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:
- 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.
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.
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.