The University of Akron continues to creep upward in the nation’s major college basketball polls.
In this week’s USA Today Coaches Poll, the Zips have 19 votes and are a couple of slots away from making an appearance in the Top 25, a survey in which UA coach Keith Dambrot votes.
They’re further back in the AP Top 25, but with 16 votes, they continue to make gains toward an appearance among the nation’s elite programs.
What does it mean? Everything and nothing.
“Yesterday for the first time, my girlfriend saw it on Twitter and showed it to me,” point guard Alex Abreu said after Monday’s light practice. “It’s going to be huge if it happens for the school. It doesn’t really matter to me. If we’re in the Top 25, I’m going to hear about it. There’s been some noise around. To me that’s not what’s important to me, it’s how we play in March.”
Dambrot confesses that he’s not one to pay too much attention to rankings, but he’s very much aware of their tangible benefits.
“The only reason I would watch is that it helps us recruit,” he said. “It means nothing other than that, unless you get in there, then that helps you get into the NCAA Tournament also.”
Indeed, an appearance in one or both polls could make a difference in whether the team has a shot at receiving an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament in March. It is still better that the Zips control their destiny by winning the MAC Tournament than relying on a selection committee which has never been able to live without a smidgen of controversy in the process.
Considering the Zips did themselves a favor by beating Bowling Green on Saturday, giving them an automatic spot in the MAC semifinals, the road to the NCAA’s party has been made just a little bit easier.
What they have to do is play.
That means putting together complete games.
“It’s better for the team aura so that we get more confident. But Top 25 doesn’t make us a better team,” Abreu said.
Scoring a TKO
Dambrot and his staff recently added a scoring system that awards points based upon several defensive criteria that’s ultimately meant to help the Zips clean up parts of their game.
They used it for the first time against Bowling Green and the Zips won 8-of-10 rounds. The other two were a tie and loss respectively.
Whether the new system is the reason they came out with more energy and focus to open the game is debatable. What isn’t debatable is that they didn’t get into an early hole against the Falcons.
“The [round] we lost, they cut [the lead] down to six points,” Dambrot said. “It kind of played out like we thought. If we win most of those rounds, we’re going to win most of those games.”
After Saturday’s game, forward Nick Harney and guard Brian Walsh offered their support of the new system. Abreu said that it can increase awareness of what they need to clean up heading into March.
“We’re trying to fix everything that we have,” he said. “ There are little things — step-by-step — that we’re emphasizing. We’re coming out with more defensive energy and trying to get off in the beginning, especially for the crowd.”
The Zips rose in almost every relevant RPI survey released this week.
The Ken Pom RPI had them in the same spot as last week at No. 49. They rose two to 47 in the ESPN BPI. They jumped five spots to 48 in the Real Time RPI, up three to 48 in the NCAA RPI and up two in the ESPN RPI to 52. Many experts believe the Zips would have to get to the low 40s to get an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.
“I’m pretty much a basketball fanatic. I know where we are,” Dambrot said. “If we win out, I know where we will be. Those are just things you do more as a fan than a coach.”
This is the seventh UA senior class that will enjoy a 90-win career. Six of those classes have come under the guidance of Dambrot. It was erroneously reported as 70 wins in a previous report.
George M. Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Zips blog at http://www.ohio.com/zips. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/GeorgeThomasABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.