WMU preview: Tava’s injury an early blow for Broncos
Head coach: Steve Hawkins, 13th season (224-169 overall, 123-78 MAC)
Last season: 20-14 overall, 10-8 MAC
Why they are dangerous
Eastern Michigan coach Rob Murphy: “They are always physical and play with toughness. ... They hang their hat on defense and taking you out of what you want to do.”
Central Michigan coach Keno Davis: “I think their depth, which they always seem to have, makes them dangerous. A lot of times they are able to bring in their seventh, eighth or ninth guys and are able to bring abilities to the court that makes them a balanced team. Injuries affect us all. Depth allows them to sustain.”
Outlook: Western is a program that wins because of toughness and depth, which has been a constant drum beat preached by Hawkins, who is the longest-tenured coach in the conference and has a reputation of figuring things out.
And he already has an early-season dilemma.
Senior forward Connar Tava broke his foot three weeks ago during practice and surgery was required. He will be out at least until Christmas and could possibly be redshirted for the season.
Tava isn’t your ordinary 6-6 forward. He led the team in rebounding (6.2), assists (3.3) and field-goal percentage (52.1 percent) while averaging 12.3 points a game. He is Mr. Versatility and is difficult to replace.
“There is no real way to make up the loss of Connar,” Hawkins said. “You can go inside with him sometimes. He led the team in assists. He is a playmaker. We can’t play the same way. We are going to have to play a little differently.”
That could result in forwards Anthony Avery (6-7) and Kellen McCormick (6-8) sharing the load. Six-foot-10 center Drake LaMont could shift to power forward or the Broncos might play small ball by moving Tucker Haymond, a 6-6 small forward, to power forward.
Here is the second issue for the Broncos.
Hawkins saw slippage in his team’s toughness and defense and that is not acceptable. He didn’t get out the shoulder pads like Tom Izzo. However, he made players pay attention to detail during drills and sets.
“We have to be demanding about the details,” Hawkins said. “It’s not just about being physical. It is about being mentally disciplined, being where you are supposed to be and when you are supposed to be there. Sometimes you have to think it until you make it.
“I think more than anything we just have to be demanding to holding the kids accountable. Again, that comes with concentration on every possession. We are just not used to doing that.”
Players are still in the wrong spot at the wrong time, but there is the good news. It is fewer players and as Hawkins learns his team, he sees that they are more athletic and a little bigger than past teams.
They lost guard David Brown but replacements Thomas Wilder and slashing freshman Bryce Moore are more athletic.
Another freshman, 7-footer Seth Dugan, should also make a presence inside.
The Broncos look good on paper. They simply are a little green around the gills.
“We don’t have experience, so nothing is proven,” Hawkins said.