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.