Ypsilanti, Mich. — Something potentially special is brewing in the Mid-American Conference, as one of the most talented mid-major programs is playing at the top of their game.
I witnessed first hand, just how dynamic, sharp, and under control the Akron Zips are. Keith Dambrot, Lebron James’ former high school coach, has led Akron to 3 MAC tournament championships in his tenure (2009, 2011, 2013) and is on his way to yet another one in 2017.
After a tough non-conference schedule that included wins over Marshall, Air Force, UC-Irvine, and competitive losses at Creighton and Gonzaga, the Zips have downright dominated in MAC play.
They are 11-1 in conference, with their only loss coming on the road to second place Ohio, 85-70. At 21-4 overall, Akron has won 14 of their last 15 matchups, and have already clinched a bye in the MAC tournament that will take place in Cleveland.
In the Zips’ game against Eastern Michigan, who was picked to finish second in the MAC in the preseason, it was obvious who the better team was. Akron shot 52.9 percent from 3-point range, committed just 9 turnovers, compared to 22 assists, and hit on 78.9 percent of free throws.
Antino Jackson, junior point guard, scored 13 points, as big man Isaiah Johnson finished with 17 points and 5 rebounds. Senior leader Kwan Cheatham Jr. scored 14 points on 5-10 shooting but his personal 8-0 spirt extended the Akron lead to 12 points, eliminating the thought of an EMU comeback.
However, Daniel Utomi was the major story, as he was scorching hot off the bench, knocking down all 5 of his long-rage shots, and netting 19 points on 7 shots in just 15 minutes.
That’s the thing with this team, they can hurt you in so many ways, have a plethora of outside shooters, and are extremely efficient and patient. It’s hard to imagine any team in the MAC pulling off an upset and not allowing Akron to clinch a NCAA Tournament berth.
There are only two potential losses the rest of the way for the Zips, against two-time defending MAC champion Buffalo, and Kent State. Even if both are losses, Akron will finish at worst 25-6, 15-3.
Obviously the Zips have a long way to go before they win the MAC tournament, and enter the Big Dance as a potential cinderella, but the way they have been playing since mid-December, people should start to take notice.
Akron has a shot at being the George Mason, Butler, or Wichita State of 2016-17, and find themselves in the midst of the madness that is sure to come in March.
Photo Credit: Winners and Whiners.