Akron Zips to open men's NCAA Tournament play against Virginia Commonwealth

Staff and wire report Published:

Staff and wire report

Akron head coach Keith Dambrot will face his former assistant coach and current best friend in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

The regular-season and Mid-American Conference Tournament champion Zips (26-6) were seeded 12th in the South Region and pitted against No. 5 seed Virginia Commonwealth, coached by Shaka Smart. The game will be played Thursday at the Palace of Auburn Hills in Auburn Hills, Mich.

The Rams, who advanced to the NCAA Tournament's Final Four in 2011 and beat Wichita State as a No. 12 seed last year, earned an at-large bid after falling 62-56 to St. Louis in the Atlantic 10 Tournament title game.

Smart was an assistant coach for the Zips from 2003-06, including two seasons under Dambrot. He eventually landed his first head coaching job at VCU in 2009. Smart and Dambrot have remained close friends after he left the Zips program.

After junior point guard Alex Abreu was suspended the day before the Zips' regular-season finale against Kent State, Smart sent a video message of encouragement to Akron's team.

The Zips will be forced to take on Smart's "Havoc" style of basketball, featuring full-court pressure and transition offense, with freshman Carmelo Betancourt starting at point guard. Dambrot actually had several different players handle the ball at the MAC Tournament along with Betancourt, including junior forward Nick Harney, who did a decent job but did not look comfortable at the point.

Akron is 0-6 all-time against the Rams, with Dambrot and Smart having faced off twice. VCU defeated UA 70-53 in Richmond on Feb. 20, 2010, as part of the ESPNU BracketBusters event, and the Rams edged the Zips 76-75 in overtime on Dec. 29, 2011, in Akron.

Akron, appearing in the NCAA Tournament for the third time in five seasons and fourth time in program history (1986, 2009, 2011), captured its second consecutive MAC regular season crown. The Zips then held off Kent State 62-59 in the MAC Tournament Semifinals on Friday before downing Ohio in Saturday night's title matchup.

The winner of the Akron-VCU game will take on the winner of the No. 4 Michigan/No. 13 South Dakota State pairing on Saturday.

Want to leave your comments?

Sign in or Register to comment.