On the back of Akron's workhorse Jimmy Conyers, the Zips rallied from a seven-point second-half deficit to win at Wyoming, 85-76.
Conyers continued his torrid senior season with 13 points, 12 rebounds and three steals. Other notable contributions came from Humpty Hitchens (16 points), Brett McKnight (16) and Steve McNees (14).
Neither team took care of the ball. The Zips and Cowboys combined for 43 turnovers. The difference was 3-point shooting, where Akron made 9-of-16, while Wyoming was 1-of-9.
The Zips return home for a game against Rhode Island Tuesday at 7 p.m. I will be out of town, so unfortunately I can't cover it.
Starting last spring, I had a strong feeling that this fall would be an intriguing time on campus.
The top three sports on campus had a fever pitch. Soccer had its best returning team and was expected to challenge for a national championship. Basketball returned all but one player from the MAC Championship team and added a top-40 recruit. Football was christening a $61.5 million stadium with a load of seniors.
It turned out to be a wild season for sure. No one could have predicted the soccer drama or football letdown. The next calendar year will determine the basketball team's fate.
Here are my top five moments from the entire year of 2009:
1) Akron soccer advances to the national championship -- A flawless penalty-kick session sent the Zips to the finals. It kept the team's season-long unbeaten streak alive.
2) Dambrot's Zips get over the hump, win their first MAC Championship -- After a first-round scare against Toledo, Akron played its best basketball of the year. The Zips finished off Buffalo to advance to the NCAA Tournament.
3) Two Zips earn individual national championships -- In 2009, Akron tripled its prior amount of national champions thanks to Jenna Compton (rifle) and Stevi Large (hammer throw).
4) Zips open InfoCision Stadium with blowout win -- The fanfare, the football, everything. It was a perfect way to begin an era of on-campus football at the University of Akron.
5) Caleb Porter shrugs off D.C. United, extends contract with Akron -- Zips fans saw the writing on the wall long ago that Porter would leave as soon as a job with better money or a job at his alma mater opened up. Porter shocked the soccer world by showing his commitment to Akron instead.
Conversely, here are the worst five moments of 2009:
1) Zips lose national championship to Virginia -- Blair Gavin's penalty kick sailed over the net, clinching the national championship for Virginia. With that, the Zips lost their first game of the year and a chance for the university's first team national championship.
2) Quarterback kicked off team -- Chris Jacquemain was dismissed from the team in the week following the win over Morgan State. The news sent the program into a tailspin. Sophomore Matt Rodgers received only a few days' notice before starting his first game versus Indiana in which he threw four interceptions.
3) Zips drop Homecoming game against Ohio -- With a chance to redeem themselves before a three-game road trip, Akron lost three fumbles and threw two interceptions in a loss to division rival Ohio. Rodgers tore his ACL, which meant true freshman Patrick Nicely was pressed into action.
4) Zakuani announces he will leave early -- Perhaps the most talented player in any sport in university history decided to leave college after his sophomore year to enter the MLS Draft. Can you imagine the 2009 Zips with Zakuani? If there is a silver lining, it was that the Seattle Sounders made Zakuani the No. 1 pick in the draft.
5) Brookhart fired after 3-9 season -- J.D. Brookhart's tenure at Akron ended when new athletic director Tom Wistrcill and Luis Proenza agreed to fire the coach with one year left on his contract.
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The Zips will be playing their sixth game all-time against Valpo. Akron won all four meetings when both teams were members of the Mid-Continent Conference in the early '90s. The Crusaders pulled off the BracketBuster upset last season, 74-66.
I really wanted to watch the Browns-Raiders game today because it marks Charlie Frye's return to Cleveland. So far, Frye is 4-for-10 with an interception. The Browns lead 10-3.
Valpo, of course, is now a member of the Horizon League, which just might slip past the MAC in prominence if some of these MAC West schools keep skimping on their basketball programs. The Crusaders have played two MAC teams this year, losing by 10 at Ball State and thumping Toledo at Valparaiso by 32.
Valpo has a 7-foot-1 freshman named Hrvoje Vucic. He is redshirting this year.
This end of press row just lost power. Not a big deal for me if it's short-term, but the radio guys got knocked off the air. Oooh. We're back on.
Sophomore guard Brandon Wood leads Valpo in scoring with 20.5 points per game. Junior forward Cory Johnson, who is 6-7, leads the team with 6.8 rebounds per game and also adds 16.3 points per game. Senior point guard Brandon McPherson leads the team in assists and chips in 11.7 points per game. Akron, by contrast, doesn't have a single player averaging 10 points per game.
Akron starters: Steve McNees, Darryl Roberts, Jimmy Conyers, Brett McKnight and Zeke Marshall.
Valpo is 5-7, but the Crusaders have faced the Nos. 6, 2, 25, and 5 teams in the nation. They had a notable moral victory at UNC when they lost by only 11 to the Tarheels.
The Zips are 11-point favorites. The opening line was 8.5. I wonder if someone put a ton of cash on the Zips to extend the spread.
Conyers got a steal and break-away dunk. You have to love how his confidence has grown.
The MAC's RPI is 15th among conferences. Take a look at the strengths of schedule for each team, and tell me if you still think Keith Dambrot and the athletic department are playing competitive teams. There are 347 Division I teams. Only 60 of them play easier schedules. It's the easiest schedule in the MAC, too.
According to the PD's Elton Alexander, Akron plays enough games against top-100 teams, but they play far too many against teams with RPIs between 200 and 300, rather than between 100 and 200.
Dambrot's argument has always been, "Nobody will play us." Well, of course not. Akron is a dangerous team with a low RPI. It's a high-risk, low-reward game for prospective opponents. But if you schedule in a way that maximizes RPI, solid programs won't be so frightened of coming to Rhodes Arena, because it will be to a top-50 RPI team, not a team with an RPI around 125.
Valpo is playing a zone with token half-court pressure.
Man, if you've seen one of these games, you've seen them all. The sad thing is, when Akron shows it is capable of losing to an Austin Peay at home, it actually adds intrigue. Otherwise, it's a wear'em-down 10- to 15-point win.
Brett McKnight and Conyers, with 12 apiece, have scored 24 of Akron's 31 points. Conyers just splashed a 3 to make the statistic even more compelling.
Humpty Hitchens forced McPherson into a five-second call. Akron will get the last possession of the half, which Brett McKnight used on a successful spinning floater in the paint.
Halftime stats of note: Conyers has a game-high 15 points and three steals. Brett McKnight has a team-high four rebounds, plus 14 points. Akron is shooting 56.7 percent from the field, compared to Valpo's 47.1 percent. Valpo has 13 turnovers; the Zips have committed seven. Akron leads the rebounding battle 15-10. Akron has done a decent job against Wood, Valpo's top scorer who has nine points but also three turnovers. Akron is 1-for-5 on free throws.
Marshall got a steal at the top of the key and went coast-to-coast. It was ugly, but he spun home a layup while being fouled. On the whole, he has not looked good tonight. Keep in mind, however, that Marshall is not playing at full strength.
Homer Drew just ran to the middle of the court to argue about an illegal screen. Valpo was hit for an offensive foul for a screen at the top of the key. A similar play on the previous possession was not called when Brett McKnight set the questionable pick. Drew got a technical foul for that spectacle, but he probably has a legitimate point.
Cameron Witt of Valpo fouled out with about 17 minutes left in the second half.
The shot clock stopped running for at least 10 seconds during an Akron possession, which eventually concluded with a Hitchens 3-pointer. Drew cannot be happy about this turn of events.
The radio guys are having power problems again. Steve French is is calling the game through the phone.
Conyers has grabbed a couple hard-earned rebounds. He has found a great way to take advantage of his athleticism and hustle.
Akron has made five of its last six free-throw attempts. These shots better fall against the Bobcats, Flashes, Bulls and Redhawks.
Speaking of the MAC, here are some notable team statistics... Akron leads the conference in scoring margin (+8.8). The Zips are seventh in home attendance; Ball State is first at 4,015. Akron is generally top in the MAC in 3-point defense, but the Zips are seventh this season. Akron's rebounding margin of +4.2 is second (Buffalo, +5.1). The Bulls and Zips are are also one-two in assists. Kent State leads the conference with a +5.55 turnover margin; Akron is third at +2.09. Akron leads the MAC in assist-turnover ratio at 1.08.
Here are some notable individual stats... Brandon Bowdry of EMU leads the conference in points (19.5) and rebounds (11.1). No Zip is in the top 30 in scoring. Conyers is No. 15 in rebounds. Ohio freshman D.J. Cooper leads the conference in steals and assists. No Zip is in the top 15 in either category. Marshall leads the MAC in blocked shots with 2.18 per game. Only Roberts is in the MAC's top 30 in minutes played.
