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Published: Thursday, 1/24/2013 - Updated: 1 year ago

Zips remain MAC’s gold standard

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST

Akron’s basketball team doesn’t look like much. The Zips wear the ugliest shorts in college basketball. One player sports neon green shoes with pink laces. Another wears a pair that are somewhere between maize and mustard in color with black stripes, maybe blue. Who knows? There were solid black shoes, blue ones, white ones. It was a rainbow coalition.

In the Mid-American Conference, however, the Zips represent the gold standard.

That’s the only color that matters when you talk about seven straight seasons with 22 or more wins. Duke has done it. Kansas, too. The Buckeyes. A few others.

It’s the only color that matters when a team has played in six consecutive Mid-American Conference tournament championship games. That’s the second-longest streak in the country behind Gonzaga.

A lot of teams would love to be like the Zags. There wouldn’t be much wrong with being like the Zips.

Toledo wouldn’t mind one bit.

Akron won its 10th straight game Wednesday night, improving to 14-4 and 5-0 in the MAC with a 71-56 win against the Rockets at Savage Arena.

It was 18-6 early and it never really got much more competitive than that.

Closer, yes. Competitive, no.

“They are what we want to become,” Toledo coach Tod Kowalczyk said of the Zips. “We want to strive to become a team that can compete for championships every year.”

Not now. Not yet. Certainly not on this night.

Akron has 11 players who average double digits in minutes played. Toledo has 11 players.

The Rockets have lost three straight, the last two to MAC East powers Ohio and Akron.

“Ohio is really good; Akron is deeper than they are,” Kowalczyk said. “They’re the deepest team in the league.”

The only way UT can combat its lack of depth — only seven or eight Rockets play any meaningful minutes, and it would be a stretch to say that many provide any meaningful statistics — is by expending non-stop energy and effort at both ends of the court.

Instead, the Rockets seemed intimidated. Akron’s Zeke Marshall blocking nine shots was part of that, certainly, and maybe that had something to do with the home team forcing shots and missing some easy open ones. But it didn’t have much to do with UT’s defensive effort.

Toledo (6-10, 2-3) did pull within eight less than five minutes into the second half with a spark from sub Reese Holliday. But Akron, playing small with the 7-foot Marshall on the bench, answered with five straight 3s.

Kowalczyk said he knew when he first saw the schedule last summer that the first six MAC games would be a challenge.

That stretch ends Saturday night when neighborhood rival Bowling Green visits Savage. The Falcons have had some issues of their own, losing seven of eight before rising up and pounding Kent State 70-55 on Wednesday down at the Stroh Center.

“It’s very difficult for us to have lost three straight,” said the MAC’s leading scorer, Rian Pearson, who played his way into Kowalczyk’s doghouse and had a season-low 24 minutes. “We have to try to pick it up Saturday, go out and try to compete.”

If you’re sensing the Rockets didn’t do much of that against Akron, you’re catching on.

And that DID bother Kowalczyk. “Am I alarmed we’re 2-3 in the league? Not the least bit. Am I alarmed we didn’t compete tonight? Yeah. Yeah, I am.”

Until the Rockets do, teams like Akron will remain golden.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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