Overall Rank: #95
Conference Rank: #3 MAC
2006-07: 26-7, 13-3, 1st East
2006-07 postseason: none
After a year in which Akron was the best team in the conference and, for all practical purposes, got snubbed on multiple levels by the NIT, Coach Keith Dambrot will have to make another postseason run without his leading scorer or point guard. Despite the absence of those two big time players, the Zips will not fall far. And without the pressures of being the preseason favorites, maybe Akron will finally return to the NCAA Tournament. They definitely have the experience to make a tournament run.
Forward Romeo Travis was a great scorer, rebounder and defender. He was not a great shooter, but Travis would use his athleticism to finish around the basket. Without him, the team’s athleticism will take a step back. As big of a loss as Travis is, Dru Joyce might be bigger when all is said and done. Joyce, one of five players to average double digit scoring last season, was a tremendous floor leader over the years in Akron. While there is experience ready to take over, his absence will be felt for quite a while. Little used forward John Rybak is not returning to the program.
Even without any newcomers, Akron could go seven deep. Yet, there may be a few gems among the freshmen to add some more quality depth to the roster for the 2007-2008 campaign. Centers Steve Swiech and Mike Bardo will be asked to bolster the frontcourt. Swiech, a 6-9 Pittsburgh product, is a solid all around big man. As long as he can handle the physicality of the MAC, he should get some minutes as a freshman. Bardo redshirted last year and should have developed that strength to battle under the basket. Bardo can step outside and hit the mid-range jumper and his year in the program is expected to have him ready to make a contribution. Forward Brett McKnight, brother of returning sophomore Chris McKnight, has the toughness to play the four and the shooting and ball handling skills to play the three. Point guards Steve McNees and Ronnie Steward will battle for minutes. McNees is a superb scorer, while Steward is more of pass first point guard. If either can be relatively effective, they could eventually earn a starting job this season. Andrew Moss and Eric Coblentz will add emergency depth to the perimeter.
Who to Watch:
If McNees or Steward take over the point guard duties, Nick Dials will be freed up and move back to the shooting guard position. Whether or not he is at the point, Dials is a quality scorer. And it is not like Akron does not have other scorers who cannot take over if Dials shooting suffers while he concentrates on running the show. Cedrick Middleton, who averaged 11.1 points per game, is a more dynamic scorer than Dials. While both can hit the long ball, Middleton does a better job getting to the basket. Middleton only started three games last year and it is time for the senior to show what he can do as a starter. Small forward Nate Linhart has started most of the games over the last two seasons and will be asked to do more on the offensive end this year. The versatile lefty has proven to be a good shooter, but just has yet to take many shots. He has the ability to become a big scorer with a little more aggressiveness, but if others can take over the scoring losses, Linhart will not have to. Junior Jimmy Conyers earned six starts last year and his defense will earn him more minutes this year.
Coming off nearly two years of injuries, 6-6 forward Jeremiah Wood went right back to where he left off last year averaging 10.3 points and 7.8 rebounds. Wood will be the staple in the frontcourt this year and how well he can perform without Travis taking away the defense remains to be seen. Quade Milum is a great athlete and championship high jumper in high school. That is a nice skill to have for a power forward. The 6-7 senior averaged 6.5 points and 3.4 rebounds last year and should increase those numbers with more playing time. Chris McKnight showed his potential despite averaging just 7.0 minutes per contest as a freshman and the tough forward should find more minutes at the three and four spots this year.
Projected Post-season Tournament: none
Projected Starting Five:
Nick Dials, Senior, Guard, 10.1 points per game
Cedrick Middleton, Senior, Guard, 11.1 points per game
Nate Linhart, Junior, Forward, 5.9 points per game
Quade Milum, Senior, Forward, 6.5 points per game
Jeremiah Wood, Senior, Forward, 10.3 points per game