The season goes on, but the University of Akron did not receive a spot in the National Invitation Tournament that coincides with the statistics.
Earning an automatic bid as the regular-season champion of the Mid-American Conference, the argument could be made that the Zips should be playing a first-round home game, not on the road tonight against Northwestern, a team that plays a style of basketball the Zips have not encountered this season.
UA has a better overall record and better RPI ranking than Northwestern and a better RPI than Washington, which could host the winner of the Zips (22-11) and Wildcats (18-13).
UA’s RPI is 55 and Northwestern’s is 63. Washington’s RPI is 71.
“The NIT is a better tournament than people think,” UA coach Keith Dambrot said. “It’s hard.”
Dambrot had no explanation for the Zips being required to travel but a quick look at the venues offers a hint.
Northwestern’s Welsh-Ryan Arena seats 8,117 fans and the Huskies’ Hec Edmundson Pavilion seats 10,000. Rhodes Arena seats 5,500 for basketball.
Zips fans can make their own assumptions, but guard Alex Abreu offered his analysis.
“I think it all came down to attendance, if you ask me,” he said. “In other words, there’s something to be said for being members of prestigious conferences with large basketball venues.”
But Abreu, who had a stellar showing in the MAC Tournament and earned a spot on the all-tournament team, said the Zips are too busy working on how to beat the Wildcats to worry about why they won’t get that chance at home.
Dambrot said that the Wildcats are unlike any team the Zips face this year.
Northwestern runs the Princeton offense, a patient and efficient style that can be taxing to defend.
“We don’t see that,” Dambrot said. “It’s all this false movement, back cutting, handoffs. It’s precision.
“It’s the total opposite of how [Ohio] and Kent play. It’s for teams that don’t have as good of talent as others in the Big Ten.”
It also gave Big Ten teams a lot of problems during the regular season, including Ohio State just a couple of weeks ago. The Buckeyes barely escaped Evanston, Ill., with a 75-73 victory.
“It’s especially hard when you don’t see it and you have one day to prep it,” Dambrot said. “We’re going to go have fun and play the best we can play. That’s the way I see it.”
“We have to pay really, really close attention to details on defense and make sure they don’t back cut us,” he said. “They can do a lot of stuff and they can shoot from outside. It’s going to be tough.”
The Wildcats’ 1-3-1 zone defense offers challenges also, Abreu said.
“They’re going to wait until we move the ball a little bit and put it in the hands of the big guys,” Abreu said, “and they’ll trap the corners or something like that.”
The Zips left for Chicago on Monday afternoon and were scheduled to practice there in the evening.
If UA wins and Washington beats Texas-Arlington, the Zips won’t return home, instead catching a flight to Washington for a Thursday game against the Huskies.
“If you can win in their buildings, you’re better than them. That’s the way I view it,” Dambrot said.
George M. Thomas can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Zips blog at http://zips.ohio.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GeorgeThomasABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.