For years, Miami’s slowdown style would give fits to basketball teams throughout the Mid-American Conference.
Now the RedHawks have a new coach and style — one they are still trying on.
This offers a good chance for the University of Akron to extend its winning streak to 15 in a row. The Zips (18-4, 9-0) face the RedHawks (8-13, 3-6) at 1 p.m. today at Millett Hall in Oxford.
New coach John Cooper replaced the slower-paced offense that former coach Charlie Coles preferred with something that is more up-tempo. The RedHawks look to create points in transition off steals, ranking second in the conference with nine per game.
The difference also has shown up on the offensive end of the court with the RedHawks averaging 65.3 points per game, up almost five points over last season.
Miami slowed the game down last season under Coles at Rhodes Arena and forced UA into a slugfest that took the Zips some time to pull away.
The pressure defense that the RedHawks use now is a high-risk, high-reward proposition as they rank near the bottom of the conference in defense.
“They play crazy. They play small,” Zips coach Keith Dambrot said. “It’s going to be a tough game. They play different. They play fast. They trap, and they run at the ball.”
But they could sting the Zips if they’re not careful. In that regard, the Zips will have to be mindful of guard Quentin Rollins, who is second in the conference with 2.1 steals per game.
“It doesn’t affect us,” point guard Alex Abreu said. “It’s just one more game plan to us. It affects us in the way we have to take care of the ball and not turn it over.”
Defensively, the Zips have to maintain awareness of redshirt juniors Will Felder, a forward averaging 11.7 points per game, and guard Allen Roberts, who averages 12.9 points.
The reality, however, is that the RedHawks are in a state of transition and the Zips should be able to take advantage of the situation.
“They don’t have the horses to do it every night,” Dambrot said of Miami. “What they’re trying to do is set the framework for their system.”
Dambrot offers a touch of caution to go with that statement.
“Every team in this league is the same, but different,” Dambrot said. “They’re all capable of beating you one night, two nights or three nights, but they’re not beating you in a 10-game series.”
With the nation’s longest winning streak on the line, it’s a reasonable expectation to keep that in mind.
The Zips can win their 10th consecutive game in the Mid-American Conference this season and 15th consecutive overall with a win against Miami.
It’s the latter that has been garnering them some attention nationally.
“It’s good for our school,” Dambrot said Friday after practice. “It’s good for our program. Every time we keep winning it means we’re in the national news. It means a lot from that perspective.”
For Abreu, that streak represents a source of pride that comes with an obligation.
“It means a lot not only to us, but the community and anybody connected with the program,” he said. “So it’s important for us to come through and perform.”
George M. Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.