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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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
... And a few comments more:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
... And a Few Comments More:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Get 'em on Zips fans!
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:
- 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.
- 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
And a Few Comments More:
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
I'm not dwelling on any of these, but here's where the Tums came in last season:.. And a Few Comments More:
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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?
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.
- 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.
And a few comments more:
- 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.
- 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.
I've got them on .. do you?
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.
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 ...