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Zip Watcher

Hello again ZipsNation. I hope everyone reading this has had a good holiday season.

So the Zips completed the first third of the conference portion of the 12-13 slate last night, and I thought now was as good a time as any to take a step back and look at where things stand. Due to circumstances, I missed the MTSU, CSU and Ball St. games in person. Listened to CSU, caught the MTSU game on the feed with French in the background.

So with the usual apologies to Sergio Leone, here goes:

The Good:

  • Zeke, Zeke and More ZEKE: Lots of discussion here at ZN.O and elsewhere that Zeke is turning a bit of a corner after the Creighton game. Hard to argue with that sentiment when you look at his last 3-5 games. He has been dominant defensively, and more importantly AGGRESSIVE on offense. If he keeps his current mindset and goes Conyers for his senior season, we're looking at the MAC POY and a 1st round draft pick. Get after it big fella .. it's great to watch the new mindset with Zeke.
  • Pounding it in: Once upon a time, the Zips had some Wood in the post, and they put the ball inside on nearly every possession to start the offense. Now, the Zips appear to have the whole Tree. I absolutely love the aggressive, simple nature of the offense the past few games. A month ago, they weren't really sure what they were running. Lately, it's come up the court, make some space, and drop the ball to the blocks. Ever since about the Princeton game, the Zips have done a great job of initiating the offense inside.
  • Extending the D: Shaka has apparently finally convinced KD to stretch the D, and we've seen it in spurts, especially against CSU. It's a powerful tool that will no doubt improve as the year goes on. It didn't affect Princeton much, but I think it will pay dividends against some of the less disciplined teams the Zips will face in the MAC. The horses are there, let's get some easy buckets, right? This also goes for their ability to stretch the defense on the perimeter in the half court, which made the difference against U@B.
  • Athletic size rules: KD is using almost 80 minutes a game between Zeke, Tree, Harney and Forsythe. All 4 guys are shooting near or above 50% from the field, and Zeke is almost at 70%. Harney is the low man @ 47%, but he's taking more outside looks than the remaining 3 combined. I recognize that these were "puffed up" in the bakery portion of the schedule .. but I can't see how MAC teams will defend that. If the Zips remain committed to pushing the ball low and going at the rim with these 4 guys, what's the defense? I guess we're going to start seeing 2-3 zones from teams that ordinarily don't run them, in an effort to prevent the entry pass? A question to ponder as the MAC season continues: Which other post players in the ENTIRE LEAGUE would you trade for with any of our 4 bigs? I can think of maybe one off hand .. but would love to hear from you about that.

The Bad:

  • Getting down early is a habit the team should try and rid themselves of. Even sitting in the JAR on Saturday, I'd have told anyone that I figured the Zips would still cover. The talent on this team is just so strong that I never felt they'd let it get away. My point here is that it's a dangerous game to play to always get down and then believe the switch can be thrown. On one hand, the testicular fortitude shown to dig these past two Saturday games out will serve the Zips well down the road, but on the other .. it'd be good to see the Zips approach the full 40 minutes they played against CSU and Princeton. I'd love to see the Zips get back to building some momentum early and not needing a big 10+ point swing late in the 2nd half.
  • 40 minutes of D hasn't really happened yet, at least in conference play. Frankly, it'll be ugly for whoever it happens against. The Zips have shown in spurts the ability to take teams out of what they want to do .. but my sense is that the team D this year isn't as good as it can be .. and isn't as good as it's going to be a month from now. Rolling out the 1-1-3 yesterday to squash the Canadians was cool. I don't want to parrot KD, but being able to do different things on D will be good down the road.

The Ugly:

  • The FT stripe is perhaps one of the areas where an improvement would really help the team put teams away. The Can't game wouldn't have been a contest if the Zips weren't so awful at the line that day. There isn't any reason it won't get better, but it needs to happen. Missing 1 of 3 is way too many. I'd like to see the Zips pick up 10% in the stat. At the moment it looks like FT shooting could cost them a game at some point this season. Opponents aren't really outscoring the Zips at the line, but I feel like if this team can shoot 46+% from the field, they can do better at the line. It might make a difference later in the year.
  • TO's: As in prior years, I still feel this is an area for improvment. The Zips tend to gather TO's in bunches. The baseline out of bounds plays against U@B are good examples of plays that can kill runs. Said this last year too: If a guy is 7' tall, has probably almost an 8' wingspan, and is athletic enough to really jump .. how is it that 2-3 times a game, a ball gets thrown over his head either out of bounds or to a defender. On the same topic, I think that Carmello has made strides within the past week in this department. Against U@B particularly he played one or 2 key shifts where he effectively ran the half court set, defended his guy well, and protected the rock. I'm more and more comfortable with him long term as the Zips' PG .. and if he continues this short term trend, he'll be fine by the time the MAC Tournament for providing 8-10 minutes.

... And a few Comments More:

  • Tree: He's been a real beast lately. I haven't looked specifically, but he must be the MAC's leading rebounder, right?
  • Is Zeke a lock to retain his Defensive POY trophy?
  • 4 Freshman contributing in the top 11 on this team still blows me away. And if Carmello continues to settle down, all 4 will be factors. This youth would really bother me if I was a less fortunate fan of any other MAC school. That's before they even see what comes next.

Put them on Zips fans! Buckle up .. it's going to be a great ride!

B) B) B) B) B) B)

Go Zips!

Better yet, go get yourself one of these:

10167798-businessman-wearing-a-welding-mask.jpg

Zip Watcher

Greetings Zips fans! And isn't it great to be that?!

Well, our Zips head to the crossover games with a 4-1 conference record, a one game lead over the next closest team in the East, and what appears to be a whole lot of momentum. Thought now would be an appropriate time to update the View on the current state of the Zips since the VCU game. So with the customary apology to Sergio Leone .. here goes:

The Good:

  • First place is always good: After the first swing through the East, the Zips are 4-1. And despite the final margin of victory, the Zips were about 2 minutes and 3 good defensive possessions from being 5-0. This is a very good place for the Zips to be. Aside from sending a message to the East that the Zips are serious contenders, they've started to round into shape as the full complement of players has now been available for about 3 weeks.
  • Road successes: With 2 road wins in the first East swing, the Zips are getting really close to the position where they can lock up a bye by just taking care of the home action. It's important to keep momentum going against the West, but with 3 of 5 at home in the second East swing .. a 12 or more win conference slate isn't out of the question.
  • Winning from behind: Something the prior MAC title teams have been able to do well is win close games, and take a punch in a game (sometimes literally) and get back up and press on to a victory. In all 4 conference wins thus far, the Zips have trailed in the second half, and had to mount late comebacks. They appear to thrive under pressure and play pretty loose. There don't appear to be nerves hitting these guys in crunch time. A very positive sign in my opinion.
  • Athleticism rules: Raise your hand if you've ever seen a Zips team this deep, this quick, this big, and this athletic. Didn't think so. There's a long way to go this year, and the wheels can wobble at any time .. but I'll say this. Each and every year, KD seems to put a group on the floor that is a little bigger, a little quicker and more athletic than the year before. This year takes the cake. Watching these guys finish at the rim on the break (all 9 of them) on Saturday was a thing of beauty. And something most of us won't forget soon.

The Bad:

Nitpicking a bit here, but tradition dictates I hit all of the categories:

  • Getting down early is a habit the team should try and rid themselves of. Even sitting in the JAR on Saturday, I'd have told anyone that I figured the Zips would still cover. The talent on this team is just so strong that I never felt they'd let it get away. Ditto for BG, though things were tighter in that situation. My point here is that it's a dangerous game to play to always get down and then believe the switch can be thrown. I hope the West swing can be used to get back to building some momentum early and not needing a big 10+ point swing late in the 2nd half.
  • 40 minutes of D hasn't really happened yet. Frankly, it'll be ugly for whoever it happens against. The Zips have shown in spurts the ability to take teams out of what they want to do .. but my sense is that the team D this year isn't as good as it can be .. and isn't as good as it's going to be a month from now. Watching the team claw back to within a possession of U@B only to give up 2 or 3 more wide open looks to the shooter was painful, and hard to watch. Nit picking for certain here, but the team D can be better.

The Ugly:

.. Again, it's all relative nit picking .. unless we're talking about yellow shirts .. which are truly ugly.

  • The FT stripe is perhaps one of the areas where an improvement would really help the team put teams away. VCU could have been salted away at the line. And against BG, there were some critical misses that would have obviated the need for last second heroics. Small stuff. I think the Zips are shooting 66% as a team, which isn't horrible, but 70% would be a big improvement. Opponents aren't really outscoring the Zips at the line, but I feel like if this team can shoot 46+% from the field, they can do better at the line. It might make a difference later in the year.
  • TO's: At times .. not always .. but at times .. the ball has gotten away from the Zips. There's been some discussion about this during the aftermath of the Can't State game, and I agree that increased TO's may come with the style and tempo of play the Zips can play. My problem with that sentiment is that many of the Zips' turnover problems manifest themselves in the half court set .. NOT in transition. See the Can't State game with 11 first half turnovers. If a guy is 7' tall, has probably almost an 8' wingspan, and is athletic enough to really jump .. how is it that 2-3 times a game, a ball gets thrown over his head either out of bounds or to a defender. I don't get it.

... And a few Comments More:

  • More on the talent: Following a few of the recent conference wins, the following has been written by opposing fans:
    • BG guy: ... a team that is LEAPS AND BOUNDS ahead of us, talent-wise. Harney, Diggs, and Treadwell all COME OFF THE BENCH for them. Either one of those guys would probably be the first or second best athlete on our entire team.
    • Can't State guy: How did this (Akron) team ever lose to Buffalo?
    • Other Can't State guy: Their bench players are better than our starters.

    Other fans are starting to see what we've believed from the beginning of the season. These Zips are loaded. You could almost feel the air go out of the Stroh center when the Zips went on their run to cut the lead late. The place was pretty lively, and then Treadwell & Harney took the game over. And after the pass off the glass for the slam that brought the Zips back to within 2, I looked around, and you could see BG fan sitting back in their seats wondering what hit them. They just didn't anticipate that quick of a turnaround and that much athleticism. The upside here is TREMENDOUS.

    [*]The rotations are really starting to take shape. I'm of the opinion that the breakdown KD is using now is close to the best split available. At the start of the game, the Zips trot out a future NBA center, with a Euroleague PF and 3 pretty good shooters from the outside, and pound the ball inside. Most conference teams can and do struggle to contain this. In the past 2 games it's put the opponents' bigs in early foul trouble. Then right when they're catching their breath, with their 2nd unit, KD can roll out Diggs, Harney, Treadwell & Nitro and put the hammer down. It's really awesome to watch. And even if the Zips aren't pulling away in the first half .. it's a good bet they will in the 2nd when the other teams really hit the wall.

    [*]The 216 has really given the Zips some huge talent. These 2 guys are going to be really special players for the Zips. And they're surrounded by top flight elite mid-major guys. I'm blown away by the roster.

     

Finally ....

R.I.P. Phil Martin, aka zip37 here at ZN.O .. I believe he passed away in mid-December, just prior to the holidays. He sat in front of me for the past 5 or 6 seasons. A more passionate hoops fan I don't think I've ever seen. The guy lived and died with each possession, and put his time & money where his heart was. If you played in the golf outing, you probably spoke with him at the check in table, or benefited from his help on the committee. The Zips have lost another huge fan this season. Best wishes to his family & I hope he's enjoying things from his new seat.

Put them on Zips fans! Buckle up .. it's going to be a great ride!

B)B)B)B)B)B)

Go Zips!

Zip Watcher

VCU Escapes

Well, the Zips let a good team off the hook @ the JAR. It was an entertaining game for certain. But I can't shake the sense that the Zips really let a good resume win sneak out the back door. Kept some mental notes as it went down, and with apologies to Sergio Leone .. here goes:

The Good

  • Nikola carried the Zips for much of the game. The feeling I had watching this was that Nik is really starting to emerge as the clear leader of this team (with AA as well). He really played his tail off tonight. Was pretty efficient with the ball, and hit some clutch baskets. Along w/ Tree, did a pretty good job on Burgess tonight.
  • The Defense. For most of the game, the Zips did a tremendous job of forcing VCU to score in the half-court set. VCU loves to force turnovers and get out on the break. For the game they had 8 fast break points (4 buckets?). That's pretty good. Furthermore, VCU only scored 22 points in the paint. The Zips forced them into making shots .. which is reflected in VCU shooting percentages of 26% on 3's and 39% overall. That's good defense against any team. Against a team like VCU .. great D. The team is starting to find defensive cohesion and identity. I like that a lot.
  • Alex answers the bell. Dude just played 37 minutes 9 days after surgery. Played pretty well too. Had a big +/-, best of the Zips, even though it was clear he wasn't nearly 100%. He didn't have the quickest first step, and his strength wasn't all there. You could see that he was a bit off when he couldn't get some of the early layups to drop. That I think affected his 2nd half as far as going to the hole. He's not going 4-12 very often. Good game by AA.

The Bad

  • Couldn't put them away. A big game at the JAR with a lively crowd & a good opponent, and a very winnable game gets away from the Zips. It was clear at half time that this could go 3 ways. The Zips could win close, the Rams could win close .. or the Zips could pull away. One or two more buckets in the middle of the 2nd half, and this game is a 10 point win by the Zips. They just couldn't finish the deal. There were several times in the second half where the D did it's job, but they couldn't finish on the offensive side. This is a young team. We all get that. Tough one to see get away from them. They played hard and put it out there .. but they didn't ultimately finish. This one unfortunately got away.
  • Turnovers. You aren't going to win often against good teams with 20 turnovers vs. only 15 assists. Those turnovers resulted in 25 points for VCU. That's 11 more than the Zips were able to generate.
  • Untimely misses @ the line. When you go to the line 12 fewer times than your opponent in a close game, you've got to make yours. The Zips shot 68% as a team, which isn't really that bad .. but missed some really critical shots at the stripe. 2 front ends in the 2nd half, and one that could have iced the game late in regulation, or at least forced VCU to foul on the ensuing possession.

The Ugly

  • Breaking the Press. There are a few things that as a hoops fan I may never understand. #1: Why is it that teams that are pretty good on defense and have some success pressing themselves are almost never good at consistently breaking the press? #2: When you're getting pressed in the back court, doesn't it make it harder to get up the court if you have all 5 of your guys in the back court, and as a result the D has all 5 defenders back there, enabling zone traps? There must be a strategy to it .. but I don't understand these things. I don't understand how hard it is to throw a pass 20 feet to a guy who's 7' tall, can jump really well and isn't being fronted. There were some harrowing moments last night watching the Zips face the press w/ AA on the bench.
  • Stretches of not playing together. Mostly early in the game, but also a bit in the second half when VCU was making their run, the Zips drifted back into one on 5 offense at times. Where one guy would take the ball to the rim against 2 or 3 defenders, and try to make everything happen by himself. Midway through the first half, we saw the Zips settle down and play offense together, and it was a beautiful thing. The lone ranger offense while out of control with the ball? Not so pretty.

A Fistful of Talent

Once the early nerves settled down for the Zips, it was apparent to me and most of those around me that this was a pretty even matchup. Talent, size, and athleticism were pretty much a wash. This against a top CAA team just off a Final Four trip. That wasn't the case against teams like Nevada, Rhode Island, Dayton in recent years. There was always a little quickness or size deficit that KD needed to scheme creatively to overcome. Not so vs. VCU .. the Zips were right there with them. I think it's been a little while since a MAC school was on par with the top rosters in the A10 or CAA. Great sign IMHO.

... And a few Comments More

  • Gilliam played well when out there. Didn't hit much, but was a part of some of the best runs the Zips put together all game. Foul trouble I think limited his time in the second half, but when he sat down, the Zips led by 10, and he never re-entered the game. Hopefully there's not an injury at play here. I like having Gilliam out here, and think he'll be a critical component of the Zips success this season.
  • I think Walsh & Deji need to be the backup PG's soon. We can't have AA going 30+ all season or he will wear down. So we need 10-15 minutes at the point from other places. Against all but one or two teams in conference it isn't going to be a problem, but against high caliber teams, it will be an issue. My point isn't that Diggs was struggling with the ball (which he did and can do) as much as the belief that Digs is one of our most explosive scorers from the SG or SF spots. He's best slashing from the wing and scoring from outside. Having to use him as the PG for stretches is disrupting one of the best weapons the Zips have. Hopefully they can get to the point where he can play less PG, and KD can count on Deji or Walsh for the minutes that AA sits. The PG depth might be the Zips' Achilles heel?
  • Not referring to the last possession here, but I though the move to having Nikola bringing up the ball against the press was a great one. It really pretty much unplugged the pressure, since Nik was clearly quicker than the big guy guarding him, and so the guy couldn't really pressure him much. Shades of using Linhart the same way against Can't State in the MAC title game 4 years back. I think it was a good move.

Well that's what I got for now. These were the thoughts that stuck with me a day after the game. Much more to come as the season progresses. A 1 point loss doesn't change my outlook on this team or this season. Sure would have been a nice win, but we move on to the next.

Sincere hopes & wishes for all Zips fans and observers to have a safe Holiday weekend and prosperous New Year. May one of us win the Powerball Lottery in 2012 so we can solve the hoops facilities problems once and for all.

B) B) B) B)

Go Zips!

Zip Watcher

Happy Holidays to all! My sincere wish for everyone is for prosperity with challenges in the new year, because prosperity in the face of challenges keeps us sharp and is the most rewarding type. Regardless, best to all. Due to a very busy couple of quarters, I haven't been posting many hoops thoughts. This entry was started 3 weeks ago, and I'm just now coming back to it now.

A recent topic around ZN.O has been "what is Akron Basketball" .. probably because there's so many new faces trying to figure it out.