Valpo had committed eight fouls, compared to Akron's one. Then the referees called four fouls on Akron in a single possession.
Brett McKnight fed Conyers on a fast-break layup. With that, Conyers reached a career high with 19 points. Drew called timeout during a nice ovation from the fans.
After a long possession of failed attempts to work the ball into the post, Ronnie Steward drilled a 3 off the backboard with the shot clock expiring.
Conyers made another bucket. It's the first time all season that a Zip has scored 20 or more.
The overarching theme for all of these statistics is that Akron is deep. They score the third-most, but don't have scorer in MAC's top 30. They have the second-best rebounding margin, but not really a stud rebounder. They boast the top assist-turnover ratio, but no individual player with good assist numbers.
The cynical fan would say, "Sure, your team numbers are nice, but who have you played?" That will be a legitimate gripe. A team like Buffalo or Western Michigan will says it's apples-to-oranges. Akron basically played a few games against cream puffs while the others competed against teams better, faster and taller than them.
On BracketBuster games, the visiting team brings its own league's officials. I assume the same is true on these return games.
Final stats of note: Akron shot 55.4 percent; Valpo was 45 percent. Akron grabbed 33 rebounds compared to Valpo's 22. Akron had 18 assists and 13 turnovers; Valpo had five and 18. Conyers led both teams with 22 points. Wood had 18. Brett McKnight led both teams with nine rebounds. McNees had five assists. Akron scored 38 points in the paint; Valpo had 22.
Marshall and Brett McClanahan played only eight minutes apiece.
Final score -- Akron 77, Valparaiso 57
QUOTES from Homer Drew:
"The whole key was that they had 12 offensive boards. We don't have enough size. Akron did a wonderful job off that."
"We are young. They are learning. We have nine freshmen and sophomores. They are trying to get better."
"This is a good team. Keith has done a wonderful job. We enjoy Akron. We enjoy our friendship with Keith. I like their play. They play hard."
"When the clock ran down, (Ronnie) hit the backboard 3. That was the final nail."
On running onto the court: "We just felt that it was so physical. I felt I had to protect my players. When I'm out on the court, you know I want one. The officials were good. They did not decide this game at all."
"We did a pretty good job of taking away their 3-point shooters. Our goal was to take away their 3-point shooting. The second and third chances just killed us."
QUOTES from Keith Dambrot:
"We felt going into the game that they are a tough defensive matchup for us. I thought they shot the ball extremely well. If we allowed the dribble-drive, it would lead to open shots."
"Two things have happened. Jimmy has become a monster on the backboards. Brett McKnight has become a low-post force. All of the sudden, we become a pretty good team when that happens."
"We had a big advantage in terms of size and strength. If Brett can play like that every night, which he hasn't shown yet, then we'll be a pretty tough team to handle. When you can go five or six guys in the post, that's something the rest of the league doesn't have."
"We were looking to get Bardo more time. With Zeke being a little hurt, we saw this as a good time."
"I thought our guards have been playing a little better. You look at McNees who had zero, but he had five assists and no turnovers."
"We got these two games where they're going to full-court pressure us."
"One thing that has really improved for us is our shooting. A lot of that is selection and playing inside-out."
"We have four teams that are in the top 100 on our schedule. (The uncertainty) makes it damn near impossible to schedule. The other thing you can do is schedule like Miami. They're 3-9. If they don't win the league, they're not going to the NIT. I can't figure out who's going to be good. We bring Rhode Island in. Wyoming has a good tradition basketball-wise but a rotten RPI. If we were playing Butler instead of UIC... It's so hard to know what to do."
"Sports is how you feel about yourself psychologically. It's hard to rally guys when they're losing, even when they're losing against good teams. I'd be miserable if we were 3-9. I think it's helped us big-time to play at home."
"I think (Brett McKnight) has done a better job at getting in condition. We're trying to make him the go-to guy offensively. We had to start him. Since we've started him, he's started to score."
"We put Jimmy on Cory Johnson and completely shut him down. Jimmy is so dang strong, and Johnson is a driver. That is one of the keys to the game."
Goals before MAC play starts: "I want to work against pressure. Work on getting more fluid offensively. Work against zone defense. Work on different lineups."
Marshall's injury status: Hyper-extended one knee during UIC. He has had patella tendonitis in both.
"I know Rhode Island pressed us out of the gym last year. Wyoming is pressing, too."
QUOTES from Brett McKnight:
"I've worked a lot after practice, shooting with the coaches. Getting a lot of confidence, that's the main part about it: knowing every shot's going in."
"I'm going to be in pain regardless of what I do. I've been getting treatment. Half-hour before I'm supposed to be out there. It's not a factor. I just have to play through it."
QUOTES from Jimmy Conyers:
"I was coming into this game kind of nervous. Last year, we blew the lead to them and lost. Coming in, I didn't think I would do as well. I had butterflies I haven't had before."
"This is not even the peak. We have a lot of players who have not reached their potential. Once we get Chris going and Steve going and Zeke going..."
On what has developed his confidence: "Knowing that the coach won't yell at me if I take a shot I don't normally take."
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I'm back from Las Vegas. That city astounded me on so many levels. Even if you're Amish, you should travel there and see everything. Here are the top five things I did: 1) Fire a bunch of machine guns, including an AK-47 and MP5. It cost a ton of money, but it was so exhilarating! (See the picture below of me with a 12-gauge shotgun) 2) Rode the "Big Shot" ride at the Stratosphere. You know the Power Tower at Cedar Point? It's that, except the ride BEGINS at 109 floors in the air. There are no adjectives to describe that ascent. 3) Played poker for seven hours on the night before we left. I went straight from the casino to the airport. Thanks to quad-jacks, I was a little richer. 4) Ate at the Paris hotel's buffet. With all of the crab legs I ate, I should have grown claws. 5) Sipped martinis at the Venetian hotel. That place is unbelievably posh. It's like Venice, Italy -- only better.
Best Buy had my computer for four weeks, which meant I had to borrow my dad's computer for blogging and I had to handwrite my exams. That was torture. I finally have it back. I feel complete.
OK. Enough about me. Let's talk about Illinois-Chicago. The Flames are 3-6, but they are coming off a win against Oregon State and Northern Illinois (by 20 points). Robo Kreps, a 6-foot guard, leads the team with 15.3 points per game. He shoots a ton of 3s, but only makes 31 percent of them. Jeremy Buttell is the leading rebounder with 6.5 per game.
Akron is a favorite to win of between 12.5 and 13 points. Oh! I almost forgot. I bet on the Cavs game at the Bellagio. That should definitely crack the top five Vegas moments. Nothing like complimentary Jack on the rocks while you're sitting in a plush chair watching your money float away because LeBron and Co. can't cover the spread.
Akron's starters: Steve McNees, Darryl Roberts, Brett McKnight, Jimmy Conyers and Zeke Marshall.
Big Zeke will give up 52 pounds to UIC's K.C. Robbins tonight. Robbins doesn't start, but he plays 16.2 minutes per game. I would expect to see him play much more tonight, with the objective being to keep Marshall out of the paint.
I wonder if Robo (as in Robo Kreps) is short for something, such as Robot. Ahh. It's short for Robert. I guess that was the obvious answer.
Nik Cvetinovic did not start tonight. He tallied only seven points and 10 rebounds in the last three games combined. Such is life on Keith Dambrot's deep roster.
UIC is running a 2-3 zone that is confounding Akron's offense. Chris McKnight caught a pass at the elbow and tossed up a clunker off the back right side of the rim.
UIC coach Jimmy Collins was a terrific player (according to Tom Gaffney, who is old -- err, seasoned -- enough to remember him). Collins played on New Mexico State's 1970 Final Four team. The Chicago Bulls drafted him in the first round a few months later.
Akron is shooting 58 percent on free throws. Wow.
Marshall cut to the basket and Brett McKnight found him on a nice pass. Marshall went up for the two-handed dunk. He was fouled and missed the dunk, then he missed both foul shots.
The Zips have seven turnovers in the first 10 minutes of the game.
I haven't mentioned UIC's second-leading scorer Zavion Neely, a 6-1 sophomore, but he sure is shifty. He just broke some ankles (figuratively) en route to a finger roll.
The crowd is decent for a nonconference game close to Christmas (when the students are away from campus). It got pretty loud when Akron went on an 8-2 run to retake the lead at 21-20.
Chris McKnight's rebounds and points are down about 25 percent this season. I trust he'll pick it up. But it's sad in the mean time.
The Zips are 1-for-5 at the line. What's more pathetic: tonight's shooting or the fact that the Zips can improve their season average with tonight's performance by just making their next five?
Akron is shooting poorly from the field, too: 11-for-27 with 3:01 to play in the first half. Conyers, however, is stuffing the stat sheet again. He has six points and eight rebounds. UIC, as a team, only has 10 rebounds.
