Keith Dambrot

Keith Dambrot’s Akron Zips nation’s hottest team with 13 straight wins

Leave a comment

While a lot of attention has been paid to which team will ascend to the top of the national polls on a weekly basis, the hottest team in the country has flown under the radar.

That team would be the Akron Zips, who are 8-0 in Mid-American Conference play (17-4 overall) and have won 13 games in a row. With No. 2 Kansas losing at home to Oklahoma State on Saturday, Keith Dambrot’s team has the longest current win streak in the country.

On Saturday the Zips beat reigning MAC champion Ohio 86-72, with the front court tandem of Zeke Marshall and Demetrius Treadwell figuring prominently in the outcome.

Marshall and Treadwell both posted double-doubles on the evening, with Marshall tallying 17 points (8-of-8 FG) and 12 rebounds and Treadwell adding 15 points and ten boards, and as a team the Zips out-rebounded Ohio 40-22.

For the season Marshall and Treadwell are the lone Zips averaging double figures with Marshall’s 13.0 points per game leading the way. The reason why Akron is the top scoring offense in the MAC is their balance as opposed to the presence of a “star,” with seven players averaging at least 5.8 points per game and just one of those seven (forward Jake Kretzer) shooting less than 40% from the field.

Junior point guard Alex Abreu runs the show, and on Saturday he put together arguably his best game of the season against Ohio’s D.J. Cooper. Abreu shot 7-of-10 and scored a game-high 21 points while also racking up nine assists, and his 6.0 assists per game ranks second in the MAC.

Akron’s depth has been their biggest strength with ten players averaging at least 11.4 minutes per game. And with Marshall (3.6 blocks/game) being the road block in the paint Akron has limited opponents to 38.6% shooting from the field.

With their depth, versatility and an NBA prospect in Marshall, Dambrot’s Zips have the look of a team capable of making some noise in March.

But when you’re in a conference that hasn’t sent multiple teams to the NCAA tournament since 1999, how successful a season is ultimately boils down to four days in Cleveland in early March. And Abreu doesn’t lack confidence in the Zips’ ability to get back to the Big Dance.

“We’ll be back this year and reclaim it,” Akron guard Alex Abreu said of the MAC tourney title, which the Zips won in 2009 and 2011. He then took the vision beyond the March tournament at The Q.

“All I think about is a national championship,” he said. “It might sound crazy, but I don’t think we have anything to envy from anybody in the country. We’re full at every position. We’re big. We’re strong. We have guard play. We have shooters. There is nothing we really lack, other than confidence.”

After falling just short of their goal last season, Akron has the look of a team capable of taking the next step. And as Ohio’s run to the Sweet 16 showed, anything can happen once you make the field of 68.

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej

No. 14 Cal goes 0-2 in Las Vegas Invitational

Jaylen Brown
AP Photo/Ben Margot
Leave a comment

After midnight on the east coast on Thanksgiving, No. 14 Cal blew a 15 point second half lead against San Diego State, allowing the Aztecs to use a 30-6 run to put away the game and advance to the final of the Las Vegas Invitational. That’s the same San Diego State team had scored 43 points in a loss to Arkansas-Little Rock last week.

Not 24 hours later, the Golden Bears were shredded defensively by the Richmond Spiders, losing 94-90 in the consolation game of a four-team tournament they were considered to be the heavy favorite in.

It’s a disappointing two-game stretch for Cal, who entered the season as a Pac-12 favorite and had looked the part for the first four games of the season.

And the issue appears to be on the defensive end of the floor.

Richmond is a good Atlantic 10 team. Terry Allen and Marshall Wood are high-major big men, Shawn’Dre Jones is a jitterbug at the point and Chris Mooney runs a Princeton-esque system that is very difficult to prepare for without a day in-between games. So it’s not really surprising that the Spiders gave Cal a fight.

But 94 points?

On the heels of giving up 44 points in the second half against the offensively-challenged Aztecs?

That’s a problem, one that I’m sure that Cuonzo Martin is going to address this week in practice. Martin has managed to put together a roster that is build for small-ball, with four talented perimeter players surrounding a first round pick in the post. But that’s not the style that he’s known for. Martin played his college ball at Purdue in the Gene Keady days. He cut his teeth as a head coach at Missouri State in the Missouri Valley. His team’s at Tennessee were known for being tough and physical defensively.

That’s how Martin coaches, which is part of the reason Cal had such hype entering the year.

The talents of Tyrone Wallace, Jaylen Brown, Ivan Rabb, Jabari Bird and Jordan Mathews on a team with a coach that gets teams to defend the way Martin does? It’s no surprise that pundits would be optimistic.

But as of now, they have some work to do defensively if they want to live up to that hype.

Tyler Ulis injured as No. 1 Kentucky beats South Florida

Tyler Ulis, Ky Howard
Leave a comment

MIAMI (AP) Jamal Murray had 21 points and No. 1 Kentucky scored the final 15 points of the first half on the way to beating South Florida 84-63 in the HoopHall Miami Invitational on Friday.

Skal Labissiere added 17 points for the Wildcats (6-0), who led by as many as 31. Charles Matthews scored 11 points and Isaiah Briscoe finished with seven assists for Kentucky, now a winner of 37 consecutive regular-season games and 39 in a row against unranked opponents.

Chris Perry scored 14 points for USF (1-5), which has lost 18 consecutive games against teams ranked in the Top 25. Jaleel Cousins added 12 points on 5-for-6 shooting, and Jahmal McMurray scored 11 points for the Bulls.

Kentucky played the second half without starting guard Tyler Ulis, who departed with a right elbow injury after getting hurt while fighting for a ball loose on the floor.

Kentucky announced after the game that the injury was a hyperextension of the elbow and that he will be day-to-day.

The Bulls were within 27-21 with 6 minutes left in the first half after McMurray banked in a 3-pointer only a few feet away from where John Calipari was standing, and the look of anguish on the Kentucky coach’s face was clear.

It didn’t last long.

The Wildcats scored on seven of their next nine possessions and the game was over by halftime, Kentucky going into the break with a 42-21 lead.

It was a reunion for plenty of people on both benches. Calipari squared off with his former assistant Orlando Antigua, now in his second year leading USF. Antigua’s staff includes another former Calipari assistant in Rod Strickland, plus former Kentucky basketball staff members Mike Malone and Dominic Lombardi.

So the staffs have plenty of familiarity. On the court, there was plenty of disparity. Kentucky finished with a commanding 23-6 edge in points off turnovers and finished with 16 assists to the Bulls’ six.