On March 10th, 2004 a new coach for Zips Basketball was introduced. In that press conference, he introduced what his concept for "Akron Basketball" would be. Paraphrasing: "We will play hard, we will play smart, and we will play together. If we do those things to the best of our ability, we'll be successful here."

So for the past seven season, the Zips mantra has always been "play hard, play smart, play together." I can think of only a few occasions (4 actually) in that time where it occurred to me that the Zips weren't doing that .. and even in those instances they fell down on one or two aspects .. not all three.

This season, the Zips entered the year with 5 returning key contributors and 5 new faces, some of whom would be relied upon as contributors for the Zips to be successful. In the summer we saw glimpses of the athleticism of these new Zips. The talent level isn't really a question for most of us. The unknown was always going to be how quickly the new group came together and filled the gaps left by 4 of the winningest players in Zips history.

So how are things going? Rather than trying to determine if the MAC is setting up for it's 5th at-large bid in 60 years, I thought I might just consider the definition of Akron Basketball and see how our guys are meeting the mantra.

Play hard.

  • This has been a real mixed bag thus far: In the MSU game, the Zips looked much more energetic and active than a team that later broke into the top 25. Then against Detroit, the Zips used their numbers to wear down the (admittedly undermanned) Titans. However in other games, it's gone the other way. The Zips had a lead late vs. Valpo and slid backwards down the stretch. I'm not sure that the early games can be attributed to effort, but the WVU and MTSU losses seemed to come with late game stretches where the urgency wasn't there. These streteches are hard to watch, not the least bit because we're so unaccustomed to seeing the Zips play with uneven effort. Now in the bakery aisle the week between exams and the holidays, they Zips were back on top of their game effort wise .. destroying all four opponents, generally keeping the pedal down troughout the entire games.
  • Rebounding and Defense are effort based: In the past 2 weeks this has become a strength, albeit against some overmatched competition. Zeke, Nikola, and Treadwell have worked very well on the glass of late, all averaging (through my recollection math) about 6-8 rebounds a game. If the front court rebounds in the mid-20's night in and night out, the Zips should do well on the glass in conference. Side note: Walsh seems to rebound really well from the backcourt, and gets a lot of the same across the lane boards Linhart was famous for. So this has been a nice help.
  • Finishing has been a challenge in losses: Certainly in the first 2 losses (Valpo and Duquesne) the Zips had the chance to close down the stretch, either in the lead or very close. Against WVU, we know that finishing wasn't really the problem, same for MTSU. Against CSU, however, the ship turned a bit and the Zips played better down the stretch than they had through much of the game. In the bakery aisle, this wasn't a challenge for the front line guys.

In general, I think the Zips' effort has been there, and there's a good deal of hustle apparent on the court. As in previous years, there's not guys taking plays off .. and I don't expect it to be an issue in games this year either. KD simply has too much depth and talent to be forced to deal with this, and he won't need to. The Zips are playing hard.

Play smart.

  • New players have forced a simplification of play book (dumbed down). KD has not hid the fact that he's trimmed his offensive playbook significantly as he mixes the new guys in. This has potentially helped the guys, but I think at times it has hurt the team as well. The plays in the 2nd and 3rd week of the season seemed geared more to leveraging the athleticism of individual guys, and less to working together as a unit to get the open / easy look. The upside is that it's helped get 5 new guys on the court and getting experience. The downside is that it's easier to guard a club with limited plays. Now the good sign is that we've seen much more of the offense in the past 2 weeks as he seems to put more in play.
  • Leading to a lot more one-on-one clear outs (see below): This is a comment I wrote mainly after the Valpo / Duquesne games. The simplification of the play book at times led to lots of NBA style possessions where we cleared out for Q or Harney, relied on them beating their man as an individual and getting an open look. It led to struggles against Valpo when the calls weren't there on contact in the lane, and what ordinarily might generate 2 FT's generated a TO instead. There was also a period where Nikola took it upon himself to try and score individually .. and that inhibited the ability of the Zips to get into a flow together. I think that it has been good of late to see the assist total rise as the offensive cohesion improves and buckets are generated by 2 and 3 man possessions.
  • Off the court:In order to be successful on the court as a team, the guys need to be smart off the court as individuals. It's been rare in KD's tenure here, but this season the off the court stuff has caught up with the younger players. I think we're at 9 missed games due to suspension / violation of team rules. My understanding is that these are all correctable, learning events that can be moved past in each case. But the guys need to grow and move past them so that they can continue to grow as a team and have good chemistry together. This will be difficult to get to if the available group of players changes every week. Play smarter of the court guys!

As the weeks have gone by, it seems as the collective basketball IQ has risen for the Zips, and the results have improved. What remains to be seen is how much that is linked to the youth and talent level of the opponent, and how much it is linked to the cohesion and effort by the Zips themselves. I think the next 2 games vs. VCU & @ Marshall will reveal much about

Play together.


  • Assists are down: This is another area where things have changed in the past 2 weeks for the better. Early on in the road trip, the Zips were playing a lot of man to man offense, letting the athleticism try and take over, with guys trying to beat their man off the dribble. This resulted in a few games where the assist totals were well off prior season's pace. Statsheet has a nice chart plotting total assists for the Zips against their opponents on a game by game basis. If you scan backwards over the past 3-5 years, you'll find no instances where the opponents' assist totals tracks as high as the Zips. However in the middle stretch of the non conference this season, you'll see that for a time, the Zips opponents actually had MORE assists than the Zips. This is in stark contrast to years past, and I think evidence that blending the new faces, and perhaps simplification has led to less sharing of the ball. The other side of the coin no doubt is that the Zips are converting more fast break attempts, and running more .. so those may result fewer assists.
  • Too much one on one w/ no help: At times, the clearouts have really hurt the offensive flow. Notably the ends of the Valpo and Duquesne game. There have been moments where the guys are playing individually not as a unit. Nikola had his stretch where this was a problem, and several of the guys have been pressing. Lately however, this has improved a bunch. Nikola is back to his old self, and the offensive flow is getting better and better. The past 4 games @ the JAR have shown a pretty cohesive unit, moving the ball well in the half-court. Hopefully that trend can continue.
  • You can't play together when you can't play: I've heard it a couple of times in the past week or so .. apparently KD has only had his full complement of guys for 2 games the entire year. Much of this was Deji's injury .. and now AA's surgery. But a LOT of it is suspension related. Maybe 9 games missed due to "unspecified violation of team or department policies"? This is far too much, and it will continue to have a detrimental affect on team chemistry and playing together. If guys aren't able to be out there .. then they can't play well together. I sincerely hope these issues can find their way into the rear-view mirror soon. The sooner the Zips can field their best 9 or 10 .. the better off they will be. Even with the small losing streak on the road, I think this Zips team is a bit ahead of where last year's club was at this time. Sitting at 7-5 with 2 non-con games isn't where we thought we'd be after taking it to MSU in the opener. However, looking at the flow of things on the court .. I look for the Zips to salvage no worse than a split of the next 2, going into conference play at 8-6 or 9-5. Bottom line: these guys need to play together. That means taking care of business off the court so that KD can play them together. Hope this turns around soon.

As with the basketball IQ on the floor .. the cohesiveness has improved game over game since the early slump. It's really critical that Harney get back soon, so that he can be mixed in to the rotations before the roadie to start conference play. As KD said on his TV show this week .. guys are out of position due to the injuries and missed games .. and they need to play in their preferred positions and get comfortable with each other. Hopefully Nick can resume his role smoothly very soon.

Additional thoughts:

  • I'm VERY bullish about this team: I was lucky to see these guys a few times over the summer and in early season practices. I'll maintain that this is the most raw talent ever assembled at UA, certainly in the last 20 years. The challenge comes down to the guys and the staff as to how well they put it together. We saw vs MSU, and I think we'll see a lot during MAC play .. the length and athleticism of this team is a very difficult matchup for most teams. That can pay big dividends when they get to the post season.
  • Tree is an animal not a plant: Haven't gone too much into individual players in this post, but I'm continually astounded by Treadwell. He seems to have a real tenacity for the basketball on both boards, has some ball skills to put the ball on the floor to drive, or on the break .. and he apparently can fly. One of these days one of those ridiculous dunks is going to stay down .. and the JAR will go nuts. I think we're only seeing a small fraction of what he's capable.
  • Should be a wild ride if they can get on a roll: I think this is a team that will ultimately be sensitive to momentum .. both during games and from game to game. When they're up, they're pretty good already .. when they're down, they've been mediocre. A challenge for the staff is to keep them level headed and on the upbeat side from game to game. You can see how some of the new pieces play much better when they're not pressing. This is where veteran leadership can help. The guys who have been through the full season w/ KD & co should be able to help the newer guys through it.

Finally:

It's been an up and down few weeks related to the FB coaching search. Seems like we've been teased with resolution a few times only to have to wait a few days. Like many others, I'm really pleased with the hire that's been made, and looking forward to what it may bring for Akron Football. However, I can't shake the feeling that UA needs to balance its priorities soon. We're putting a lot of resources to the Football program. We've put investment into Soccer. Both for good and defendable reasons. I think a challenge for LP, TW & GVH is how to make sure hoops doesn't get left behind. Coach Bowden can be a big fundraiser and proponent for Zips Athletics. That's great. But a rising tide needs to lift all boats here. I don't bring this up for any reason but this nagging feeling I have about our current situation as it relates to 1986. In '86 we were in a great era of hoops. UA essentially pulled the plug on that to move the FB program to previously (and thus far) unseen heights. I hope we don't make the same mistake twice. I hope that we can use some of the new energy (and hopefully success) of Bowden's program to leverage whatever we can to improve hoops resources in the same way that Football and Soccer have seen their needs attended to the past few years. KD has brought the hoops team to the top of the conference. They're a consistent winner. They need to be treated as such sooner rather than later.

Get some extra pairs .. you're gonna need them:

B) B) B) B) B)

Go Zips!

Zip Watcher

What a week it was. From the loss at Can't State to the 2nd MAC Tourney title in 3 years in a matter of 8 days. I'm digging out of the short week from last week, during this short week before heading to Chicago. Thought I would put down some of my thoughts about the MAC Tourney while they remained fresh in my mind. Brevity is king here, because awesomeness needs few words. And awesome it was!

B) B) B)

So with the customary nod to Sergio Leone, my take aways from the weekend of dreams at the Q:

The Good:

  • Team Tenacity: None other than Geno commented in the postgame about the ability of the Zips to remain calm when things were trending for the opposition. The Zips faced big runs at the end of the Miami game, the beginning of the Can't game .. and to a lesser extent the end of the WMU game. Teams will put forth runs, and things won't always go your way .. but it is the team that can rally itself, keep its composure and see through the storm that usually comes out on top. Our seniors this season are now 12-2 in the MAC Tournament. Are there any other MAC players who have even BEEN IN 12 postseason games, much less won 12 of them? IMHO this played a huge role in the Zips emerging victorious.
  • Multiple Sources: McClanahan comes up big with a huge performance vs. Miami, and a big bucket against Western. Diggs tears western up. McNees brings the Zips back in the first half vs. Can't .. and Zeke obliterates the paint in the 2nd half & overtime in the title game. The Zips got big performances from lots of different places .. so many places that it has to be difficult to coach against, if you don't know where it's going to come from. The true essence of a team working together for a common goal. Great to see that. Thanks guys.
  • The Environment: It wasn't a huge crowd by MAC Title game standards, but it was a lively one, and after watching the replay, it played well on TV for a national audience. It was a great atmosphere, and validates the conference having the tournament in a centralized, professional setting. Nice show as always.
  • Boroski, Simpson & Wyman: Perhaps the best officiated game I've witnessed in the MAC. Calls were made .. and it was even. But for the first time in what seems like forever, the stripes just let them play. Both teams were able to get into a flow .. and the stripes weren't the center of attention for most of the night. Thanks for that, guys.

The Better:

  • Zeke! was huge, tremendous & clutch for the Zips against Can't State. He found a groove in the second half of the Can't game where he was able to keep the drivers away from his body and swat the shot without fouling. A big step for him. Keeping him on the floor really changed everything. No one expects that this will be the norm every game .. at least not right away. However, he was hugely deserving of MVP honors .. and played his best on the biggest stage he's yet faced. KD has said for awhile that a big like Zeke helps the Zips compete "when we get into the NCAA's." I for one can't wait to see the big guy's first go at in in the Big Dance on Friday.
  • McKnight: comes close to earning the Jawanza Moore award for this season. On the offensive end of the floor in the title game, he put the Zips on his back late. He took and made tough shots, late in the shot clock .. when the Zips absolutely needed them. The knock on having a team like the Zips where 6 guys average between 8 and 11 points, but no one scores 20 has always been: there's no go-to guy .. no clutch player to carry a team. Brett may have come as close as we've seen on Saturday. A great performance in his last in a Zips uniform in Ohio. Tremendous effort. Brett has shown the ability to go off against high major competition. The 2nd half against Pitt being an example. Now would be a great time for another game like that. Honorable mention to Roberts & McNees as they also were clutch.

The Beautiful: This needs no words .. just pictures.

2011_Champs.jpg

This one credit to the Beacon Journal / Phil Masturzo

Zipswin03.JPG

Credit to Mark Duncan / AP

Happy_2011.jpg

This one also credit to Mark Duncan / AP

Keith_NET_2011.jpg

.. And a few Comments More:

  • Ecstatic for the team: I'm really happy for the team .. and it's great for us fans. What really strikes me is how cool it is to see a group of people excel at what they're working hard at. We witnessed a group of 15-20 people having one of the best days in their basketball lives .. for some their career. It's a cool moment I think. I couldn't be happier for the guys. They deserve this.
  • Great seasons are defined in March .. but made in the summer months and early season workouts. This team has put in the work .. battled through slumps of different kinds .. and come out on top. This continues to be a great season because the team trusted themselves, the coaches and the process .. enough to be able to make the crucial plays down the stretch in 3 nights in Cleveland.
  • More basketball awaits them and us in Chicago. If you're able to go .. I recommend it. During my days as a student, I had the opportunity to attend several NCAA tournament games in which my schools were participating .. and it's a whole different experience. My hope is that as many Zips fans as want to attend this can find a way to attend it. My secondary hope is that thousands of Purdue fans have purchased all session tickets. Because if they have, I can tell you that the Zips fans in attendance will have friends Friday .. LOTS of them.

Go Zips! Enjoy the moment. Play smart .. play hard .. and play together. And have fun. I know I will.

B) B) B) B) B)

:champs: :champs: :champs:

Zip Watcher

When I last summarized my thoughts on the Zippers, they were win the basement looking up at the MAC East, with 2 losses against West bottom feeders, and in a fight to simply earn a home game. What a difference a week makes. The Zips now find themselves a bit closer to the top than the bottom, and the potential for a bye seems slighty more realistic. Still much work to be done fans, but they've pulled themselves together and actually looked like a KD coached Zips team the last few games. The last 2 against the best the West has to offer.

So now, as our men pack up like John Candy and head back to the East, I offer my current assessment of my favorite team:

The Good:


  • Team Defense: To say the D has improved over the past 3 games is an understatement, IMHO. On the season the Zips are allowing 42% FG shooting and 33% from 3 point land. Also giving up 65 points per game. In the past 3 games (2 of which were against solid MAC squads who have multiple wins against the East), they've pushed those numbers down to 40% FG shooting, 17% on 3 pointers, and are only giving up 57 points per game. These are tangible improvements resulting from a clear improvement in effort and cohesiveness on Defense. They did give up some big individual performances against Ball State, but the perimeter D has been stellar the past 3 games. Just as we know that teams aren't just having the night of their lives when they shoot 50% from outside against the Zips .. so too do we know that they're not just ice cold. The D matters .. and it has been better.
  • Offensive Execution: On the other side of the ball, the past 3 games saw corresponding improvements in offensive efficiency. The Zips have assisted on 2/3rds of their made FG in the last 3 games, with an A:TO ratio of 1.43. The shooting percentages are up, the total points are up over the season averages. Generally, most things are trending in the right direction. Special mention to Steve McNees who seems to be thawing out at the right time for the Zips. Nice to see him get going 2 games in a row.
  • NI-KOLA: The best, most consistent Zips player this season, hands down. The guy is playing hard, shooting pretty well, taking fewer chances with the ball (more on that later), and really leading this team. It's been nice to see someone step forward to do that. Nice couple of games vs. WMU and BSU.
  • Bardo: Mike is a factor, and is apparently way more athletic than any of us knew. His put back late in the half was key for momentum, and he rebounded well. 6 boards in 14 minutes Saturday .. 4 of them offensive boards. That's extra possessions and extra points. Nice work Mike.
  • Stringing them together: I like that they've used these 3 games to start to string some things together. It isn't going to get easier in the coming weeks, but they can beat every team on the schedule if they play complete Akron Zips basketball. There's not a doubt in my mind. Winning the final appearance at Harold "Andy" Anderson Arena would be huge in the hunt for the bye, as it would tie them w/ BG while holding a 2-0 sweep of the Falcons. If you can get out there, I recommend it .. it's a throwback gym. I understand the need for improvements and progress .. but that was a great place to see a game when the BG students cared. Once upon a time, it was a great home court advantage. Zips need a win to come back home for a tune up against Creighton.

The Bad:

I've got nothing bad to say after the last 3 games. There are clearly areas for improvement for this team to become as good as they can be. Some of those items are individual in nature, some are team related. Suffice it to say, I'm stoked enough about the progress seen last week at the JAR, that I for one am not going to waste too much time on the negatives. They're there, we all see them .. so I'm going to quickly skip over them and keep hope that the Zips awakening we're seeing continues.