Marshall went down in a scrum for a loose ball. He stayed down just long enough to make everyone uncomfortable. Joe Dunn said he twisted a knee, but I didn't see it.
Conyers showed off his athleticism by attempting to posterize UIC's 6-9 center Louis Green from his flat feet. The dunk missed but Green fouled him. On the next possession, Conyers grabbed his tenth rebound of the half. He made a couple free throws (gasp!) to give him nine points before halftime.
Halftime stats of note: Score -- Akron 36, UIC 27. Neely leads both teams with 10 points. Humpty Hitchens has three assists. Akron is shooting 42 percent; UIC is 43.5 percent. UIC has made all four of its free throws; Akron is 6-for-11. The Zips have nine turnovers; UIC has 10. The most important stat is the rebounding discrepancy: Akron has 21, and UIC has 11.
I miscalculated the impact the 6-11 Robbins would have. He played four minutes without a point or a rebound.
Marshall scored his first point on a free throw that spun around the rim at least twice. You know, one of those toilet flush finishes. He made the second, as well.
It took 22 minutes, but Mike Bardo finally entered the game.
After a few minutes of poor play, Dambrot's offense really figured out how to get inside of UIC's zone and punish it.
UIC coach Collins nearly earned a technical foul. He called timeout and pursued the referee inside the 3-point line. I believe he was complaining that Bardo slapped the rim, which may have caused a UIC layup to carom off for a miss. If that's the case, Collins would have been pleading for a goaltending violation.
While Chris McKnight is floundering, his brother has looked a lot more active and assertive. Brett McKnight is crashing the boards, working hard to get open and even playing a little more defense than the norm.
Around the MAC... Five of six MAC East teams are above .500. The sole slacker is Miami (3-8), who, as usual, is playing a gauntlet nonconference schedule. Ohio (7-3) has this week's MAC East Player of the Week in freshman guard D.J. Cooper. The Bobcats and Zips are tied atop the division. Eastern Michigan, on the back of big man Brandon Bowdry (19.8 ppg, 10.9 rpg), leads the West at 6-4. Northern Illinois is the surprise at 1-7. This is a young team that was supposed to get a lot better this year.
Hitchens went coast to coast for a layup. It would be hard to find a faster player in the MAC than him. He followed it up with a nice dish off a drive to Chris McKnight, who laid it in.
Back to Chris McKnight... I can tell he's struggling with confidence when he has the ball. He was very tentative on his release point on what is otherwise a bunny that 95 percent of fans in the building wouldn't sweat.
Fans are getting restless after a few poor Zips possessions. Akron still leads by eight. That should tell you that fans no longer are confident in the Zips' ability to close off these games.
UIC guard Dipanjot Singh is wearing some sort of head covering that goes over his hair. He also is the only Flame without his last name on the jersey. I'm wondering if these things have religious significance. That's my guess. He's a smart guy; that's for sure. He was National Honor Society student in high school and now majors in kinesiology and pre-med.
Conyers has 16 rebounds. I'm not sure about this, but that has to be the highest total since Jeremiah Wood graced Rhodes Arena.
UIC's Corey Gray hit a 3. Akron's lead is only five with 6:30 to play. Marshall responded with a sweet hook. That shot will be there every possession. It will be particularly fruitful if Conyers and one of the McKnights crash the boards while the guards wait for kick-out 3-point attempts.
UIC is pressing Akron in the backcourt after made shots. Gray is a scrappy defender. He forced Hitchens into a five-second call.
Things I like when Akron has the ball: 1) Finding Marshall in the post. 2) Cvetinovic driving. He has great touch and moves that are too good for people of his size to keep up with.
Chris McKnight was called for a bogus foul. A UIC player dragged him down by the shorts, but the referee out of position blew the whistle on Akron.
Roberts will shoot one-and-one with 2:30 to play and a nine-point lead. These shots could provide some breathing room. I wouldn't say it's over yet. Roberts made both.
Chris McKnight had one of those baskets that can swing your season. He made a layup while getting pounded by a UIC player. He completed the three-point play to give Akron an insurmountable 14-point lead with two minutes to play.
Brett McKnight swatted a UIC shot on the next possession. He rebounded UIC's next shot, then he provided an easy assist to his brother for another layup. The last couple minutes belong to the McKnights.
The only question now is: Will Akron cover the 13-point spread?
After leading the Flames with 10 first-half points, Neely barely played in the second half.
Kreps is at the line with the point-spread in his hands. He made both free throws to take Akron's lead down to 12.
Final stats of note: Conyers grabbed 19 rebounds -- the most by a Zip since 1985 and it's a Rhodes Arena record. Brett McKnight and Neely shared the game high of 16 points. UIC's Spencer Stewart dished seven assists. Akron shot 47.4 percent, compared to UIC's 41.8 percent. Akron made only 5-of-18 3-point attempts (27.8 percent); UIC was 8-for-21 (38.1 percent). Akron had 16 turnovers, compared to UIC's 14. The Zips maintained their rebounding dominance: 42 to 25.
Final score -- Akron 77, UIC 65
QUOTES from Keith Dambrot:
"We did some good things and we did some bad things. What impressed me is that we hit a rough stretch. We rallied ourselves. We haven't had that ability yet this season."
"This is the type of team that has given us trouble in the past."
"Obviously Jimmy did a great job. He also defended well. As a team, we guarded Kreps well. He becomes what Nate Linhart was. He's probably one of the best post defenders in the league."
"Guys like Jimmy Conyers who have had to fight for what they get are better than guys who are given minutes. He has become a stalwart. It's hard to take him out of the game. It's hard not to play him at this point. If he makes a mistake or two, he has a long leash now, when before he had a short leash. A lot of times in life, it's about opportunity. He may be our best player."
"I can't ever remember it. We had Grant Long. I don't remember him ever having 19 (rebounds). He's not the strongest guy we have in the weight room because of some technique issues, but if you look at him, he's an absolute beast."
"I think this team has become one of our better rebounding teams."
"We struggled against the zone for a minute, then we tore it apart. It's hard to schedule, but if you can go easy to hard, it helps you. But it's impossible to do that."
"We're really good when teams run a lot of continuity or motion. Rule-wise, we understand where we have to be. The only thing I was disappointed with is, we were not good at the rim. Zeke was not good at the rim, for whatever reason it was. He was getting bullied around a little."
"We need to keep finding ways to get Bardo minutes. And to get Ronnie about eight minutes."
"Those three perimeter guys -- they're all good MAC-level players. I think two of them are better than good. All three of those guys can start on almost any team in the league. We took turns on Kreps. Jimmy was really good on him in a sense that he's a little bigger."
"Those guys are going to be pissed off." -- Referring to Jeremiah Wood and Romeo Travis, who had their high-water rebounding marks surpassed tonight.
Quotes from Jimmy Conyers:
"I found out I had a lot at halftime. Right place at the right time. I was just lucky I guess."
"This is the last go-around, so I have to make the best of it."
"These last couple games, we weren't challenged enough. UIC was good for us."
Star forward Teal Bunbury will leave Akron two years early to enter the MLS Draft, according to a Washington Post blog.
Bunbury, the 2009 Soccer America Player of the Year, will learn on Jan. 8 whether he won the Hermann Trophy, given to the nation's best player. The MLS Draft is Jan. 14.
It certainly does not help Akron's outlook for 2010, but it should help recruiting efforts, particularly if Bunbury is selected early in the first round. Steve Zakuani went first overall to the Seattle Sounders in the most recent draft.
Head coach Rob Ianello decided who will fill two integral roles on the team.
John Latina, a former offensive line coach at Notre Dame, will serve as offensive coordinator. Jim Miceli, a former offensive coordinator at Georgetown and recruiting coordinator at Maryland, will run the recruiting operations.
Filling Miceli's job, in particular, was critical, as it is whenever a new coaching staff takes over. Akron has lost one recruit so far, but he was an important one; Chase Hoobler, a three-star linebacker, decommitted and gave his word to Indiana.
Ianello has already stated that he plans to run a pro-style offense. Latina was a part of running such an offense at Notre Dame. It's easy, of course, to put up huge numbers when you have players like Jimmy Clausen and Golden Tate. And that's where recruiting comes in.
Akron will tip off at 7 p.m. against Illinois-Chicago tonight. Now that I'm back from Las Vegas, I'll liveblog it.
Hello University of Akron Zips fans, this is Michael Beaven from the Akron Beacon Journal and I am filling in for Mike Rasor at the Sunday afternoon men’s basketball game against St. Francis (Pa.) at Rhodes Arena.
Keep refreshing for updates.
St. Francis Starters -- Sorena Orandi, Umar Shannon, Anthony Ervin, Will Felder and Cedric Latimer.
