Ten, as in 10 consecutive wins, is an impressive number.
But given the way the University of Akron (13-4, 4-0) played the past week, reaching it with imposing play would represent a huge leap forward.
Tonight’s Mid-American Conference opponent, Toledo (7-9, 1-4), is a team not to be trifled with despite a mediocre record. That’s because the Rockets feature a potent offensive combination in Ryan Pearson (18.7 points per game) and Julius “Juice” Brown (13.8 points per game).
It was Pearson who tore the Zips up with 29 points on 9-of-18 shooting at Rhodes Arena last February.
“You can’t ever let the best players beat you, but by the same token we have to make him get his points with volume shots,” UA coach Keith Dambrot said.
That means giving Pearson shots, but contesting them every way possible. Then there’s Brown, who will create a set of problems for point guard Alex Abreu.
The Zips hope to take advantage of a glaring Toledo weakness — a lack of depth.
Some of that lack of depth has been caused by academic issues related to players and scholarships, according to reports.
Once it gets beyond the Rockets’ starting five, things get a bit dicey. The reserves are averaging just a shade more than 12 points for Toledo.
“They’re playing good in stretches but it’s hard to be good consistently because of that bench,” Dambrot said.
With Pearson leading the way, the Rockets hung around last year before the Zips blew them away. UA primarily played zone defense, something they haven’t done a lot this year.
“We practice the zone every day but hardly use it. We play man-to-man. We trap,” Dambrot said. “We have to figure out what it takes to win. We will play anyway we have to to win.”
The best possible thing the Zips could do is collectively wake up. They have been getting by in tough games purely on talent.
The Zips scrapped it out against Ball State, a team they were expected to bowl over. And although Kent State is a rival, many expected that game to be easier than it turned out to be.
“It’s hard to judge. Maybe that’s the way we play,” Dambrot said. “Maybe we’re not the smoothest offensive team. We’ve got good athletic talent but we’ve got some weaknesses too.”
Although the Zips are among the league’s best rebounding teams, landing in the top three in all related categories, Dambrot hasn’t hesitated in acknowledging that shooting and passing have to improve for his team to make any type of run in the MAC Tournament and beyond.
“We have to improve in those other areas yet. That’s how I feel,” he said. “Our teams have always gotten better, so I have no reason to think this team won’t get better.”
NCAA rules change
Division I basketball teams have been able to contact recruits who are high school sophomores and beyond via text, social media and phone on an unlimited basis since the summer.
This past weekend, the NCAA gave the same privilege to football coaches, according to reports. The NCAA, under President Mark Emmert, continues to work to streamline the organization’s rule book, one that many have viewed as archaic in some areas, including the way the group adapts to communication technology.
Dambrot said that the changes have proved beneficial.
“It made a difference. For us we tried to get on things early,” he said. “Because we recruit so many high school kids, it makes a huge difference.”
The Zips are off to a quick start in conference play. Their 4-0 start is the second best in Dambrot’s UA reign. The best start in conference play is 6-0, which UA did under Dambrot in 2005-06 and under Dan Hipsher during the 1999-2000 season.
A win over Toledo would be the Zips’ 13th consecutive regular-season win and the 15th in a row overall against the MAC West.
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.