Disappointed Zips hit the road in NIT

March 12, 2012

Akron got a double-dose of negative news on Sunday. The Zips didn't earn an at-large bid to the 2012 NCAA tournament, forcing them to wait a few more hours for a potential NIT berth. The Zips found out their fate, but received some bad luck. The Zips will play at Northwestern on Tuesday.

Akron coach Keith Dambrot thought his team deserved a home game in the NIT on the strength of a 22-11 record and winning the Mid-American Conference regular-season title. But Akron's late-season swoon didn't help its postseason resume.

"With our strength of schedule and our RPI, I thought we would get a home game; however, we are very excited to get back on the court," Dambrot said. "Northwestern is a good team and is a very difficult prep as they run the Princeton offense and the 1-3-1 zone. We will have to play a good game and execute on both ends of the floor."

The Zips will be making their fifth overall NIT appearance and third under Dambrot. The Zips, who won last year's conference tourney to be awarded the automatic NCAA bid, haven't played in the NIT since finishing 1-1 in 2008.

There's no history between the Zips and Wildcats. The first-ever meeting between the two teams pit's the frustrated Wildcats against the struggling Zips.

Akron, which is 4-18 all-time against teams from the Big Ten, has faced just one other Big Ten team during Dambrot's eight-year tenure.

The winner of Tuesday's game advances to play the winner of the Washington and Texas-Arlington game. If the Zips win their first two games, they will play either Oregon, LSU, Dayton or Iowa in the NIT quarterfinals.

The Zips will give the Wildcats some problems in their NIT opener. Akron's depth and size in the frontcourt is something that the Wildcats must contend with. The Wildcats lack size inside and don't have a deep bench. Northwestern forward John Shurna, the leading scorer in school history, represents a tough guard for the Zips. Akron junior center Zeke Marshall should have a field day in Evanston. With the recent scoring surge by Alex Abreu, the Zips are a team and balanced team with numerous weapons.


Marshall continues his block party

--Junior center Zeke Marshall broke his own school record for most shot blocks in a season. Marshall finished with three blocks in Akron's loss to Ohio in the MAC Championship game. Marshall has 94 blocks on the season, two more than last year's record.

--Sophomore point guard Alex Abreu was named to the MAC All-Tournament team. Abreu scored a career-high 19 points in the MAC title game. He scored a then-career best of 18 points against Buffalo on Feb. 29, 2012.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It was a great ride. It sucks to end up this way. There are so many of my friends in this league who never went to the NCAA Tournament once. I was blessed to go twice. I'm still going to the NIT Tournament. The planet ain't going to stop because of this. It's a tremendous leap forward for the young guys. They're going to keep on the legacy of Akron basketball, which is winning. It had to come to the end. It's tough, but overall, like I said, we have something to be proud of. I did it all here. ... When you look at it overall, you have to hang your head high." -- Akron senior forward Nikola Cvetinovic after losing to Ohio in the MAC title game.


SCOUTING REPORT: The Zips are a tough team to game-plan against due to their depth and balanced scoring. Eight players average between 6.4 points and 10.2 points per game, with Zeke Marshall leading the team at 10.2 points. The Zips have good size in the frontcourt and sophomore point guard Alex Abreu has developed a lethal three-point shot late in the season. Quincy Diggs, Nick Harney and Demetrius Treadwell give the Zips a solid bench to spell the starters. Akron, which won the MAC regular-season title, can make some noise in the NIT Tournament if they can beat Northwestern in the opening game.

FUTURES WATCH: Junior Zeke Marshall would benefit from another season in college. Marshall's size -- 7-feet -- is intriguing to NBA scouts. His ability to block shots and rebound make him a project due to his inconsistency and foul problems. Next year, with Nikola Cvetinovic graduating, Marshall would learn the nuisances of being a leader and get a bigger share of the scoring load.

REGULAR SEASON REVIEW: The Zips failed to reach the NCAA tournament after winning the Mid-American Conference regular-season title. The Zips had all the ingredients -- deep roster, solid frontcourt, good size and experience -- to be a sleeper in the NCAA tournament. But the Zips couldn't win the "big game" all season. Akron lost every chance to gain a signature victory, including falling to Ohio in the MAC title game.


--Junior F Quincy Diggs started eight games all year, but his worth was proved in other ways. Diggs was named the Mid-American Conference Sixth Man of the Year. He provided scoring punch off the bench in Akron's 64-63 loss to Ohio on March 10 in the MAC Championship game at Quicken Loans Arena. Diggs scored 12 points and grabbed six rebounds, while the rest of Akron's reserves accounted for just five points. Diggs added eight points off the bench in Akron's semifinal victory over Kent State on March 9.

--Sophomore PG Alex Abreu is becoming a fixture at Akron, including Akron coach Keith Dambrot lavishing his lead guard with tremendous praise after scoring a career-high 19 points in the MAC title game loss to Ohio. Abreu concluded an excellent two-game tourney showing with a team-high 19 points and seven assists. Abreu made all three of his shots from three-point territory and added two steals. In two tourney games, Abreu shot 6-of-7 from beyond the ace and averaged 16 points and 5.5 assists per game.

--Sophomore G Brian Walsh connected on a pair of three-pointers to finish with 10 points in the MAC championship game, giving the Zips 29 points and five threes from their starting backcourt to diminish a poor performance from the usually dependable Akron frontcourt. Walsh bounced back from a bad game in Friday's semifinal win over Kent State, where he scored five points on 1-of-8 shooting but handed out four assists.