Akron Starters -- Steve McNees, Darryl Roberts, Brett McKnight, Jimmy Conyers and Zeke Marshall.
The Zips lead 13-4 with 14:33 remaining in the first half. McNees hit two 3-pointer and Conyers had a short jumper and a 3-pointer.
McNees and Conyers have led the Zips to a 18-9 lead with 11:29 remaining in the first half.
Marshall blocked a layup attempt with 11:08 to go.
Conyers is playing very well, he got a steal, a layup and made free throw to extend the lead to 23-12 with 8:25 left.
Chris McKnight made a layup to make it 25-12. Conyers has scored eight points and the beatdown is officially on.
The lead has grown to 32-12. McNees has nine points, Conyers has eight and Chris McKnight has six.
A 3-pointer by Brett McClanahan made it 35-12 with 4:20 left. The Zips are on a 17-0 run. Red Flash called a timeout.
Mike Bardo just converted a tip-in with 1:56 remaining. The score is 40-14.
We have reached halftime. Akron leads 40-18. I think it is safe to project a Zips victory.
The ABJ's Tom Gaffney just said to me jokingly, "I'm going to go take a nap for an hour, wake me up with about a minute to go in the game."
- McNees leads all scorers with nine points, Conyers has eight points and McClanahan has six points.
- Latimer has eight points and Orandi has six points.
- UA made 16-of-39 shots from the field. St. Francis made 6-of-18 shots from the field. Ironically, the Zips made 6-of-18 from beyond the 3-point arc.
- The Zips hold a 25-11 advantage in rebounds. The Red Flash have made 13 turnovers and forced seven.
The Zips lead 48-24 with 15:45 to go in the second half.
The Cleveland Browns currently hold a 27-24 lead in the third quarter over the host Kansas City Chiefs. Joshua Cribbs has returned two kickoffs for touchdowns. I saw the first one on TV at home prior to coming to his game. He is amazing. His combination of strength and speed are phenomenal. The returns were 100 yards and 103 yards. He now is the NFL career leader in kickoff retunrn touchdowns. Jerome Harrison rushed for a 71-yard touchdown and Phil Dawson has made two field goals and three point after touchdowns.
Marshall blocked a shot with 13:24. McClanahan made a fastbreak layup with about 13 minutes to go to make the score 54-29.
Marshall just slammed home a right-handed dunk of a pass by Anthony "Humpty" Hitchens with 12:38 remaining. Zips lead 56-29.
McNees made a pair of 3-pointers on consecutive possessions to make the score 65-33 with 9:50 to go. McNees has 17 points.
It's showtime. Conyers just finished off an alley-oop pass by Roberts with a two-hand dunk. Ronnie Steward started the 3-on-1 fastbreak by dribbling down the middle and whipped a pass to his right to Roberts who then lobbed the ball in the air to his left for a flying Conyers. The Zips 67-34 with 8:27 to go. The dunk was nice, but not of the quality of the Conyers left-handed dunk during Friday's 83-59 win over visiting UNC-Greensboro when he slammed a half-court alley-oop pass from Hitchens.
Harrison gave the Browns a 34-24 lead with an 8-yard touchdown run. He has gone over 200 yards rushing for the day.
Chris McKnight just got a nice block with his right hand 6:28 to go. UA leads 67-36.
McClanahan buried a 3-pointer with 6:04 left to make it 70-36.
Marshall made two free throws with 5:24 to make it 72-39. Steve Swiech subbed in for Marshall with 4:56 left.
Swiech just powered home a basket with 4:37 to go in the game. UA leads 74-41. Alex Sullivan checks into the game with 4:16 to go and joins Nikola Cvetinovic, Tim Carroll, Steward and Swiech on the court.
Sullivan made a jumper with 2:12 to go. That was his first made field goal in college.
Cvetinovic and Kyle Petersen check into the game with a 1:30 to go. They join Sullivan, Carroll and Swiech on the court.
Swiech makes a layup with 40 seconds to go.
It's all over at Rhodes Arena. UA wins 80-51.
The Zips have a record of 7-3 and the Red Flash are 3-8.
- McNees led all scorers with 17 points. McClanahan scored 11 points and Conyers had 10 points and seven rebounds. Brett McKnight grabbed a game-high nine rebounds and scored seven points. Roberts scored eight points and Chris McKnight scored seven points.
- Shannon scored 16 points and Latimer contributed 13 points.
- UA made 31-of-61 shots from the field and St. Francis made 17-of-51. The Zips converted 11-of-25 from beyond the 3-point arc and made 7-of-13 free throws.
- The Zips held an advantage in rebounds (43-25), assists (18-10) and blocks (6-1).
Akron coach Keith Dambrot
"If we play great defense, it doesn't matter the level of competition. I think you can see us getting better defensively."
"We are getting production from (graduated senior) Nate Linhart's spot." Dambrot said Conyers and McClanahan are filling that role.
"I don't like (18) turnovers."
"I thought we have ben rebounding the ball pretty good and we have been guarding the ball better."
"We are starting to play better together and we're getting more assists."
on Conyers' improved play: "I think I am the reason he has had his struggles. He hasn't had the opporunities that he has now. He is playing loose and free. He is the toughest guy in our program. If he gets 10 points and seven rebounds a game we're going to be pretty good. I give hin a lot of credit, a lot of hanging in their (on his part)."
Akron junior guard Steve McNees
"From the tip to the very end we are still playing our roles and still playing hard and getting better I think we are getting something out of these games and still learning."
"We're really big on our defensive rules and continuing to play hard on every single possession. I think we did that in this game. We stress the effort, that is who we are."
"We're looking forward to the games ahead and just want to continue to get after it."
"I had some good looks. Fortunately, my teammates were finding me. I seemed to be open a lot more than normal."
"I think we are coming along and we are sharing the ball better than earlier in the year."
St. Francis coach Don Friday
"Coming in here to Akron we knew we were going against a really guality ballclub. They are a really good ballclub and we're just trying o piece it together. This is a team that is tough to play because there is very litle margin for error."
"They play so hard defensively. Coach (Dambrot) is on them on (defensive) stance all the time. He was on them all night."
"I really admire how hard they play defensively. They pressure you and they play hard offensively, too."
"(Dambrot) wasn't going to run it up on us because he is a classy guy."
"I have got a lot respect for coach (Dambrot). He is an Akron guy through-and-through. How many coaches get to coach in their hometown?
One Final Comment
Holy Cow, the Browns won. They defeated the Chiefs 41-34 after Harrison rushed for 28-yard touchdown with 44 seconds to go. Harrison rushed for 286 yards on 34 carries. The Cavaliers are obviously closer to an overall league title, but maybe the Browns and the Indians can be contenders next season.
University of Akron sophomore forward Teal Bunbury was named the Soccer America Player of the Year on Friday after leading the nation in goals scored in 2009.
This is the second year in a row a UA player was named Player of the Year by the publication and the third time a sophomore won the award, which was first handed out in 1984. Former Zips standout Steve Zakuani won the 2008 Player of the Year award as a sophomore. The only other sophomore to win the honor was Virginia's Claudio Reyna, who won the first of back-to-back awards in 1992.
Bunbury, also earned the 2009 Mid-American Conference and Goal.com Player of the Year awards.
Bunbury, a native of Prior Lake, Minn., led all Division I players with 17 goals in 2009 and helped the Zips to a national runnerup finish in the NCAA Tournament and a 23-1-1 record. He had five goals that were game-winners and four of his five assists led to game-winning goals.
He has at least one goal or one assist in 16 of 25 games and scored multiple goals in four games. From late September to early November, he scored 14 goals in a 12-game span, including four game-winners.
Bunbury compiled a team-high 39 points and started every game for UA, which was ranked No. 1 in the country by all five national polls for the final nine weeks of the season. He netted six goals as a freshman.
Bunbury is one of three finalists this year for the Hermann Trophy, college soccer’s version of football’s Heisman Trophy. The winner will be announced on Jan. 8 at the Missouri Athletic Club in downtown St. Louis, Mo.
In a move that stunned the soccer world, Caleb Porter signed a new five-year contract with Akron.
The Zips coach had interest -- if not offers -- from some prestigious pro and college programs, such as Indiana, Clemson and D.C. United. Yet, he stayed at Akron with a lower salary and high school facilities (although both are likely to improve).
One soccer site put it this way:
Caleb Porter will remain the University of Akron men's soccer coach, UA Assistant Athletics Director/Media Relations Mike Cawood said Tuesday night.
Cawood said Porter and UA have reached an agreement on a new five-year contract. Terms of the contract were not immediately announced.
Porter recently led the Zips to a runnerup finish in the Division I NCAA Tournament. The Zips were ranked No. 1 in the country by all five of the national polls for the majority of this past season. UA won its first 23 games and finished the season 23-1-1.
