Editor’s note: This is the latest installment of a weekly series looking at the college-basketball scene in Michigan.
Jalen Hayes was disappointed by the NCAA’s ruling, but then again, he wasn’t.
A grade technicality threatened to bench him for about half of his final college basketball season, until an appeal to the NCAA returned a lesser penalty — a four-game ban. That cost him the first four games of the season, including Oakland’s marquee game at Syracuse.
So, yeah, that was disappointing.
But, surely, it would’ve hurt a whole heck of a lot more had he been forced to miss this Saturday’s game against Michigan State at Little Caesars Arena.
“It was a tough pill to swallow, even with it being JUST four games,” said Hayes, a redshirt senior forward for the Golden Grizzlies, “but looking back at it now ... I definitely thank the NCAA for that.”
Hayes grew up in mid-Michigan and played at Lansing Sexton, so naturally, he was a big Michigan State fan. His dad Denon’s fandom certainly rubbed off.
The Spartans (9-1), ranked No. 2 in the nation, and Golden Grizzlies (6-4) square off at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in the second game of the doubleheader, the first college basketball games at the new arena.
Michigan (9-3) and Detroit Mercy (4-6) play in the opening game — just as they did in opening Joe Louis Arena all those years ago — at noon Saturday.
More than 10,000 tickets already have been sold.
“I grew up rooting for them, but not anymore, not right now,” Hayes said, with a laugh.
And as for his dad?
“Oh yeah, definitely he’s cheering for me,” Hayes said. “I don’t know if it’s hurting him on the inside a little bit, though.”
Oakland, which entered the season with sky-high expectations as one of the premier mid-majors in the nation, played a grueling early season schedule, and has been humbled by Syracuse, and then Kansas. It’s also lost to a pair of Mid-American Conference foes, in Toledo and Eastern Michigan.
Michigan State is the last serious test before the Horizon League schedule, and while Oakland has come close to pulling the upset in the rivalry over the years, this would be the ultimate feat Saturday — especially given the Golden Grizzlies’ injury woes. Junior guard Jaevin Cumberland (ankle) will be sidelined the rest of the season, and freshman guard James Beck (right leg) is out six to eight weeks.
Add that to the extended absence of junior center Brad Brechting (toe), and the nagging leg injuries to stars Kendrick Nunn, the redshirt senior transfer from Illinois, and Isaiah Brock, a sophomore center, plus the decision to redshirt by junior forward Xavier Hill-Mais, and Oakland is extremely thin entering the game on the schedule coach Greg Kampe wants to win most.
“We’re looking to go into Saturday with the mindset that we can win,” said Hayes, who’s excited to play at Little Caesars Arena — where he’s visited once this year, for a Pistons game against the Bucks to see the Greek Freak, Giannis Antetokounmpo. “We don’t know who’ll be ready to go and who won’t. We’re a little banged up. ... But I know for sure the team we have will come ready.
“We still know our main goal, which is to get to the NCAA Tournament. But this is just living in the moment. When we signed that National Letter of Intent, this is the game we circle on our calendar. This is just a big game for us.”
Because of the friendship between Kampe and Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, the teams have played 15 times since 1998 — including 11 times in the last 12 years. Michigan State is 15-0 in those games, avoiding close calls along the way, like in 2007 (75-71), 2010 (77-76) and 2013 (67-63).
But none was closer than the thriller Dec. 22, 2015, before a capacity and raucous crowd at The Palace of Auburn Hills.
Kay Felder put on a show for Oakland, which was a Felder missed layup — which rolled around the rim for what seemed like an eternity, before staying out — from scoring the upset over the top-ranked team in the country. Instead, it went to overtime, where Michigan State prevailed, 99-93.
And the agonizing wait for Kampe rolled on.
“That’s the thing, he still talks about it, he still talks about that,” Hayes, averaging 19.3 points and 9.3 rebounds in his six games, said with a chuckle. “I know it eats at him. All we can do is win this year, and he’ll forget all about it.
“We want to win this for Coach Kampe. He’s a living legend, and this is the one thing he can’t scratch off his list so far.”
This and that
■ The Central Michigan men (8-1) have won seven consecutive games entering Saturday’s game at Southern Utah, and are 4-1 in games decided by seven points or less. The lone loss came in an eye-opening, inspired effort against Michigan. The balanced scoring attack is paying off for the Chippewas, who have five players averaging 9.1 points or better, led by transfer Shawn Roundtree (14.7).
■ Ferris State is off to its best start in program history, at 12-0, and is ranked fifth in the nation in the Division II men’s poll. Romeo senior point guard Drew Cushingberry leads the offensive attack at 14.8 points a game. Lake Superior State (9-1) is ranked No. 18. On the women’s side, Michigan Tech (10-1) is ranked 15th.
■ On Tuesday night’s ESPN broadcast of the Michigan-Texas game, analyst Dick Vitale said he believes Michigan State, not Duke, is the top team in the land. Even so, Villanova leapfrogged Michigan State for the top spot in the rankings, after Duke and Kansas both lost last week.
State power rankings
1. Michigan State, 9-1 (last week: 1)
2. Michigan, 9-3 (2)
3. Central Michigan, 8-1 (3)
4. Eastern Michigan, 7-2 (4)
5. Oakland, 6-4 (5)
6. Western Michigan, 6-4 (6)
7. Detroit, 4-6 (7)
1. Michigan, 9-2 (1)
2. Central Michigan, 8-1 (2)
3. Michigan State, 6-3 (3)
4. Western Michigan, 5-5 (4)
5. Eastern Michigan, 2-7 (5)
6. Oakland, 4-4 (6)
7. Detroit, 0-9 (7)
Player of the week
■ Presley Hudson, Central Michigan, Jr., G: The sharp-shooter from Wayland, Mich., scored 26, one off her season high, as the Chippewas (8-1) won at Indiana State, 77-67, on Saturday for their eighth consecutive win. Central Michigan was 18-for-18 from the free-throw line — the fourth time in program history it was perfect from the stripe — and Hudson was 6-for-6, improving her mark to a ridiculous 36-for-37 on the season. She’s also shooting 47 percent (41-for-87) from 3-point range in the early going.
Freshman of the week
■ Eli Brooks, Michigan, G: He’s been among the candidates John Beilein is getting a long look at while he tries to figure out his point-guard situation — lately, it looks like Zavier Simpson might finally be winning the job, but Brooks still came up big in the comeback, overtime victory over UCLA on Saturday. Brooks had been to the free-throw line four times this season, and split a pair three times. But when he was fouled late in regulation against the Bruins, he calmly stepped up and sank both to send the game to OT, where the Wolverines romped for a 78-69 signature, nonleague triumph.
Stat of the week
■ The Eastern Michigan women (2-7) conclude the longest road trip in Division I women’s basketball when they visit Detroit Mercy (0-9) on Sunday at Calihan Hall. The Eagles will have played eight consecutive road games and will have a gone a month and a week between home games by the time they return home to host Longwood at Convocation Center on Wednesday. EMU has lost all seven on the road trip, though there have been several close calls.
Top games this week
■ Saturday: Men, Michigan vs. Detroit Mercy, at LCA, noon
■ Saturday: Men, Michigan State vs. Oakland, at LCA, 2:30
■ Sunday: Women, Eastern Michigan at Detroit Mercy, noon
■ Monday: Men, Idaho at Western Michigan, 7
■ Wednesday: Men, Towson at Oakland, 7