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January 3, 2013

WMU vs. Akron: Q & A with Brandon Hickey of Hustle Belt

BroncoBlitz.com exchanged a series of questions and answers with Brandon Hickey of Hustle Belt leading up to next week's MAC opener. You can follow Brandon Hickey on Twitter @hickeybuns33.

The Western Michigan Broncos (8-5) will look to avenge last year's home 3-point overtime loss against the Akron Zips (9-4). Both teams currently sit atop their respective divisions in the Mid-American Conference.


BroncoBlitz: Akron has shown five different starting lineups in their first ten games. Do you believe this to be a product of some shuffling around and getting to know all of the new pieces, or is this pretty typical of Dambrot before conference play?

Brandon Hickey: As a Western Michigan fan can sympathize with, Akron lost a good deal of experience with Nik Cvetinovic and Brett McClanahan graduating and Quincy Diggs being kicked off of the team. That's three starters, and Coach Dambrot needed the early season to figure out who will replace those minutes. Obviously, Demetrius Treadwell would naturally fill in to Cvetinovic's power forward spot. But the other two were up for grabs.

Brian Walsh seems to have nailed down the off-guard spot, but the 3 is still up in the air. Chauncey Gilliam has been starting pretty regularly with Nick Harney coming off of the bench, which is what I think you'll see on January 9th. The compliance issues didn't help, and because of those Harney and Treadwell had to sit out the first three games. Looking at the minutes distribution so far, it looks like the starting lineup is set. The rotation, however, still needs to be shaped up.

BroncoBlitz: Bronco fans assume the Zips will have somewhat of a different look this year with the loss of Quincy Diggs and the addition of Pat Forsythe. Just how different has this team been with those two changes?

BH: I don't think it's changed too much, but there is more emphasis on getting the ball inside and less reliance on the three point shot.

Pat Forsythe has been a pleasant surprise inside, and is playing quality minutes off of the bench. Marshall and Treadwell lead the team in points per game, and they killed a bad Texas Southern team as well as Princeton in the paint.

The one thing Akron hasn't developed yet is a consistent three point shooter a la Steve McNees, who could hit from anywhere. Brian Walsh has been very good (43%) and Alex Abreu is getting there (39%). But, they aren't the type of players that will be able to make a three from anywhere with a hand in their face like McNees.

BroncoBlitz: From Keith Dambrot's perspective, what is this team's most disappointing loss of the season so far and why? From an Akron basketball fan perspective?

BH: For Dambrot it has to be the Detroit loss. The Zips led for most of the game and really should have won it. But, little mistakes and shooting 11-22 from the free throw line doesn't help things.

As a coach, you hate to see things like that contribute to a loss and turn a very winnable game into a frustrating loss. It would have been a good win too, because Detroit will probably win the Horizon League this year.

For the fans, it's a toss-up between the Coastal Carolina and Oklahoma State losses. This mainly stems from the compliance department issue, where someone didn't turn in a form timely and Harney and Treadwell were forced to sit out both of these games. Being close losses (74-70 to CCU and 69-65 in overtime to OK State), fans felt that Tree and Harney would have made up the difference and turned those losses into wins.

But, in my eyes, CCU was opening up a new arena and Oklahoma State is currently ranked, so those losses aren't necessarily terrible. Yes, they would have been great to have on the resume, but they aren't killers.

BroncoBlitz: Much like Western Michigan, this Akron team seems to be loaded with young talent. Who are Akron fans most excited about for the future on this team? Who has been the most surprising? Most disappointing?

BH: My excited and surprising player is the same: Jake Kretzer. I thought at the beginning of the year that Kretzer would be a likely redshirt candidate. Shows how much I know.

Kretzer, a 6-foot-7 guard/forward from small-town Waverly, Ohio, has put up big numbers for a freshman. He's averaged 7.3 points and 3.8 rebounds per game, and is shooting 40% from 3-point range. He's gotten more and more minutes in the past couple games, and was the catalyst in the overtime win against Middle Tennessee.

The one guy I have been a little disappointed with is Chauncey Gilliam. Yes, he's had a couple nice games including 16 points at Detroit and 22 against UNC-Asheville. But he's had more duds, especially recently. He's scored 13 points in the last 4 games combined (mostly blowout wins, though), but he's not putting up the numbers I would expect out of a starter. I thought he'd be the team's leading scorer this year, but he's only averaging 7.5 points per game.

It's nitpicking, especially with this good of a team, but if I had to pick a disappointment it'd be him. But, that may be only because I had such high expectations for him.

BroncoBlitz: Who is Akron's "x-factor" that Coach Hawkins and the Broncos need to be careful not to overlook in the game-plan?

BH: Nick Harney. Harney can give you 15 points and 6 boards one game and completely disappear the next. He's starting to play a lot better, and could be a big matchup problem for Western Michigan.

When you think of Akron, you think about game-planning for Zeke Marshall, Alex Abreu, Brian Walsh and Demetrius Treadwell. But, if you forget about Harney, he can be the one that will beat you.

BroncoBlitz: Not that I need to remind you, but Akron fell just short of winning a MAC championship last year against Ohio. Kind of a two part question here: Is the 2012-2013 season NCAA Tournament or bust? Does this team has something to prove?

BH: Not necessarily. Coach Dambrot has done everything you can ask for except win in the post-season. Ohio's run to the Sweet 16 was great for the conference, but was bad for Dambrot.

He knows that could have (and probably should have) been him leading Akron to the promised land, but a couple bounces of the ball go the wrong way and you're one and done in the NIT. To fully cement his legacy at Akron, he needs to win in the big dance. He's proven he can get there. Now, just win baby.

For Zeke Marshall, however, getting to the tournament and winning is a must. When a highly touted recruit comes to a school like Akron, he's expected to be an all-conference performer and lead his team to the tournament. Marshall, however, needs to prove the hype and take over the conference like he was supposed to do in the eyes of many Zips fans.

Six straight MAC Championship game appearances are great and all, but you have to do better than 2-4 in those games.

BroncoBlitz: What is the view from Akron, Ohio of this Western Michigan Broncos basketball team?

BH: Three words: exciting, surprising, and young. I was surprised with the win over South Florida. I thought maybe the young Broncos could hang with them but had no business winning the game. I thought with all the fresh faces there would be an adjustment period, but I was sure wrong.

I still want to see how they fare in MAC play, but I like what I'm seeing out of this team. I expect them to challenge Eastern Michigan for the MAC West title. I also think they've been a little lucky (as has Akron), as there hasn't been any significant injuries so far. That killed WMU last year, and they haven't experienced any adversity like that yet.

BroncoBlitz: Prediction time: Last year, the Zips were lucky to walk away from University Arena with a 'W'. Do you think Akron cruises at home, or does Western Michigan avenge last year's overtime loss?

BH: I think Akron will win by 10. It's WMU's first conference road game, and a young team usually doesn't come up with a win. Akron is playing well lately, and I think they can out-muscle the Broncos inside.

I also like the guard match-up for Akron, an experienced Alex Abreu and Brian Walsh over Brandon Pokley and Austin Richie. It should be a great way to start off conference play!


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