Zips close to wrapping up top seed in MAC

The Zips wasted an opportunity to gain some national attention and clinch the top seed in the upcoming Mid-American Conference tournament on Feb. 26.

Akron’s web site has recently been updated with a barrage of information detailing the success of the program, but the Zips will have to wait another day to add another achievement to the site.

The Zips lost 85-61 at Ohio in a nationally televised game. All is not lost in Zipland, though. Sure, the loss stings due to the point differential, but Akron can still win the top seed with a victory in one of its final two games against Buffalo and Kent State. Both of those games should be heated, with the Zips coming off the blowout loss to face a Buffalo team that handed them their first MAC loss. Meanwhile, Kent State would love nothing better than to hand the Zips a loss in the final regular-season finale in a rare Friday night conference game.

Against Ohio, the Zips (20-9, 12-2) could’ve earned a signature win due to their lack of quality nonconference victories. The Zips don’t have much luck playing at Ohio, losing by 25 points last year and 24 points this season.

Even before the Ohio contest, Akron coach Keith Dambrot indicated all would not be lost if the Zips fell to the Bobcats.

“I think the biggest thing is you have to be even-keeled,” he said. “No matter what happens in these next three, we’re playing three of the best teams in the league. If we win all three or we lose all three, it still creates the same situation. We have to win the MAC tournament.”

The Zips seemed to take that approach by not showing much effort or life at Ohio. The loss is disturbing because the Zips have plenty of veterans on the team, but the lack of a go-to player on a team filled with talent can be viewed as a negative come March.

Maybe that’s why Dambrot spent some extra time before last week’s Bowling Green game with junior center Zeke Marshall. The 7-footer had loads of potential, but he can disappear at times due to foul problems. That was evident in Akron’s loss at Oral Roberts, where Marshall netted four points, one rebound and no free-throw attempts in 27 minutes.

“I felt all along that Zeke is the main difference-maker we have,” Dambrot said. “I was upset of how he played the past two weeks. I started coaching him myself. I took him a half-hour each day after practice. We did 10 minutes of guarding in the post, then 10 minutes of scoring in the post, then 10 minutes of shot-blocking. When I work with him, he plays better. He can’t have one rebound like he did against Oral Roberts.”

NOTES, QUOTES

Abreu’s stats take a hit against Bobcats

–Sophomore point guard Alex Abreu failed to score in double figures at Ohio, ending a two-game streak. Abreu tallied nine points and two assists in 29 minutes. Abreu did manage to make one 3-pointer to extend his streak to 10 straight games with at least one 3-pointer.

–Junior center Zeke Marshall had another disappearing act. The 7-footer played 23 minutes in Akron’s 85-61 loss at Ohio on Feb. 26 but contributed only four points, six rebounds and no blocked shots. Marshall wasn’t plagued by foul trouble, committing one foul, but his sluggish play remains a concern heading down the final stretch of the regular season. Marshall played a key role in Akron winning five straight games in last year’s MAC tournament. Marshall came up big with some extra prodding from coach Keith Dambrot prior to the Bowling Green game, finishing with 16 points and seven boards. But Marshall reverted back to his inconsistent ways at Ohio. Before the BGSU game, Marshall endured a three-game stretch in which he combined for 20 points and 11 rebounds.

BY THE NUMBERS: 28.4 percent — The Zips ranked fifth nationally in 3-point defense through Feb. 26, holding opponents to 28.4 percent shooting.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “The fact of the matter is, we’ve never had a team that’s 12-1 in the league. Where does this team rank? I don’t really know. It’s a different team than we’ve ever had before.” — Akron coach Keith Dambrot, following a Feb. 22 victory over Bowling Green.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

THIS WEEK’S GAMES:

–vs. Buffalo, Feb. 29

KEY MATCHUPS: The Zips have been looking forward to this matchup since losing at Buffalo on Jan. 18. The Bulls have one of the few teams in the conference capable of matching up with Akron’s frontcourt size. Akron center Zeke Marshall must stay out of foul trouble, helping contain Buffalo’s Mitchell Watt. The Zips have to keep an eye out for Bulls sharpshooter Zach Filzen.

–at Kent State, March 2

KEY MATCHUPS: It’s a rare Friday night game, and it comes just two days after the Zips play host to Buffalo. Akron shouldn’t suffer from fatigue or a lack of motivation in this heated conference battle between two schools separated by a few miles.

FUTURES MARKET: Akron has lost two of its last three games, but panic hasn’t sunk in. The Zips have already secured opening-round and second-round byes in the upcoming Mid-American Conference tournament. This year, the Zips don’t have to win five tourney games, a journey that took a toll on the team last season.

PLAYER NOTES

–Sophomore G Brian Walsh was a rare gem for the Zips in their lopsided loss at Ohio, finishing with a team-leading 12 points. He made all four of his free-throw attempts and both of his 3-point shots to shoot 3-for-5 from the field. Walsh has the ability to score points, but he rarely forces the issue on the well-balanced Akron squad. He has yet to attempt more than nine shots in a game this year, but he had struggled shooting the ball until making four of his last six 3-pointers in the past two games through Feb. 26. Walsh was 4-for-20 from beyond the arc in his previous six games until breaking the trend in the last two contests.

–Senior F Nikola Cvetinovic will play his final home game on Feb. 29 against Buffalo. Although Cvetinovic isn’t a high-point scorer, he will go down in Akron history as a memorable and reliable player. His consistency has been remarkable. He put up typical numbers in Akron’s blowout loss to Ohio, ending with 11 points on 4-of-6 shooting and tallying three rebounds. He had scored in double figures three games in a row through Feb. 26, but his rebounding had dipped slightly this year due to Akron’s depth in the frontcourt.