The Buffalo basketball team heaped doses of reality on the University of Akron twice last season.
The Zips started 3-0 in the Mid-American Conference before going to Buffalo to suffer their first conference loss of last season in January. The Bulls beat them again to close February.
That was a different team, and what the Bulls have lost might characterize them as much as who remains.
There is still plenty of talent, UA coach Keith Dambrot said.
But without last year’s MAC Player of the Year, Mitchell Watt, and a wrist injury to point guard Jarod Oldham, the Bulls will have a different look when they take on the Zips tonight at Rhodes Arena.
“It’s going to be different because now they don’t have two dominant big men where I’d have to try to watch both,” UA senior center Zeke Marshall said, “which I had to do in the previous two years and they would both get their points. Now I can actually focus on one person and it’s going to be easier that way.”
That should make things easier for Marshall and power forward Demetrius Treadwell, who is coming off back-to-back double-doubles.
Things got tougher for Buffalo when Oldham got hurt right after two double-digit wins, and he will be out for up to 10 weeks. That’s a cue for Zips point guard Alex Abreu, who’s stepped up his game of late, especially earlier this week against Toledo, when he accounted for 11 points and nine assists.
“The thing we have to take advantage of is Oldham being out,” Dambrot said. “They have young guards because of that. We need to be able to stay at them, pressure them, try to force them into mistakes to be able to try to offset them getting the ball in there to [Javon] McCrea and [Will] Reagan.”
Therein lies the challenge for the Zips. McCrea, the guy who gave them trouble in two games last year, averaging 14 points and six rebounds, will be on the court. He’s averaging 17.4 points and 7.4 rebounds this season.
“They still have one of the best, if not the best, big men in the league in McCrea,” Dambrot said.
And Reagan, a Virgina transfer, is flexible enough to stretch defenses, so the Zips shouldn’t take them lightly.
“They’re considered one of the most competitive, hard-nosed teams in this league and they have been,” Dambrot said. “It’s just a matter of when their experience catches up, then they’re really good.”
Zeke’s big night
Marshall tied his own school record for blocked shots with nine against Toledo, and Dambrot was impressed.
“When he gets a couple early, you kind of figure it out [what type of night it will be]. He’s certainly capable,” Dambrot said. “You know I’ve been looking for that on a more consistent basis where he’s getting five, six a night. Not only did he block, but he changed about a hundred of them too.”
Marshall figured it was all in a night’s work. What he didn’t understand is why the Rockets kept going inside on him.
“Usually most teams stop going down there and that’s why I don’t get that much anymore,” he said. “It just seems like they kept banging their head against the wall and kept coming and kept coming.”
Honoring hometown hero
The Zips’ marketing department came up with a promotion that can be called unique. They’re having a LeBron James bobblehead night for the Zips-Bulls game. The first 1,500 fans will receive the likeness of the former St. Vincent-St. Mary and current Miami Heat star whom Dambrot coached for part of his high school career. A limited number of tickets remain for the game.
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.