The University of Akron went back to work this week after their loss to No. 16 Creighton with but one thing on their minds — defense.
At least that’s the point of emphasis for Zips coach Keith Dambrot. His team has allowed its past two opponents to average better than 47 percent shooting, which proved especially damaging against Creighton when a victory would have greatly enhanced the Zips program’s reputation.
The Bluejays shot 48.4 percent in the 77-61 loss, one that the Zips are determined to put behind them, senior guard Brian Walsh said.
“We learned a lot in that game. We learned what not to do,” he said.
The Zips have a magic number of 70, Dambrot said Wednesday after practice. If they allow an opponent to score more than 70 points in a game, they lose. If they hold an opponent to less than 65 points or score more than 70 themselves they almost always get a win.
Creighton scored 77 with just eight turnovers in the game and smoked UA. Middle Tennessee also scored 77 points, but that was mitigated by the 21 turnovers that the Zips forced in their overtime victory.
Dambrot, however, knows there are reasons for the defensive stagnation. One being that point guard Alex Abreu hasn’t been 100 percent this season due to an ankle injury. Everything related to the team depends on how effective the 5-foot-10 point guard can be on both ends of the court.
The second has a lot to do with a lack of concentration, a problem mitigated by the Zips only playing three games in little more than three weeks. That’s Dambrot’s analysis, not excuse. He expects his players to be accountable because the Zips have always been known for being a tough, defensive team.
“I told them, ‘Guys who came before you knew that if they didn’t play good defense their minutes were going to get cut and you’re going to be held to the same standard as the guys who built the program,’ ” he said.
For him, given the way the Zips are built with big men such as 7-foot center Zeke Marshall and 6-foot-7 forward Demetrius Treadwell on the floor, defense should never be lacking. Marshall, whose defensive play Dambrot criticized after the Creighton game, knows things have to be stepped up.
“It’s going to be all right; I tell you that right now,” he said. “I think what [people] saw the past few games were shadows of what’s going to come. We just need to emphasize playing defense a little bit harder. We got away from what Akron has been built upon and now we’re going back to it.”
Judging from the Zips’ record in December with Dambrot coaching the program (40-18, including a 27-3 mark at home), now might be the time to fix the defensive ills.
“Now that finals are done we can put more time into it,” Walsh said.
He said a lot of teams get better in December.
Dambrot said it’s never really crossed his mind.
“I don’t really ever think about that stuff. My point of emphasis is get better as the year goes. A lot of teams don’t; we tend to get better,” he said.
The reality, however, is that December leads the way to the Mid-American Conference schedule in January.
“You can’t tip-toe into the MAC. You’ll get smacked if you’re not really ready,” Walsh said. “I can’t wait to get back to playing multiple games each week. This one game a week is no good.”
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.