CMU preview: Favorite tag doesn’t faze Davis

Terry Foster
The Detroit News
Central Michigan's Chris Fowler not only is arguably the top player in the Mid-American Conference, but he's a strong leader.

Head coach: Keno Davis, fourth season (44-50 overall, 19-33 MAC)

Last season: 23-9 overall, 12-6 MAC

Why they are dangerous

Eastern Michigan coach Rob Murphy: “It is their ability to change the game with three-point shots. They can really shoot it from long range. That puts a premium on the defense to come out of the area and contest those shots. And Chris Fowler, he is the heart and soul of their team. He plays great defense and is a great motivator. With their combination of shooting and a great floor general, that always gives them a chance to win.”

Western Michigan coach Steve Hawkins: “They have everything back and they probably have the best player in the league in (Chris) Fowler. Now they have some experience at being the No. 1 seed last year and getting to the tournament. They did not win the (MAC) tournament and they will probably be highly motivated to get themselves over the top and get themselves into the NCAA Tournament.”

Outlook: Central has one of the best shooting big men in the Midwest in 6-8 forward John Simons. Point guard Chris Fowler is not only one of the best leaders on the floor, but is a natural born leader off the floor.

Central is one of the top mid-majors in the country and is the favorite to win the MAC regular-season title for a second straight season.

The only thing that can stop the Chippewas’ is complacency.

“I don’t worry about that with this team,” Davis said. “I think with most teams you would have coming off a winning season and conference championship and picked to win it again you would worry. I think it’s because our guys have seen the other side of it where you are picked second-to-last or last. I don’t think they take success for granted.”

Central is a recent success story and was picked to finish second-to-last in the preseason poll prior to its championship run last season.

The program struggled for the better part of a decade with its last winning record coming in 2002-03 (25-7) before Davis took over. Some of the key players were part of a two-year period of 21-41 ball as Davis got the program back on its feet. The rough road created hunger.

Central finished 23-9 last season but after a disappointing loss in the MAC championship game, there is unfinished business.

“The exciting thing is the ceiling is very high for all of our players,” Davis said. “These guys for the most part are coming in very under-recruited with very little publicity. But they are excited to see how far they can go in their careers. How far can we win as a team? These are guys that give everything and come from nowhere.”

Fowler did attend basketball-rich Detroit Country Day, but seven Chippewas are from rural Michigan. However, that didn’t stop Davis from implementing a system frequently seen in the NBA. They win with point guard play, stretch fours and outside shooting.

Simons shot 45.5 percent from beyond the arc and will get looks from the NBA. And Fowler averaged 16.2 points a game and shot 50.7 percent from the field.

Sophomore forward Luke Meyer makes them dangerous, too. At 6-11, he is a stretch four who can hit inside jumpers and pop threes.

“We have guys at all positions that can stretch the floor and put pressure on the defense,” Davis said. “It is tough when you put in a game plan. You have to guard our shooters. If you stretch, we have guys that can take it to the hole.”