One time-worn truth about college basketball highlights the difficulty beating an equal three times in one season. Then, try doing so after a wrenching turn, losing your seemingly indispensable point guard. That begins to define the achievement of Coach Keith Dambrot and the University of Akron men’s basketball team last week, conquering Ohio University and claiming the Mid-American Conference tournament title.
The victory brings this evening’s game in the first round of the NCAA tournament, the Zips facing Virginia Commonwealth University in suburban Detroit. Talk about March madness, VCU coached by Shaka Smart, a former Akron assistant and close friend of Dambrot, the two teams practically mirror images in the pressing way they play.
Listen to those full of advice about how to fill your brackets, and VCU already has been penciled for the weekend, even a return trip to the Sweet Sixteen. Better in these parts to recall the overtime game between the schools last season. Or how much Dambrot has demanded of himself and his players, the high standards and hard work on the court yielding that 19-game winning streak and the past two weeks, going from what-just-happened to adapting skillfully to rapid change.
Count the moments rising to the occasion, Dambrot in the preparation, Zeke Marshall with the blocks, Demetrius Treadwell relentless in his determination, Chauncey Gilliam hitting shots, Nick Harney at the point, Carmelo Betancourt stepping up. Gotta like a match-up with Michigan.