As the University of Akron and Kent State prepare to renew their annual basketball series, the two teams couldn’t find themselves in more different positions.
The Zips feature an experienced starting five, all of whom contribute to a balanced offensive attack in which no player averages more than the 12.3 points per game scored by 7-foot center Zeke Marshall.
With the loss of star forward Justin Greene, the Golden Flashes’ offensive punch comes from senior forward Chris Evans (17.1 ppg) and senior guard Randal Holt (14.2).
KSU’s primary problem is youth, UA coach Keith Dambrot said.
“They went from playing exclusively through Justin Greene,” he said. “They’re spreading the wealth more between Evans and Holt. They’re less five-man reliant.”
That has provided some problems for the Flashes (11-6, 2-1), a team that’s surprisingly struggled on their M.A.C. Center home court.
It’s an issue that KSU coach Rob Senderoff decided to deal with in a unique way. During the game, KSU’s players won’t get the chance to worry about individual play because their point totals will no longer appear on the scoreboard as a way to build camaraderie.
“We haven’t played well at home pretty much all year, so we are trying to do something to change them up,” Senderoff said. “We want to make sure our guys are focused only on how many points we have as a team and not on how many points they have individually. Some coaches have taken the names off of the back of the jerseys to try to get their players to play for the team and not themselves. We are going to try this.”
That move will force the Zips into the same situation. Dambrot was taken by surprise when informed his team will be limited as well.
“What’s the difference? It doesn’t make a difference to me,” Dambrot said. “I don’t really think about stuff like that. I worry about things I can control and none of that is going to affect the game to me.”
He’s more concerned about stopping KSU, and UA has a clear plan of attack against their rival.
“I really think we have to focus on Evans and Holt,” UA senior guard Brian Walsh said. “If we limit their touches and limit their points, they’re going to have a tough time scoring over our big guys.”
In short, if UA can control that duo, theoretically, they should be able to control the tone of the game.
“We need to try to get them at the cracking point and put enough pressure on them mentally and physically so that they crack,” Dambrot said.
The Zips possess two obvious strong points.
They have solid big men — Marshall, Demetrius Treadwell, Nick Harney and Pat Forsythe — who possess the ability to finish at the rim.
And they are tied for second in scoring defense in the Mid-American Conference allowing 62.8 points per game. That combination results in a league-leading scoring margin of 13.3 points per game.
But if Senderoff has been studying film, he knows that the Zips have their flaws and of late, the inability to connect from outside on a consistent basis is the primary one.
Dambrot calls it coincidental. His players don’t sound too concerned either.
“Shots haven’t been falling, that’s destined to turn around,” Walsh said. “The percentages here say they are going to start falling shortly. I can’t think of a better game for them to start falling than Kent.”
Forward Chauncey Gilliam agreed.
“This is a tough part of the season,” he said. “When you start to get to this middle point, you really have to grind through games especially in our conference. Things will get better.”
For Dambrot the game will boil down to very simple things.
“We have to take advantage of our size and strength,” he said, “and they have to take advantage of their quickness and shooting ability. It’s as simple as that.”
Harney led three Zips in double figures with 15 points and had four rebounds against Ball State on Wednesday. He’s on a roll, scoring in double figures in five consecutive games. … Today’s game will be the 23rd consecutive game in the series on TV, the longest streak in the MAC between two league programs.
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.