The Ugly:

Only one entry today qualifies:


  • Not Dr. J In addition to all his excellent play and leadership, Nikola provided us one of the better comic relief moments of the 2010-11 season when, for a brief moment late in the first half, he simply forgot he wasn't Dr. J. It must have been his 2nd or 3rd steal of the game out top, and he heads to the south basket with only one trailing defender. A layup and perhaps a dunk is assured when Nikola, feeling good about his game (as we all do) takes off for the rim from what must have been 10 our 12 feet out on the left side of the lane. Had he made it there, it might have been one of the most spectacular put downs in recent JAR history. However, even the most casual fan around me could sense he had left the runway too early in his approach. I haven't reviewed the tape yet, but judging by the play-by-play, the ball didn't make it above the rim, or to the rim .. or near the rim .. it doesn't even appear as a shot attempt. He adjusted course in mid-air, but to no avail. Reminded that he was NOT Dr. J .. Nikola fell to the baseline grabbing his ankle in an apparent career ending injury. Thankfully for all involved, it was the dreaded ankle stinger, and not much more. Whether there was extremity pain, or merely bruised pride, we may never know. But now we all know that Nikola Cvetinovic is NOT Dr. J. Thanks for that Nik.

And a few Comments More ...

  • The current seedings are posted here and elsewhere, and you can see the Zips have risen from 11th to 6th in recent updates. With a game @ BG on Tuesday, the opportunity exists to make that 5th. The bye is in play for the Zips, but they have to find a way to beat a good team on the road. Because with BG, OU & Can't State remaining on the road, they likely need at least one of those games to get into the top 3 in the East. I think things will play out in the usual fashion with the top 3 in the East securing the free pass .. so that's where they need to be.
  • Interior passing can improve even more than it has. We counted 3 occasions in the second half alone where a big was alone on the weak side, and the Zips failed to recognize it in time for the easy hoop. It was a different guy with the ball each time, and the guy open underneath each time was different .. so it wasn't a case of lack of confidence in any one player .. it was simply missing the open man. These types of things will further help the chances of the Zips if they start to take advantage of them. Few MAC schools have 2 capable big men .. the Zips have 3 or 4. This needs to be a strength.
  • Rotations seem to be settling in the past few games. Combining Diggs & Abreu gives KD an up tempo lineup which has shown to tire out the opposition. In general, I think something that has worked for the Zips this season is pushing the tempo when available. Not Doug Moe style with no D and reckless abandon, simply taking advantage of any and every opening in the full court, and even making openings here and there. Diggs & McNees had a nice 2 on 4 break that yielded an old fashioned 3 point play in the 2nd half. In both the last 2 games, I think fatigue affected the opponent more than the Zips.
  • In the last post, I finished by saying I thought the Zips could get to 6-5 coming back to the East, but it would take some progress and improvement on a possession by possession, half by half basis. Well they got there, and now I'll say I think that 10-6 in the MAC isn't impossible for the Zips. They need to win their home games and beat 2 of 3 on the road. Well they've beaten 2 of the 3 at home this season, and the 3rd team has struggled at home a bunch this year. The opportunities are here. The Zips need to take care of business at home also. If the team that played last week is what KD can build upon in the next 3, the Zips will be fine.

B) B) B) B)

Go Zips!!

Zip Watcher

I think it's safe to say that not many of us expected to see the Zips in their current position halfway through the MAC portion of the season. After several seasons of leading or always being within a game of the East lead, our Zips find themselves in unfamiliar territory:

  • The Zips are looking up at every team in the East, including OU when the tiebreakers are considered.
  • Not only that, but the Zips only lead CMU and UT in the combined seedings at the moment. CMU by virtue of last weeks win vs. the Chips at the JAR. For the numerically challenged reading this, the Zips are in 10th place.
  • The Zips have not won a road game in conference yet this season. With 5 conference losses and 4 remaining road games, it's apparent that securing a bye is quite unlikely, and getting a home tournament game will require a rebound in the second half.

I'm not alone among Zips fans in being quite surprised at the current state of things. On paper, the Zips looked to be primed to continue their run at or near the top of the East, despite the warnings of some staff members over the summer. Losing 2 seniors (big contributors in Conyers and McKnight) was going to hurt, we knew that. The other losses, mostly role players or players who didn't like their roles were expected to be more absorbable, given the addition of Abreu @ PG, and the number of incoming players to fill the extra minutes.

Could we have been more wrong? I'm not sure.

So my snapshot heading into the UT game:

The Good:

  • The Zips beat Can't to open the MAC slate. It had been a couple of seasons since our guys got over on the rivals, and it was a nice refreshing sight to see the Zips take out Can't at the JAR to open the conference slate. The coaches were both saying the same thing after the game. What they do after was more important than one game. Can't State sits near first, 3 games up on the Zips in the loss column. Maybe these guys know their teams? Regardless, Zeke had a huge game against Can't State and the Zips won one for the fans that we needed.
  • Young athletic players (at times): There have been glimpses of the positive impact some of the roster changes can make. At times, Diggs has looked like the most athletic swing man we've seen in a long time, and I believe Abreu has the tools and basketball sense to become one of the Zips great PG's over time. Having to rely on these two at times when others have faltered is a component of the Zips struggles. Young players are going to make mistakes .. they're not going to be as steady as a senior who has won a MAC title and played almost 100 games. Regardless, these 2 guys as well as Zeke have shown stretches of what can be a more athletic running team.
  • Nikola Cvetinovic: Has there been a more workmanlike season game in and game out than Nik is having? I think if we didn't have Nik, things could be a lot worse. He's matured to the point of not taking himself out of games emotionally, he leads the Zips in points and rebounds, is 3rd in assists and 2nd in steals. The guy is far and away the MVP of this team. He's improved his FT shooting, and is shooting a respectable 44% from the field. Put me in the group of people that hopes he finds a way to put off going home to Serbia one more year. We need this guy.

The Bad:

  • Consistency: I can't remember a Zips team, perhaps because I've blocked most of the 90's out, that was as inconsistent as this team. I remember a few times in the Hipsher era where I felt the team should be better than it was, and that a bad game here or there unplugged a season. But I can't remember any team being as up and down as this team has. They beat Can't, they should have beaten U@B in their gym before giving it away, and then they lose to NIU & EMU. It's consistency at a whole bunch of levels, not just game over game. Within a game, within a half .. even within a single possession, the Zips are struggling to find consistent execution. This is leading to inconsistent results, to put it mildly.
  • Cohesiveness: One of the mantras of KD Zips Basketball has always been to "Play Hard, Play Smart, Play Together!" I'm not here to question the effort, I haven't seen people loafing or anything, so I think they're playing hard. Playing smart is up for debate. But playing together isn't a strength of this team. There seem to be times when the backcourt just isn't on the same page as the bigs & vice versa. It's usually on Defense. A key to good team defense is good communication. Perhaps this relates to their struggles?
  • Defense: KD has been up front about this all season. The D isn't where he likes it to be yet. At times, they've been blistered by outside shooters standing all alone. At times a singular player like Silas and Cooper has really hurt them. Either way, the Zips aren't stopping people enough. In the interest of fairness, it has been better the past few games. In 3 of the past 4 games, the Zips have held the opponent to 60 or fewer points. They won 2 of those 3. In the previous 12 games, they only held one team to 60 or less. In the same 4 games, they've held opponents under 40% from beyond the arc, a stark contrast to the 50%+ they allowed OU and U@B. So maybe the defense is evolving? We'll have to wait and see.

The Ugly:

  • The Offense: This is a frustrating area to watch the Zips struggle with. They've shown an ability to get open shots, and shoot solid percentages. They've shown the ability to dominate people in the post. They've shown an ability to play inside-out to leverage both skills. However, due to the cohesiveness and inconsistency, they're rarely showing these things on a night in and night out basis. One game, the post players will dominate and get the ball in, yielding wide open looks from outside. The next game, or 10 minutes later in the same game .. they'll start passing the ball over the top looking for three balls, and ignore the post all together. I think it's driving the coaches nuts. Bottom line is that the Zips are shooting 41% as a team in conference play and only 34.5% from outside. Included in that is 4 games where they attempted more than 20 3PT FG's and made LESS than 30%. If the percentages remain as they are trending, the Zips will struggle until they find a little more balance between inside and out.
  • Rebounding: Pointed out earlier as a team weakness, it seems to me to have improved ever so slightly. They're winning the rebounding in about half the conference games. They did well against CMU and Can't State and won. They did poorly against BG & still won. Other games, they've been crushed. This is a hard stat to harp on, given the defensive problems. As KD continues to need to resort to the 1-1-3 to improve the defensive end .. rebounding will struggle, as it's hard to rebound out of a zone. This is further compounded by having a good shot blocker. They're almost never great rebounders, as going for the ball has you moving away from the rim .. and therefore away from the rebound.

.. And a few comments more:

  • The season's not over .. there's lots of time. So the bye *looks* out of reach .. so be it. They won the title by playing 4 games in the tournament, and they can do it again. They have time to rebound. 3 games remain against the West, and there's 4 home games left to try and get into the middle third of the league and secure a JAR game. One game at a time, they can solve their issues and become the team they've been when March rolls around.
  • They have a history of winning & veterans abound. Four guys who were key in winning the MAC tourney 2 years ago are the leaders of this team. They know how to win. They've done it a LOT. This experience has to help them at some point this season. They can put it together .. teams don't just forget how to play in a month. They can re-discover it .. and I think they will.
  • There's numbers to the Zips' advantage: KD has a deep bench, and can use these guys to his advantage if he tries to speed teams up. This may mean more Egner & Bardo .. but I see no reason why the Zips can't push the ball more on offense & wear teams down more. We saw it work against CMU .. I think it could work against a bunch of teams in the league.

As Mike White once said .. "it ain't over!"

Here's hoping the Zips can pull a road win out at UT and start to string some games together. With 3 left against the West & 2 of those at home, it's possible to go into the 2nd East Swing at 6-5 with a shot at a home game. It won't be easy. One game at a time .. one half at a time .. one defensive possession at a time. Gotta start stringing these together.

Go Zips!!

Zip Watcher

OU isn't as good as they looked last night, and the Zips aren't nearly as bad. In my opinion, they're much closer to each other than you might think.

There's a story you hear about Jim Tressel as an offensive coordinator somewhere early in his career where he ran the same play like 4 or 5 times to start a game. I think it may have been at BW with his Dad's team. HC asks him "why don't you run a different play?" Young Tressel says .. "Why? They haven't stopped the one I'm running now."

To me, that was the game last night. OU did one thing well last night. REALLY well. And the Zips efforts to stop it were either futile, half-hearted or wholly ineffective, maybe all of these things.

The game for me was a glimpse:

One one hand, it was a glimpse of how badly a Zips team can look on both offense and defense at the same time. It was a glimpse at how to let a one-dimensional team with a very good PG drill you in your own building. It was a glimpse at how to not attack a 2-3 zone .. over and over and over again.

On the other hand at times, it was a glimpse of how to defend OU well and force them in to bad shots or bad decisions. It also had a glimpse of how to attack a 2-3 zone when the opponent can't keep your PG from going by them.

Clearly we saw more glimpses of the former than the latter. Ultimately, last night was verification of what we already knew .. the Zips are inconsistent in effort at times. When they play well together & with energy .. good things happen (probably about 10 minutes of the 40 last night). And when they don't .. they can look pretty mediocre. You do that against a team that does one thing really well .. and you don't take that one thing away .. you can get pasted on your own floor.

I'm hoping it's a learning experience. In the press between Saturday and Wednesday, KD was clearly concerned about keeping his team even keel. He had real reasons to be concerned. Complacency was king last night.

Thoughts .. on Abreu vs. Cooper:

The box score doesn't lie .. Abreu had 7 TO's .. likely his high thus far. But what we saw in the first 5-7 minutes of the game tell me a few things:

  1. Abreu is as quick with the ball as DJ Cooper.
  2. DJ Cooper generally was not able to beat Abreu off the dribble.
  3. For a moment .. Abreu was in Cooper's head.

To be clear, Cooper killed the Zips last night. I didn't see anything different than anyone else. But he killed them with the pass and not the shot. Where the Zips fell down last night was in the rotations, or lack thereof, to the shooters. I think this was due to A LOT of unnecessary double teams. They were doubling OU's post players, leaving Kellogg and Freeman open. Those guys can't be left open. You let Baltic, Washington and Freeman go one on one against our bigs .. and stay with the shooters.

And with Abreu at the point, I think you let him guard Cooper straight up, and don't double Cooper in the half court. I'd take my chances letting Abreu check him one on one, and stick to a straight up man defense to take away his assists. Maybe you have Zeke help at the rim if Cooper gets loose down the lane .. but you do NOT come off the perimeter guy to help out. If half his assists were on 3 balls last night, then he assisted on about 38 points. If you single cover him .. he's not going to put 50 on the board against you. He's a better passer than distance shooter.

Abreu had his challenges last night. Made some unbelievable plays .. made some bone-headed plays. At least two of his turnovers were "Jason Kid @ Cal" types .. where he hit guys with the ball that weren't ready for it and couldn't comprehend how in the world he got them the ball. But I believe one thing for sure: Abreu is good enough to guard Cooper straight up the next time and stop with all this Hipsher-era "let's leave an open shooter" silliness we saw yesterday.

Keep 'em on .. this is a good Zips team.

B) B) B) B)

Go Zips!

Zip Watcher

The Zips enter conference play this weekend, so what better time to chime in on the season so far, and what lies ahead. I feel comfortable asserting that this team has before it an opportunity to establish themselves as the best team in the league, and a worthy torch bearer of the KD Era Zips. Will they do it? ... guess they gotta play the games ..

So with the customary nod to Sergio Leone, my thoughts on the season so far:

The good:

- No bad losses. The Zips have beaten the teams they were supposed to beat thus far. No Austin Peay at home this year yet, and for the most part they have shown signs of improvements.

- In the 5 losses this season, the Zips have competed well in 4 of them. I witnessed first hand at the Barn what 20 minutes of top notch Zips hoops could look like against a ranked team. Same for UD & Miami. I still feel like they should have taken down one or two of them .. but not to be.

- Newcomer Integration. Writing this on January 5th / 6th, I'm pretty happy with the degree to which the newcomers have stepped up and filled roles that were needed of them. I do think we'll wish we had the Euton redshirt back .. but those are the breaks. What I'm surprised by is that in 14 games Abreu has put a stranglehold on the starting PG position for the Zips, and in fact, may already be one of the Zips pivotal players. At times, Diggs has looked positively high-major talent wise .. his creativity and athleticism are unmatched on the roster at the moment. There was a bunch of turnover last off-season. Seems to me the team has handled it well. The PG need has been addressed.

- Zeke on the rise: Steady as she goes, big fella. Averaging 10 & 6 with 3 bpg in just over 20 minutes per game. He's battling fouls, some of his own making .. and I firmly believe he'll start to win that battle in the next 3-4 weeks. Call it MAC ref home cooking, familiarity .. or just experience. He's going to be playing major minutes and I think he'll be better at avoiding the 1 or 2 really ticky tack fouls. The simple thing here is that when Zeke is on the floor, it changes things .. it did at Minnesota .. it has at the JAR .. it will continue to be the case. He presents problems for people on the defensive end with his jump hook, he's able to pass out of the double teams, he's a decent passer off the defensive glass to start the break .. in short he's coming along.

- The Juniors: Nikola and Nitro have gotten off to a strong start this season. Nitro is just about tripling his scoring average in just over double the minutes from last year. He presents a swing man that is willing to take the shot, not tentative, and there's some creativity in creating a mid-range shot when the long ball isn't there. He's clearly the Zips most improved player this season.

Meanwhile, Nikola has just gone to work game in and game out and been a very steady & consistent post player for KD. 12pts, 6 rebounds per game in under 30 minutes. That's the kind of consistency the Zips need from these two guys. The other day I was thinking back to when JD was just coming to Akron, how all the talk was that his most important recruiting job was to get Frye to stay. I'm starting to wonder if the magic KD needs is to find a way to keep Nikola state-side for his 4th year of eligibility. This guy is playing well and continues to show steady improvement.

The bad:

- Even with the new talent infusion, the uptick in output by the juniors, the Zips are still getting bitten by the extended offensive droughts. It cost them @ Minnesota .. vs. Miami .. and probaly a couple of the other losses too. Not sure why this is happening, but it's a frustrating thing. It's been observed here and around my seats that this season, these droughts feel like they coincide with Alex being on the bench. Not sure if that's true .. doesn't really show up that way in the +/- .. but I did sense that vs. Minnesota and again vs. ORU.

-Defense is not up to KD Zips' standards: While the offense is ticking along at about 70ppg, even with some scoring droughts and the struggles of perhaps our best shooter .. the defense has been marginal, and at times worse. 66 points per game is the most any KD Zips team has ever allowed. They need to win with defense .. moreso if the offensive droughts continue. This team and these players are capable of holding teams to 60 .. if they can get down near that number, they'll be in a good position to win a bunch of games.

- The rebounding: The Zips are getting beat on the glass for the first season in the last 3, and it is a really consistent issue throughout the non-conference slate. IMHO, this represents the single biggest area where the Zips can improve as a team and with it improve the teams fortunes. Extra rebounds means extra shots ..

The Ugly

- The Temple Incident: I think I can count on one hand the number of times in the past 6 years that a Zips team was just never in a game. Not in it, and beaten by 20 late .. just never in it .. statistically, energetically, emotionally .. you name it. The last one was @ URI 2 seasons ago .. that team did a good job of leaving that game in the dumpster and moving on, let's hope this one is the same.

- Rebounding: It's bad .. and it's ugly. The Zips simply need to find a way to rebound better. Their starting front court is averaging a TOTAL of 14.6 rebounds per game in 78+ minutes per game. That simply HAS to get better for the Zips to become a championship team. The Zips are going to be the biggest interior team most of the MAC sees this season .. they need to use that to their advantage.

