The 2021-22 season proved to be a good one for the Zips. Under Keith Dambrot, there were quite a few squads that had a great regular season, only to fall in the conference tournament, especially at the end of his tenure. This squad got a bit of karmatic justice, compiling a solid 24-10 record before securing the conference’s automatic bid in the postseason, playing well in a close opening round loss to UCLA.
While the Zips did lose standout Ali Ali to the transfer portal, and others to graduation, the 2022-23 season looks promising.
There are a variety of new faces that look promising, and quite a few old ones that return. Not only is there talent in the mix, the pieces of the puzzle really fit into the John Groce system. The Zips have three guards in Xavier Castaneda, Greg Tribble, and NIU transfer Trendon Hankerson that have proven to be able to play the scrappy defense and break down defenses with their dribble, while Castaneda and Hankerson have also proven to be able to hit the big three, which is essential to the Groce system. Redshirted Kobe Mitchell could be in the guard rotation as well.
In the frontcourt, Enrique Freeman made the most of his opportunities, shooting 66.5% from the floor, while also playing great defense. In what might be the biggest get in the transfer game, the Zips added Sammy Hunter from Ole Miss. The former Rebel only averaged 2.9 points and 1.2 rebounds, but showed promise, including hitting a few big threes to help knock off Kentucky. 6’5 Mikal Dawson also showed promise on the wing. While this trio and company are raw, they have a huge upside potential, both offensively and defensively.
Of course there are question marks, but I see this team improving on their record from last season.
How I see a typical Zips game going next season is on point with what Groce is trying to do. The Zips will improve on their 72 points per game opponent average, keeping most teams under 70 with contested shots inside and out. Offensively, they will struggle at times, but will have steady guard play keeping them in the contests. In their wins, one of the guards will have a monster game, or one of the bigs will drop a surprising amount of points. This will happen 25-28 times next season, as there are enough good guards that one is likely to have a great game, or better than average forwards that one will have a good game to carry the Zips home.
There will be games where no one is clicking, and other games where quite a few are clicking. If you are a Zips fan, don’t get too high over a big win or too down on a terrible loss. This is a really good team that will splash in some amazing with a little suck. Because this really good squad is almost a perfect fit for a Groce-led team, I do believe they will contend for the MAC regular season title, and I expect it to peak at the right time.