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 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.
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.
- 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.