- Yellow shirts are ugly. They just are. Simply not looking forward to seeing those.

... And a few Comments More:

- I'm excited for conference play. While I don't think it's a foregone conclusion, I do think that the Zips can really do some damage in this seasons MAC. Maybe this isn't the best Zips team we've seen at this stage of the season, but I do think there's an opportunity for it to be the best team we've seen in a long time in March (I realize what I'm saying). Things have to go well .. the rebounding needs to improve, McNees needs a slump buster .. and the team D needs to come around. But in this league, in this season, the Zips are as well positioned as any team to go out there and put a stranglehold on the league title. Lots of these guys have been there ..

- Need to put together 40 minutes. Someone can correct me, please, but have the Zips put together a complete 40 minutes yet this season? We saw what I thought was a pretty darn good 25-30 against Minnesota .. but what would it look like if they could put a solid 35+ minutes together .. they'd be damn good, I tell you. I'm looking forward to seeing that as the season wears on. One of these days, the light's going to go on, and some poor MAC team isn't going to know what hit 'em. When the inside out game is flowing, and our shooters are hitting the open look. It could be fun. Hope to see it.

- Award potential? Unless something striking happens, I think the Zips run of Defensive POY awards may come to an end this season. It was a nice run. I do think B. McKnight can re-claim his 6th Man award from 2 seasons ago .. and at some point Alex will step into the FOY conversation, despite how many BCS level offers Trey Ziegler turned down. The kid is plain & simple getting better every game, and has taken over a starting role on a team that should contend for the league title.

- Gotta force Can't into the half court on Saturday and make them hit jumpers to beat the Zips. Greene's going to get his .. but let's see the Zips make the flushes hit some shots, and not give them too many open transition looks.

Go Zips!

B) B) B) B)

Zip Watcher

The Zips dodged a bullet last night, and dispatched YSU in overtime, with plenty of good offensive performances to go around.

First, the box score (still waiting for StatSheet to get the +/- run .. hopefully that'll be soon.

Zips 91 - Penguins 84 Box Score

I didn't write any notes down last night, so these are from memory the morning after.

With the customary regrets to Sergio Leone, my observations from the JAR:

The Good:

  1. Took a punch, landed the last one: KD is fond of this concept, and it's growing on me. It's good to know your team can take a punch and get back up and stand in. While this wasn't the toughest adversity the Zips will face this season, I thought it was a nice early season test of the Zips mettle. They never got down more than 5, but YSU didn't just go away. This is an upgrade over some other games where a 5 or 8 point run early in the 2nd half is enough to blow things open. The Zips needed to stay in this mentally the whole way, and they did that.
  2. Offense: This will be a strength of the Zips. We saw tonight what can happen when they push the ball inside to start the offense. Career highs from our 2 bigs, and our shooter. These are linked. Brett will continue to see single coverage and good space to work on the perimeter and the mid-range as long as our interior guys are playing well on Offense. This was a nice step for the Offense. Zeke and Nik are showing signs of working well together and appear to have a pretty good sense of where the other one is and what he's going to do. Great to see.
  3. The Penguins: Flat out the best Penguins mens team I've seen since a guy name Peters was coaching over there. Not just because they pushed the Zips to the brink. Slocum seems to have turned a corner of sorts. Glad to see it. Hope they go 30-1 and tear the Horizon up. And I hope we continue this series.
  4. Career highs: Nice scoring punch from 3 different guys. The inside out was working well and Zeke was good and kept things moving inside out, especially late in the game. It'd be good to see some more career highs in rebounding to go with it.

The Bad:

  1. Minutes: 38 minutes from the bench is not going to be enough. Some of this is KD's rotations, but a lot of this is guys coming off the bench and contributing. These guys need to step into the void and give quality minutes and effort when out there. 7 points, 6 rebounds and 1 assist to go along with 4 turnovers is not adequate bench production for this team to be successful in the long haul. An area for improvement.
  2. The boards: Two things the Zips are doing are naturally counter to being a good rebounding team. #1, they're playing a zone with the big guy patrolling the lane. By definition, if you're in a zone, it's harder to have guys on bodies boxing out when the shot goes up. So zone teams will usually not rebound as well as strictly man teams. #2, with a shot blocker, if you're going to be aggressive in going after blocks, the shot block guy is going to be out of position for the rebound. Larry Nance was never a great guy on the boards because of this. It's going to take some experience and a retraining a bit of the team to adapt to both of these things. Giving up 15 offensive boards to a smaller opponent indicates there's some work remaining. The Rome & Wood front court was an example of a Zips team that blocked a fair amount of shots (Rome) & rebounded well (Wood). So it can be done.
  3. Shots for Steve: We all would like to see Steve moved over to the 2 more. That will happen more with Alex's development, but we need to have him involved more I think. One thing that will help our bigs inside is if every perimeter player is viewed as a legitimate outside threat. As far as Brett & Daryll go, they're taking enough shots to maintain that. Steve passing up open looks will allow teams to condense the middle a little more. So I think the Zips need Steve to be a little more aggressive with his shots. Alex developing into a 20 minute guy would help that.

The Ugly:

  1. Defensive rotation: It seems like the Zips are playing no D right now, but I think it's a consequence of the process KD is going through in adjusting the team to the strength of his talent. We've not had a stud 7' shot blocker as the anchor of the defense before. The Zips have always played primarily man, with the guys who guarded their man best being the 5 on the floor when it matters. Well now, we're seeing more interest in using a 2-3 zone to leverage Zeke's ability to protect the rim. He's getting better at it, and 3 blocks will grow as the year goes on. But what will happen while this process continues, is that the rotations are a bit slow, or they get caught out of position. We saw that a bit tonight, and against Dayton. While it seems like the Zips are getting killed from outside, they're eventually going to win the battle inside the arc and force teams to shoot lights out from outside to beat the Zips. Case in point vs. YSU, the Zips outscored the Penguins 50 to 36 inside the arc. If they can push that advantage and do better on the perimeter rotations, the defense will improve.
  2. The Stripe: The Zips shot an anemic 65% from the line as a team, and still made more FT's than YSU attempted. If they shoot a more palatable number, this game is over in regulation. They're not going to shoot 90% as a team, but they need to be above 70 I think. Getting to the line that much is a good indicator of forcing the action at the rim .. but they need to convert. They did when it counted in OT, but regulation wasn't pretty.
  3. Turnovers: The Assist:Turnover ratio was better than 2:1 as I recall in the Dayton game, but against YSU, the Zips turned it over 13 times. Many of these were somewhat necessary .. so that number can be lower. I think it will be unusual for the Zips to turn the ball over more than the opposition, but it happened. Speaks to the need for stiffer D.

... And a few comments more:

  • Zeke's higher level near the end of regulation and overtime show us what kind of upside he has. The 2 rebounds at the end were clutch, and driven by heart and effort as much as his size. I absolutely LOVE this guys instincts in these situations to look for and hit the outside guy immediately in one motion. There wasn't any thinking in that situation .. he went after the ball, and got it where it needed to be. He's starting to look for his shot more .. but the thing that I'm liking more and more is his awareness of the defense and ability to pass out of the double teams. These things will make him a monster because hitting a high percentage outside shooter will earn him some more single teams .. and there's not a guy in the league that can check a 7 footer with a soft jump hook. He seems to play pretty well angry as well .. so like Rob Preston before him, perhaps the staff should find a way to get him fired up.
  • The Freshman bigs intrigue me, and I hope they find their groove and can contribute 10-15 minutes consistently before the end of the non-conference. I liked that play were Dakotah got the rebound in traffic and fought it back to the rim immediately without bringing it down. Egner is getting to the line, but needs to sink them. These 2 kids will help the Zips before this season is over.
  • The Crowd was decent for an early game .. seemed lively at the end, and was treated to a good basketball game with a nice tempo and lots of offense. I have to believe a bunch of these people will be back on Wednesday to witness another of these regional rivalry games. Another win on Wednesday may go a long way to pushing the average attendance this season up over last year.

They're off and running, and I'm liking what I've seen. Big game Wednesday before a big road trip to 4 solid teams. This schedule will test this team and build it up.

I got 'em on .. do you?

B) B) B) B) B)

Go Zips!

Zip Watcher

Dayton Postgame

Great early season basketball game tonight by our Zips and the Flyers. Not a win, but an entertaining look into what the team looks like and what we might expect against good D1 competition. Great to have it on TV. From what I saw in the in-game thread, I'm glad I muted the FSN guys and put on Frenchy.

So we're off! Another season of dreams is underway.

First off, the box score, as presented by StatSheet.Com

And with sincere apologies to Sergio Leone, my notes from the game ...

The Good:

  1. Resiliency: It was a nice recovery to get back into the game (2x) when things appeared to be getting out of hand. I take this as a very good sign of the toughness of the club. They didn't finish the Flyers out, but the also fought to stay in it. For game 1 of the D1 slate, I think this was my key takeaway.
  2. Nitro: 21 points on 15 shots in 28 minutes. Can we please stop calling the guy a bust? He's got a ways to go in demonstrate some consistency, but the guy played a nice game on the offensive end. For much of the first half, he was the only offense. Excellent game by Brett tonight.
  3. Newcomers: I was very surprised to see Euton drop the redshirt, but not disappointed. You can see the guy knows the game, and gets himself in position to make plays, instead of counting on athleticism. This guy is a basketball player, and will help us this year. 2 for 2 on pop out threes. That's HUGE when you have a big going to work inside at the same time. Abreu was clutch also. Took good care of the ball for the most part against the press. Lost it a few times down the lane, but he seemed comfortable out there overall .. and enabled Steve to move over to the 2 spot, where he found his shot a bit.
  4. Nik: Did not shoot well from the field tonight, but 11pts, 10 rebs & 7 assts is a stat stuffing night. He kept his composure and led the team in a lot of ways. He's not going to shoot 20% .. he just isn't. When he starts hitting a more normal rate, this guy will be a load .. especially opposite some other capable bigs. Nice game by Nik tonight.
  5. Zeke changes everything: I'm really dying to see the +/- numbers from tonight, because my perception right now is that Zeke must have a pretty good + number. The feel I had was that it really altered things on both ends of the floor. His stats weren't overpowering, but he changed what Dayton did .. drew a double & triple team every time he had the ball, and did a pretty darn good job of passing out of those situations to an open shooter. If he masters that skill of sensing the double and waiting to the right moment to kick out .. our shooters will have open shots, and the number of threes the Zips hit tonight will be the norm. The Zips could very well become a "pick your poison" kind of problem for opposing coaches.
  6. Team play on offense: The Zips assisted on 18 of 22 FG's and had only 7 Turnovers against a longer, more athletic team. Read that again. That's a great sign of the state of the offensive execution. The ball is being moved around to the open shooter. There weren't too many forced shots, and they did an adequate job of protecting the possessions.

The Bad:

  1. They lost: There are no good losses. The Zips got close to a good D1 team on the road. Let them get out to a double digit halftime lead, fought back to lead by a possession or 2, and then gave it back at the end. This is an early season game, but I'm sure KD joins us in wanting to see the team grow to the point where they can sustain that run in the middle of the 2nd half and put Dayton away.
  2. Scoring Droughts: CK warned about it today. Some may say jinxed the Zips .. but the droughts reared their ugly head again @ UD Arena. Frankly, with the 10 minutes or so they went without a FG in the first half, it should have been walkon time in the 2nd half. Nik's aggressiveness with the ball got him to the line, and that kept the Zips in it. If the Zips are to be successful in March, they have to find a way to get good looks when Zeke isn't in the game. They can't continue to have these stretches of no offense.
  3. Rebounding: The rebound totals were 39-25. You don't need to look at the box score to see that UD had more. The Zips were manhandled on the boards at critical times in the game. Frenchy described a few of the offensive boards as weird spin outs or odd bounces, but for the most part they were due to bad positioning, and/or the Zips guy just not putting a body on the Flyer who eventually snared the board. Exception: in 10 minutes on the floor, Dakotah had 4 boards. That's as much as our 2 centers had in 33 minutes. The Zips can not get beat on the glass by 50% and expect to beat good D1 teams.

The Ugly:

  1. Foul trouble for Zeke: Gotta keep the big guy on the floor. I can't help but hope the MAC officials call fewer of the bogus freshman ticky tack stuff. His 3rd foul was a joke. It's plain to see that he alters the game. Now the Zips need to find away to keep him on the floor for more than 19 minutes. He plays more in the first half, the deficit is probably half of what it was.
  2. Nik survives first season ending injury of the 2010-11 campaign: I remember a practice 2 seasons ago where Nik stopped play rolling around on the floor, only to get back up and be on the court in 2 or 3 minutes. KD was furious at him. Good to see Nik bounce back from his first season ending injury of the year.
  3. Bardo on a poster: Let's face it, The Old Spice Guy or George Clooney wouldn't look much better on the Chris Wright poster that's getting readied for sale in the UD bookstore in the morning, let alone Mike Bardo. Mike, you've got to put him on the floor in that situation. Does 2 things: keeps you off the marketing materials for UD sports, and maybe makes the guy a little slower to drive in on you.
  4. Live & die by the 3 ball: I have no issue whatsoever with the Zips taking 36 3-balls last night. They made a bunch of them. My struggle with it is only when it starts to happen without any inside action whatsoever. Be it a dribble drive by Abreu (happened a few times) or a dump to a big guy .. the threes fall better off an inside out action. The scoring drought really took hold when there was no inside activity or success in penetrating to force the defense to address the paint. This team can shoot the rock and should shoot it .. but they need the inside out to have more open, higher percentage 3's.

... And a Few Comments More:

  • Love the zone to man switch: French & Dunn made noise about Dayton being confused by the Zone look in the second half .. but I think they missed what KD was doing, and probably what caused UD the most trouble. The Zips have the habit of sitting in that zone for a portion of the shot clock and then quietly slipping back into man. UD never caught on. It's not something you can do all the time, but I expect to see more of it. I really like the look .. and if the Zips can pull it off without losing a man here or there, it should be pretty effective. It causes the opponent to run a different zone set offensively, but gets the Zips back into a man before the shot .. and it's always easier to rebound out of man than it is zone.
  • Chris Wright: This guy killed the Zips. I think he might be the best player the Zips have faced under KD. I've not had a ton of time to think about it, but there's not been a guy in the MAC even close to this guy in the last 6 or 7 years. Maynor for VCU was pretty tough. Lots of athletes on URI last year .. but at the moment, Wright stands apart in my mind. I can see clearly how and why he's on the Wooden and Naismith watch lists.
  • Team unity:In the ZTVsports post game video, a comment by KD stood out: "we get along." That was nice to see today. There didn't seem to be any conflict internally that was visible on the court. The guys seem to be on the same page. There weren't a bunch of TO's due to complete mis-communication, as we've seen in the past. I think this bodes well for the season.
  • Can't wait to see more. My appetite for Zips hoops is officially whetted. This was a good competitive game. The offense is turned up from last year .. and now they need to get the D in line with KD's expectations. The potential is here for a really strong season, not just one waiting for the 4 horsemen to be able to join them.

That's what I got. There's probably more.

B) B) B) B) B)

Get 'em on Zips fans!

Go Zips!

Zip Watcher

It's been almost 2 months since the end of the season, and my notes have been on the desk since then. Life & business have delayed this summary, but I did intend to post about a month after the season. I feel like a little time away gives me better perspective on the season that was. Note that this is an effort to capture my thoughts on the season that was, NOT the events since the last game or the changes afoot for next season. That's for another day.

So once again, with sincere apologies to Sergio Leone, here is my 2009-10 Zips Mens Basketball Season Retrospect:

The Good!

- Playing on Saturday for the MAC Title. Again. The outcome on Saturday night wasn't what any of us hoped for, that's certain. On the other hand, for me, it will NEVER get old to be @ the Q on Saturday night watching the Zips play for the conference title and NCAA birth. After 6 years of not even seeing the Zips on the weekend, we've now had 4 straight finals appearances. The team doesn't know any different, it's become a habit and routine to play on Saturday. Now it needs to become a routine to win on Saturday. But no matter how you slice it, the Zips put themselves in the position of playing 40 minutes for a league championship. That's good.

- Improvement in regular season consistency. Finished with 3rd seed (2nd in non-division format). Even the 2009 Championship team didn't win the East. Far from it, they ended up with a quarterfinal game. This season, the team was a little more consistent during the regular season, avoided losing streaks and racked up a nice 12-4 conference slate within a 24-11 overall record. It was a good regular season performance. Perhaps they never really caught their stride and got on a big roll like last season, but they did grind out a 12-4 season.

- The defense & rebounding, at times? This was the best rebounding team on the court during KD's era thus far. Solidly top half defensive team. Generally speaking, the Zips were able to drive the tempo of games and keep teams under control defensively. The primary weakness remains perimeter on the ball defense (exposed by the lost of Linhart perhaps), and that hurt the Zips late. But the team buy in to defense first remained strong. They guarded the perimeter well, and rebounded extremely well. The defense and rebounding were good enough for this team to defend its conference title.

- McNees was clutch for the team: All season long, Steve McNees played off his primary position, and stepped forward to help the team. Where on the floor leadership was needed, Steve played a capable point guard, taking care of the ball extremely well. A season similar to Dials' senior season, Steve stepped into the role that the Zips needed him to fill. At the end of the season, he was clutch on several occasions. Is there a Zips player that has had a better go of it at the Q, ever? I'm not sure there is. Thanks for another You-Tube moment Steve .. and that voicemail I still have saved on my cell was priceless also. It's been debated in these parts to death whether or not Steve should be the PG, but I'm of the opinion that KD didn't really have a better option, and Steve put the team before himself. I'm looking forward to another season of Steve. Hopefully he'll be able to get his shot more often, but I'm sure whatever KD asks of him, McNees will gamely step up and give his best.

