The University of Akron men’s basketball team needs to rise and shine and not be surprised today.
In front of a national television audience on ESPNU, the Zips (11-5, 3-0) will take on the Toledo Rockets at 11 a.m. today at Rhodes Arena.
“We practice every day at 8:30 in the morning, so if anything, it’s an advantage for us,” UA coach Keith Dambrot said. “Our guys are used to playing in the morning.”
They might even arrive at the arena more focused because the team stayed in a local hotel Friday night. Make no mistake about it; they’ll need any advantage they can get in dealing with the Rockets (14-2, 2-1). Toledo opened the season with 12 consecutive wins. The Rockets returned to Earth for two games with two consecutive losses but will arrive on campus on a two-game winning streak.
Dambrot calls it the pretty girl against the ugly girl.
“We have to become more finesseful, but understand we are not finesseful,” he said. “We’re big, strong, mean, tough, nasty and sometimes we’re going to throw it to the wrong team until we clean ourselves up. It’s as simple as that. There is nothing we can do about it until we fully understand what our issues are — which we do. But we’re still good enough to win.”
It would help that his team remembers and plays like that against Toledo because the Rockets can score from all five positions on the floor. Each member of the Toledo starting lineup is averaging double-figure scoring this season.
The Rockets come into the game averaging 84.2 points per game. The Zips give up an average of 68.4. Dambrot said he is leery of the Rockets’ flexibility on offense.
“We can’t beat them if the game gets into the 80s and they’re capable of being in the 80s,” he said. “They’re probably one of few teams we play in the league that’s consistently able to get into the 80s.”
The Toledo offense begins with small forward Rian Pearson, the Rockets’ leading scorer at 15.5 points per game. But their two guards, Julius “Juice” Brown (13.4 points and 7.2 assists) and Justin Drummond (14.4 points and 4.6 rebounds) are also threats.
“Juice Brown is a good player,” Dambrot said. “We’ve done a good job on him the last two times we’ve played him, but we also had Zeke Marshall at the rim. We have to keep him in front of us, and when the game is on the line, he’s going to try to make plays.”
The Zips will have to play physically on defense to slow the Rockets down, but they will also have to take advantage of their muscle on offense, if only to soften things up on the outside.
Against Miami, the low post was akin to a demilitarized zone for UA. The ball didn’t spend a lot of time in the hands of frontcourt players Pat Forsythe, Demetrius Treadwell or Isaiah Johnson. The Zips were all too content to hoist up 3-point shots and made just 2-of-14 in the first half. They cannot do that against Toledo.
“I think Miami made us shoot from outside,” Dambrot said. “We post-touch almost every play. [But] at some point, you have to loosen them up a little bit.”
Although Dambrot and his players know who they are, this game represents the best time to start cleaning up some of those little things, such as turnovers. In the past two games, the Zips have given the ball away on turnovers 33 times.
In each of those games, against Ohio and Miami, respectively, fortune smiled upon them. They can’t rely on that for the rest of the conference schedule.
George M. Thomas can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Zips blog at http://www.ohio.com/zips. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/GeorgeThomasABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.