University of Akron coach Keith Dambrot doesn’t have a starting five.
In his scheme, he has got a starting nine, a group of players whom he can count on to get the job done.
The Zips have not rewritten the rule book, they do only start five players, but they lose little when Dambrot has to go to the bench to find relief.
Consider their last win against Ball State on Tuesday night. The Cardinals opened the game with a 9-0 run.
Dambrot turned to his bench early, preferring not to take an early timeout, and called on swingman Quincy Diggs. Moments later, he added forward Demetrius Treadwell. The payoff was swift as the Zips went on a 12-0 run.
“You see what happened when we got in. We picked up the pace, and the game changed,” Diggs said.
He, along with starting point guard Alex Abreu sparked the offense, and Treadwell locked down on Jarrod Jones, Ball State’s top scorer.
“Once that second group comes in we push even harder. The people on the floor are already tired so we come [fresh],” Diggs said. “It helps a lot. If the first group isn’t getting going, the second group comes in and gets things going and that gets the starting five [started].”
The result of all of this: The Zips are arguably the most balanced team in the MAC with seven players averaging seven points or more, and three of them — Diggs, Treadwell and Nick Harney — come off the bench. Additionally, the bench accounts for close to 30 points of their 73 points per game on the season.
It took some manipulation on Dambrot’s part to find the right combination to take advantage of the array of skills that his players possess, pulling Diggs and guard Brett McClanahan out of the starting lineup early in the season.
“I didn’t feel like we were getting enough off our bench. I’ve always felt as if the reason we’ve won games here is that we’ve had better benches than others,” Dambrot said Thursday morning after practice. “I just felt like we weren’t getting enough pop, and we weren’t getting enough consistency.”
Dambrot hasn’t had any issues getting players to take pride in helping the Zips as a reserve.
“My mom always told me it doesn’t matter who starts, but it matters who finishes. I’ve been in at the end of games, so I can’t complain,” Diggs said.
For Harney, there has been an adjustment not starting.
“It’s a weird feeling, but I feel as a player you have to make that decision and do what’s best for your team,” Harney said.
They understand that they are in a unique position, because the Zips possesses depth that would likely make other teams in the conference jealous.
“I think the strength of our team is that we’re real deep. We’re pretty athletic. We got a lot of depth on this team, and we have a lot of people who can go,” Treadwell said. “That’s a major plus for us because we tire teams out over the course of the game.”
Dambrot owns an abundance of riches in this particular version of the Zips.
“You can call them a bench, but they’re really a starting nine. It’s just the way we’ve chosen to put them together,” Dambrot said. “I don’t know if Chauncey Gilliam and Brian Walsh are better than Quincy, we just choose to bring him off.
“Offensively, Harney’s probably one of our best offensive guys, and Tree’s probably one of our best rebounders, if not the best rebounder we have.”
If the Zips live up to the potential they have, they could claim their second consecutive MAC title courtesy of what is likely the best bench in the conference.
“It’s the best bench in the country,” Treadwell said, bluntly. “Forget the MAC. It’s the best bench in the country.”
George M. Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Zips blog at http://zips.ohio.com. Follow the Zips on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/GeorgeThomasABJ.