The first time Ball State played the University of Akron, the Zips were literally a different team — well, almost.
After a loss to Toledo, UA coach Keith Dambrot has flopped out four of the starters from the opening Mid-American Conference game this year, leaving only forward Demetrius Treadwell in a starting role. The result has been quick starts in two consecutive wins.
That should help against the Cardinals, who gave the Zips a scare in a 72-68 UA win in Indiana.
“I think with [Carmelo Betancourt] out there we play better defense,” Dambrot said of the lineup changes. “Then with Jake [Kretzer] out there it gives us the ability to stretch it out a little bit more. When you have Jake and [Nick] Harney out there you’re a bit more spread out and changes the dynamic of them guarding us a little bit.”
“We’re talented and diversified. We’re quick and we’re still strong and can get on the glass and press a little bit,” he said. “We just play good together.”
It’s too difficult to tell whether this is a long-term solution to what had looked to be ailing the Zips and their consistently inconsistent play, but it looks as if Dambrot might have finally hit upon a starting five that gets his team ahead early and keeps the lead late in games.
Simply put, they have chemistry.
In the two games Treadwell, Harney, Kretzer, Diggs and Betancourt all have started, the Zips averaged 80 points, more than 10 points more than they did prior to the changes.
Kretzer has especially blossomed in those two games. Treadwell has been Treadwell, this week capturing conference co-player of the week honors. Diggs has served as the necessary offensive spark and calming influence, serving as Mr. Reliable. In short, Dambrot seems to have found chemistry amongst that starting five.
“It’s like a formula. When you get the right formula, it’s going to mix right,” Kretzer said. “Right now we have the right formula working for us. Different guys are better in different situations.”
Fans and followers will be able to gauge the difference against the Cardinals, a team the Zips should not take lightly.
The primary reason: Majok Majok. The last time he played at Rhodes Arena, he proved to be an unstoppable force in his team’s 71-64 loss to UA, scoring 26 points and grabbing 13 rebounds. In the first game this year, he had another double-double with 16 points and 13 rebounds.
“It means Tree’s got to guard Majok Majok,” Dambrot said. “That’s a little bit of an issue. He guarded him at times the last game. He’s big. [But] it also means Majok’s got to guard him. That’s an interesting dynamic too. Can he step out and guard him.”
Treadwell said he knows that the task won’t be easy and he knows how he has to match up with the Cardinals’ best player.
“You have to try to match his intensity, out-quick him and match his physicality,” he said. “You just can’t back down from him. We’re going to find a way to play him. He’s a great basketball player. We’re going to find a way to slow him down. We have to.”
Majok won’t be the sole issue, Dambrot said.
“They’ve got enough guys to beat us. They’ve got a good center. They’ve got a good forward in Chris Bond [11.8 points per game]. They’ve got a good shooting guard in Jesse Berry [10.2 points per game],” Dambrot said. “They don’t have much depth, but they have enough. They [darn] near beat us the last time.”
In a show of support for director of basketball operations Dan Peters, the Zips will host a “Purple Out” against Ball State as part of the Coaches vs. Cancer Suits and Sneakers Awareness Weekend. Peters is currently undergoing treatment for pancreatic cancer. There has never been a better reason to fill Rhodes Arena, and plenty of tickets remain for the game.
The NCAA has selected Rachel Tecca the Women’s Player of the Week, her first time receiving the award, which she earned for a week in which she averaged 28 points and 15.5 rebounds in two victories.
George M. Thomas can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Zips blog at https://ohio.com/zips. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/GeorgeThomasABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.