- Conyers. Conyers! CONYERS! : Most of you know I've been on the Conyers bandwagon a long time. I've been called a Conyers apologist .. whatever. For a few years I think I was driving the wagon by myself. With one exception being my son. The boy has come aware of hoops watching Jimmy. He still doesn't quite get that Jimmy's done as a Zip. Six years ago, Joe Jakubick told me that Conyers would be the most athletic Zips hoopster the day he set foot on campus. Probably true. Certainly he passed the eyball test the first time we saw him. I think that it took a while for Jimmy to find his groove & regular role. The year off hurt him, and he overlapped Nate Linhart role wise. It's safe to say that Jimmy made the most of his senior year. After being called out by strong Zips fans, Conyers destroyed all expectations anyone had for his senior year. He stepped into the 3 man role early in the year and made it his own. Differently than Linhart, he had more of a post game than outside. But he rebounded extremely well and scored better than most of expected. His perseverance and hard work really showed and paid off. He's another in the long line of guys that make me like Zips hoops better than the BCS hoops I saw in school. It will take a herculean effort by a future player to unseat Conyers as my favorite Zips hoopster of all time. Thanks for the effort and hustle Jimmy! My boy and I will miss having you on the Zips.

The Bad.

- Playing to the level of the competition: The Zips had a habit of playing to the level of their competition at times. The APSU and EMU home games are an example. In both games, it seemed the Zips would be able to dust their opponents whenever they wanted to. And it's almost like they got in thier own way, preventing what might have been a bankable win. This was sometimes linked to offensive dwells more than defensive breakdowns. The offense sometimes didn't get rolling, and that allowed some teams back in games. APSU and EMU were the best examples of struggling to grab defeat from victory.

- Offensive Flow: If I had to point to a singular area that I look for in next year's team, it would be Offensive Flow. The Zips struggles against perceived lower teams relate to me to the offensive end. When they played to the tempo of other teams, then sometimes they didn't get on a roll. This team never really got on a big roll this season. OU got on one right when it counted, and needed OT to dispatch the Zips. The Zips were right there, but the offensive execution at times handcuffed their ability to put teams away and move from one game to the next building on momentum. Fortunately, this rarely if ever affected team D .. but sometimes the shots didn't fall and the Zips couldn't get on a tear.

- Complacency? - In the summertime, a question discussed here was one of complacency. The team had struggled to break through and win the title, which they did in 2009. The fortunes of 2009-10 really rested on what the players did by themselves in the summer time. Teams & individuals get better in the offseason, and I wondered how much urgency there would be to maintain and continue that improvement. Now while the guys didn't take any big steps back, it seemed like KD was starting over with a new group in the Fall, rather than picking it up where he left it in March of 2009. I have to wonder if the games in the summer were what KD wanted out of the guys. I have no knowledge or inside dirt than anyone slacked off. It just appeared that they were farther away in October than they might have been if they'd had a summer of growth.

- Opportunities gotten away. With 15 seconds left in the game, the Zips had possession and an opportunity to defend their tourney title. They did come up short, perhaps OU took it away more that UA gave it away .. but it was an opportunity lost. A few days later, the Zips had themselves a home postseason game and the real chance to make some noise and play some more basketball against good competition. Execution struggled against UWGB .. and that opportunity was lost. A team comes into the JAR like URI who (at the time) is on a big tear and headed to the rankings .. and the Zips have them near the ropes, but it got away. There were chances this year to move forward from last year, but they just didn't come together for the Zips. Had the right one or 2 of these gone better, this would have been a great season. As it is, I call this a good successful season.

The Ugly.

- The finish, particularly the UWGB game. Out of gas or whatever it was, the Zips probably had their most lackluster outing in the CBI game @ the JAR. Certainly it had to be tough to get up for a small tourney game after being one possession away from repeating their appearance in the NCAA tournament. But teams get better in the offseason. I looked at the GB game as another game to see the seniors, who DIDN'T disappoint that day .. and another game for the younger players to play together. At times, it seemed that they didn't have the energy to keep playing. At times it seemed they (collectively) didn't have the desire. It didn't approach the games we'd see near the end of season of bygone eras in Zips hoops (the CMU game in 2000 stands out particularly), but it wasn't pretty.

- That fan of the year guy. The Zips need some better looking fans.

And a few comments more.

- I think it was a nice successful season for the Zips. It wasn't a great season by most estimations. But it was a collection of guys that we could easily get behind, and they posted a 12-4 regular season conference record, won 24 overall, and once again played for the title. That's a good year in my book. The team is in the HABIT of winning now, it takes time to get to this position .. the trick now is to start winning the games that got away this year. And I believe that they will.

- I will look back at this group of players as one of the best collection of guys and talent we've ever watched @ the JAR. It really is a good group to follow. It's easy to bring a little kid around these guys and have him get invested in them. They don't let us down off the court, and they bust their tails on it, while wearing our team's colors. I enjoy rooting for these guys for those reasons. I'm rooting for them to be successful. If they win a title, that's awesome .. but I'm rooting for them to win for them .. not for me. They take the time & put forth the effort to represent our UA, and they do it well. They don't owe me anything. I know they want to win more than we even want them to win .. and I'm enjoying this ride. Thanks for doing it the right way fellas.

- It's been mentioned here that KD awarded me the Fan of the Year award at the banquet last month. I'm utterly flattered and humbled that he would think of me in that manner. There's lots of fans around the Zips that can give more time, more money and more energy to the Zips success than I'm able to. Frankly, I just think it's cool to be able to be around the program and have my kid be around the players. One of the great things about KD's program and the Zips Nation is accessibility. It is a family, and they'll treat you as such if you do the same. So I'm certain I don't deserve any special recognition, but I am thankful and honored by it.

Finally:

I'm proud of this team. Proud of the effort. Proud to be a fan. Hopeful for bigger and better successes going forward, but this 2009-10 team will go down in my book as one of the better Zips teams I've seen. Thanks to the departing players for all of your efforts as Zips. Thanks for a nice season Zips.

Zip Watcher

Apologies for the scarcity of my notes and postings. It's been a hectic season away from the JAR for Watcher & family. I was hoping to comment a few times after the non-con, after the first East swing, the West .. etc, but not all of that happened.

In August, I posted this entry where I summed up my perspective of last season's events. I believed then, as I do now, that the 2008-2009 Zips were among the best 2 D1 Zips team to date.

Now we enter the second season of 2009-2010. The regular season has ended and the Zips move directly to the MAC Quarters at Quicken Loans Arena on Thursday. I think this is as good a time as any for a step away and look a the season thus far on the whole. Where do the current Zips stack up against the recent teams?

In short, I believe there's ample achievable opportunity for this team to assume the mantle of Best D1 Zips Team Ever. It's there for the taking.

The Basics:

The Zips enter the tournament as the 3 seed. With the second best MAC record @ 12-4, they finished 1 game behind the regular season champion and a full 3 games clear of the rest of the league. This is also 2 games better than a year ago when the Zips finished the RS @ 10-6 and settled for the 5 seed, needing to play an opening round game. So in this fashion, the current Zips are improved over last season. Other recent seasons and tournament seedings / results:

2010: 22-9 OA, 12-4 MAC, #3 Seed, Finish TBD

2009: 19-12 OA, 10-6 MAC, #5 Seed, Won Tournament

2008: 21-9 OA, 11-5 MAC, #3 Seed, Lost Tourney Final

2007: 24-6 OA, 13-3 MAC, #2 Seed, Lost Tourney Final

2006: 21-8 OA, 14-4 MAC, #3 Seed, Lost Tourney Semi-final

2005: 18-9 OA, 11-7 MAC, #6 Seed, Lost Tourney Quarter-final

As for overall record, the Zips came into the MAC tourney @ 22-9. A solid, if not spectacular regular season, with few losing streaks, and several runs of multiple wins. Coming into the tournament, these Zips have won 7 of 10 and 10 of 15. Recent trends heading into the MAC tournament (Last 4, Last 10, Last 15):

2010: 2-2, 7-3, 10-5

2009: 2-2, 6-4, 10-5

2008: 2-2, 6-4, 9-6

2007: 4-0, 8-2, 13-2

2006: 2-2, 6-4, 10-5

2005: 2-2, 6-4, 11-4

So looking strictly at standings and records, it can be said that this Zips team has again the opportunity to take the mantle of "best D1 Zips team ever" away from the previous team, with a few more wins in Cleveland. They have finished as strong or stronger down the stretch compared to the title team of 2009, and boast the 3rd best MAC record in KD's tenure.

The Statistics:

How are the Zips doing by the numbers? We've found new tools to look at individual performances this season, which I like. However, it's interesting to me to look at the offensive and defensive team performances.

Defensive Stats (Allowed PPG, FG%, 3PT%, A/T):

2010: 64.2, 41.3, 30.8, 0.74

2009: 60.3, 40.3, 29.1, 0.55

2008: 63.8, 44.6, 32.6, 0.70

2007: 61.0, 40.2, 33.1, 0.70

2006: 66.1, 42.8, 34.1, 0.90

2005: 65.6, 40.4, 34.3, 0.80

Offensive Stats (PPG, FG%, 3PT%, A/T):

2010: 69.9, 43.7, 33.1, 0.99

2009: 66.8, 41.8, 33.2, 0.91

2008: 70.8, 44.1, 38.6, 1.00

2007: 75.3, 48.5, 39.3, 1.20

2006: 72.9, 45.3, 36.6, 1.30

2005: 71.8, 44.5, 37.3, 1.20

Margins (Scoring, Rebounding):

2010: +5.7 ppg, +2.6 rpg

2009: +6.5 ppg, -1.1 rpg

2008: +7.0 ppg, -1.0 rpg

2007: +12.3 ppg, +2.3 rpg

2006: +6.8 ppg, +1 rpg

2005: +6.2 ppg, -2.5 rpg

Clearly the best offensive team statistically has been the 2006-07 club, and best defensive team 2008-09. A huge margin of +12.5 ppg was powered by the best offense of KD's tenure, and the 2nd best defense by points (tops in FG% allowed). The common thread for 2009 and 2010 is improved 3PT % defense, down around 30%. The scoring margin this year is the lowest of KD's tenure, bu the defense is in the top half of the era. This has been the best KD Zips team on the glass.

So while the seeding and wins situation is among the strongest positions the Zips have ever had coming into the MAC Tournament, this Zips team has been winning closer games than others in the past 6 seasons. Maybe that means they're better closers .. maybe their margin of error is smaller, you can draw your own conclusions. My first take away is that this is a strong team, entering the MAC tournament in a good position, record wise and tournament draw.

Stats can't tell the entire picture, as 2007 showed us, but this team is winning many important categories and holds up well against the recent Zips teams on paper.

Strategy:

I think the Zips have been very successful when they've forced the action to their strengths. In the games when they force teams into jumpshots in the half court, especially from the outside, the defense carries the day. It is the moments in games like vs. Can't State, VCU and URI where the opponent is able to get out and run, getting easy baskets in transition, or early in the shot clock that the Zips struggle.

The offense is better than the title team from a year ago. My gut watching the games tells me this, and the numbers appear to bear it out. They're not the juggernaut of 2006-07 offensively, but they have reduced significantly the long 6+ minute scoring droughts that plagued last seasons teams. The exceptions being @ Can't State of course.

On the offensive side, things work better when the ball enters the paint. The shots don't need to come from the paint, but the ball needs to get in there. When Nik, Chris, Zeke & Jimmy get touches inside, it opens things up for the outside shooting. It's not a great outside shooting club, but in the games they get the open looks .. they can bury teams from out there. Ultimately the strength of the team lies in the front court with Nik, Jimmy .. and at times Zeke & Chris.

Matchups:

There are some matchups in the conference that really favor the Zips. Miami is one .. the Redskins just don't have the horses inside to compete for 40 minutes with the Zips. BG, even though they have Polk have also struggled against UA. Mixed results against U@B & OU (2 wins though), and success on the road vs. CMU & WMU.

The matchup that hurts the Zips the most is apparently length and quickness in the backcourt. When the Zips struggle to prevent penetration by opposing guards, it puts pressure on the defense and opens up outside shooters. The OU game @ home was a good example of this. On the other end of the court, length at the perimeter can hinder the post entry pass and by doing that alter the Zips effectiveness offensively.

I do believe the Zips have shown the ability to circumvent this at times. Going big causes problems for opponents. Fletcher is solid on D for Miami, but he's out there alone somewhat since Mavunga likes less contact. If Can't State is forced to play Parks, that's a big advantage for the Zips. OU and U@B also struggle to defend more than 1 or 2 bigs at a time.

In the Can't State title game a couple of years ago, KD got around the perimeter ball pressure by running a point forward offense w/ Linhart at the point, and the guards (Dials & Middleton) down on the corners. This allowed the Zips to initiate the offense from up top, got them good entry passes and really good looks at the rim. Now the Zips shot 6 for 80 in the first half, so the outcome wasn't what we wanted, but they got good looks .. inside 10 feet .. at will. Just didn't hit them or their foul shots that day. I'll be looking for this type of adjustment if the Zips see Can't State again on Saturday.

My Gut Predictions:

While the Zips had a bad loss at home vs. EMU earlier, I do believe that the matchups & depth favor the Zips in the quarterfinals. Hopefully, they'll shake off last week's game. Come in and execute Akron Basketball, drive the matchups that favor Akron, and I like the Zips to advance.

In the second round, the Zips beat both teams on the road, and have had good success recently. It will again be a case of coming out, rebounding well .. forcing the action and defending effectively. Kool can go for 30 and still have the Broncos lose by 20 .. it's happened I think this season.

IMHO, the success of this team @ the Q this week will hinge on the paint. If the Zips control the paint, getting the ball there on offense, and preventing post entry on defense, they'll likely be standing as the champs again come Saturday. If they allow consistent ball penetration, and can't get their inside-out post offense running well .. they may struggle to defend the title they still hold. I'm optimistic.

Ultimately, the Zips are the most experienced team in this tournament by a wide margin. The past 3 seasons, they're 8-2 at the Q. No Zips player on the roster has lost a Thursday or Friday game @ the Q. All they know is playing for the title on Saturday night. Think about that. They don't know how else to do it. Let's hope they keep that streak going.

They've had a nice regular season to put themselves in a favorable draw and position to play for an NCAA birth again. Here's hoping they execute and give themselves a chance to defend on Saturday night. I do like their chances in a third matchup vs. Can't State.

Go Zips!

B) B) B) B) B)

Unrelated: Apparently when it rains in Atlanta, planes throughout the Southeast forget how to fly. Hope I make it home in time to see the games.

Zip Watcher

In August I posted a wrapup from the MAC Championship Season of 2008-09. Saturday, the Zips begin the MAC portion of the 2009-10 slate on Saturday vs. Bowling Green @ 7PM at the JAR.

Others have gotten into grading of the team, player by player. I'd like to take a look at the bigger picture of things rather than just individual performances. The Zips win as a team and lose as a team.

The Good:

  • The Zips are winning. A lot. At the conclusion of the non-conference schedule, the Zips stand at 10-4. Solid wins include Drake, Valpo and on the road vs. Wyoming. Close losses at home to Austin Peay and URI are the only home blemishes. An early setback to NC State is the only game the Zips haven't threatened in. They competed closely with Texas A&M on the road. Many other games resulted in 20+ point victories for the Zips. After dropping the first 2 games to open the season, the Zips have won 10 of their last 12 games.
  • Team defense. Last season the Zips made big improvements over 2007-08 in the areas of team defense .. points allowed, percentages .. etc. Thus far this season, they have picked up right where they left off. The Zips are holding teams to 62.4 points on 39.8 total FG% (good for 54th and 60th nationally at this time). This follows closely to the prior year, with the points allowed actually lower this season than last.
  • Offense: The offensive output this season is also up over last. To this point in the season, the Zips are scoring 70.8 ppg, a full 4 points more per game than last season's average. Combined with an reduction of 2 ppg in points allowed, the Zips average scoring margin has INCREASED a full 6 points per game over a year ago.

  • Rebounding: An area in which the Zips did not excel last season has been transformed into a strength this season. The Zips are currently averaging +5 in the rebound department. This in concert with the low shooting percentage allowed helps the Zips hold opponents under their scoring averages on most nights (Wyoming and URI as an example).
  • Jimmy Conyers: The object of many seasons of frustrations and disappointment around the Nation, Jimmy has emerged as the most reliable player on the roster at the moment. Averaging nearly a double double during the past 5 games, Jimmy has established himself as the best rebounder in a Zips uniform since J.Wood's senior year. Currently averaging 7.7 ppg and 6.4 rpg, Conyers has stepped capably into the SF role and made it his own. He's doing different things than Linhart in years past, but similar to Nate, he's become an indispensable part of KD's rotation.

The Bad:

Restating what I wrote about last season: This is a relative list, things that aren't optimal, but in the light of defending their Championship, things that stick out to me as areas for the 2009-10 Zips to improve upon. Generally speaking, I have few complaints about the Zips performance thus far, so don't read into these too deeply. The Sergio Leone school of commentary dictates this section to be here.

  • FT Shooting: For some reason the Zips have gone from being a 70.8% FT shooting team in 08-09 (good for 2nd in the MAC) to 60% this season. This has had an impact late in 2 games this year, and could continue to be a factor in how teams defend the Zips going forward. I believe that as fast as it's dropped, it can come back up. Let's hope the percentage in MAC play can approach the 70% from last season. It won't bring the season's average up all the way, but it would be good if that activity settled down.
  • A:TO Ratio: This season thus far, it's at almost exactly 1, which is a marginal improvement over last year. I think as the PG position gets settled a bit, and we start seeing more familiar opponents, the Zips guards will grow this number. A real positive here is that Zips opponents thus far only have an A:TO ratio = 0.65 (that's 26th best in the nation). Last season's opponents averaged an A:TO ratio = 0.81, so that's further evidence of improved defense by the Zips.
  • Closing Out: In 2 of the Zips 4 losses, they controlled the game for better than 25 or 30 minutes, only to have it slip away at the end. As a team grows together during a season, you'd expect this to happen less and less. Honestly, if it's only happened twice in 14 games, it's not a big problem. I do think it's probably an area the staff is looking to improve upon as the season goes.

