The USC Trojans head to Charleston, South Carolina sitting at 1-1 on the season searching for their true identity this weekend at the Charleston Classic Tournament. Following their first win of the season, 70-58 over Tennessee Tech, Andy Enfield can focus on attaining a winning streak early in non-conference play. Since the tournament is largely contingent on results playing out, let's focus on the only for-sure opponent, the Akron Zips out of the Mid-American Conference.
For a more formal introduction into all things Zips Basketball, we would like to thank Brandon Hickey, the basketball editor and Akron Team Manager for Hustle Belt, the SB Nation site for the Mid-American Conference, for sharing his thoughts before Thursday morning's game.
The Charleston Classic opening round game can be seen at 9:30 a.m. PST on ESPN3.
1. What's the feeling around the program after last year's overtime loss in the conference semifinal game? Are the NCAA expectations back on campus?
The Akron program has now reached a level where an NCAA Tournament appearance is expected every year. Fans are extremely disappointed when the team doesn't reach the Big Dance. Head coach Keith Dambrot had appeared in six straight MAC Tournament Finals before last year's semifinal loss in overtime to Western Michigan, in which Akron held an 18-point second half lead.
These expectations now may be tempered after news came over the weekend of star senior forward Demetrius Treadwell's indefinite suspension. We will see how the team plays after a few games without their best player, but I can't see them winning the conference with Treadwell not on the team.
2. What does the loss of Demetrius Treadwell (leading scorer and rebounder) mean for this team, and who will look to fulfill that monstrous role on the glass?
It's huge. It's a devastating loss, Treadwell was the best player on the team and one of the best in the conference. He was the leader on the court through his play and also was the vocal leader. It's going to be hard to replace fifteen points and nine boards per game, especially when Akron has little depth among its frontcourt.
The freed up minutes will likely fall to sophomore Kwan Cheatham, who played 26 minutes in the Zips' opening win over UMBC. Cheatham isn't your typical back-to-the-basket forward, he's more comfortable in space and can even shoot the three. Junior center and West Virginia transfer Pat Forsythe will be asked to pick up the rebounding slack and will need to show more aggressiveness on the glass than he normally does.
3. For those unfamiliar with squads from the Mid-American Conference, what is the Akron Zips' brand of basketball?
MAC squads are known for their toughness. I would compare them to the Big Ten, where points and scoring aren't always at a premium but rebounding is important. Akron has always been a little ahead of the curve, as Dambrot has recruited good athletes who can play multiple positions. This year's team features three shooting guards/small forwards 6-foot-5 or taller and all are really good athletes.
The Zips still recruit some bruisers, but more and more the focus is up-tempo offense and lock-down defense. This requires a specific type of player; one that's sometimes hard to get from the MAC's perspective. We'll see what the conference is like five years from now, but it's still all about toughness and not so much about finesse.
4. Akron jacked up 30 thre-point shots in the season opener. How reliant are the Zips on the 3-pointers and can they maintain that rate during the season?
I feel that Akron has always had a thing for shooting a lot of threes but never really making a solid percentage of them. Jake Kretzer and Reggie McAdams are the two guys that can absolutely light it up from deep. Reserve guard Nyles Evans is able to make some but isn't consistent with it.
The Zips will probably be shooting a good amount of threes against USC with the frontcourt being so thin. If Akron starts getting in foul trouble, they will rely on their three-point shooters to try and outshoot USC. When guys like Kretzer and McAdams get hot there is no stopping them, but when they're cold it takes them awhile to get out of it.
5. Given the amount of capable bodies at your disposal, how deep is the rotation? Who are some non-starters that could log important minutes against a guard-heavy USC squad?
The rotation is actually pretty deep. Akron has a lot of players that will play; eleven non-walk-ons got minutes during the first game against UMBC. Given the Treadwell situation, the frontcourt bench guys will get plenty of run. Sophomore Kwan Cheatham is in line for increased minutes over what he's used to (he might even start), and red-shirt freshman Aaron Jackson is Cheatham's back-up.
With USC having so many guards that get playing time, backup guards Evans and B.J. Gladden should get some extended minutes as Dambrot may go with some smaller lineups. It'll be really interesting to see the playing time breakdown that shakes out with Treadwell not around anymore.
6. What is your prediction for the opening-round game?
I'm not feeling great about this one, especially after the Treadwell news. I probably would have picked Akron had he been around, but can't pull the trigger on the upset now.