If the University of Akron men’s basketball team hopes to catch some lightning in a bottle during the Mid-American Conference Tournament next month, it may want to start playing with some consistency.
After a 57-56 loss at Ball State on Saturday, the chance of the Zips (14-11, 6-6) earning one of four byes in the MAC Tournament is nil. And if they do not pick up their play, there is a real danger that they will have to play their way into the annual tournament in Cleveland by winning a game on the road.
That would not be an ideal situation for a team that is 1-5 in MAC road games this season heading into a 7 p.m. Tuesday game at Bowling Green (18-7, 10-2).
The Falcons have proven to be the surprise team in the MAC. Led by Justin Turner (18.8 points per game), Demajeo Wiggins (13 points) and Dylan Frye (12.7 points), Bowling Green is the MAC's third-ranked offensive team at 79.2 points per game. And the Falcons are no slouches on defense either, allowing 70.6 points per game to rank fifth.
Defense hasn’t been the Zips' problem — UA is the MAC's top-ranked defensive team, allowing 62.3 points per game, which is six points better than the next team (Toledo) in that category.
But nearly everything related to scoring points is what eludes coach John Groce’s team. UA ranks 11th among the 12 MAC teams in scoring at 69.5 points per game, and is shooting a conference-worst 40.9 percent from the floor. The Zips have also attempted the most 3-pointers in the conference this year (709), and have connected on 220 of them (31 percent). Percentage-wise, only Eastern Michigan and Ohio rank lower.
The Zips' other bugaboo is rebounding. With a frontcourt roster weakened by injuries and the fallout from an incident during practice, the Zips rank last in rebounding differential at minus-1.9 per game.
As the Zips were finishing their nonconference games, Groce referred to the MAC schedule as a gauntlet. The last six teams on UA’s schedule have a 101-48 combined record. In other words, the gauntlet doesn’t get any easier.
The bottom line for the Zips is that they must find some offensive consistency in order to have any chance of winning in the MAC Tournament.
George M. Thomas can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ByGeorgeThomas.