The Ugly:

  • I'm pretty sure I saw an alley-oop pass thrown for Steve McNees in the first half of the URI game. I'm not sure who threw it, but it was one of the more interesting decisions of the season thus far.
  • The halftime entertainment has been down a bit .. perhaps it's a budgetary thing, but where's the Red Panda Lady when we need her? Could have been the difference in the URI game.
  • ISP. Culminating with the "hand him the cell phone" postgame interviews after the Valpo game, our friends at ISP in Winston-Salem have had some hiccups this season. We've got a great play-by-play guy in French, but if you can't hear him, it might as well be me doing the games.
  • Fans / posters: I think the fans have fallen down in two areas this year. First, when things were getting interesting in the second half, you could hear a pin drop in the JAR. During the run in the first half, it was intense, and the fans were a factor. Late in the game .. not so much. We want intensity from our Zips .. we ought to help provide some energy.
  • Fans / posters part 2: The Zips are defending champs .. they win a lot. We have come to expect them to win their home games. I have high hopes for this team. We all do. But I think sometimes the hopes and expectations turn into demands, maybe unreasonable demands. I reject the notion that in order to be a true fan, you need to leave the JAR feeling miserable after a loss. I disagree that I'm not a true fan, my heart isn't in it or the bar is too low if I have the ability to be disappointed and then shake it off, look at the positives and look forward to the next game. In my opinion, it's way off color to take the stance that the Zips piss down their leg every time .. or whatever down their leg. The only ones having problems with things like that now are us fans. We need some perspective here.

And a Few Comments More:

  • After games like URI, I turn to ZipsNation at lunch to read that the Zips "never beat the teams that are slightly better or upstream from them." We are constantly reminded that the Zips lost to Gonzaga, Dayton, Nevada, VCU .. etc. etc. etc. All true that they lost those games. It is ALSO true that in the past 5 years, the Zips have beaten their share of good teams: Mississippi State, Temple (2 or 3 times), Florida State on the road. They've won a MAC Championship, 2 NIT games and played in the NCAA. In the prior 15 years, the Zips had something like 1 or 2 conference tournament wins. In the past 5 they've played in 3 MAC Tourney Finals, won more games than any other MAC team and have advanced to the postseason 3 times, winning the ONLY 2 post season games in UA's D1 history. If you leave the game grumbling that the Zips always let you down, and never beat the good teams they face .. then I think you're CHOOSING to look for something to complain about, because the facts don't support the complaint. I choose to look at the whole body of work that KD & the Zips are putting together.
  • Finally, I'm grateful for the Zips and the effort they show every time I see them play. I know for many regular posters the last few years haven't been the best of times. The economy has hit several of the business owners in the Nation hard. Folks have dealt with the losses life brings. We've lost some of the biggest Zips supporters within just the past 2 years. For me anyway .. things like watching the Zips are a nice escape, a change of pace. These players and coaches are busting their tails to improve and represent UA and the community well. I appreciate that, and one loss by 5 points to a team that hasn't been to the NCAA tournament in 10 years isn't going to shake my enthusiasm. And my upbeat attitude isn't an indication that my bar is low, my heart isn't into it or whatever else.
  • I remain bullish on this Zips team heading into MAC play. I think they're a bit ahead of where they were at this time last season, and being at home for the opener helps get things off to a good start.

Thanks for reading.

B) B) B) B) B)

Go Zips!!

Zip Watcher

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It's mid-August of 2009, and football season is less than a month away. What better time to revisit the Championship Season that was the 2008-09 Akron Men's Basketball Zips!?

I was home under the weather earlier this week feeling miserable, and searching for something to watch yielded few options, so I cued up the best thing that resides on my DVR system. March 14, 2009 is the only prescription for a crappy day. What a great day .. and great weekend. Got to share it with my family & friends, and watch our team take down the nets. Good times.

I thought I'd repeat my retrospective from last summer and lead into future posts regarding the upcoming season, roster & schedule.

The Bottom Line:

The Zips went 23-13 overall. 10-6 in conference regular season, good for 3rd (tie) in the East.

The Zips went 4-0 in the MAC Tourney, dispatching Buffalo to win UA's first MAC Hoops Title.

The Zips advanced to the NCAA for the first time since 1986.

So those are the numbers .. the factual results. How did they get there?

The Good:

  • The Zips won the 2009 MAC Tournament and advanced to the NCAA Tournament: The obvious best thing about last season. Our team got it done. Kicked the door in, overcome some adversity on Wednesday to come back and pound 3 higher seeded teams on Thursday, Friday & Saturday. The Zips were the best team in conference when March arrived, and they left with the hardware to prove it on March 14, 2009.
  • Nate Linhart: The guy might not be the best player to play for the D1 Zips (IMHO Brown & Wood), but he might be the biggest winner we've ever had. He did all the little things well, things that don't always show up in the paper, but things that win games. For the past 3 seasons, Nate was the best defender on the Zips, and maybe the league. His ability to take guys like Bramos, Pierce, Miller completely out of the game was a HUGE factor in the Zips being where they are today. Thanks for being our guy Nate .. & good luck in Austria.
  • Team Defense: In part because of the ability of #33 to eliminate or severely hinder many team's best scorer, the Zips' team defense was a big strength this season. I'd argue it was the biggest area of improvement over 07-08. The Zips held opponents to 40.3% shooting on all FG attempts, and 29.1% on 3 pointers. Those numbers were good for 40th and 5th best nationally, respectively. In conference they were 2nd and 1st. Compare that to 2007-08: Opponents FG% = 44.6 (114th nationally, 6th in MAC), 3PT % = 32.6 (289th nationally, 10th in the MAC). A huge step forward by the Zips was taken defensively, and it paid off.
  • Use of the bench: For the first time in his tenure @ UA, KD was able to keep his bench at 10/11 deep throughout the season. In the past, we've seen the bench be 8-10 deep in January, and 7-8 deep in March. This season, due to good health, efforts and efficiency, KD had 10/11 solid contributors. You could really see the effects of this in the Miami game at the Q. The Zips are coming off an OT game on Wednesday, but it was the Redskins who wore down big time in the 2nd half. KD used his depth well, it responded by being effective, and the Zips were a rested crew throughout much of the season. 10 guys averaged 13+ minutes / game, and NO ONE played more than 30 minutes per game.
  • Spreading the wealth: After losing 5 1000 point scorers from the past 2 teams, the Zips offense took a little dip, dropping to 67 ppg. You'd think that would cause them to struggle. No way. The Zips became a more difficult team to defend, because the points could come from almost anywhere. Nobody averaged 12 points per game, but 5 guys averaged more than 8. Down the stretch, I think that 2nd number may have grown to 6 guys over 8 with the emergence of Cvitenovic, but I haven't verified that. At times, guys like Brett, Humpty & McNees have carried the Zips (within games), but there's not one guy that opponents can key upon which would affect the Zips significantly.
  • Tradition Builds: Winning breeds winning. The past 5 seasons are the winningest stretch of basketball in the Zips D1 era. Most wins. The ONLY postseason wins. Most conference tournament games won. A championship won & NCAA tournament appearance. These ARE the golden years, friends .. I hope you're enjoying them. The roster as it stands now, does not have a player on it that has had a losing season at UA. EVERY SINGLE returning player on the Zips has played a game the 2nd Saturday in March at the Q every season they've been here. Think about that. They don't know anything different than playing for the MAC title on Saturday night. Contrast that to the 15 years prior to KD .. pretty good in my book.

The Bad:

This is a relative list, things that weren't optimal, but in the light of a Championship season, things that stick out to me as areas for the 2009-10 Zips to improve upon.

  • Home losses: 3 Home losses is more than the average for KD. 2 conference home losses (in the division) cost the Zips a bye. The BG game in particular was difficult, as it was late in the year, and really put the Zips behind the 8 ball on getting a bye. They didn't need one, but I'm spoiled & expect a win every time I go to the JAR now ..
  • Temporary Brain Freezes: It seemed at times that there were moments where the cohesiveness simply broke down. Typically this didn't affect the defense much, but there were moments through out the season where the wheels simply came off the offense. It probably had to do with youth as much as anything, but there were 2 such occasions late in the season that show maybe it was something more.
  • Assist:Turnover ratio: I think this is evidence that KD is still not getting the PG play he likes to have. The A:TO was less than one this season, meaning that distribution wasn't as effective as it has been in the past. This has been discussed here a bunch, but youth plays into this, and some guys who are labeled "PG" may actually be scoring guards, regardless of their stature. I think the back court is a real strength of the Zips going forward, but a real area for improvement for the Zips will be to tip the A:TO ratio over in 2009-10 .. with a better margin there, the scoring efficiency will rise & the offense will improve.
  • Rebound Margin: I'm having a hard time getting to the bottom of this statistic with my usual tools, but according to Stat-Sheet, the Zips were only out-rebounded by 4 total rebounds on the season. But Stat-sheet reports that they were the leading rebounding team among MAC schools (for all games). Something isn't adding up. In some key losses: URI, Pitt & Gonzaga, the Zips got beat handily on the boards. This indicates to me that an important next step for competing at the higher level will be to close the gap in that statistic. Getting beat by 10 on the glass gives a bunch of extra possessions away .. and the Zips can't afford to do that. Adding a 7' center should help some, but Linhart was the Zips leading rebounder by about 1.5 rebounds per game .. so it is an area that the McKnights, Cvetinovic, Bardo .. etc. need to work on.
  • Outside Shooting: This probably is a factor in the A:TO ratio above .. but the Zips struggled from outside for much of the year. They EXPLODED at the Q, especially against Miami .. but for much of the year the ball rotations to the open shooter didn't yield a high percentage hit. This then clogs the middle a little bit as teams can be content to pack the lane & go for the rebound, counting on the fact that the Zips will miss 2 of 3 from outside. Another area that if improved would really help the Zips .. they're bound to have more open looks out there with the size advantages inside. Should the Zips start knocking the outside shot down at rates from years past .. the offense will really be improved. Pair that with a good D .. and look out. B) B) B) B) B)

The Ugly:

    I'm not dwelling on any of these, but here's where the Tums came in last season:
  • 12 minutes against Toledo: Keith addressed this well at the BB Celebration @ the JAR. It was an ugly moment in time. The team knew it, the coaches knew it .. it wasn't fun. But they weren't out there TRYING to do things that way .. it just went down. Thank Heavens for the resolve of Nate Linhart, Chris McKnight .. and clutch shots by Humpty & Brett. That's all I'm going to say about that.
  • Scoring droughts: The Toledo game wasn't the only time the Zips fought through extended scoring droughts. They had one early in the game against the Redskins on Thursday, and one in the second half against Gonzaga ended their season. Getting to the root of that issue and minimizing or eliminating these droughts will move the Zips another rung up on the ladder of quality D1 basketball teams.
  • Our (fan's) Behavior: I don't say the following easily .. but I do say it. At times, I think that some Zips fans and even the Nation itself didn't represent the Zips as well as the Zips have represented us. I had the unfortunate experience of sitting in front of Zips fans for one game that were outright belligerent and abusive to OUR OWN players & staff. I've been told by a few friends that made it to Portland that a similar thing happened right behind some players' families. I saw it first had also at UMass (NIT in 08). There are moments when the conversations descend into bitter negativity .. and I think that's poison for other Zips fans, the team that's busting a$$ for UA, the staff whose energies are focused on advancing our team .. and players' families. This WILL affect recruiting, it WILL affect the commitment of those in the program to remain and fight for the Zips .. if the die-hard Zips fans easily fall into the trap of attacking those whom they profess to support. In the spring for the first time since this site started up .. and even back to the Dreamwater days, I found myself embarrassed to be involved, and felt I needed to apologize to others for the actions & comments of the Nation. It sucked balls.
    I think others have said this well, but it bears repeating .. players families & recruits families are aware of the Nation if their son / daughter is considering UA. We might be their first (and only) direct exposure to the minds and hearts of Zips fans. If we screw it up .. there might not be a second chance for the staff to make a good impression. I believe we're all here to SUPPORT the Zips .. we are. We need to do that well and think about what we're posting sometimes.

.. And a Few Comments More:

  • Bright future: It's really hard for me not to be bullish on the future of the Zips. KD brings back nearly the entire team that won the Championship in 2009. Linhart is a big loss, our 6th 1000 point scorer to depart in 3 years, and the heart of the 2008-09 Zips. But we bring in a GREAT kid .. a talented kid .. and nearly everyone is back after a summer of getting healthy & playing together even more. Optimism is high. The Zips will be favored to repeat .. now they are the hunted. It's a change .. and it will sure be fun to see how they adapt.
  • Changes: As Rasor reported this week, there have been some player departures (Parrish and Coblentz). Both are losses .. but we wish them well. Parrish had a big upside .. in some of the practices I was at early in the season, it wasn't clear to me that he wouldn't play his way out of the redshirt and into the rotation. Nikola just beat him to it I guess. Coblentz showed he belonged at D1 .. so he should tear it up wherever he lands. As everyone knows, these guys contributed to the championship day in and day out .. so good luck guys. Jeff Boals departed for OSU also .. another loss. Jeff helped move the Zips upstream on the recruiting trail. He believed he could sell UA to the top-flight players that fit the mold of KD's team .. and he was successful. The Zips are better off for having Boals around. Otherwise, the team is largely intact and hopefully running well together this summer in anticipation on defending their MAC crown and getting back to the NCAA .. which brings me to ...
  • Complacency: I think a real challenge for a team like the Zips that came up short a few times and then broke through is avoiding complacency. Chris, Jimmy & Brett know the bitter taste of the disappointment of the first 2 MAC finals. Humpty, Nikola, Brett McClanahan .. some of these younger guys, don't. A real challenge for the leaders of this team exists in making sure the younger guys come in with the same dedication as last year to improve, play hard, play smart & play together. How well they're doing that NOW will have direct implications on whether KD can come into practice in October and build on last season, or come in and try to recreate it. Let's hope he can come in and build on it and the players are ready to roll.

Shades on as always Zips fans!!! Ready for another season .. 2008-09 was one I'll never forget.

B) B) B) B)

Go Zips!

Zip Watcher

This is not really game analysis stuff, so I'm posting separately.

It doesn't really live up to CK's "Run Son RUN!" tale from the U@B game at the Rubber Bowl, but I'm passing it along regardless.

People ask me all the time why I'm such a big Zips fan, not being an alumnus and all (grew up in the area) .. and my only response is that it was one of the first teams my Dad would take me to as a kid. So it stuck with me.

Well, my son is 4 years old now .. the Zips are something like 50-4 with him in attendance, and he really likes going to the games. In our basement, when he plays basketball (wood floors or basketball courts are known as the "jeremiah wood", btw), he's always the Zips, I'm some other team (either the Steelers or Bobcats .. "we don't like the bobcats!") and the Zips must win every time. So it's all good.

This season, he's actually taken more to watching the game rather than just asking to walk around the track and stalk Zippy. Been a nice change, and he asks questions, makes comments that crack us up .. and it's good fun.

Saturday was a new high for him. In the morning, we had already had a visit with Santa .. so the day was already huge in his eyes. We get to the game, and in the first 10 minutes there, Zippy stops by for a hug .. and "the Zips did win, Daddy!" .. so we're on a roll.

Now, every game when the cheerleaders come out and throw the little gold mini-balls, all 6 of them, my boy stands and waves, and the balls fly high up over his head. He's happy with the explanation that "we'll try again next time" or "it's not our turn to get one .." Saturday, however, we were lingering a bit to visit with some people, and the kids start lining up for the shooting thing after the game on the floor. We're usually high-tailing it out of there to get him to sleep, so I've never watched this unfold before. I suggest to him that he get in the line .. and he does .. follows the kid in front of him around, and gets to take a shot (throw a ball in the air 3 feet to the 10' hoop) .. "ON THE JEREMIAH WOOD DADDY!!! .. ZIPPY WAS THERE TOO!" .. and after that they give the kids one of the blue mini-balls.

So things are looking good .. got the Santa visit in .. Zips win .. son sees Zippy a bunch, has a dream come true to run on the court, got a mini-ball .. great, right? Sort of ..

Well, by this time, KD is out for his post-game. I realize we're not going to make it back to the car for the discussion, so I decide to pop a squat behind them in the seats and listen there. SIDE NOTE: didn't they used to broadcast the postgame over the PA? /SIDE NOTE. I make the tactical error of sitting in the first row .. should have sat in the second row. Well my son is going back and forth on the second row, bouncing the mini-ball .. catching it .. repeating the "beat 'em up beat 'em up Go ZIPS Go!" .. he sees me sit in the front row, and comes down .. I tell him to hold on to the ball, but he bounces it anyway .. and it rolls .... down to the floor level, under the seats, just behind where KD & Frenchie are doing the post-game. You may have even heard on the air a little kid go "HEY! .. My mini ball!!" .. if you did, then add "got on the radio with Steve French" to the list of the accomplishments for the day.

So the boy is CRUSHED .. in 5 seconds, we've lost all the upside of the day in the disaster of having a miniball and then losing it. I'm pretty certain at this point the 30 minute ride home will suck and he'll be crying the whole way. I figure the ball has rolled under the seats and gone forever, or until Sunday when the seats are retracted. Boy is inconsolable. He lingers by the steps, hoping to go down and get it .. but the wife is now pushing to get out of there .. KD interview continues .. I fear the worst. Little guy is really cute .. having a really hard time with it.