Porter has a 68-12-8 record in four seasons at UA. He has been named Mid-American Conference Coach of the Year in each of the past three seasons.
The Zips have made the NCAA Tournament and won MAC regular season and tournament titles in each of the past three seasons. In his first season, the Zips won the MAC regular-season title.
What a devastating end to a wonderful season!
After 110 minutes of scoreless soccer, Akron and Virginia faced off on penalty kicks, where the Cavaliers made three compared to the Zips' two.
Virginia held a seemingly insurmountable 3-1 lead on PKs before David Meves made two great saves to put Akron in position to tie it on the Zips' fifth and final kick. Blair Gavin's shot sailed over the middle of the net, which gave Virginia the title.
I'd like to address some people about this game and the season in general:
Blair Gavin -- You did not lose this game. You missed a shot. It was one second of activity in your life; don't let it control you. Believe that it happened for a reason and trust that something will good will come of this. Zips Nation has your back. Akron missed a lot of opportunities today. It just so happened that you missed the last one.
Caleb Porter -- Rumors have swirled that you are "finalizing" a deal with D.C. United of Major League Soccer. They will probably double your salary and provide unique challenges. Do not, however, underestimate the value of being appreciated. As soon as you join the big leagues, you start getting the big-league criticism. I do believe that you should leave if you no longer feel challenged at Akron. If you are bored, then move on. I don't think any fans would blame you. If it's all about the money (which isn't nearly as evil as it sounds), then you should compare the intangibles and job satisfaction (even job security) that the two jobs provide. I speak unequivocally for all Zips fans in saying we want you to stay badly.
President Luis Proenza -- It is time to invest in this program. It's sad irony that we have one of the best soccer programs in the nation (if not THE best) and it plays at a high school-quality venue in the shadow of a $61.5 million palace for a football team that hasn't broken .500 in four years. The excuse "It's only soccer" is not valid. When more than 4,000 people show up for any event, the university must identify that demand and work to satisfy it. Investing in the program means a soccer facility with at least 4,500 capacity -- one that's designed to take advantage of the AK-Rowdies and their volume. It means paying Porter a salary commensurate with the top college coaches in the nation. The calling card of this university's athletic department should be men's soccer. This IS a soccer school. That hasn't changed over the past few decades. It took a national championship for me to finally realize it. I hope the board of trustees realizes it and does something about it.
AK-Rowdies -- You are an incredible asset to this team. I could sense the players feeding off the Rowdies' energy. Having such strong student support is a unique asset for the Zips. Keep coming out. Coaches commonly thank the fans. It's almost cliche. But you guys truly impact the game. No joke. No cliche. The atmosphere you create also makes the game more enjoyable for the other spectators, too.
Tom Wistrcill -- Put the same focus on men's soccer as you put on men's basketball and football. That means in marketing, in facilities, in seeking donations -- in everything. Generally, the hierarchy of sports goes like this: Football, men's basketball and women's basketball. It's not true here. Like I said, this is a soccer school, and that should be a philosophy that percolates in every major discussion.
I never fully appreciated Meves until the past few weeks. I always figured the freshman was the back end of a phenomenal defense, which wouldn't be giving up many goals even if I was back there flailing at shots. That is not true. As he showed during the penalty kicks, Meves is tenacious, tough and quick. This might seem like heresy, but I don't think you're losing much if you compare him to Evan Bush.
This was an awful way to lose, but I don't feel the pain I expected. Maybe it's because penalty kicks are such a bush league way to determine a national champion (more on that later). Maybe it's because reaching the national championship is such a huge accomplishment that winning it all was only icing on an already-beautiful cake. Maybe it's because these players are all coming back next year (except Ben Zemanski). Maybe it's because this is the first time I've become emotionally invested in the soccer team. I suppose this rambling is me trying to find out why I'm not throwing things around the house in anger.
In the past, the NCAA would declare dual champions when the overtime periods could not settle the contest. Rather, an entire national championship is decided on the basketball equivalent of a free-throw contest. Is it exciting? Sure. Is it the best way to choose a national champion? Of course not. It's half guessing, half nerve-controlling ability, with a little skill sprinkled in. PKs have a place in soccer because you don't want teams playing for 200 minutes when it's likely that the winner will be so beaten up and worn down that they will be little match for the team in the next round. That problem does not exist in the national championship game. I'm not saying that dual champions is the answer. I doubt Akron would feel a whole lot better if that was the case. Declaring dual champions is cowardly and borderline un-American, but to allow this penalty kick charade to determine the winner of a national championship is ludacrious -- I don't care if we're talking about the MLS finals, World Cup, whatever. In a game of this magnitude, the temas should play until someone scores. Period. If it goes a certain amount of time, then give the teams some rest and bring them back tomorrow.
With that said, Virginia earned its victory. I'm certain this was the best team Akron has played. Their defense was quite aggressive. Without some bad luck on their part, Virginia could have easily won in regulation. They had several near goals.
If Porter stays, Akron will be stronger next season. The difficult part to swallow is, the team has to go through another training camp, another nonconference schedule, another MAC schedule, another anxious moment awaiting NCAA seeding, another three-plus rounds of the tournament, another semifinal. Keeping this team motivated during a long season will be next year's challenge. The players already gave their all for six months and saw the dream dissipate because of penalty kicks. Porter's challenge, if he's here, will be giving the team a reason to care about beating the Hartwicks and Cleveland States of the world.
The team will return around 10:30 p.m. tonight to the street between the field house and InfoCision Stadium. If you're in the area, I'm sure the team would be happy to be greeted.
I will be blogging live from the game at Rhodes Arena tonight. Keep refreshing your screen for updates...
If you're looking for soccer news, scroll down. The ABJ's Michael Beaven has you covered below thi post.
My guess is that the crowd will be sparce tonight. Malone is an NAIA team. A lot of fans are in North Carolina for the soccer extravaganza. The remaining students have gone home for the semester.
I had some friends over last night to watch the soccer game. We discussed how, if you're a soccer fan of any sort, you're getting into Akron soccer at this point. No question about it. Can the Zips do that in basketball? And, more important, what would it take? A top-25 ranking? A long run into the NCAAs? I think it might take both.
I rewatched the end of the soccer game last night, starting with the second overtime. I completely underestimated the header save by Ben Speas. The ball was already past goaltender David Meves. Speas literally saved the season. Like I said, it takes a lot of those plays to win a national championship -- I don't care how good you are. I am very excited for tomorrow's game. Very excited.
Malone's top scorer is former Zips guard Eric Coblentz. He averages 13.8 points per game and averages 42 percent on 3s. The team's second-leading scorer Kyle Higgins can also stroke the 3. He averages 10.9 points and shoots 40 percent on 3s. Vaso Aleksic, a 6-foot-6 native of Montenegro, leads the team with 7.3 rebounds per game.
Akron starters: Darryl Roberts, Humpty Hitchens, Jimmy Conyers, Brett McKnight and Zeke Marshall.
The athletic department installed new screens on press row. They will allow Elton Alexander and me to toggle through a plethora of stats. I don't think Elton's here tonight, though.
Attendance is pretty good tonight. I like how someone decided to fill one endzone student section with fans. When the Rowdies can't turn out, it's embarrassing to have those seats empty.
Press row is very empty tonight. A lot of reporters are in North Carolina. Even Joe Dunn is running solo on the radio. There is a headset in front of me, and if I'm called to service on the mic, I'm definitely doing it.
Malone brought its cheerleaders, which seems unusual to me.
Malone's 6-5 forward Mark Young is giving up seven inches on Marshall, whom he is guarding. I still don't see Marshall being very aggressive on rebounds. A player with a real competitor instinct would aim to grab 20 boards against a team whose tallest player is 6-6. I don't see that happening.
Coblentz scored Malone's first basket. He received a warm reception during player introductions. During warmups, Nik Cvetinovic seemed very astounded to see his former teammate wearing a different uniform. It's not like he turned heel or anything, Nik. He just wanted some playing time.
Congratulations to Turner Gill, who accepted a job at Kansas. I think he'll do a great job.
Although I criticized Marshall's rebounding tenacity, he has five boards with 7:52 left in the first half. The ball just seems to find those long, long arms. Now if only we could get his feet moving so he is also working to find the ball.
It hasn't sunk in with me that Akron is playing for a national championship tomorrow. That is crazy! The elephant in the room is Caleb Porter's status as head coach. Is he going to Indiana? Is he going to D.C. United? Is it possible he stays in a location where he has little roots and will make the least money? I've been through enough of these situations in Northeast Ohio sports to be skeptical. If he wins the national championship, I don't think anyone will be upset if he leaves for a salary that is much higher or for his alma mater. That can be an issue for Dec. 14.
