Keith Dambrot

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

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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

Indiana lands four-star Class of 2017 wing Justin Smith

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Indiana landed an athletic wing commitment on Monday night as four-star small forward Justin Smith pledged to the Hoosiers on Twitter.

The 6-foot-6 Smith is a native of Lincolnshire, Illinois and comes from Stevenson High School as he’s regarded as the No. 105 overall prospect in the Rivals national Class of 2017 rankings.

A high-flying wing who is great in the open floor, Smith should fit the Hoosiers’ uptempo system perfectly and if he’s able to get a more consistent perimeter jumper then he has a chance to be a really nice piece for Indiana.

Smith joins three-star guard Al Durham in Indiana’s recruiting Class of 2017.

Michigan State addingTom Izzo Hall of History wing in remodeled Breslin Center

CHARLOTTE, NC - MARCH 22:  Head coach Tom Izzo of the Michigan State Spartans reacts against the Virginia Cavaliers during the third round of the 2015 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Time Warner Cable Arena on March 22, 2015 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
(Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
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Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo has already been inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame this fall and the longtime Spartans head coach is receiving another unique honor in the remodeled Breslin Center.

The school announced over the weekend that the Tom Izzo Hall of History will be added to the Breslin Center renovations as the building is supposed to be completed by the fall of 2017.

“The Tom Izzo Hall of History will become a great gathering place on our campus where together we can celebrate the excellence of Spartan Basketball and MSU Athletics,” athletic director Mark Hollis said in a release. “When this facility project is complete it will be the finest college basketball facility in the country, so it’s only fitting that Tom’s name will be a permanent part of it.”

Overall, this is a nice addition to the Breslin Center, especially since Izzo and Michigan State basketball will forever be associated with one another. It should be cool for fans to go through it and re-live great moments in Michigan State history and the wing is another nice recruiting tool that can help point out all of Izzo’s biggest accomplishments.

 

Puerto Rico Tip-Off Tournament moving to Orlando amid Zika concerns

Lon Kruger
(AP Photo/Brandon Dill)
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Amid concerns over the Zika virus, the annual Puerto Rico Tip-Off announced a change in venue on Monday. Rather than staying on the island, the tournament will move to Orlando and all games will be played at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Disney.

The dates and teams will remain the same for the event as it will be played Thursday, Nov. 17, Friday, Nov. 18 and Sunday, Nov. 20. The field for the event includes Arizona State, Clemson, Davidson, Missouri, Northern Iowa, Oklahoma, Tulane and Xavier.

“We enjoy the beauty and accommodations that are afforded in Puerto Rico and wanted to make every effort in playing the event in San Juan, but the concern for student-athlete and spectator welfare became the primary driver in the decision,” Pete Derzis, senior vice president of ESPN Events said in the official release.  “We intend to return to Puerto Rico in the future.”

Puerto Rico is currently under a Level 2 alert for Zika according to the CDC. Since there have been cases of Zika on the island with native mosquitoes, it’s probably a smart move to eliminate all concerns over the virus if they can easily move the tournament elsewhere. It probably isn’t ideal for fans who purchased travel packages to Puerto Rico to watch the event, but it’s a small price to pay for the safety of everyone involved.

The Puerto Rico Tourism Company is also upset with the decision as Executive Director Ingrid Rivera Rocafort released a statement on Monday night.

“We are disappointed about this decision that we believe has been based on fear not the facts about Puerto Rico,” the statement read.

“There is no public health reason to cancel the Puerto Rico Tip Off or any sporting event in Puerto Rico. There is no doubt that our strong fan base and local spectators would have turned out to support their teams. Less than one percent of Puerto Rico’s 3.5 million population has contracted Zika, a far cry from projections. The hype and misinformation is fostering irrational decisions.”

PHOTO: Purdue unveils statue of John Wooden outside Mackey Arena

John Wooden (Purdue Athletics)
Purdue Athletics
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John Wooden will forever be associated with the UCLA program for what he did while coaching there.

10 national titles in 12 years, including seven in a row. Not bad, right?

What some people may forget is that before he got into coaching, Wooden was one of the best basketball players in the world. He played his collegiate ball at Purdue, where he was a three-time all-american and the 1932 National Player of the Year.

To honor Wooden’s legacy as one of the greatest Boilermakers ever, Purdue built a statue of Wooden and unveiled it in front of Mackey Arena this weekend:

“Not many people think of Johnny Wooden as a Boilermaker, but when I got here in 1957, some of the old-timers still remembered him as a player,” Jim Hicks, the alumnus that donated the statue, said. “I’m so delighted that people will see this statue and read his Pyramid of Success because I think the pyramid was his most important contribution.”

One of the neat touches of the statue: Wooden’s Pyramid of Success is right there for all to see.

North Carolina lands third commitment in 2017 class

SAN ANTONIO, TX - MARCH 23: Head coach Roy Williams of the North Carolina Tar Heels looks on during the third round of the 2014 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament against the Iowa State Cyclones at the AT&T Center on March 23, 2014 in San Antonio, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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North Carolina picked up their third commitment in the Class of 2017 on Monday in big man Brandon Huffman.

A four-star prospect who will play his final season of high school ball at Word of God Academy in North Carolina, Huffman’s strength at this point in his development is as a defensive presence around the basket. He stands 6-foot-10 with a 7-foot-5 wingspan and should be able to help replace Kennedy Meeks, who graduates this spring.

Huffman’s development on the offensive end of the floor isn’t quite there yet. A native of Anchorage, Alaska, Huffman is still learning how to be more influential on that end.

Huffman joins Jalek Felton and Andrew Platek in UNC’s 2017 class.