Jimmy Conyers comes by .. waiting to be interviewed. My son loves Jimmy .. favorite player because of Hoosiers. Thinks Jimmy is "Jimmy Chitwood" .. Jimmy says hi! .. kid is too sad to even respond .. thinking about the lost mini-ball.

Well, Joe Dunn looks up after KD walks away and I ask "are you off the air" .. he says, "yep, commercial" .. and I make a small request to check under his chair, hoping that will placate the boy .. and we can move on. But the boy tells Joe, "my mini-ball fell down there" .. wouldn't you know that Joe gets down on the floor, looks under the curtain with Frenchie's help, and retrieves the mini-ball, all in time to get back up .. get the headset back on and continue with the postgame.

The greatest Saturday lately is saved by Joe Dunn & Steve French!!! All is right in the universe for the boy.

Joe .. we had to scoot right after that and you were back on the air, so I didn't get a chance to thank you properly .. but here it is. Thanks for restoring my kid's great day. Send me the drycleaning bill if there is one .. and I really do appreciate your passion for the Zips. My kid loves the Zips .. and you helped reinforce that. When we're on the road with you for the postseason this March .. I owe you a cold one.

Saturday was a great day for us. Thanks.

Go Zips!

Zip Watcher

Thanks for the comments on the last topic, 2007-08 in retrospect. After thinking more about the season, I realized I forgot to bring up 2 things that will stick with me from the season. They further cement my high opinion of the current regime, their approach to the program, their priorities, and their stewardship of our Zips.

#1 - I've been going to Zips games steadily the past 10 years since I moved back into the area .. and on & off over the prior 15 years. In my time at the JAR, there have been a few constants over the years. One was John Bodis (aka exexec), and ardent fixture at the JAR who passed in the summer of 07. Zippy has been another. Another is a devoted fan near whom we have periodically had seats over the years. This man is usually seen near mid-court on the scorer's table side of the court, clad in a throw-back style #5 Jimmal Ball jersey. He sits with his parents, is actively into the game, and rarely if ever have I been at a game and nJohn Bodisot seen him. I learned later that his father may be on the BOT. Regardless, he's a true fan of the Zips in every way.

I believe it was the Buffalo game @ home late in the season. It would have been the 2nd to last home game, because I know it wasn't senior night. KD & staff had this fan sitting on the bench with the team. Now I don't know the fan personally, but judging from what we could see from our seats .. it was a big night for him. This was probably a small change in routine for the team and staff .. but I'm certain that it was a game that fan won't ever forget. They made a fan feel a part of the team.

#2 - There was a lot of discussion about this topic when it all went down, but I'll say here that starting all the seniors in their last home game was a nice move, and one that should be continued every season. Every established program has solid contributors that may never start a game in their career and play sparingly throughout. They're no less members of the team than the all-conference starters. And when it comes time for their last game in the JAR as a Zip .. they should start the game. Most all the elite teams do this, and I was glad to see KD do it. It's the right thing to do.

That's it .. these were smaller things with less to do with basketball than they have to do with the program. But I do think they're indicators of the kind of program and team we have and that KD is putting together. Certainly one I'm proud of.

Got any moments that stick out from 07-08?

Go Zips.

Zip Watcher

We're now halfway through the off-season for Zips Men's hoops. So I thought it might be a good time to take a look back at last season, look forward to next, examine the roster, current recruiting .. and miscellaneous topics. Mostly this helps keep me upbeat as the Tribe have rolled over before the All-Star Break and my on-course club selection has been horrible.

Today's topic: Four months after its conclusion, and four months removed from the day to day highs and lows of the season, let's take a look back at the 2007-08 Akron Zips.

The Bottom Line:

The Zips went 24-11 overall. 11-5 in conference regular season, good for 2nd in the East.

The Zips went 2-1 in the MAC Tourney, falling in the championship game for the 2nd year in a row.

The Zips advanced to the 2nd round of the NIT (1-1) after winning on the road @ Florida State.

So those are the numbers .. the factual results. How did they get there?

The Good:

  • The Results: Hard to criticize 24 wins. In 4 seasons, KD has 92 wins. The Zips are nearly unbeatable at home, and have secured a bye to the quarterfinals of the conference tournament the last 3 years. The last 2 years, they've been playing on Saturday for the MAC title. Among our hopes and dreams for the Zips 4 years ago was to play for MAC titles & NCAA births .. that's happening consistently now.
  • NIT performance: Going on the road to beat an ACC team in the post season is no small feat. It was the Zips' 2nd postseason victory in 3 years, and KD is now 2-2 in NIT games. Could have been more but for a furious comeback by UMass late in the 2nd round game in Amherst.
  • Jeremiah Wood: JWood leaves as one of the best players ever to don the blue & gold. While fighting through additional injury problems with the knee, he still finished strong, abusing UMass enroute to posting a career high in his final game. Maybe the best recent example of the Jawanza Moore Effect in a few years [i have a theory that strange things happen to Zips when they're playing their last games. Several Zips have put up monster games in their final appearances at the JAR or otherwise. Scott Gooden, Daryl Peterson, Jawanza Moore and others have all had huge games late in their senior seasons.] One could argue that Wood was the most effective big man in the MAC the past 2 seasons. He certainly carried his team farther than other bigs.
  • Perseverance: The team battled injuries from the beginning of the season, through to the end. And it battled admirably. Losing Ronnie Steward to a hip flexor injury early in camp had implications that lasted to the final game of the season. It put additional strain on Dials, as he was forced into the PG role nearly full time. JWood's injuries noted above. Middleton battled sore knees all season, coming through strong in the end. Though without the services of Wood for 4 critical games down the stretch, the Zips went 3-1 in those games, helping secure the bye in Cleveland.
  • Youth movement: The Zips saw increasingly helpful contributions from young players as the season wore on. By the end of the season, Daryl Roberts was one of the main cogs of the backcourt. Bardo provided valuable minutes of rest for the bigs. McNees performed well early in the MAC season, and showed signs of being an effective shooter. And during the injuries, the McKnight's stepped up to lead the team inside, with Chris having several big games down the stretch to become the weakside option opposite Wood. CMcKnight led the Zips in the first 2 games @ the Q and made strides to being a leader on the floor.
  • Individual Defense: Linhart has become one of the most versatile defenders in the nation, able to guard anyone from the 1 through the 3 and do it effectively. Big defensive efforts against the top scorers of Temple, Dayton, FSU, UMass & many more helped keep the Zips in games and alter some outcomes. Jimmy Conyers also contributed solid defense early in the year when still in the rotation.
  • The Miami Game Performance: With all apologies to Steve McNees and his 18 point run at the end of the first half to bury the Redskins, the Asian Unicycle Lady at halftime was awesome. Easily outdistancing the Chapel's annual thrashing of Zips coaches for the best halftime booking.

The Bad:

  • Injuries: From the beginning (Steward) to the end (Wood), injuries hampered the ability of KD to put together his best rotations. Especially in the backcourt, the injuries put people out of position and limited players effectiveness (Dials) due to the strain of running in an off position. Middleton was almost never the same as during his award winning junior season.
  • No true PG: With no true PG available to provide even 20 minutes of service, Dials was forced to carry the load. This diminished his shooting effectiveness and put further strain on his knee. Dials soldiered on and led the team (see Perseverance above), but the Zips could have used his outside shooting to stretch the defense and open things up even more for Wood. Having Nick at PG hurt this a little bit.
  • 3 Losses to a Bird with Teeth: Not much to say about this. Sucks to lose to them 3 times. They had the one ingredient that challenged the Zips big time - quickness on the perimeter, and the ability to drive the basketball (see: Fisher, Al) into the paint. Even after all of Can't State's "glory" years .. the Zips were within a few games of evening the all-time series entering 07-08. Now again, there's some work to do after dropping 3 in a row.
  • Team Defense: I haven't looked it up yet, but it seems to me that this team allowed the highest shooting percentage of any UA team under KD. Possibly linked to the loss of Travis inside, it was obvious to many that they just weren't able to get stops as predictably as in the pasta. Perimeter depth and quickness really hurt the team D significantly. More below.
  • Tourney Final Losses: While it's great to be playing for the title year in and out .. the drive home from the Q without a celebration downtown on Saturday was substantially below average. I look forward to the day soon where that door gets kicked in. At least this year there were a couple more games to see after the championship letdown.

The Ugly:

  • Perimeter Defense: From the first loss of the season vs. Portland State and a guard named Dominguez all the way to the MAC final and late in the UMass game, the perimeter defense was difficult to watch. Our guys just weren't able to consistently cut off the dribble penetration. This led to way too many easy buckets at times, and inflated shooting percentages by opponents. Some coaches (Jim Christian) recognized this and took advantage of it .. others did not. I found this to be the achilles heel of the Zips on D in 07-08.
  • Loss @ CMU: For whatever reason, this sticks out to me as one of 2 games that really were hard to get past. They had just gone through the first rotation with the East teams at 4-1, and then go on the West swing and open up with a loss to a team that they would later beat by 21 at the Q. The game was just a mish-mash of confusion on offense as to who the best weapons were and getting lost on defense, allowing walkons to burn the Zips from outside. Even looking @ the schedule today, that loss stands out.
  • Loss @ home to NIU: One game after picking up a road win without JWood, the Zips come home to face NIU (the worst team in the West at the time) with a 22 game home winning streak on the line. The guy with the microphone jinxes everything .. not really. Rotations were changing .. they ran into 2 freshman who had their best shooting nights of the year (see Defense, Perimeter) .. BMcKnight abuses the huskies on what seemed like 3 or 4 consecutive possessions, and then inexplicably doesn't see the ball again (sorry KD). Zips lose by 10 at home .. ughh.
  • First half shooting in MAC Final: Going into the MAC Final, the questions surrounded how the Zips would get the ball inside and overcome the perimeter defensive pressure by the flushes. KD, in a masterful move, rolls the Zips out in a point-forward offense, using Linhart to initiate the offense at the top of the key. The guards are split and pushed down to the corners, and the perimeter quickness of Can't State is negated a bit (more on this strategy below). The Zips get shot after shot from inside 8 feet at the rim. They shoot 1 for 1000 in the first half. Even worse at the line. Trail by 13 or so .. and never seriously threaten in the 2nd half. Sometime you get the exact shots you want and can't buy a bucket. That HAS to be one of the definitions of ugly.
  • Closing Games Out: When your team is averaging a record of 23-10 over 4 years, sometimes the complaints that ring out seem overblown because lots of folks harp on them. I think it happens that way because there's not much that we can worry about here. Foul shooting was improved slightly this year, so the splinter under the fingernail became "closing out games." In games in which the Zips won and those in which they lost .. the Zips sometimes were unable to go for the kill when up double digits in the second half. Just in the NIT alone the Zips won a game after losing a big lead (FSU) and then lost one when they couldn't get the wheels back on (UMass). I struggle to point to one cause for this. For me it hasn't been a consistent thing, like KD slowing things down too early, or guys always tightening up. I think it's varied from event to event .. and the Zips will continue to work on this.

    The best example of failing to close would be UMass: Wood is on his way to 28 points in his finale, but it could have been 35. Coach Ford tries everything he can think of for 30 minutes, and continues to get torn up inside. Suddenly with 8 minutes left, he decides to front the post AND pressure the ball at the perimeter. At that point, the Zips guards are trying to initiate the offense from 30' out, and Wood is fronted by a guy who was 6-10 or so. The combination spells disaster. Turnovers in bunches .. crowd gets back into it .. a dagger thrown up by BMcKnight rims out .. and it gets away. I can't help but wonder if the point-forward approach employed against Can't State might have made a difference. As I sat behind the bench for that game, it occured to me that trying to enter the ball from the sideline or corner might have helped. The defensive capability of UMass' SF (Forbes?) probably exceeded that of Can't State from an athleticism standpoint, so that may have been a factor. Here again, the Zips were bit by the lack of a true PG. Having a guy that could break his man down and get to the paint and force help away from Wood or CMcKnight would have slowed the turnover rate a bit I think.


And a few comments more:

  • Generally, I think at the end of the year, this was a great season. Had there not been the injuries (specifically CM), I think it would have been a better team than 06-07. Injuries are probably the difference. This was one of the best 2 teams in the D-1 era I think .. if not the best.
  • As far as the roster goes, I feel pretty strongly that the 07-08 roster was the deepest ever. Next season should be even deeper, but without the experience factor.
  • The team continues to trend upwards. The believability is there on the team's part. When it arrives in the fans' mind is anyones guess. Buy-in by the players in the team-oriented approach to basketball is REALLY good. It will continue to yield good things.
  • Boals has a great orange dress shirt. I believe that the Zips were 1-1 @ home with the orange on Boals (Defeated OU & lost to VCU). Someone should track this to see if there's a lucky shirt on the rack. It might help to know which color affects the Zips to play their best.
  • I can't imagine being happier with the current state of things in Zips Men's Hoops. There's still places to go and challenges to overcome .. but I feel pretty good about how things stand.
  • Traveling with the Zips to faraway games is big fun. I highly recommend it to everyone. I've been at team hotels @ Regional Finals in the NCAA .. and it's big fun. The Lodge in Alaska and Sheraton in Springfield were a small taste .. much more to come, I'm sure. Don't miss it.

These are my takes .. thanks for sticking with me .. would like to read yours.

Go Zips!

B) B) B) I've got them on .. do you? B) B) B)

Zip Watcher

The Future is Now?

I think it's safe to say that today's bad news is a punch in the gut for all Zips hoops fans.

It's bad on so many levels .. losing a team MVP / league POY candidate in the stretch run .. seeing Jeremiah lose more time to his knee .. the general struggles of this senior class to find their way to good health for a chance to build further upon last season.

Mostly, I'm disapointed for JWood. The guy is already the best big man ever to play at UA in the D1 era .. there's probably not much debate about that. But for him to work as hard as he has to become the player he is, with his great play down the stretch last season and early this season .. it's heartbreaking for him to have to go through this.

So we all wish him the best .. a speedy return to good health, and hopefully a half a dozen more games in the Blue & Gold of the Zips before it's all said and done.

But in the meantime, where does that leave the Zips?

The short answer? It leaves the Zips needing some of next year's contributors to become contributors .. and FAST.

KD himself has mentioned in his postgames and pressers that he struggles to mix the new guys in .. it takes him a little time to build up trust in the new talent. We've seen that with McNees, Roberts & B. McKnight. But even to a certain extent .. it's happened a bit w/ CMcK also. Some of it is his TO problem .. but sometimes, it appears hard for KD to just put him out there and play him. Even in the past few games, when we were told pregame that Wood & Middleton were to see limited action .. they ended up playing 20-30 minutes. It's hard to go away from what you trust .. especially when they're warriors.

Well .. times change.

Chris McKnight just became one of the top 3 options in the Zips offense .. like it or not. Timing isn't too bad, since he's coming off one of his best performances on Wednesday night. But now the Zips & Chris have to find his offensive game more consistently .. I say "find his game" because it's clear that there's more of a face up component to it than JWood. We can NOT seek to squeeze him into Wood's touches and shots .. it won't work. The Zips have to adapt to what Chris can give the team in the flow of the offense and his skills.

My guess is that BSU is watching tape of Travis tonight .. because that's maybe more representative of the type of attack that Chris brings. There's a sense of deja vu for me here. It's been discussed in our "next season" thread .. but recall back 37 months ago when JWood originally went down against OU with his ACL. In the second half of that game, Travis really stepped up. I think we may have lost that game .. but in the coming weeks & months, Romeo took it upon himself to improve and try and pick up some of the slack on the glass after Wood went down.

Deja vu all over again?

Chris had 18 in the game against WMU when Wood played his last 10 minutes for awhile. There's a bunch of folks out there that think Chris is a program builder .. a key component of continuing the climb to the top of the conference & midmajor ranks. I'm certainly one of them .. and always have been. We don't get Chris to come here without the efforts of Romeo and Dru and Jeremiah. But he might have a bigger upside than all of them IN TIME. I think we're going to see some of that in the next several weeks.

The good thing here is that he's not going to be relied upon for everything. We still have experienced talented players around him in Dials, Linhart & Middleton. Chris isn't going to be the starting point of everything like Wood was earlier .. but I look for him to grow up fast with the increased minutes.

Also:

Younger brother Brett and Mike Bardo are now going to HAVE to contribute 15 minutes to the cause consistently. One is an offensive unknown and the other a defensive risk .. but between them, the Zips are going to have to play through the growing pains. I'm comfortable with it .. I think about what else was on the bench 3 seasons ago when Wood went down .. and after Travis, it was pretty thin. We have more options today than last time.

All of us that have discussed the front court next season .. and wrung our hands about the loss of Wood going into November now have nothing to worry about for next year. These guys are going to have lots of game & big game experience coming into next year.

The question is: how well can they step in and fill the gap right here and right now. And how well can KD & staff adapth the offensive flow to the new rotations.

With my blue & gold glasses on, I still see Wood playing at least 4 more games in Zips colors. Now that doesn't require that CMcK lead us to 6 straight wins in his absence. It requires that the young front court players grow up quickly in the next 6 to become solid contributors that when added to JWood @ his return become that alternate post threat we've been looking for all season.

I think we know an at large birth isn't coming the Zips way .. the team needs to improve and prepare for the 2nd week in March @ the Q. Nothing more and nothing less. Get ready to win games at the Q. With some effort and good bounces, hopefully they can maintain the bye .. but that margin is pretty thin. Probably need to be 11-5 to secure a bye to the quarters. That means holding serve at home and picking up 2 roadies .. not impossible.

The future is now. Sieze the day and all that stuff ...

Go Zips! B)B)B)

Thoughts?

Zip Watcher

A couple of observations about the SF position on the Zips:

Linhart & Conyers were tasked w/ guarding Christian & at times Tyndale. Now Cedric was involved in the defensive rotations on those 2 as well ... but lets look at the production of Temple's 2 key swing men.

