Akron Basketball Preview: #68
Overall Rank: #68
Conference Rank: #1 Mid-American Conference
2008-09: 23-13, 10-6
2008-09 postseason: NCAA
Coach: Keith Dambrot (115-51 at Akron, 223-121 overall)
Akron has won 20 games for four straight seasons and 2009-2010 should not put an end to that streak. Coach Keith Dambrot has done a great job with the Zips and it culminated last year a trip to the NCAA Tournament. And the only loss from the 2008-2009 team is forward Nate Linhart. While Linhart was the only player to start all 36 games last year and he was the team’s top rebounder, he is replaceable now that everybody else is a year older and a year wiser.
Key Losses: F Nate Linhart
Zeke Marshall is garnering all the attention around the MAC recruiting circles. By most accounts, he is the best recruit ever to sign with a MAC team. The 7-0 center may not score a ton of points right away, but he is a superb rebounder and shot blocker. Marshall’s 7-5 wingspan will make it extremely difficult for any other team in the conference to consistently get into the paint and if he is not starting from day one, he will be playing quality minutes. Guard Alex Sullivan will also be suiting up this season after redshirting during the 2008-2009 campaign.
Linhart did a lot of things well, especially on the defensive end, but he was also a quality outside shooter and ranked second on the team in scoring. Much of the scoring and shooting slack will have to be picked up by Darryl Roberts. The 6-0 senior was the Zips most consistent outside shooter last year and he should get more opportunities this year. If he can keep shooting 39.8 percent from long range and occasionally get to the basket, or the line where he shot 92.6 percent last season, Roberts could emerge as the team’s go-to-guy on the perimeter.
The leading scorer on the team last year was not even a starter. Brett McKnight tallied 11.2 points and 3.6 rebounds per contest and started just two games. The 6-6 junior will likely step into the small forward spot this year and replace Linhart in the starting lineup. McKnight’s brother, Chris, will likely join him in the frontcourt. Chris, who is 6-7, is a little tougher under the basket and will be the team’s interior scorer, at least until Marshall comes around. Nikola Cvetinovic, Jimmy Conyers and Mike Bardo all started at least ten games last year and they will give the frontcourt a ton of experienced and talented depth that Coach Dambrot will use.
Who to Watch:
Anthony Hitchens was forced into the starting point guard role as a freshman and did a decent job. However, Steve McNees can play there as well and Ronnie Steward is back after missing all but six games last year due to an injury. That gives the Zips three ball handlers. Depending on the competition, Akron can move Hitchens, who averaged 8.8 points last season, off the ball and let Steward or McNees run the point. That will allow the younger McKnight to once again come in off the bench since he will lack the foot speed to defend some smaller small forwards in the conference.
And Coach Dambrot prides himself on defense. If Brett McKnight is not defending properly at the three spot, he will not be playing there. At times Akron’s offense was inconsistent, but they almost always stuck around because of their stellar defense. And in a conference like the MAC, when it will come down to four days in Cleveland for a spot in the NCAA Tournament, the Zips need to find more offensive consistency by the end of the season.
Projected Post-season Tournament: NCAA
Projected Starting Five:
Anthony Hitchens, Sophomore, Guard, 8.8 points per game
Darryl Roberts, Senior, Guard, 8.3 points per game
Brett McKnight, Junior, Forward, 11.2 points per game
Chris McKnight, Senior, Forward, 9.2 points per game
Zeke Marshall, Freshman, Center, DNP last season
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