With his team saying publicly that they believed they were due some recognition on a national level, University of Akron basketball coach Keith Dambrot began dangling a carrot that he hopes will help avoid an emotional letdown.
With the nation’s longest winning streak (13 games) now in place, the Zips (17-4, 8-0) find themselves in a different spot — the spotlight.
“I talked about the win streak,” Dambrot said after Monday morning’s practice. “[They] have an opportunity to get national publicity every time you win. I said that’s bigger than being undefeated even.”
Point guard Alex Abreu, who had a huge game in Saturday’s win over Ohio in what can be viewed as a statement win to take control of the Mid-American Conference, said after the game that the team deserved more recognition outside the region.
Dambrot has little problem with what Abreu said, with a proviso.
“You can’t make the statements you made in the newspaper unless you practice as hard as you can,” he said. “You can say those things if you believe them, but you have to follow through.”
The follow through begins tonight at Rhodes Arena when the Zips try to avoid a letdown against Central Michigan (9-12, 2-6).
Under the guidance of first-year coach Keno Davis, the Chippewas have struggled. But Dambrot holds respect for Davis, a former national coach of the year from when he coached at Drake, and the Chippewas.
“They’re not the most talented, big strong team we’ve played, but they’re a team that’s going to press us, hold the ball,” Dambrot said.
The Chippewas are led by senior guard Kyle Randall, who averages 16.9 points and 3.4 rebounds per game. He is the only Central Michigan player to average in double-figure scoring.
Where Central Michigan is most likely to present a challenge to the Zips is with a zone defensive scheme the Zips have not played against this year.
“It mostly comes down to our emotional readiness,” Dambrot said. “If we’re ready to play, it doesn’t matter what they do. If we play our best game and they play their best game, we’re going to win. If we have an average performance they can bite us.”
The University of Akron will play North Dakota State of the Summit League in the annual ESPN BracketBusters event.
The Zips will host the Bison (18-5, 9-2) on Feb. 22 at 7 p.m. at Rhodes Arena. The game will be televised on ESPN2.
The Bison have an RPI of 65, according to CBSSports.com.
The Zips-Bison game will begin the ESPN networks weekend BracketBuster coverage and offer UA another opportunity to play before a national television audience.
Dambrot checked into whether the Zips could have a road game in the BracketBuster event rather than their scheduled home game, according to a report from ESPN’s Andy Katz.
Call it enlightened self-interest. Dambrot knows that there’s no guarantee that his team will win the season-ending MAC Tournament. Don’t read that as a lack of confidence, but more of a lack of arrogance. Therefore he was attempting to prepare a different path to the NCAA Tournament — an at-large bid.
In the MAC, placing more than one team in the big dance has happened just six times, the most recent being in 1999 when Kent State won the conference and Miami received an invitation.
Playing on the road would likely mean that the Zips are playing a better opponent.
“We thought if we could win a road game it would help our RPI a little bit,” Dambrot said.
Currently, the Zips’ RPI is between 53 and 55, depending on the website.
UA is finally showing up in the major basketball polls that are released each Monday.
The Zips received two points in the USA Today Coaches Poll and four points in the AP Top 25 after securing an impressive win over Ohio.
It is the first time that UA has appeared in both polls simultaneously.
For the fourth time this season, senior center Zeke Marshall won the MAC Player of the Week for the East Division. It’s the second consecutive time he’s won the award and is only the second East player to win it four times, along with Ohio’s D.J. Cooper.
For the week, Marshall averaged 16 points and 7.5 rebounds per game in helping the Zips to wins over Bowling Green and the Bobcats.
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.