Coblent and Brett McKnight got tangled up for a loose ball. McKnight helped his former teammate off the floor afterward.
Malone is on a 5-0 run. It's not much, but it's something. The Zips are shooting only 4-for-15 on 3s.
The Zips lead 31-17 at halftime. Brett McKnight and Marshall both have seven points. Marshall and Conyers have six rebounds apiece. No Zips has more than two assists. Higgins leads Malone with eight points.
The halftime show consists of young people twirling flags and fake rifles to a modern version of "Don't Stop Believin' " by Journey. I'm such a sucker for Journey that this is entertaining me.
I am longing for MAC season to begin. These early season games are mismatches, which means either 1) Akron is playing poorly and it's a close game or 2) the Zips are playing how they should, and it's a blowout. In either case, it's not much to watch. When the game has ramifications on MAC standings, however, you usually have a different atmosphere in the arena.
I'm going to Vegas on Thursday, so I'll miss a couple home games. I will still follow them, however, because I plan to spend plenty of time at the sportsbook.
Hallelujah! They fed Chris McKnight on a secondary break, and McKnight executed a quick dropstep and easy layup. You're not going to have a whole lot of success isolating a 6-6 power forward 13 feet from the rim. They have to sneak him the basketball and let him work. McKnight has two points and one rebound at the 12 minute mark in the first half. I feel confident McKnight will come out of his funk, but the coaches need to give him the ball in the position in which he's most effective.
Malone is triple-teaming Marshall when he gets the ball in the post. With Akron shooting only 6-of-21 on 3s, it's a strategy that is paying off.
I'm trying not to assess how the Zips look. Aside from effort-related critiques, it's a waste of everyone's time. Malone has a 2-6 record as an NAIA team. Realistically, Akron's best rec league team can beat Malone. I'm not saying that to ridicule the Malone players, who surely work hard. But let's keep Brett McKnight's 16 points, for example, in perspective. Brett McKnight is an impossible guard for a team without a player taller than 6-6. In the MAC, he won't be able to beat guys his size off the dribble quite so easily. With that said, it is much better for Akron to have an aggressive Brett McKnight. Maybe this game serves to build his confidence.
I have a couple explanations for the higher-than-expected attendance. First, Malone seems to have traveled with a decent amount of fans. Second, there is at least one youth basketball team with its families. Third, the people spinning things in the halftime show brought friends and family. It doesn't matter how you do it, really.
Cvetinovic drove baseline and spun a reverse layup off the glass. Nifty.
Marshall grabbed defensive rebounds on three consecutive possessions. Keith Dambrot is about to sub in the reserves. Steve Swiech, Mike Bardo and Tim Carroll entered. They are joined by Ronnie Steward and Alex Sullivan. Apparently, Bardo graduated today. Good for him. That's a semester early, too. It almost sounds impossible for someone playing Division I basketball.
I wish Swiech played more often, just so I wouldn't have to keep looking up how to spell his last name. The "i before e" rule should be easier to remember. He just missed two foul shots.
Oh man. Thank you, Steve Swiech. You just pumped his fist running down the court after a layup. I love the passion with which he plays. I just wish Dambrot didn't him in the doghouse and melt the key.
Akron is 6-for-17 on free throws. That's 35 percent for you people who need to induce vomit. The team is 6-for-24 on 3-pointers.
Bardo swatted a shot and shook his head, in the same manner Dikembe Mutumbo wags his finger.
Swiech is working very hard to get open. He's a real piece of work -- in a good way.
I was having a hard time listening to the soccer announcers last night. They were exhausting the list of sports cliches: 1) It is what it is. 2) Don't sleep on [some team or some aspect of a team]. 3) You miss 100 percent of the shots you don't take. ... This alone made me wish I drove down to North Carolina for the games.
Oh, the game ended. Final stats of note: Brett McKnight led both teams with 18 points. Coblentz led Malone with 12. Marshall had a game-high of 11 rebounds and two blocks. No player on either team had more than three assists. Akron shot 40.3 percent. Malone was 20.4 percent, which makes the shooting percentages almost directly proportional with the final score.
The next game is Friday at 7 p.m. at home against UNC-Greensboro. Like I said, I won't be there, nor for Sunday's 2 p.m. game against St. Francis.
Because of the lack of media today, Dambrot won't be having a press conference.
Akron 62, Malone 30 -- Final score
Here are some tidbits from Saturday's press conference:
Akron coach Caleb Porter
on Zips junior midfielder/penalty kick ace Blair Gavin: “He makes up his mind when he gets up there. I never know where he is going. He takes them like a pro. He can go both ways. You can’t scout him.”
Porter commenting again on Gavin's technique in PK situations: "I have never seen a guy better than him on PK's.
on the rumors involving the open Indiana coaching job: “I’ve been already contacted by Indiana. I have already made a statement that I am not interested. I would prefer to not answer more questions on that. We are at the College Cup. We should be talking about that. I am focused on Akron right now. I love this team, I love being in Akron and my wife does as well. The administration is committed to our program. And the alumni are behind us. I have not thought or talked with anybody us whatsoever. The rumors out there are purely speculation.”
on the header by Zips freshman midfielder Ben Speas that denied UNC a goal in the second overtime: "He made a play to keep NC off the score sheet. If he doesn't make that play, we lose ... He played his best game of the year."
on the five Akron players that took the penalty kicks: "The guys we picked, we knew would be confident. That's the most improtant thing."
Akron sophomore forward Teal Bunbury
“It’s been a great journey ever since preseason. We have a big game tomorrow.”
Akron junior midfielder Blair Gavin
on his approach to penalty kicks: “I go up there confident. ... I watch the goalkeeper and react. I watch when my teammates take their kick and look for tendencies. I saw him dive (to my right) and I kicked to the other side (my left).”
Virginia coach George Gelnovatch
on playing Akron: ''It's refreshing to see a new face, a new team of the same caliber of our ACC sisters. They play soccer. They are a good attacking team.''
Notes & Quotes
-- Porter said sophomore midfielder Michael Nanchoff is out with a hamstring injury and junior midfielder Anthony Ampaipitakwong is expected to play despite a bruised quad muscle.
-- Porter on Ampaipitakwong status: "I'm guessing he'll be out there. We have 90 minutes left."
-- Porter said Nanchoff "pulled the hamstring four weeks ago." Porter said Nanchoff made great strides in the past week in training and that "prior to Friday he looked to be 100 percent. I don't know if it was the weather, or if it was fluke, but he tweaked it again (during warmups)."
-- The Cavaliers had three players answer questions from the media Saturday. They were junior forward Chase Neinken, junior defender T.J. Cyrus and junior goalkeeper Diego Restrepo.
-- All three Cavaliers spoke of taking "great pride in wearing the Virginia crest" and playing in a program with a "tradition for winning titles."
-- Restrepo's name should be familiar to Zips fans. He was the goalkeeper for South Florida in 2007 when the Bulls defeated the Zips 1-0 in an NCAA Tournament game that went to double overtime and was played during below freezing temperatures.
-- "That was an unbelievable experience," Restrepo said Saturday regarding the 2007 game. "They're very good. I'll never forget the game. That was a tough game."
-- Restrepo said he has played on summer teams with Ampaipitakwong and Gavin.
-- UA has a 2-1 advantage over Virginia in three meeting. The Zips won matchups in 1980 (1-0) and 1981 (2-1), the Cavaliers won in 1997 by a 5-1 score.
Here is some additional information after the University of Akron advanced past North Carolina an NCAA Tournament semifinal men’s soccer game:
UA, ranked No. 1 in the country and seeded first, will play second-seeded Virginia (18-3-3) on Sunday at 1 p.m. in the national final game at WakeNed Stadium in Cary, N.C.
The winner of the game, which is being televised by ESPN2, earns the championship trophy, the College Cup.
The Zips (23-0-1) and fifth-seeded North Carolina (16-2-4) played regulation and two overtime periods, 110 total minutes off soccer, and were tied at 0-0 tie before a crowd of 8,862 fans who braved 28 degree temperatures.
Freshman Zarek Valentin, senior Ben Zemanski, sophomore Kofi Sarkodie, freshman Scott Caldwell and junior Blair Gavin successfully took the penalty kicks for UA and kicked them into the net past Tar Heels senior goalkeeper Brooks Haggerty.
Michael Farfan and Zach Loyd of North Carolina made their attempts, and then Jordan Graye missed his attempts by kicking the ball far over the crossbar and beyond the reach of UA freshman goalkeeper David Meves.
UNC’s Drew McKinney and Kirk Urso also converted their kicks.
Akron coach Caleb Porter
''Obviously, I am pleased that we are in the championship game. I am a little disappointed we couldn't score a goal through the flow of the game.''
