Team preview: Akron

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(Information in this team report is as of October 1.)

The nets cast at the end of the 2004 college football season and the 2004-05 college basketball season held five MAC teams, but the Zips narrowly missed each time.
In 2004, a record five Mid-American Conference football schools played in bowl games. The only bowl-eligible team in America left home: the 6-5 Akron Zips. Then last winter, first-year coach Keith Dambrot's UA basketball team put together a fine 19-10 record, but received no postseason phone call. Ohio earned the league's NCAA Tournament bid, while Buffalo, Kent State, Miami (Ohio), and Western Michigan landed in the NIT.

"Our RPI indicates that we're one of the top 100 teams in the country," Dambrot told USA Today soon after the season. "I'm not bitter. We left it up to chance because we didn't win a couple that we needed to win.

"We lost a pretty good player [Jeremiah Wood] and our guys did nothing but fight, fight, fight. So, I'm really pleased with that, and I'm proud of them."
The Zips were 7-3 when Wood (10.7 ppg, 8.1 rpg) tore the ACL in his right knee on Jan. 2. Some teams would have rolled over. Instead, Dambrot's crew, led largely by Romeo Travis (11.9 ppg, 7.4 rpg), won 11 of its final 17 regular-season games.

After clearing Eastern Michigan in the MAC Tournament first round, a 66-60 overtime loss to Western Michigan in the quarters at Gund Arena put a damper on an otherwise terrific season. The Broncos dominated the boards, 55-34, as the Zips were a minus 2.4 on the glass for the season.

Truth be told, Akron overachieved last winter, but this program certainly is on the rise. In the next two seasons, look for the Zips to end their postseason drought, dating back to the 1989 NIT. On paper, Akron appears to be a contender for the 2006 MAC East title. The core of the team is an exceptional junior class, which includes Wood, Travis, and 6-0 point guard Dru Joyce III (7.3 ppg, 4.3 apg).

"We are a fast-paced team that stresses defense," Dambrot said. "Our team is full of under-recruited guys. We have some guys who have a chip on their shoulder and want to win."

That Akron led the MAC in field-goal percentage defense (40.4) is a testament to Dambrot, whose motto for the program is "Think Big!"