Coming in, they were combining to average 36 points & 9.8 rebounds.

On Monday night the produced: 20 points, 12 rebounds & 8 turnovers.

First & foremost, the Zips beat opponents w/ defense. The defense keys the offense by starting the transition game. And slowing down the opponents top 2 scorers goes a long way to securing a win.

Last night, Jimmy & Nate were instrumental in holding the top 2 Temple scorers 16 points below their average .. most of this was done by holding Tyndale to 3 points .. more than 13 under his average .. I'm certain that he was always guarded by Jimmy or Nate when out there. Tyndale only played 20 minutes .. and when he wasn't out there, our SF's were helping harrass Christmas into a 3-14 shooting night.

The Zips don't necessarily need to have 20 points a night from the SF spot. Locking down the opponents top scorers can be just as effective.

That being said, Monday was Jimmy's best game as a Zip. 9 & 9 in 20 minutes w/ no turnovers. You can almost see the game slowing down for him. I'd still like to see him get more agressive .. he's showing signs. Had that putback dunk gone down, it'd have been the most athletic dunk I've ever seen @ the JAR (at least I can't remember one better). The crowd reaction was something.

Team's getting better .. Calvary is still a few games away .. December is for building chemestry & rotations. Having attended all 6 games thus far, I like what I see.

B)B)B) Put 'em on Zips Fans!! B)B)B)

Zip Watcher

Hope everyone has had a nice holiday weekend so far.

OK, so we're back from Fairbanks .. back on Eastern Time & I've had a little time to put my thoughts together on the team heading into this little homestand on Saturday.

Disclaimer: Keep in mind these are the observations of an un(basketball)educated fan .. I'm not a former player or coach .. just love the Zips and have watched a lot of college hoops over the years.

Current Status: Backcourt

The Zips are THIN in the backcourt right now. Dials, Middleton, and (I'm willing to say) McNees are all capable, but they're ALL SG's. Dials can play PG, but it's a big drain on his energy to run the point. That drain reduces his effectiveness at the 2 .. and it cascades from there. Combine that w/ Middelton's not being at full speed (knee) and the inexperience of McNees .. and things are a bit shaky right now in the backcourt.

This hurt us in Fairbanks in 2 principal areas:

1. On the break offensively. The fast break chances weren't converted at nearly the rate you'd like to see. Not as well as last year .. in fact, not so well at all. Some of this is chemistry, and some is poor decision making .. forwards dribbling 3/4's of the court .. SG's dishing too late & picking up charge calls. Touchdown passes out of the back of the endzone, etc. So I think having a true point that can attack the basket on the break .. and make the clean pass will help that.

2. Penetration defensively. The opponents (especially Dominguez from Portland State) are getting into the paint on the dribble WAY too easily right now. They're either beating their guy straight up, or beating the help in switch situations. Either way, it's leading to good opportunities in mid-range jumpers and lots of wide open shooters outside. It creates a need need for help D from the perimeter, leaving open shooters .. and bang .. 3 points at a time you're hurting. In a prior era .. a certain coach and a broadcaster would complain that shooters were having their career nights against the Zips .. when really they were just standing wide open.

What's the solution? Well, we would appear to have 2 PG's joining the force within the next 3 weeks. Ronnie Steward is with the team and working through a hip-flexor injury. Depending on who you talk to, he could be ready in a week or 3 weeks. I vote for conservatism here so that we don't risk a longer outage. Also, it's being said that Daryl Roberts may be available when the Fall Semester concludes on 16 December. That would theoretically make him available for the NC A&T game on the 19th.

This reminds me a bunch of the 2000-2001 season when we opened the season w/ Emmanuel Smith (R.I.P.) at the point, while waiting for the transfer sit out period of Rashon Brown to expire. They struggled mightily at many facets of the game early that season. Then in the first game after the Fall Semester ended, Brown and Andre Sims came in and gave us 2 new point guards .. and the Zips obliterated CSU that night. The season saw improvements .. and I think that was the first year we made it to the Gund.

To me this is similar. KD likes to use the 3 guard in certain situations .. and he's unable to do that now. He's got 3 SG's with decent ball handling skills, but none are exactly quick enough to stop the opponent's quickest player, usually the PG. That leads to excessive penetration (see above). We need to get deeper & more healthy in the backcourt .. and that will solve some of the defensive issues all the way around.

So let's keep our fingers & toes crossed that we have some roster additions in the next couple of weeks to help the backcourt.

Current Player Reports:

Dials: He's been pretty good. Had a few TO's trying to make the perfect pass on the break .. but also had some money looks to Quade for monster jams. His shot has been pretty good, and he hit the clutch jumper against TN ST. It appears that his knee can act up w/ back to back games .. but he played through it. He's nothing if not tough. A good leader & floor guy .. but the Zips need him as a scorer to be successful.

Middleton: Looks to be in phenomenal shape physically. His knee has been bothering him so he was a bit out of sync shooting wise, after an extended break from practice. Nothing tells me he won't be our steady Cedrick soon .. as he gets back from the injury time.

McNees: I like what I see so far. From an offensive perspective, he has a big upside I think. He's a smooth shooter with a quick release, and may be our 3rd or 4th best shooter right now. I think his decision making is pretty good (it far exceeds the last #4 on the Zips) .. and his ball handling is ok. He did get stripped a couple of times out top .. that turned into 2 quick points the other way. However, he wasn't throwing the ball away .. he was pretty good with it. As has been written and discussed before, he's still learning the D end of things. I think the guy could end up being a bigger Dials if he can apply himself to being a good defender.

Sallee / Goddard: They can contribute if called upon, but I don't see them as extended minutes options. Sallee gives good ball handling & some quickness on defense, but there's not much offensive production. Goddard has improved, and remains our best pure shooter, so he'll be used primarily as a zone buster this season, as last year.

Current Status: Small Forward

This position is at the same time one of the Zips biggest strengths and one of their biggest weaknesses.

First off, Linhart and Conyers are the best defenders on the team right now. In all three games, the opposing teams did not get much in the way of production out of their SF's where it comes to penetration and attacking the paint. Jimmy and Nate are good on the ball defenders. Jimmy especially can generally keep his guy in front of him all the time in a man situation. I'd label Jimmy our best defender right now. Nate has a great knack for rebounding, in this area he's probably a bit better than Jimmy. Both are tough and in great shape. Nate had some bumps and bruises against Portland State, but showed no signs of slowness against TN St.

On the offensive side, it seems like both of these guy need a big shot of confidence. They just don't seem comfortable w/ the ball & as a result, we're not getting much offensive production from the position. They have their moments (JC had a nice shooting day against TNSU) .. but they seem gun shy when wide open, and willing to drive into tight situations. I find myself wishing that Jimmy would put the ball on the floor more when he has a gap .. seems to me he could beat his guy to the rim a lot. Nate seems to hesitate when he's wide open, and then puts the ball up in tighter spots. Given the pace of his delivery, he's got to have a little space. Both have shown (in the three games this year) that they can help on the offensive side .. I just think there's a mental aspect on the offensive side that isn't there yet. We need more scoring from the 3.

Perhaps Brett McKnight will provide some pop here. Folks around the program seem to think he's too good to redshirt. I think it will be interesting to see how that shakes out if he is in fact eligible at the end of the semester.

Current Player Reports:

Linhart: I think he's under appreciated. He fills the box score .. can guard guys bigger than him and guys smaller than him, and is really active on the glass. His shot will come around, he's shown in the past that he can score the basketball. He remains one of our most complete players. Never question his toughness.

Conyers: If you've been to this site before, you probably already know that I think this guy can play. In 4 appearances this year, including the Walsh game, I think he's had 3 solid outings and 1 rough outing. To me the guy can flat out defend .. and in this system that will get him on the floor. I feel like he can probably finish at the rim & I'd love to see more of that. When Can't State made their big run, they essentially had 3 great pieces & some role players. The three great pieces were a good PG (Mitchell), a pro level talent (Gates), and an absolute shutdown guy that could stop the 2, 3 or 4 when called upon (Shaw). To me, Jimmy can be the kind of player Shaw was. He's certainly not there yet .. but can he get there?

Current Status: Frontcourt

For the 2 big positions, the Zips used 4 guys to share the minutes in Fairbanks. Combinations of Wood, Milum, C.McKnight & Bardo were used. I think there were 2 or 3 different starting lineups in the 3 games. Wood is certain to play 25-30 minutes a night, foul & health permitting. He's our best frontcourt player and will play a bunch. That leaves about 50 minutes to split between the other 3 guys (16/17 per guy for the Can't Fans reading this).

We've been effective at times in the post, but it's been rusty. As with the backcourt, there's a transition going on with the loss of a 4 year contributor in Travis. Turnovers have been a problem .. but maybe not from where you'd think. The leading culprit has thus far been JWood. I chalk this up to having different post partners this year than he's had the past 3. He and Rome did have a smooth understanding of each other's game last season. Their interior passing was exceptional. Wood could wait for the double and find an open Rome 4 out of 5 times.

This season it's not as smooth .. though I think it will be better quickly. He's finding McKnight, Quade & Bardo .. but at the moment, the passes are too fine, in the wrong place, or simply poorly placed. JWood's trying to do it all .. and that's fine. But once he settles in and makes the passes that are there .. and kicks out when it's not. The team will be better.

One thing I noticed a bit: he seemed to be waiting for the THIRD guy before kicking out / over to a teammate. And it was usually the 3rd guy coming that caused problems or disrupted the pass out. Coaches were encouraging him to kick as soon as the double arrived & not wait too long for the triple .. or for the defense to rotate over to restore the strong side D. Again .. a work in progress. We've seen what he can do this way .. and once the chemistry with the new rotations is worked out, I anticipate that JW's turnovers will drop considerably.

Defensively, I think the frontcourt was a strength in Fairbanks. However, as in other areas, the chemistry of switching and rotations will improve over the next month. Remember the game last season where a conference opponent had 6 or more shots blocked in the first half. Quade was rotating down on the driving player and just sending it away. I think it was Western Michigan on ESPN2 .. the post players just dominated the inside of the court defensively. This season's Zips are just not at that point yet. They have the bodies & similar athletic makeup from last season, deeper even than last season .. but the communications and help are not yet a well oiled machine. It should improve.

With 4 solid big guys inside, the rebounding has to improve for the Zips to be successful. My on the spot impression is that they were out rebounded in everygame. Some of this can be tied to the guard penetration and help rotations. When the bigs have to rotate over, it's almost like playing a zone out there .. and zone teams are never good rebounding teams. There's almost always a guy left alone for slashing to the offensive glass. They appeared to be out of position several times on the defensive glass & gave up several easy putbacks to opponents. This is a needed area of improvement.

Current Player Reports:

Wood: He's been good .. but not yet great. It's clear that JWood recognizes he needs to be a leader on this team. Beyond just being the workhorse inside, he's embraced the role a 5th year senior has to fill. Just watching him stand on the bench calling the defense switching for Goddard was awesome .. he was an extra coach helping a guy through the defensive end. His production has been STRONG .. both scoring and glass. He's extended his game to 10-12 feet out & that will open things up for him. Turnovers have been a problem. He has a tendency to take the ball on the break and dribble far up the court. I think he ought to be dumping off earlier in the break, and then filling the lane to give the guards a huge target on the break. His touch and hands are good & can help the team tons. I think he could easily be a 20-10 guy this year & push for POTY consideration.

Milum: Quade has surprised me somewhat. His offensive post game is much much more than just the dunk off the lob. Quade has a nice back to the basket game & dropped several sky hooks in. Haven't seen much up an under moves, but his hops help him get good looks inside over his defenders. I think he'll help replace some of the lost scoring from Travis. He's had some blocks, but overall, I think his defense & rebounding need to improve. Too often, the Zips give up easy second chance tip-ins after going for the block and leaving the weak side guy open. As a group, they need to better find a guy and seal them off for the rebound when the ball goes up.

McKnight: Similar thoughts as those for Quade. He needs to rebound his position better than he is. He has a lot of size & athleticism. Needs to not get taken out of position defensively. Offensively, I think Chris has a big upside. He's got legitimate 3 point range and in. Nice touch all around the basket. I think with improved rebounding, he'll start to see more consistent minutes. He can become a really good weakside guy to go w/ Wood similar to Travis. This guy has big upside as a power forward.

Bardo: Pleasant surprise early on. Mike rebounded well, and made 3 of his first 4 shots. I think his only miss has been on a tip attempt. There were some big centers in Fairbanks, and Bardo showed some nice defensive effort. He's big, and tough .. doesn't get pushed around out there too much. As with young players, positioning is sometimes difficult (whether to front or not .. blocking out, etc.) but that should come with time. Not sure on the conditioning yet. He played about 25 minutes in Game 2, but came back with only 8 or 10 against TN St. in Game 3. It's not clear to me why.

Overall:

I do think that we all need to be patient with this club. Even though we lost only 2 bodies in the off season, we lost 2 of the guys that took the big shots .. were leaders on and off the court. Replacing them won't happen overnight. One coach says (paraphrasing here) "These guys still know how to win, but they've got to go out and do it .. and realize they can get it done w/o Dru & Rome." I think there's some sense in that concept. Our expectations are high .. and they should remain high .. but I think that we've got to be prepared for some adjustments and learning early in the year. An assessment after the non-conference portion of the schedule may have more value than now.

Generally speaking about the roster / depth ...

If we assume that Steward and Roberts will be playing in December sometime, depth on this team is crazy. I've NEVER seen a Zips team that goes a legit 2 deep at every position. Consider the following:

PG: Steward / Roberts / (McNees)

SG: Dials / Middleton / McNees

SF: Conyers / Linhart / (B. McKnight)

PF: Milum / C. McKnight / (B. McKnight)

C: Wood / Bardo

Add Brett McKnight to the mix at the 3/4 spots .. and we're talking about having 12 legit D1 guys who can contribute. Not 3 or 4 w/ 6 other guys who can merely eat minutes. Each of these 12 guys are capable of helping this team win. This is a really good thing .. and a great sign for this season and beyond.

Now, no one, including me believes you can really work with a 12 man rotation. I expect that it will be boiled down to about 10 by conference season start and perhaps down another 1 by the end of the season. But it's great to have talented depth on hand to be able to find out who your best 9 guys are. It wasn't too long ago that we didn't even have 8 D-I quality guys to rely on .. and we had walkons in key reserve roles. Kudos to the staff for building a pipeline of talent to the roster (and especially for getting & keeping them eligible).

My expectations at this point? I think I'm going to really like the team. After traveling to see them in Alaska and watching how the staff handles things .. it's a group of REALLY good guys, coaches on down. They appear to like playing together and working together .. and that can help the group find the chemistry the Zips need in order to be successful. Judge this team on the whole season .. and be realistic .. they're not going to win every game by 20. But the effort will be there, and we'll see improvement. Without putting down numbers, I'm very optimistic about this season. Get your tickets and get there early.

Put em on Zips Fans!! B)B)B) The future is bright.

Yikes!! I've been adding a little to this here and there since I got back on Tuesday .. didn't realize it was this long .. my apologies for the long post. Just a brain dump, guess I must spend a lot of time thinking about Zips Hoops. Thanks for sticking with me if you're still here.

Zip Watcher

Notes from Game 3 vs. Tennessee State:

- A nice all around effort by the Zips. Don't concentrate too hard on the margin of victory .. they played better as a team defensively and moved the ball better on offense than Saturday night.

- Dials had a nice night .. was finding his shot in the second half. Clutch shooting when it counted late.

- Free throws were certainly a factor & the game would not have been at issue if they even shoot their usual 70% in the second half. By my rough count, I think we missed something like 7 of 8 down the stretch. So that wasn't a highlight. I think fatigue had to have played a role in this. 3 games in 3 nights this early in the season isn't very commmon & it may have affected their legs a little bit.

- Wood was as effective on Sunday as he was all tournament. He's a beast inside .. good hustle on the glass, and not intimidated by size mismatches. One thing he showed a bit of against TSU was a smooth 10-15 baseline jumper. By my count, I think he went 2 of 3 from "outside" his normal range. I'm certainly not advocating what OU did w/ Hunter his senior season (needed to have 3 point range to be an NBA prospect so he didn't go inside) .. but Wood being able to hit a short range jumper will open up the paint a lot by pulling his man out.

- Conyers seemed more comfortable than the earlier games. The trend is good here. He got his shot working (jumpers) and hit some open J's. Good selections. And solid defense to boot.

- Nate also had a nice outing. Good shooting .. and a nice day on the glass.

- Just as in earlier games, the lack of a true PG hurt the Zips in the second half. I'll comment more in my overall TOW notes .. but this affects much more than just the quality of play at the point. It bleeds into lots of other areas.

Ultimately they got it done & a bunch of guys played. 3 days in three nights after some crazy travel. This will help the team late in the year. They're learning quickly what they need to work on. Now we get a little homestand to see how well they can ajust and move forward.

Great trip .. more TOW notes shortly.

Go Zips!

Zip Watcher

Further Proof!

Sunday was one of the best days we've had in a long time. Our son's 3rd birthday takes place while we will be in Fairbanks with the men's hoops team. So we threw the party early.

Much to my son's surprise, his favorite kangaroo paid a visit to his house. I must tell you that it was by far the best thing we could ever get the kid. He took Zippy around and showed him all the presents. He opened things w/ Zippy & had Zippy help. They played together & Zippy conducted the Happy Birthday Chorus. Zippy was awesome!

It's been 3 days & my boy is still telling his teacher @ daycare (a current Can't Student) "One day .. Zippy was at MY house! Zippy!"

Further proof .. in case you needed it .. that Zippy is America's Favorite College Mascot.

Not to mention my son's best friend.

:D

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