College Basketball Nation: Alex Abreu

You Gotta See This: Mid-American

October, 4, 2013
Alex Abreu, Austin ChatmanEric Francis/Getty ImagesAkron played through Alex Abreu's arrest late last season and went on to win the MAC tournament.
It's college basketball preview season, and you know what that means: tons of preseason info to get you primed for 2013-14. But what do you really need to know? Each day for the next month, we'll highlight the most important, interesting or just plain amusing thing each conference has to offer this season — from great teams to thrilling players to wild fans and anything in between. Up next: What's next in the MAC?

Fans of Mid-American Conference basketball, please don't take this the wrong way: The MAC is not exactly the most exciting conference in the world.

In some very real ways, this is a compliment. The MAC has been relatively untouched by conference realignment in recent years. Members know each other well and play each other tough. Road trips are geographically compact. Rivalries are regional, and real.

The reason this doesn't always lead to excitement, at least for those of us with a full hoops plate, is that the MAC has always felt relatively predictable. It would produce a decent team, maybe two, would send its tournament champ to the NCAA tournament, and maybe there'd be an upset, and maybe not.

The past two years have been different. In 2012, Ohio blitzed its way to the Sweet 16, nearly took down North Carolina in the Elite Eight and earned its coach, John Groce, a chance to put his intense intelligence to work as the coach at Illinois. Last season, the surprise was even more dramatic: Just a few days before title favorite Akron's final regular-season game of the year, star point guard Alex Abreu was arrested and charged with felony drug trafficking. Abreu was selling marijuana, and not casually; police caught on when dogs sniffed a five-pound package filled with the stuff that was shipped through the postal service to the home of Abreu’s friend in Akron. Last month, the Akron Beacon Journal's reporting -- including the transcript of a meeting Abreu and his attorney had with narcotics agents, at which Abreu asked repeatedly about his chances of playing Kent State on March 12 -- revealed how harrowing, and how devastating, that situation might have been. The Zips had every excuse to fold down the stretch, but they didn't, overcoming the drastic loss of their point guard in time to take the MAC tournament crown and head to another NCAA tournament under Keith Dambrot.

There was a chance Abreu could have returned to the Zips this season; a judge suspended his two-year sentence (and waived his fine) in favor of an 18-month probation. Abreu was trying to work his way back into his team's good graces when he was arrested in July for an unspecified probation violation. School officials told the Beacon Journal Abreu has left the school.

The narrowest upshot from all this is that the league's most consistent NCAA tournament participant in the past five years is out a point guard in addition to star center Zeke Marshall. The other point(s) worth making is that Akron managed to cope without Abreu last season, never seemed to expect his return in the first place, returns three solid starters (Demetrius Treadwall, Brian Walsh, Jake Kretzer), and has 6-foot-11 center Pat Forsythe and 6-foot-7 wingman Reggie McAdams ready to step into larger roles as sophomores. It's kind of amazing that Akron still could look like a favorite to win its league after everything the program lost last spring, but that's a testament to the program Dambrot has built.

The wider upshot is this: The MAC got kind of crazy! Sweet 16 runs? Felony drug trafficking arrests? I realize the league surely would not want the Abreu situation tacked on to its image, and for good reason. But you have to admit, it's exciting. And with so much turnover, and an apparently new willingness to live on the edge, perhaps MACtion need not be reserved for Thursday nights anymore.
1. Butler coach Brad Stevens said Thursday night he has heard nothing (as in nada, zilch) about the Bulldogs moving to the new Big East for next season. Of course, that's because multiple sources within the seven schools departing to the new Big East say they were focused solely on exiting the old Big East before looking at expansion and new members. So, it's not surprising that Butler is in the dark -- for now. Stevens said he has to operate as if the Bulldogs are in the A-10 in 2013-14. He said the team is scheduling as if it's in the A-10 because that's all he has been told. If Stevens is told the Bulldogs are on the move to the new Big East then he will adjust. Butler and Xavier are the most coveted of the possible expansion teams. And the Bulldogs are likely to bolt as soon as the offer is official. Just think about this: In two seasons, Butler would go from getting Youngstown State at home to Georgetown. There is no decision once the offer is extended.

2. The NCAA tournament selection committee may have a tough choice with Akron if the Zips don't win the MAC tournament now that point guard Alex Abreu is suspended due to possession and marijuana trafficking. If Abreu is done, then the Zips aren't the same team that dominated the MAC. The committee can evaluate Akron with a home game against Kent State on Friday night and then in the MAC tournament. Losing Abreu shouldn't be the reason Akron is kept out of the tournament if it doesn't win the conference tournament. If it were a major injury -- as in the case of Kentucky's Nerlens Noel -- then the committee has to evaluate the team as it is constituted going into the NCAA tournament. The hope is that the committee gets a chance to see the team prior to Selection Sunday. The pressure is on Akron now to prove it is still worthy.

3. The turnaround at Colorado under Tad Boyle has been quite remarkable. Colorado basketball had been overshadowed in the region for years by the WAC/MWC schools. But the timing of its revival at the same time as it joined the Pac-12 has been perfect. The atmosphere in Boulder is becoming something special. Colorado went through some second-year bumps early after last season's Pac-12 tournament title run. But the enthusiasm showed and the overall effort at home lately -- with wins over Arizona and Thursday over Oregon, sans Andre Roberson -- proves this is a program now, not just a few good teams in back-to-back seasons. Expect Colorado under Boyle to be in the Pac-12 mix for the foreseeable future.