There was one time this year that the Akron Zips were riding one of the longest winning streaks in college basketball. In the midst of a 19-game streak, the Zips looked like they had the formula to be this year’s Cinderella in the NCAA tournament, if they were lucky enough to earn a trip there. Then bad news hit the program. Akron’s starting point guard and offensive leader, Alex Abreu, was suspended after a drug arrest. The suspension rocked the Zips and threatened to end their dream season. However, they went on to win the MAC tournament and punched their ticket to the Big Dance. Unfortunately for Akron, their first matchup is a nightmare. Not only is head coach Keith Dambrot going against his good friend, Shaka Smart, but if there is any team you can ill-afford to be missing your point guard against, it’s VCU and their constant pressure defense. Keith Dambrot joined 92.3 The Fan in Cleveland with Baskin and Phelps to talk about the team being able to overcome starting point guard Alex Abreu’s suspension, the idea of playing against his good friend, Shaka Smart, in the first round, the size that Akron brings and whether he likes the idea of playing the first tournament game in Detroit, so close to home.
On the team overcoming the loss of Alex Abreu:
“It’s interesting because the guys that have played for us from Year One have gotten the same message. That is, no one is indispensable and no one is above the team. That includes the coach. That’s why you call it a team. You have to give our guys a lot of credit because they found a way to win. They all stepped it up in different ways and we got performances from other people.”
On not liking the matchup against his friend Shaka Smart:
“Half the plays that we run and half the philosophies are his. We talk almost every day about basketball and how to handle situations. It’s kind of like we are playing our stepbrothers. Our team hears about VCU and how hard-nosed they are and you can’t surprise them with anything because he knows our system and vice versa. We know them. I watch more of their games than any team in the country. That’s the disappointing thing. Then people are going to make a big deal about the full-court pressure and us not having ball handling, but we’re going to be fine in that respect. It’s just that when you go into a tournament, you want to play against somebody you really don’t like.”
On the size that Akron has:
“I think the game against VCU is about as simplistic as it gets. They’re going to try to full-court press us into mistakes and then half-court pressure us into keeping the ball out of the post. If we can get the ball into the post area, then we’re going to win. If they can keep the ball out of the post and turn us over, then they’re going to win. Defensively for us, we need to make sure that we guard the ball efficiently because they are a driving, penetrating and pitch team. They don’t score as much on the low block, although Juvonte Reddic can, but they create opportunities through their defense and we have that big shot-blocker (Zeke Marshall) at the rim so if we don’t turn the ball over we’re going to be right there to win it.”
Have you talked to Shaka since the brackets came out?
“We talked last night. We probably won’t talk til after the game. I’m not going to let him soften me up right now.”
On getting to play the first game in Detroit, so close to home:
“The best thing about that is we get to bus again; our guys love to bus. The bad thing is we only got 550 tickets because all those Michigan and Michigan State fans anticipated those teams playing and bought all the tickets. That’s unfortunate when you really think about it.”