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:
- 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.
- 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 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.