As of the first Saturday in February, there’s a new golden standard in college basketball:
Those contentious, exasperating Akron Zips.
Love ’em or hate ’em, the Mid-American Conference frontrunner now owns the longest active winning streak in the country. The Zips have won 13 consecutive games since suffering back-to-back losses at Creighton and Detroit, a streak second to none after previous title holder Kansas fell to Oklahoma State at Allen Fieldhouse for the first time in 19 tilts.
Led by do-everything senior center Zeke Marshall, one of college basketball’s most unheralded great players, Akron has diced opponents over the last month-and-a-half. The Zips have won by an average of 15.5 points per game over their 13-game surge, peppering opponents with a balanced diet of opportunistic 3-point shooting, rugged inside play and the conference’s most efficient defense. Credit Zeke, the enforcer himself, for two-thirds of that homemade recipe.
On Saturday, Keith Dambrot’s team dealt its biggest intra-league challenger—which entered the contest the only other remaining unbeaten in the MAC—a crackling 14-point blow. In so doing, his Zips exacted some therapeutic revenge for the comeback that fell tantalizingly short last year: a one-point loss to D.J. Cooper and the Bobcats in the conference championship game. The message sent? Akron is atop the MAC to stay this go-around.
A little-known public school — on the national basketball scene, that is — from Akron, Ohio is the hottest commodity in college hoops nearing the final leg of the regular season. If there’s a more fitting emblem of the the 2012-13 college basketball season than that, I’m all ears.