wild Thing" Rick Vaughn goes Wall Street). But I hope it's true. When Cvetinovic plays with poise, he is a great steadying player in the Zips rotation. He grabs important boards and comes up with clutch baskets.
I plan to liveblog from Thursday's exhibition game. In the mean time, here is a poll: