The Cleveland Fan on Facebook

The Cleveland Fan on Twitter
Misc The MAC The MAC Archive In Primetime, Akron's NCAA Dream Turned Full-On Nightmare
Written by Andrew Clayman

Andrew Clayman

zips-vcu-lossThere’s an old proverb among fans of Mid-Major basketball: “Tis better to have played in the tournament and lost than never to have played in the tournament at all.” After watching the humiliating, nationally televised demolition of the Akron Zips at the hands of the VCU Rams last night, however, that trusted philosophy starts to ring hollow. To put it another way: “If a tree falls in the woods and nobody is there to hear it, that’s way better than a primetime CBS audience watching it go down.”

For all the talent they displayed in winning 19 consecutive games this season, and all the heart required to bounce back and grab the MAC title with their pot-dealing point guard on lockdown, Keith Dambrot’s Akron squad was still essentially operating in a dark, quiet corner of the basketball universe—nothing more than a name on a sheet of paper until that 9:45 tip-off on Thursday night.

Just or unjust, this reality is largely what makes the NCAA Tournament the uniquely captivating spectacle that it is. For almost half the field of 68, THIS is our ONE moment—the one we have waited for all year, or in some cases, for many years. And by no coincidence, it’s the moment that will eventually define the team to which we’ve attached our allegiances.

Of course, this whole concept can sometimes confuse your average Indiana, Michigan State, or even Ohio State fan. Case in point, when Akron vanquished the Ohio Bobcats to take the MAC title just one week ago, the celebrations of the Zips faithful were greeted with plenty of smug eyerolls from the denizens of Big Ten country. “Congrats on getting yourself a first round loss in the Big Dance,” they said, trying to temper our enthusiasm with some textbook sarcastic condescension. The “haters” were missing the mark, though, by assuming we had our eyes on the same prize they did.

Unless you’re a fan of Butler, Gonzaga, VCU, or the handful of other schools that have “crossed over” from Cinderella Land into legitimacy, a fan of a Mid-Major basketball program sets his or her bar much lower when it comes to the tournament. A National Championship is never even a consideration, of course. And in Akron’s case, even the usual hope of a fluke upset or two—as Ohio pulled off last year—was washed out almost completely by Alex Abreu’s wacky tobacky dismissal two weeks ago. What we were left with instead was something perhaps a bit more petty—some might say pathetic, even. Simply put, we just wanted some damn attention. And with the national scutiny March Madness brings, we were finally gonna get it.

Even after learning of our highly unfortunate pairing with VCU, and the matchup nightmares it presented, Zips fans still went to bed on Wednesday night with visions of a national showcase floating in their heads—the kinds of things major college programs just take for granted in the middle of the season.

Just imagine, those obnoxious old farts Verne Lundquist and Bill Raftery… calling an Akron game!

The CBS basketball theme music playing while they announce Zeke Marshall’s name!

Holy shit, Charles Barkley talking about Demetrius Treadwell’s ferocious rebounding skills at halftime! “He reminds me a bit of a young me,” he might say.


In essence, it’s these silly details—the brighter lights and bigger stage—that are the real rewards for Mid-Major fans come tournament time. All we can ask for from a basketball standpoint—the ONLY thing we hope for—is a watchable ballgame. A solid effort. Something that maybe—just maybe— inspires a word of praise from somebody like Greg Gumbel—a bloated douchebag we normally wouldn’t give two shits about.

Yup, that’s March Madness for the Mid-Major fan: hoping an asshole from national TV says your team looks “scrappy.”

Naturally, what Akron fans actually found under their NCAA Xmas tree last night was something far less shiny. If anything, it was the cruel, twisted antithesis of our relatively humble hopes. Like finding out Rachael Ray was coming to do a show from your restaurant, only to see her projectile vomit upon eating your signature potatoes au gratin.

Lundquist and Raftery kept butchering the names of the Zip players, Keith Dambrot seemed helpless to counteract the gameplan of his own protégé Shaka Smart, and at the much-awaited halftime show, with Akron trailing 50-25, Barkley and Gumbel didn’t praise the efforts of our MAC warriors. They ridiculed them.

“This game is O-V-E-R, over,” Barkley said with disgust.

“Akron has no chance without their suspended point guard,” said Kenny Smith, adding, “I won’t even say his name because he doesn’t deserve to have it mentioned" [it’s probably more likely that he just didn’t know who the hell Alex Abreu is, since Kenny is an NBA analyst and has no business commentating on college basketball, but whatever].

treadwell-vcuAnd then Greg Gumbel threw in this zinger. “Rather than regrouping at the half, Akron might want to think about recruiting.”

Back in 2011, Akron was a #15 seed in the Tournament and took on #2 Notre Dame in an afternoon game in Chicago. The Zips trailed just 34-30 at halftime, and put up a good fight the whole way, eventually falling 69-56.

Two years prior, making their first tourney appearance in 23 years, the #13 Zips took on the #4 Gonzaga Bulldogs in Portland, and actually went into the half in front, 38-35. Gonzaga re-assumed control and pulled out a 77-64 win. But once against, Akron had proved it could hang with a high seed.

As for VCU, the Zips had actually battled the Rams into overtime in their last meeting-- just a season ago-- eventually falling on a buzzer beater 76-75.

All of that respectable history, not to mention the effort displayed by the team in overcoming numerous obstacles this season, makes last night’s 88-42 shellacking all the more devastating and demoralizing. Forget Abreu. Forget the severe flu that claimed Pat Forsythe and Brian Walsh (or “Blair” Walsh as Lundquist insisted on calling him) the day of the game. Akron was simply outclassed by Virginia-Commonwealth, and their performance was awful enough to render many of the program’s recent accomplishments depressingly moot by comparison for much of the viewing public.

If Akron is coming up in water cooler conversations in Massachusetts or Wyoming today, it’s not for their seven consecutive MAC Championship Game appearances or the NBA Draft hopes of Zeke Marshall. It’s for laying a colossal egg on national TV and emptying the Palace of Auburn Hills quicker than the fourth quarter of a Pistons game.

That’s why this one really stings, America. Not because we expected to win. I had VCU on all my brackets anyway. Nope, Akron just wanted Charles Barkley to think we were cool for a minute. Just for one minute.




The TCF Forums