''We defended individually and collectively very well. We are excited to be in the championship game.''
''Credit our guys for stepping up on the PKs. All five guys stepped up and drilled them.''
Akron junior midfielder Blair Gavin
''My mindset is I am going to make it. I don't feel the keeper is going to stop me. I am confident I will be able to put it away.''
North Carolina coach Elmer Bolowich
''Strong defenses neutralized the attacks with very committed play.''
-- The Zips have now been tied, but they remain undefeated at 23-0-1.
-- Valentin, Sarkodie, junior Chris Korb and freshman Chad Barson contributed as the Zips' starting defenders.
-- Gavin, Zemanski, junior Anthony Ampaipitakwong (two shots on goal) and freshman Ben Speas were the Zips' starters at midfield. Sophomore forwards Teal Bunbury (two shots on goal) and Darlington Nagbe were also key offensively, along with freshmen reserves Caldwell and Yoram Mwila.
-- Zips sophomore midfielder Michael Nanchoff was scheduled to start, but was scratched from the lineup due to a hamstring injury. He did not enter the game.
-- Ampaipitakwong injured his squad during the game and missed most of the second half and the overtimes.
-- UA had a lot of fans and the Zips supporters were vocal. The AK-Rowdies bussed down in one bus and other UA fans traveled to Cary by either bus, car or plane.
-- WakeMed Stadium is a very nice soccer venue. It will be interesting to see if UA could build something similar, but on a smaller scale. The seating for fans and the press box setup are each nice.
The Zips beat North Carolina in penalty kicks Friday night, setting up the University of Akron to compete for its first team national championship Sunday against Virginia.
Akron was a perfect 5-for-5 on penalty kicks, while North Carolina's third attempt sailed over the net. The play of goaltender David Meves was especially critical as the Tarheels attacked late in overtime. North Carolina played most of the game without a player who was tagged with a red card. Still, they found solid opportunities to score.
The AK-Rowdies were well-represented. ESPNU showed them often. When they weren't on camera, they were making a lot of noise, giving the Zips a home-field feel, despite playing in the state of their foe.
Also today, news came that Teal Bunbury is one of three finalists for the Hermann Trophy. The Zips dominated control of the ball most of the game, but they never had a great scoring opportunity. North Carolina hunkered down and seemed to play with an eye toward overtime after the red card made the game 11-on-10.
Caleb Porter's Zips will play the most important game in the University of Akron's history -- in any sport -- on Sunday at 1 p.m. As Porter said on the ESPNU broadcast, an unbeaten season capped by a national championship would give the team a compelling argument for being the most dominant men's soccer team in NCAA history.
Tom Gaffney and Michael Beaven are in Cary, N.C. They will have much more on the game.
Already with plans to implement a Notre Dame-style passing attack and a 4-3 defense, Rob Ianello was introduced as Akron's new football coach today.
I'm struggling to understand how so many fans can be so prejudicial about this hiring. Did you interview each candidate? Were you sitting in on the conversations between Luis Proenza and Tom Wistrcill? Have you done background checks and held in-depth conversations with references?
Ianello, like Wistrcill, deserves a fair chance to implement his plans. So many people in sports (heck, politics, too) think they know everything because they read the newspaper or watch the 24-hour networks. Truth is, it's rare when people at this level lack a reasonable explanation for their actions -- particularly monumental ones like hiring a football coach. If Wistrcill and Proenza settled on Ianello, they didn't do it because they didn't want "a big name." They didn't choose Ianello "because they're enamoured with Notre Dame." There's no favoritism going on.
When you make a decision like this, it's foolish to say you want ONE THING from your coach. The danger in that is, you'll get what you want. Running a football program is about leadership. The next great head football coach could be anywhere. Akron won't get a can't-miss finished product as a head coach. The same goes for recruiting players.
Anyone can sit in an armchair and complain about a coach he's never heard of. But not everything has to be black and white. No, we don't know that Ianello is the 2010 MAC Coach of the Year. No, we don't know that Ianello is not worthy of the job. Chill out, people. How would you like to walk into a job where people are already calling you a failure?
FootballCoachScoop.com is reporting that Akron's next head coach will be Rob Ianello, the top offensive assistant coach at Notre Dame under Charlie Weis.
The ABJ's Tom Gaffney has confirmed that the university will hold a press conference tomorrow (Thursday) at noon to announce the new hire, and Ianello is the leading candidate and interviewed on Tuesday. Ed Warinner, the offensive coordinator at Kansas, is another candidate. He interviewed on Monday.
Unfortunately, I am scheduled to take the hardest exam in law school tomorrow morning, so I won't be able to attend.
Here is some additional information following the University of Akron 1-0 win over Tulsa in an NCAA Tournament quarterfinal men’s soccer game:
UA, ranked No. 1 in the country for nearly two months and seeded first, will play fifth-seed North Carolina on Friday at 7:30 p.m. in a national semifinal game in Cary, N.C.
Virginia and Wake Forest will meet in the other semifinal at 5 p.m. The four teams are playing for the College Cup
Sophomore defender Kofi Sarkodie scored a first-half goal off an assist from junior midfielder Blair Gavin to help the Zips (23-0-0) defeat eighth-seeded Tulsa (15-5-2) before a Lee Jackson Field record crowd of 4,254 fans who braved below-freezing temperatures.
The bleachers in front of the press box, the student section on the hill behind the east goal and the temporary bleachers set up behind the west goal were full and the atmosphere was amazing. It was cold, but it was fun.
Akron coach Caleb Porter
“I am proud that we get to go and showcase our program. I am excited to play quality opponents. It starts with North Carolina, who plays in one of the top conferences in the country, on Friday.”
''It is important to not forget what we are in the College Cup to do and that is to win a national championship. We are not satisfied with where we are at now. We went into this year wanting to win a national championship. We will enjoy this experience, but we are there for business and we are there to win it.''
''The common thread of championship teams is the ability to individually and collectively defend better than any other team and we are able to do that.''
''I hope people will remember this game. This was special. This is the biggest crowd in the history of the program by over a thousand. I am also happy my seniors could win their final game at home.''
''This season is not done. I told the guys they tied the record today and that I am hoping they break it. I think it's ironic that this team is the one that tied the 1997 team. I also talked to [former Indiana] coach [Jerry] Yeagley. He was excited. He said to me if anyone was going to tie that streak, he was happy it was someone connected with IU.''
“Kofi is an outstanding defensemen but he is also a threat to come forward in that kind of situation. It was a great play and a great shot by him.”
“University of Akron soccer has always had a special niche in this community. That was one of the aspects that made this job so attractive when I came here. Our fans are great. They are always very supportive. It was really nice to be able to give more of them the opportunity to see this game.”
“I think we’ll be more represented than you might think. I think you’ll see Akron people coming out of the woodwork and finding a way to be there, whether it’s alumni, fans or students. We have very loyal fans and a good following.”
''This was a typical NCAA Tournament-type game. It's not always a dominating performance in the NCAAs. When you start to get deeper and deeper, the margin of error gets slimmer and slimmer. You are playing better teams and Tulsa is a very good team.''
Zips sophomore Kofi Sarkodie
''It feels great. I am glad I came here. Making the College Cup feels amazing.''
''I found myself forward and Blair had great vision and slipped the ball through to me. I just hit the ball and was fortunate enough for it to go in. I was confident that the ball was going to go in. I knew I struck it well and the goalkeeper would have to make a spectacular save to stop it.''
Zips junior Blair Gavin
''I saw Kofi, he was kind of looking back at me and I played it into him. He made a spectacular play to finish it off.''
Zips senior Ben Zemanski
“Our fans are always great but this was really something else. It was fun to play in front of a crowd this big. The University of Akron has always had a great soccer tradition and a good following in this town but this took it to a whole new level today. It was great to see this many people at the game. It was a good feeling to take the field with that many people behind you.”
“The whole town loves us now. You can feel it. It’s special. We’ve build a great tradition and having the whole town behind us just adds to it. We’ve been building up to this for the four years (Porter) has been the coach and now we have a chance to win a national championship. That’s been our goal and the people of Akron will be excited if we bring it home next week.”
''Couldn't dream it up any better. Took a lot of heart from every one of these guys.''
Tulsa coach Tom McIntosh
"I certainly want to congratulate Akron on a good win. I thought they played well. I also want to congratulate my guys. We had a good plan coming in and I thought we executed it. I thought we really put an awful lot of pressure on them in the second half. We were just unfortunate that one of our chances didn't go in.”
"I couldn't be prouder of this season. This group has grown as much as any team I've ever had. I couldn't be prouder."
-- UA's only other appearance in the College Cup was in 1986. The Zips defeated Fresno State 1-0 and then lost to Duke 1-0 in the championship game.
