Poor Arkansas-Pine Bluff. The Golden Lions have logged more miles on the road than your favorite band. They probably have more hotel reward points than actual points this season. They have been on a long and arduous adventure, but when you're in the Southwestern Athletic Conference, this is all too much the norm.
By my rough calculations, the Arkansas-Pine Bluff men's basketball team has covered 5,530 miles, and that's before Christmas. It doesn't play a true home game until Jan. 14. (Last season, the first home game was Jan. 4.) You really feel for the director of basketball operations, who schedules hotels and travel arrangements, but this long trip is necessary for this team to even exist.
Much ado is made about guarantee games, but for teams like Pine Bluff, they're perfect. These games usually fund the entire men's basketball program and sometimes other athletic programs. Without big time college football, Pine Bluff needs all the money it can get. That's why it has to go through this grueling trip every year.
You, as a mid-major fan, want to pull for teams like Pine Bluff. You want to see them play well and win games. Which made it all the more special in March when the Golden Lions won their first NCAA tournament game (yes, it was the play-in game, but still). That makes the early-season excursion that much more worth it. They were bounced from the tournament by Duke in the next round, but it is still something that the players will be able to tell their children one day: I played in the NCAA tournament and won a game.
Anyway, this game proved to be what it was expected to. The Zips took control early and dominated the entire game. Akron was coming off a close loss to Cleveland State and needed to make a statement against a below-average team. That it did. Zeke Marshall came through with arguably his best game of the year, recording 21 points on 7-of-10 shooting and seven blocks. The junior center took over the paint, and his presence was definitely felt on the defensive end.
Just like at the OHIO-Portland game, Zips fans had the pleasure of watching the mascots of area businesses and minor league baseball teams "compete" in a no-rules basketball game. This quick game surprisingly ended with a 6-0 score, although some "players" were not the best examples of true mascots. For example, a guy in a gorilla suit wearing tennis shoes representing a local marketing firm had a clear advantage over the bulldog with the abnormally large head or even Zippy herself. Not surprisingly, he scored two of the three buckets. While watching, you could only think "I would not want to be in their shoes/paws/slippers right now" or "poor interns."
Akron returns to play Saturday against Florida A&M where there will be an ornament-decorating table before the game. On Monday, it faces Youngstown State, which will include the annual teddy bear toss at halftime for local charities. Might as well call it sweeps week.