It will be more business than pleasure for University of Akron point guards Alex Abreu and Carmelo Betancourt as they return home for the Puerto Rico Tip-off. The tournament begins today for the Zips with a 10:30 a.m. game on ESPNU against Oklahoma State.
Abreu, a junior, grew up within walking distance of the host venue. Betancourt wasn’t too far away, hailing from a district in the island’s capital of San Juan.
Friends and family will come watch them play, but that’s not at the top of their list of priorities.
“It’s definitely good to go back home, but at the same time, there’s a lot of pressure just because we have to perform,” Abreu said.
Betancourt, Abreu’s freshman backup, agreed: “I think it’s an honor to go back home and play in front of our family and fans. [But] we need to go there and win. We just had a bad loss to Coastal Carolina, so we have to pick it up with an Oklahoma State win.”
They might have to work overtime to do that. As to be expected, the Zips aren’t exactly fine-tuned right now for a couple of reasons.
“We’re playing a high-level team and right now we’re not playing the high-level basketball that we’re capable of,” Abreu said.
There is no set rotation, primarily because the team is without two key members — junior forwards Demetrius Treadwell and Nick Harney, who were ruled ineligible for the first three games of the season. They did, however, travel with the team and are expected to play in the second game of the tournament.
Their athleticism along with Treadwell’s size and rebounding ability will be missed against an Oklahoma State lineup that isn’t especially big, Zips basketball coach Keith Dambrot said.
“We’ve got guys playing different positions; it’s kind of a cluster because of our situation. We haven’t been able to progress because we haven’t been able to practice with those guys either,” Dambrot said.
Then there’s the issue of Abreu, who hasn’t been 100 percent since suffering an ankle sprain in practice more than a week ago. It didn’t help that he reinjured it Sunday.
“I don’t think he was very good [against John Carroll] physically, just mediocre. He gives you some things because he knows what we’re doing, and he goes 14 and 12 [points] in successive games based on knowledge,” Dambrot said. “But he really has very little quickness and that hurts us badly. We have to sneak out game one and hopefully get our guys back and back and get him in shape.”
Reasons do exist to be encouraged, primarily the play of the Zips younger players, wings Jake Kretzer and Reggie McAdams, center Pat Forsythe and Deji Ibitayo.
“Those young kids continue to play well for us. That’s the biggest thing I’m pleased with,” Dambrot said.
Despite the team’s unsettled nature, Cowboys coach Travis Ford doesn’t expect the Zips to be a pushover.
“Akron is an extremely tough first-round opponent. They are extremely well coached; a team that’s returning a lot of players off of a great year last year. [They] had one of the top big men in the country [Zeke Marshall] that is inside, who can score, block shots, rebound, do a lot of different things inside,” he said during a teleconference.
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.