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