Well, our Zips head to the crossover games with a 4-1 conference record, a one game lead over the next closest team in the East, and what appears to be a whole lot of momentum. Thought now would be an appropriate time to update the View on the current state of the Zips since the VCU game. So with the customary apology to Sergio Leone .. here goes:
- First place is always good: After the first swing through the East, the Zips are 4-1. And despite the final margin of victory, the Zips were about 2 minutes and 3 good defensive possessions from being 5-0. This is a very good place for the Zips to be. Aside from sending a message to the East that the Zips are serious contenders, they've started to round into shape as the full complement of players has now been available for about 3 weeks.
- Road successes: With 2 road wins in the first East swing, the Zips are getting really close to the position where they can lock up a bye by just taking care of the home action. It's important to keep momentum going against the West, but with 3 of 5 at home in the second East swing .. a 12 or more win conference slate isn't out of the question.
- Winning from behind: Something the prior MAC title teams have been able to do well is win close games, and take a punch in a game (sometimes literally) and get back up and press on to a victory. In all 4 conference wins thus far, the Zips have trailed in the second half, and had to mount late comebacks. They appear to thrive under pressure and play pretty loose. There don't appear to be nerves hitting these guys in crunch time. A very positive sign in my opinion.
- Athleticism rules: Raise your hand if you've ever seen a Zips team this deep, this quick, this big, and this athletic. Didn't think so. There's a long way to go this year, and the wheels can wobble at any time .. but I'll say this. Each and every year, KD seems to put a group on the floor that is a little bigger, a little quicker and more athletic than the year before. This year takes the cake. Watching these guys finish at the rim on the break (all 9 of them) on Saturday was a thing of beauty. And something most of us won't forget soon.
Nitpicking a bit here, but tradition dictates I hit all of the categories:
- Getting down early is a habit the team should try and rid themselves of. Even sitting in the JAR on Saturday, I'd have told anyone that I figured the Zips would still cover. The talent on this team is just so strong that I never felt they'd let it get away. Ditto for BG, though things were tighter in that situation. My point here is that it's a dangerous game to play to always get down and then believe the switch can be thrown. I hope the West swing can be used to get back to building some momentum early and not needing a big 10+ point swing late in the 2nd half.
- 40 minutes of D hasn't really happened yet. Frankly, it'll be ugly for whoever it happens against. The Zips have shown in spurts the ability to take teams out of what they want to do .. but my sense is that the team D this year isn't as good as it can be .. and isn't as good as it's going to be a month from now. Watching the team claw back to within a possession of U@B only to give up 2 or 3 more wide open looks to the shooter was painful, and hard to watch. Nit picking for certain here, but the team D can be better.
.. Again, it's all relative nit picking .. unless we're talking about yellow shirts .. which are truly ugly.
- The FT stripe is perhaps one of the areas where an improvement would really help the team put teams away. VCU could have been salted away at the line. And against BG, there were some critical misses that would have obviated the need for last second heroics. Small stuff. I think the Zips are shooting 66% as a team, which isn't horrible, but 70% would be a big improvement. Opponents aren't really outscoring the Zips at the line, but I feel like if this team can shoot 46+% from the field, they can do better at the line. It might make a difference later in the year.
- TO's: At times .. not always .. but at times .. the ball has gotten away from the Zips. There's been some discussion about this during the aftermath of the Can't State game, and I agree that increased TO's may come with the style and tempo of play the Zips can play. My problem with that sentiment is that many of the Zips' turnover problems manifest themselves in the half court set .. NOT in transition. See the Can't State game with 11 first half turnovers. If a guy is 7' tall, has probably almost an 8' wingspan, and is athletic enough to really jump .. how is it that 2-3 times a game, a ball gets thrown over his head either out of bounds or to a defender. I don't get it.
- More on the talent: Following a few of the recent conference wins, the following has been written by opposing fans:
- BG guy: ... a team that is LEAPS AND BOUNDS ahead of us, talent-wise. Harney, Diggs, and Treadwell all COME OFF THE BENCH for them. Either one of those guys would probably be the first or second best athlete on our entire team.
- Can't State guy: How did this (Akron) team ever lose to Buffalo?
- Other Can't State guy: Their bench players are better than our starters.
- The rotations are really starting to take shape. I'm of the opinion that the breakdown KD is using now is close to the best split available. At the start of the game, the Zips trot out a future NBA center, with a Euroleague PF and 3 pretty good shooters from the outside, and pound the ball inside. Most conference teams can and do struggle to contain this. In the past 2 games it's put the opponents' bigs in early foul trouble. Then right when they're catching their breath, with their 2nd unit, KD can roll out Diggs, Harney, Treadwell & Nitro and put the hammer down. It's really awesome to watch. And even if the Zips aren't pulling away in the first half .. it's a good bet they will in the 2nd when the other teams really hit the wall.
- The 216 has really given the Zips some huge talent. These 2 guys are going to be really special players for the Zips. And they're surrounded by top flight elite mid-major guys. I'm blown away by the roster.
R.I.P. Phil Martin, aka zip37 here at ZN.O .. I believe he passed away in mid-December, just prior to the holidays. He sat in front of me for the past 5 or 6 seasons. A more passionate hoops fan I don't think I've ever seen. The guy lived and died with each possession, and put his time & money where his heart was. If you played in the golf outing, you probably spoke with him at the check in table, or benefited from his help on the committee. The Zips have lost another huge fan this season. Best wishes to his family & I hope he's enjoying things from his new seat.
Put them on Zips fans! Buckle up .. it's going to be a great ride!
View the full blog post here.