As unlikely as it may seem, the University of Akron men’s basketball team still has something to play for other than personal goals and camaraderie.

Although sophomore forward Daniel Utomi first mentioned his teammates when asked what’s on the line for the rest of the season, the Zips (12-5, 5-10) still have a remote chance to capture a home game at the beginning of the Mid-American Conference Tournament.

“There are several teams playing for that,” UA coach John Groce said. “In terms of having something to play for, really everybody is playing for seeding, home games. Some teams are playing for byes, so it makes this time of year fun.”

The fact that the Zips are 2-2 in their last four games wouldn’t normally be cause for celebration, but Groce said he sees progress, especially after the team won its first road game of the season, 81-79 at Bowling Green on Tuesday.

“Really the past two weeks we played the best we’ve played all year,” Groce said. “We’ve practiced better. We played better. We have to concentrate on what we control.”

Utomi said the team showed a different mindset against the Falcons.

“There was a lot of toughness out there, a lot of people playing their roles, and it just came down to some players making some plays,” he said.

But Groce has done a complete 180 from a couple of weeks ago when he described his team as “soft” during a postgame news conference. He said he’s preached the same mental concepts since the Zips began practicing in the preseason — effort, attitude, execution and coachability. Nothing has changed in that regard.

However, something has changed with the team. Utomi said there had been problems.

“Some people on the team have attitude problems and Coach has been on them about changing it for the team, and that’s been helping,” he said. “The last few games have been about making plays, too — making enough plays to win the game.”

It’s almost as if the Zips, mentally, have flipped a switch.

“As coaches, obviously we’re trying to hit that magic button and try to change habits and find a way to do that,” Groce said. “I wish I could point to some moment. I think more than anything, we’ve just kind of stuck with it.”

As the team prepares to face Miami (14-14, 7-8) at 2 p.m. Saturday at Rhodes Arena, an attitude shift and beating the Falcons can only help the Zips if they are to have any chance of making noise in the MAC Tournament.

“After that win it gave the team a huge burst of confidence,” Utomi said of the victory over the Falcons.

“As long as we continue to play as we did at Bowling Green, we think we can win every game on out.”

Injury update

It’s been six weeks since forward Jaden Sayles injured his wrist, which was expected to heal in that amount of time. But the team will still be without Sayles against the RedHawks, and his availability for next week is still uncertain.

George M. Thomas can be reached at gmthomas@thebeaconjournal.com. Read the Zips blog at www.ohio.com/zips.