-- The Zips held an advantage in shots (12-6) and shots on goals (4-3).
-- UA shut out its 17th opponent of the season, extending a school record. Zips freshman goalkeeper David Meves recorded three saves and earned his school-record 15th shutout.
-- Sarkodie, junior Chris Korb and freshman Zarek Valentin and Chad Barson contributed as the Zips' starting defenders.
-- Gavin, Zemanski, junior Anthony Ampaipitakwong and freshman Ben Speas were the Zips' starters at midfield. Sophomore forwards Teal Bunbury (three shots on goal) and Darlington Nagbe were also key offensively, along with freshmen reserves Yoram Mwila and Scott Caldwell.
-- Porter will be attending his eighth College Cup. His previous seven trips were with Indiana University; two as a player, four as an assistant coach and one as a graduate assistant. Three of those visits ended with a title.
-- UA's 23 consecutive wins matches the longest winning streak in a season that Indiana set in 1997. Porter was a starting midfielder on that Hoosiers team that fell to eventual-champion UCLA in the semifinals.
I apologize for not posting sooner. It's exam week, and that generally drains my time.
I did, however, attend yesterday's game. Some thoughts...
It's amazing what a nationally prominent team can do to attract fans. The university constructed an entirely new set of bleachers on the west end of the field to accommodate more fans. A total of 4,254 showed up. Soccer has the unique ability to play its tournament at home sites until the College Cup, which give home fans the ability to see their team up until the national semifinals. That is a big reason for these sell-outs, but let's remember that the Zips were stuffing Lee Jackson Field from the beginning of the season.
The Zips were very fortunate to hang onto their lead at the end. Tulsa was attacking furiously late in the game. Akron's defense was still stalwart, but not quite as sharp. Let's not forget, it takes luck along the way for any team to win a championship -- even if they are the most talented.
That was one of the five coldest sporting events I've attended. That is a definite advantage during the NCAA Tournament, particularly against teams like Stanford, South Florida and Tulsa. It's true the adrenaline keeps you warm for awhile, but toes, fingers and joints lock up for everyone equally. It's the team that is accustomed to it that can better deal with it.
I am very impressed with the AK-Rowdies. We complain about fan support for Akron athletics, but I would be stunned to see another student section in the nation as fervent as the Zips'. If Caleb Porter stays at Akron, the Rowdies probably will have something to do with it. They provide a unique asset. Soccer is "cool" at Akron.
GoZips.com has a great information page with everything a fan wants to know about the College Cup. Michael Beaven will also keep you updated on this blog as the week goes on.
Akron's staunch defense kept the Zips close with No. 19 Texas A&M on Friday night. Poor shooting nights from Brett McKnight (3-for-12) and Humpty Hitchens (1-for-10) kept the Zips from pulling out a win.
Texas A&M won, 74-62.
The Zips will play NAIA opponent Malone on Saturday at 7 p.m. at home. It starts a string of five-consecutive home games.
University of Akron junior midfielder Anthony Ampaipitakwong and sophomore forward Teal Bunbury are among 15 semifinalists that have been named for the Hermann Trophy, men's college soccer's version of football's Heisman Trophy.
Ampaipitakwong and Bunbury have each started all 22 games for the No. 1 ranked Zips, who have a 22-0-0 record and will host Tulsa in a sold-out NCAA Division I quarterfinal game at 4 p.m. today at Lee Jackson Field.
Three finalists for the award will be announced Dec. 11 and be invited to the Missouri Athletic Club in St. Louis for a news conference on Jan. 8, where the winner will be announced. Division I college head coaches with current membership in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) will vote to determine the 2009 MAC Hermann Trophy recipient.
Ampaipitakwong has eight goals and five assists this season. He has three goals in two NCAA Tournament games this season. He was an NSCAA third team All-American last season and is a three-time All-Mid-American Conference First Team honoree.
Bunbury won the MAC Player of the Year honor this season. He leads the country with 17 goals and also has five assists. He has recorded at least one goal or one assist in 16 of the 22 games and scored multiple goals in four games.
The Zips are averaging 2.59 goals per game, which is the highest average among the 203 Division I programs.
This is the second consecutive year UA has been represented on the Hermann Trophy semifinalist list. Former Zips forward Steve Zakuani was named first runner up a year ago before becoming the No. 1 overall draft pick by the Seattle Sounder FC in the MLS SuperDraft.
Zakuani led the nation last season with 20 goals and had seven assists. He was named the MAC Player of the Year and the national player of the year according to Soccer America and Top Drawer Soccer.
Check out the Akron Beacon Journal and ohio.com for additional stories on the Zips men's soccer team. I have covered nine of the 12 home games and wrote up several away games.
Features on David Meves, Ben Zemanski, Michael Nanchoff, Teal Bunbury and Caleb Porter can be found online along with stories written prior to the season and prior to the NCAA Tournament.
Stories about the Zips "dominant soccer" style of play and UA's defense can also be found online with comments from Porter, Meves, Zemanski, Bunbury, Ampaipitakwong, Nanchoff, Darlington Nagbe, Kofi Sarkodie, Chris Korb, Blair Gavin, Ben Speas, Chad Barson, Stefan Ostergren and Zarek Valentin.
Indiana is looking to replace its head soccer coach with one of its distinguished alumni, according to Hoosiers athletic director Fred Glass.
The school chose not to renew the contract of coach Mike Freitag, which must mean that Caleb Porter is at the top of Indiana's list. Porter was an assistant for the Hoosiers for six years, starting in 2000. He is under contract with Akron until 2014.
I don't doubt one bit that Porter will take the job. I just hope that it doesn't serve as a distraction the next two weeks.
I will always remember this season for two moments -- one of great heights and one that began a series of extreme lows.
First, the opener against Morgan State was wonderful. The university provided a great atmosphere for tailgating. The pregame pageantry was perfect. The game's outcome was the beatdown we all desired.
Before the next game -- one in which the Zips were hosting their first Big Ten team (and were 4.5-point favorites to win) -- the senior quarterback was suspended indefinitely and later kicked off the team.
Maybe the coaches only found out about Chris Jacquemain's personal struggles in mid-September. If that's the case, it was a stroke of awful luck that sent the team into a tailspin. The more likely scenario is that the team knew something about Jacquemain's issue(s) and hoped it would just go away.
It didn't. But Akron's season did.
Against Indiana, Matt Rodgers started his first college game and threw four interceptions. The Hoosiers came into InfoCision Stadium and stole the show in what was supposed to be Akron's coming-out party. More like a funeral.
The procession continued at Central Michigan, where Akron probably had no realistic shot to keep up with Dan LeFevour's Chips. One had to wonder if the offensive line showed up drunk. They couldn't stop the rush or block for the running backs. It was a pathetic performance that made Rodgers look even greener than he was.
With a three-game road trip looming, Akron had a must-win game on Homecoming against Ohio. Rather, the Zips lost by two scores. It was at that point I realized J.D. Brookhart's time at Akron was through.
After the Homecoming letdown, it was no surprise to see the Zips drop all three games on the road trip. They returned to beat Kent State and spoil the Flashes' ability to control their destiny to the MAC Championship game. (If there is one positive to Brookhart's legacy at Akron, it was his uncontrollable ability to outcoach Doug Martin.)
At that point, however, a postseason opportunity was out of reach. Akron played like it the next week against Temple, who punched the injury-riddled Zips in the teeth on national TV. Bowling Green did likewise the next week. Then Akron won a pillow fight with Eastern Michigan to finish the 2009 season -- a season that began with a triumphant bang and fizzled to a faint hiss.
This was a season where Akron had a chance to pull the community to campus -- to show them that good football at an exciting venue doesn't only happen in Columbus. It's not all Jacquemain's fault, but you can certainly point to his dismissal as the turning point. A more seasoned coaching staff would know how to counteract losing a marginal senior starter -- albeit the quarterback. A roster with more leadership would use it as a rallying point, not a "woe is me" excuse to get outworked. Rather, the event triggered a six-game losing streak.
And thus, InfoCision Stadium's doors are gently closed until next season, when a new coach will attempt to rebuild the program -- effectively using the MAC's best facilities to recruit talented kids, who are also winners, who are also leaders, and who are also good citizens.
The new coach will earn about $379,000, which will mean Akron can attract a better candidate than if it continued to pay $250,000 (Brookhart's salary). Tom Wistrcill is looking for someone who can energize the community. To me, that means someone with national name recognition or someone with oodles of charisma.
I would give the following coaches a call: Glenn Mason, Charlie Weis, Terry Bowden and Mark Stoops. Here is Tom Gaffney's list.
Time is running low for Akron to take advantage of this stadium's novelty. I said Akron must rebuild, but it also must win in the mean time. Wistrcill and President Luis Proenza understand this. I'm comfortable with them calling the shots.